Hair relaxers seem to be a great alternative to hair straighteners. This chemical-based method of transforming those unmanageable curls to smooth and straight strands has been in vogue, especially among the African-American women. However, is it a safe option? This HairGlamourista article will throw light on the irreversible side effects of hair relaxers, irrespective of what the manufacturers claim them to be.
Did You Know?
A hair relaxer was an accidental invention of Garret Morgan, an African-American tailor, in the year 1910, when he was working towards making a new lubricant for his machine needle.
Wow! What started as a lubricant for a machine needle, ended up as a cream used on our hair and scalp! Ever since the invention of hair relaxers, many manufacturers have made millions and billions of dollars, marketing this magical product with powers to change the structure of your curly and difficult-to-manage hair within minutes! While the hot iron method would damage the hair to a great extent, some companies presented hair relaxers as a “safe” alternative to use. One such company was the World Rio Corporation Inc., the manufacturer of the “Rio Hair Naturalizer System”, a supposedly chemical-free formula that resulted in the hair damage of thousands of its users. Apparently the chemicals present in this formula were so strong, that they led to hair loss and/or scalp damage of those who used it. There was a lawsuit against the manufacturer and the product was withdrawn from the market.
Mishaps do happen, you might say. Not all companies are as fraudulent after all! And now with the emergence of hair relaxers without the presence of lye, their application is much safer comparatively. Well, such is not the opinion of various medical experts, who have studied and researched on the safeness of these products. One such study was published in the International Journal of Trichology, where the adverse effects of chemical hair relaxers were reported. The findings stated that, “most of the samples had adverse effects, which was as high as 95.56%.” The details of this study are discussed in the following section.
Adverse Effects of Using Hair Relaxers
Did you know that complaints related to hair straighteners and hair dyes are the highest ones received by the FDA? The chemicals used in these products are extremely powerful―you can very well imagine their harshness level, since they have the ability to alter the basic structure of the hair strand itself! What these chemicals do is that they penetrate through the inner layer of the hair shaft (which is responsible for giving the hair that curly texture, along with strength and elasticity) and break the chemical bonds of the hair, thereby giving it the straightness you seek. Once these chemical bonds are broken, they can never be restored; repeated usage of these relaxers only paves way for further degree of damage.
The side effects include hair thinning, hair loss, frizzy hair, breakage, dandruff, split ends, and scalp irritation. The details are listed as under.
The study published in the International Journal of Trichology found that almost 67 percent of those who participated, reported frizzy and dry hair. Relaxers tend to wash away the moisture of the scalp and hair, making the hair dry and brittle. Easy breakage is also commonly observed.
Only next to frizzy hair were 61 percent of participants who complained of dandruff. Dryness in the scalp and sensitivity to certain hair care products (including relaxers) are among the many causes of dandruff. As already explained, the chemicals tend to wash out the natural oils of the scalp causing dryness and irritation, which may attribute to dandruff.
Because these products damage the initial protective layer of the hair, it becomes susceptible to breakage and split ends. Experts suggest not to use perms and relaxers, especially when one wishes to grow their hair long enough. Hair relaxers boost the formation of split ends. Repetitive usage can lead to unevenness due to breakage.
The medical study mentioned above also revealed that almost 47 percent of the users experienced hair loss, which may also have permanent effects in the long run, as the usage of the product continues. Not only this, experts also suggest that the quality of the new hair growth may also be affected. Various cases of abnormal hair strands lacking in quantity and quality have been noticed.
Hair Thinning and Graying
Hair thinning and breakage was experienced by 40 percent of the participants of the medical study, while 22 percent experienced graying of hair, as well. According to the Atlanta Natural Hair Care, “Overprocessing causes more damage resulting in thinning hair, especially around the natural hairline. …it is a clear sign of the damage chemical hair straightening can cause.”
Scalp Irritation and/or Damage
The damage is not confined to the hair, the scalp also gets severely affected by the use of these chemical-based agents. Small lesions, burns, and scarring have been observed in many cases, which may also cause permanent bald patches in the long run. Not only this, continual use of hair relaxers in combination with alcohol-based hair care products such as sprays, gels, shampoos, etc., may add to the damage, leading to scalp infection that may also affect new hair growth adversely.
Breathing and Stomach Problems
One of the chemicals used in hair relaxers is potassium hydroxide. As stated by the Atlanta Natural Hair Care, inhaling this chemical may cause problems such as coughing, sneezing, and other respiratory problems. Ingesting it may result in vomiting, stomach pain, diarrhea, and even death. Prolonged exposure to such chemicals in any form is dangerous.
Consider the aforementioned points to be warnings. While companies may manufacture safer options, such as the ones with no lye, these labels are successfully misleading the consumers. Lye hair relaxers contain sodium hydroxide as the principal chemical, the very chemical used in drain cleaners to dissolve the clogged items. It also has a very high pH level. When consumers became more aware of the harmfulness of this chemical, no-lye hair relaxers were manufactured. However, although not as much as lye hair relaxers, these “safer” options are also harmful to human health. The only difference is that instead of sodium hydroxide, the chemical present here is guanidine hydroxide, which is also a powerful chemical.
One must carefully evaluate all the risks involved in using hair relaxers. There is no 100 percent safe hair relaxer; in fact, experts suggest that if you value your hair quality more than the temporary satisfaction that these straightening methods provide, it is best to avoid using chemical-based hair care products and opt for homemade or organic products instead. There are a lot of kinky and fun hairstyles that one can try with curly hair. In fact, healthy curls look absolutely ravishing and intriguing, if you ask us. Even after understanding the risks, if you wish to use hair relaxers, then ensure that you get in touch with an experienced professional for this task. Most evaluate the health level of the hair and scalp and suggest straightening methods accordingly. Avoid using DIY kits for this task; remember, you are dealing with extremely harmful chemicals here. Be as cautious and safe as possible.