What is a relaxer?
Relaxer is a chemical that permanently uncurls hair. The strands on our head are made of keratin proteins which are held together by disulfide bonds that give hair its elasticity, strength and curl pattern. How curly your hair is depends on the number of disulfide bonds it has. By chemically breaking these bonds, the keratin can be realigned and straightened. Think of it as a reverse perm. The solution is applied at the scalp then pulled through to rearrange the strands in a straight line.
Such relaxers are most popular for thick, Afro-Caribbean hair. The process needs to be repeated every eight weeks to address regrowth. Because there’s some inevitably overlap, these treatments are known to damage and overstretch individual hair shafts, making them increasingly prone to fissures and breakage. While home kits are readily available and cost-effective, these products also make it easy to over process the hair. Another risky relaxer move includes not waiting the recommended amount of time between touch-ups.
But, the most important aspect to remember: “Chemical relaxers are irreversible,” says Faith Huffnagle, Prose director of education and a veteran stylist. “The only way to get rid of one is to wait for it to grow out.”
What isn’t a relaxer?
Japanese Straightening/Thermal Reconditioning:
This process uses chemicals and heat to alter the structure of hair, loosening hair proteins, then reshaping hair cells. It can be damaging, but many consider it worthwhile for six to seven months of stick-straight strands. Once the treatment fades out, the hair will return to its original texture.
Keratin Treatment/Brazilian Straightening:
A coating of keratin is painted and sealed onto the hair shaft, creating a moisture barrier that reduces frizz and gives hair a shiny finish. Typical results last around three months, then gently fades out as hair goes back to its natural structure.
How do I get my curls back?
So, the good news first: your natural texture will return. The bad news: it’s going to take some time to return to a full head of curls.
As new hair growth occurs, the texture will come in just as you remember. The section that was relaxed, however, will remain straight. Many women choose to cut off the length to speed up the process. Or, you can try trimming a little off the ends after each shampoo to slowly whittle away the over-processed ends. But if that’s too dramatic a move, twist outs, flat twists and protective styling work great to disguise the two, opposing textures and hide compromised and weakened ends.
There will be a very weakened line of demarcation where the relaxed hair and new growth meet that can easily snap. Additionally, hair will have two different pHs with relaxed hair being very alkaline, and fresh growth more acidic, which makes finding the right cleansing, conditioning and styling products challenging.
During the growing out phase, you’ll want to avoid heat, harsh chemicals (including keratin treatments), extensions or anything else that puts undue stress and pulls or tugs at hair. Nourishing and conditioning ingredients will be beneficial to keep the hair from breaking off prematurely. For this awkward phase, Prose recommends botanical ingredients like maracuja oil to restore hair’s strength and hyaluronic acid to deeply moisturize hair fibers.
Additional pro tips
- Keep hair pinned or tucked away during the growing-out phase
- Make use of nourishing hair oils and masks
- Sleep with a silk wrap or pillowcase to eliminate friction
- Minimize the use of heat styling tools
- Keep hairstyles on the looser side—tight ponytails will put tension on strands
- Get regular trims until all the relaxed ends are gone
- Avoid sleeping on wet hair
Revive your hair after any straightening treatment with ingredients that have serious moisturizing powers. Get started with Prose by taking your consultation here.
15 years later and my relaxed curls have not just grown back. My hair is so straight. I’m so sad
Great article, except for one important error. Thermal Reconditioning / Japanese Straightening is completely permanent. The treatment does not fade after 6-7 months. While new growth will have the hair’s original texture, but the treated hair is straightened forever and won’t even hold a curl from a curling iron. Keratin treatments, however, do fade away and leave you with your original texture, unless you are unlucky enough to end up with heat damage.