There’s no denying that hair is an important aspect of a woman’s looks, as well as their well-being. As a black woman, straightening your hair can undoubtedly make you look sleeker and bolder, adding a striking element to your curvy or curly hair. And if you’re like many women of color, hair-relaxing creams could be one of your go-to solutions for this.
But have you ever stopped to wonder whether these products are safe for your hair, scalp, and general health? Could your product of choice be capable of causing certain damages, or does that depend on how it’s used, and the frequency of use?
From the potential risks to considerably safer alternatives, read on to learn more about the use and safety of hair relaxer products among African American women.
Understanding Hair Relaxers
Hair relaxers are chemical-based products used to change the curl pattern of certain hair types, particularly for those with more tightly coiled curls like African American women’s hair. They are among the most common ways to straighten hair or relax it for black women.
As the name implies, chemical hair creams or relaxers work by ‘relaxing’ the texture of curly or kinky strands into a smoother and sleeker appearance. And while they indeed help bring out a more put-together look, using a chemical relaxer can be associated with certain risks.
This is, however, more of a concern for black women whose scalp is naturally exposed more often due to regular use of styling products, shaving, and shaping their hairline close to the root.
As we’ll discover later, some common risks of using hair relaxers include itching, burning, scalp damage, or thinning hair, with some studies indicating their potential of causing cancer.
Common Ingredients Found in Hair Relaxer Products
Most hair relaxers contain a base of chemicals, such as calcium hydroxide or aluminum chloride, and other oils that weaken the bond between protein strands in curly or wavy hair so it can be styled into a straighter texture. Additional ingredients may include fragrances, dyes, and preservatives to prevent the degradation of the product over time.
Given their chemical composition, hair relaxers differ from other styling products on the market as they can have more severe consequences when used improperly or too often. This is especially for black women with textured hair, which is most prone to damage due to its kinky/coiled structure and low moisture content levels.
Therefore, it’s important to read labels carefully before purchasing any type of hair product (including styling gels, and mousses), making sure the ingredients inside are specifically meant for natural curls and fit your individual needs.
The Risks of Using Hair Relaxers
Hair-relaxing products have indeed been associated with certain safety concerns. These range from mild irritation of the scalp to increasing the user’s risk of suffering certain types of cancer. A hair relaxer lawsuit update by The Louthian Firm revealed an increase in lawsuits from women suing cosmetic companies that make these products. The increase was witnessed shortly after an NHI study established a link between chemical hair relaxers and a fourfold risk of uterine cancer.
Common Short-Term Effects of Using a Hair Relaxer
When hair is exposed to a relaxer, it can cause damage ranging from mild to severe. This includes dryness, breakage, heat damage, or discoloration. Irritations and scalp burns may occur if used incorrectly, for instance when the chemical is left on too long before rinsing out during application.
Interestingly enough, however, some short-term results may be positive depending on individual needs. These products are well known to help in taming frizz and temporarily restoring moisture levels in hair, albeit when properly balanced solutions are chosen.
Nevertheless, too much of anything is poisonous, and hair relaxers aren’t an exception. It’s always best to avoid using hair straightening creams excessively, as their harsh nature over time is well documented.
Common Long-Term Effects of Using a Hair Relaxer
Besides potentially increasing cancer risks, using hair relaxers can cause long-term damage to your hair and scalp. It can weaken the cuticles, which leaves them vulnerable to breakage, split ends, dryness, and irritation over time. Your hair’s natural texture may also become impaired due to damaged collagen protein bonds, leading to thinning or increased shedding.
Moreover, certain ingredients used in hair relaxers such as lye can lead to scalp burns and inflammation if not applied correctly. This is something particularly concerning for black women who have naturally coarse and thick hair shafts. For these individuals, opting for a more gentle approach such as steam treatments or no-lye formulations could be suitable alternatives depending on their needs and styling goals.
Alternatives to Chemical Relaxers – Natural Options for Textural Management
Using natural alternatives is the safest way to achieve your desired hair texture without compromising your overall scalp and hair health. Some of these consist of DIY recipes using ingredients found in most households.
For instance, aloe vera gel and shea butter are great soothing elements that nourish locks while also shaping them into a straighter look. Some utilize fat-free yogurt and other ingredients like coconut oil, molten coconut cream, and natural hair straighteners like Apple cider vinegar (ACV). The best part is that you can find tons of DIY tutorials online on how to prepare them, but it’s always safer to cross-check and conduct further research on the specific ingredients.
And for what it’s worth, you don’t always have to use relaxers to achieve that glamorous, sleek, hair appearance that makes you look gorgeous and put-together. Besides hair styling methods such as braiding and setting, you could always consider using a flat iron that’s specifically created to protect natural hair from heat damage.
These alternatives can be effective whether you’re looking for a semi-permanent hair care solution, or just need an extra boost of confidence when rocking stunning hairdos.
Tips for Minimizing Risk When Applying a Hair Relaxer
Considering the many types of hair relaxers out there, it’s important to take time before using any product, thoroughly consulting the label for ingredients, directions, and warnings. Also, using professional salon services can be beneficial in terms of obtaining an accurate diagnosis of any preexisting scalp/hair issues that could cause further damage if not addressed beforehand.
Moreover, it pays to avoid leaving the chemical relaxing treatment on longer than prescribed as this could lead to dryness or breakage over time. Finally, moisturizing your strands with natural ingredients like shea butter or coconut oil post-treatment can help replenish necessary nourishment for healthier locks.
The Bottomline: Is it Really Safe to Use a Hair Relaxer for Black Women?
Ultimately, the safety of using hair relaxers depends on how you go about choosing, applying, and managing them. With limited use, consistent hair care, and proper maintenance, these products may be used without any major long-term consequences on hair scalp health.
However, it still pays to use such a product sparingly, specifically after assessing your individual needs and the possible risks. It also pays to consider natural or heatless styling methods, some of which provide similar textural results but with less potential damage over time.
It’s wise to always read labels carefully so you can select the right product specific to your texture/hair type, practice safe techniques when using them, and avoid overuse or misuse.