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Chemical relaxers evolved from the accidental discovery in 1905 of a compound that straightened hair. Garrett Augustus Morgan, Sr., the son of former slaves, began marketing his invention in 1913 primarily to African Americans. The process became so popular that as of 2010, 80 percent of African-American women used chemical relaxers, according to dermatologist Susan C. Taylor, MD, writing for the Society Hill Dermatology website. Used improperly, relaxers cause hair breakage and damage, according to the Journal of American Academy of Dermatology. Following a few tips before using a relaxer can assure effective and attractive results.
Don't Wash Your Hair
Chemical relaxers work by breaking the original bonds of your hair and rearranging them to reduce the natural curl pattern. The active ingredient in many relaxers is sodium hydroxide, commonly known as lye. Lye is powerful enough for use as a drain cleaner and as an oven cleaner, according to Drugs.com. So-called no-lye relaxers contain guanidine hydroxide and also break the natural curl pattern of the hair, according to Taylor. Leave your hair unwashed to provide some protection for the hair shaft, WomenFitness.net and Soft Sheen Carson recommend.
Space Relaxers and Color
You run a greater risk of hair damage and breakage if you relax and color your hair, according to the FDA and TeensHealth from Nemours. If you relax your hair, use semipermanent hair color rather than permanent hair color, the FDA recommends. If you do use permanent hair color, the general consensus is to space apart the two procedures by at least two weeks.
Protect Your Scalp and Hairline
Before applying relaxer, protect your scalp and hairline with a coating of oil, the FDA and WomenFitness.net recommend. Plain petroleum jelly is fine, although some home relaxer kits include protective gel. Apply a thick coat of the petroleum jelly or protective gel to prevent the relaxer from directly touching the skin. Include the outer part of your ears as well as the nape of your neck.
Do a Strand Test
As with any chemical procedure, perform a strand test before applying a chemical relaxer to your hair, even if you've used the product before, WomanFitness.net recommends. Use a section above the ear for the strand test, stylist Sharon Dorram suggests. Pull the hair from the strand test to determine whether it is elastic or brittle. Use a small amount of relaxer on the hair from the strand test to determine how it will react to the treatment, Peter Lamas Beauty Magazine advises.
- United States Food and Drug Administration: Hair Dye and Hair Relaxers
- TeensHealth from Nemours: Taking Care of Your Hair
- Drugs.com: Sodium Hydroxide Poisoning
- Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology: "Relaxers" Damage Hair -- Evidence from Amino Acid Analysis
- Peter Lamas Beauty Magazine: Chemical Hair Straightening FAQs
- Hill Street Studios/Blend Images/Getty Images