Black and other women with highly textured hair enjoy the styling freedom and choice of tresses like never before. From straight, relaxed styles, to curly or sister locs, dreads, natural tresses - or afro, and braids, the styling options are endless. But, with this flexibility comes potential damage from heat, relaxer chemicals, braiding tension and pulling, and dryness. What's a girl to do?
We will explore some of the damage by commonly used chemicals and learn how to avoid problems caused by today's popular styles. First though, let's trace the beginnings of the hair relaxer.
Where did the first perm come from?
Inventor, Garrett Augustus, in 1910, was working in his machine shop where he repaired various kinds of machines. At that time, he was trying to develop a new lubricant for the sewing machine needle. It is believed that while he was working, he got some of the lubricant on his hands. He then wiped his hands on a wool cloth. Soon thereafter left for the day.
Upon returning the next day, he found that the wool cloth had lost its texture and was now smooth. Surprised, he decided to try it out on a curly haired dog, called the airesdale. He obtained the same results. Once more, he decided to repeat his experiment-this time on himself. You got it, his hair was straightened. He subsequently patented his new product as "hair refining cream." ("Hair relaxers" www.skinbiology.com)
Now, guess what the name of the potent chemical is called?
Sodium hydroxide (lye)
Lye is a very strong, highly alkalinic chemical with a ph of 10-14. This has the potential for a lot of hair and scalp damage. (Yes, this is the same stuff that opens drains, is used for cleaning in soaps and so on.)
The human hair is basically composed of keratin that is held together by disulphide bonds. The lye breaks these bonds in the outer most cuticle layer and therefore alters the texture of the hair. The hair is now chemically damaged and weakened.("Hair relaxers" www.skinbiology.com)
The relaxing creams are applied to the scalp, smoothed for approximately five to seven minutes and then washed out with cool water and a neutralizing shampoo to restore the ph of the hair or it will continue to relax and damage the hair. This is why moisturizing is always so important with chemically relaxed hair.
The hair must then be meticulously maintained or it will break and fall.
No lye relaxers
Other chemicals are being marketed as being less damaging than lye, but still are all nevertheless potent chemicals. Some of these chemicals are called potassium hydroxide, lithium hydroxide and guanidine hydroxide.
These are very strong relaxers as well and are not really considered less harmful due to their potential for hair and scalp damage. These chemicals do not break the disulphide bonds but penetrate them and weaken them from within. Neutralizing shampoos must be used with these chemicals as well.
Acid based relaxers
This last class of chemicals are only slightly less damaging than lye. These products can cause hair damage though through the stripping away of natural oils causing dryiness to the hairs and scalp. These relaxers are ammonium thioglycolate, ammonium sulfate and ammonium bisulfate.
The drying factor is very true as I have experienced nearly all of the chemicals in this section-and article as alternatives to lye. Thioglycolate does not burn as lye or no-lye based relaxers, but can cause much damage through dryness. Now add the extreme heating temperatures of blow drying and you are asking for premature baldness.
Healthier hair care options
It is quite easy to see why black women and other with the curly textured hair have breakage. What with all the chemicals and heat to maintain their style of choice.
If you want a healthier, more natural mane of hair why not read and learn about the renewed interest in natural oils that enhance the health of your hair such as almond oil, henna and others.
If you would like to know more, please check out the book, "How to grow black hair long"