As much as we fall in-love with relaxers, also known as the ‘creamy crack’, too much of a good thing is no good at all- this how they repay us! Let’s talk about our relationship with the creamy crack- my intention is to tell the truth as it stands, not to scare anybody. This blog is intended to make you more well-informed and therefore effective individuals- this is a must read!
The main ingredient in ‘lye’ hair relaxer is ‘sodium hydroxide’ which is a strong alkali. It’s the same ingredient that is used in drain cleaners to dissolve blockages. The picture above shows a coke can dissolving in a solution of sodium hydroxide so unless your scalp is more chemical resistant than an aluminium can, sodium hydroxide can be dangerous. The following is a brief explanation of the risks of sodium hydroxide.
Scalp burns: The alkali will basically eat at the epidermal layer of the scalp and possibly even part of the dermis layer (middle layer.) This creates the look or a burn or a lesion in the skin and lesions can lead to infection.
Follicle damage: Hair follicles are the true root of the hair, they are embedded in the dermis layer of the skin and so if the chemical penetrates to a certain degree it can end up damaging the hair follicle. A damaged follicle means hair that will never grow again. Take a look at the picture above on the left. Due to improper use of the relaxer, the teenager has damaged her follicles such that in some places hair cannot grow.
Uterine Fibroids: Scientists followed more than 23,000 pre-menopausal Black American women from 1997 to 2009 and found that the two- to three-times higher rate of fibroids among black women may be linked to chemical exposure through scalp lesions and burns resulting from relaxers. (blackdoctor.com)
A uterine fibroid is a benign tumour in the smooth muscle (involuntary muscle) on the uterus. These fibroids can lead to excessive menstrual bleeding and even infertility.
Early Puberty: Three hundred African American, African Caribbean, Hispanic, and White women in New York City were studied. The women’s first menstrual period varied anywhere from age 8 to age 19, but African Americans, who were more likely to use straightening and relaxers hair oils, also reached menarche earlier than other racial/ethnic groups. (blackdoctor.com)
Dandruff: Relaxers can cause extreme dryness of scalp and can strip the hair of its natural oil, this can lead to more severe dandruff and can exasperate psoriasis
Damaged cuticles/weakened hair structure: The active ingredient that is the hydroxide ion (OH-) in the relaxer works by breaking down the chemical bonds of the hair shaft thus disrupting the elliptical shape of the protein and allowing the reconstruction of the bonds such that the hair stand is straighter, rather than tightly curled. Reapplication means further processing of the protein, it doesn’t take long before the structural integrity is reduced such that the hair is brittle and porous.
Whilst there seems to be causal link between hair relaxers and uterine fibroids, it does not unequivocally prove that they are linked. It could be a higher genetic pre-disposition and the issue of early puberty may be linked to diet. However, given the variables it seems likely that the two are linked. Remember that all this is here to make you well informed, not to encourage some sort of hatred. When used correctly and occasionally (very occasionally), relaxers can be a great temporary solution.
‘No Lye Relaxers’
‘No-lye relaxers’ have an alternative of sodium hydroxide as the active ingredient so that’s either potassium hydroxide, lithium hydroxide, calcium hydroxide or guanidine hydroxide.The pH level is higher in a lye than a no-lye relaxer; approximately 12-14 for lye and 9-11 for no-lye (the natural pH of your hair is around 4-5.) The pH scale is a meausure of acidity and alkalinity from 1-14, 1 being very acidic, 14 being very alkali and 7 being neutral (water.)
This means that a no-lye relaxer is slightly milder and does not cause as much scalp irritation as lye-relaxers. However the dangers of lye relaxers apply in the same way to no-lye relaxers. A pH of 9-11 is still significantly higher than what your hair should be (4-5.) Calcium hydroxide has been known to make the hair more dry because of calcium build-up in the hair and if you leave it too long it can still do just as much damage.
I personally believe that hair relaxing is a temporary solution. You may be sitting there thinking, ‘what alternative do I really have then?’ Well, if you keep watching I will tell you exactly how you can stay naturally straight (or mostly naturally straight) without putting your health at risk each time. You can have it all!
To be continued…