The Danger of Relaxers, Texturizers and Perms

Relaxers have been a part of black women’s hair care for a long time now. They were invented in 1910 by a man named Garrett Augustus Morgan. You may remember him as the inventor of the stop light. It was actually invented by accident while Morgan was trying to create a liquid solution to take away friction from sewing needles in his tailor shop. He noticed that, after wiping his hands on a wool cloth, it made it smooth and flattened the next day. After trying the cream on curly dog hair, he realized it had the same effect and began selling the product to African American women.

Since its invention, relaxers have become quite common. In 2012, about 65% of women were relaxed. That’s a lot! However, in the last five years, the natural hair movement has taken effect. There has been a 26% decline in relaxer sales! Could it be a general acceptance of their natural roots, a bad economy or the increase of information about how bad relaxers really are? Who knows, but whatever the reason, it’s good to see that creamy crack finally declining.

A little bit about how relaxers work… Lye relaxers contain a chemical called Sodium Hydroxide. The pH levels of the product indicate the strength and range from 4 to 14. These chemicals are also found in drain cleaners and paint thinners, but people put it on their hair! No lye relaxers are “safer” and contain Guanidine Hydroxide, which is still a very harsh and powerful chemical. Relaxers break the disulfide bonds in the hair’s cortex, thus making it relaxed and straight. After this is done, the hair will never be the same. It weakens it significantly and leaves it very susceptible to damage. Some hair can handle this better than others, but even the strongest of hair gets weak. The “new growth” must be relaxed every month or so to keep the sleek look. So, your scalp is exposed to these chemicals over and over and over. Studies have shown that relaxers can cause chemical burns, red and flaky scalp, scalp dermatitis and infection, hair loss, slower hair growth and much more. Respiratory problems from breathing in the fumes can cause coughing and sneezing. In severe cases, it can permanently damage your lungs.

Perms and texturizers are similar to relaxers in their manipulation of the disulfide bonds, but make the hair curly or wavy instead of straight. The health risks are all the same and in my opinion, should not be an option. There are so many cute styles to do with natural hair and a ton of products out there. The natural hair movement has made woman feel comfortable with the hair they were born with. I believe that more women in the public eye should go natural. When children see them with straightened hair, they don’t identify with them as much. This is what we need. Stop using this toxic creamy crack.

There are two ways to get back to natural. One is the big chop. It’s just what it sounds like… cut it all off and start over. Another is the transitioning method. This is simply letting your natural hair grow out and slowly cutting off the relaxed hair. Many women braid their hair or wear a wig or weave while it grows out. Youtube has so many tutorials on natural hair that can help in your journey. Use your resources and enjoy a healthier lifestyle, both mentally and physically.

-Sherry Ulvick