Here I discuss this misconception and review some of the major mistakes I made when my hair was relaxed? Perhaps this explains why my hair never grew past a certain point.
A certain reality TV star was quoted as saying that natural hair isn’t for everyone. This was puzzling to me and many others in the natural hair blogosphere. How could a person’s natural hair not suit them? Was he claiming that for some women the only option was to alter their hair texture permanently or to be constantly reliant on weaves? This is fine if it is a choice but it’s unfortunate when women believe they have no choice but to rely on relaxers. This implies that there is something inherently ‘wrong’ with their natural hair.
It’s very rare that you hear people of other races make such comments. This idea simply isn’t true and is a major misconception. After making these comments he later ‘clarified’ on Twitter that he wasn’t being critical, he was simply pointing out that not everyone knows how to ‘manage’ their hair in its natural state, so thus it isn’t for everyone. Really? I use to think like this, ask many women with relaxed hair or those that tried to go natural and have since returned to relaxer. Some will say the same thing.
However, is relaxed hair really that much easier to manage? All I know is when my hair was relaxed it didn’t grow past a certain point. Now this may not be the case for everyone but many of us can relate to this. During my time with relaxed hair I also had to deal with occasions where my hair was over processed, which led to breakage and regular setbacks. Looking back now, I simply wasn’t aware of good hair care practice. The principles that I have learned since going natural are also important for women with relaxed hair. They don’t just apply to natural hair but are integral for promoting healthy hair in general. For example both relaxed and natural hair benefit from protective styling. If I had incorporated this principle when my hair was relaxed I may have seen better results.
Unfortunately, I believe many of us are still unaware of the effects of relaxers to the strength and overall health of our hair. This may be the reason why black women are considered to have the shortest hair length or hair that ‘doesn’t grow’. Relaxers may be one of the main reasons for this. Although there has been an increase in the percentage of women with natural hair in recent years, the majority still opt for relaxers. After reading The Science of Black Hair, by Audrey Davis-Sivasothy, I became more aware of what chemical relaxers do to the hair. I realized where I was going wrong when my hair was relaxed. I wasn’t incorporating the practices needed to combat the negative effects of chemical relaxers. I believe many women with relaxed hair are still not aware of how to manage their hair. I’m not simply referring to styling, which is usually put before health.
Relaxers weaken afro textured hair because they strip the hair of its elasticity. With little elasticity, hair is more susceptible to breakage. Afro textured hair is naturally fragile as every kink and curl presents a potential breaking point. The American Academy of Dermatology found that relaxers make curly hair even more fragile and may therefore be the reason why the hair doesn’t grow beyond a certain point. Afro textured hair certainly grows, that’s why we have to get a re-touch every 6 to 8 weeks. So the logical explanation is that the hair is breaking off from the ends and doesn’t reach a certain length as a result.
Good practices for relaxed hair
So what are the good hair care practices that would have helped me to manage my relaxed hair better?
Avoid bone straight hair
Hair care experts suggest that you should not relax your hair to the point where it is bone straight. Generally it should not be more than 80% straight; this leaves some elasticity in the hair. I certainly didn’t know this when I relaxed my hair and my hair stylists didn’t follow this rule either. Instead they would wait until my scalp started to burn before they would even consider washing the relaxer out, this is not good hair care practice. Most of us believed that the straighter the hair the better. If our hair wasn’t bone straight after a relaxer session it would have been considered a failure. This doesn’t mean that such hair care experts are condoning the use of heat either in order to get the hair bone straight. In fact using heat on relaxed hair is not recommended, as this can cause dryness and breakage on hair that is already lacking in elasticity.
Relax the hair less frequently
Hair care experts also recommend that you relax your hair every 10 to 12 weeks rather than the popular 6 to 8 weeks. This is simply because of the harsh effects of the chemicals in relaxers and the risk of over processing. The more time that passes between relaxers the better, as this would reduce your overall use of chemicals. How many of us followed this rule when we had relaxed hair? I relaxed my hair every six weeks without fail because I couldn’t handle the re-growth. I didn’t like the very appearance of it. If you were going to follow this rule, you would have to learn to blend the two hair textures. Again, the use of heat to do this isn’t encouraged and it is stressed that such usage should be minimized. Using heat on the new growth is futile because any slight moisture on the scalp will result in the hair reverting. That’s why many of us fell into the trap of using heat too frequently, in between relaxers. Some of us used it daily! It would be beneficial to try braid-outs and twist-outs in between relaxers as this will blend the two textures well.
Don’t relax damaged hair
Dealing with two hair textures in between relaxers sounds like hard work to me and indicates that relaxed hair is not as easy to manage as people would love to have you believe. From personal experience the longer I waited in between relaxers the more shedding I experienced. This gave me the false idea that my hair was breaking without the relaxer and so I needed to relax it as soon as possible. The cause of heavy shedding between relaxers is still unknown and this topic has been debated. It is suggested that you should wait for this period of shedding to subside before getting another relaxer. Relaxing the hair is such a harsh process and should be done when the hair is in the best possible condition.
Respect the mark of demarcation
This is the point where the new growth reaches the straight, relaxed hair. Hair care experts stress that when you relax your hair, you should not apply any of the mixture to the hair that is already straightened. You must only apply the relaxer to the new growth as this can lead to over processing. Well, I know from experience that this is almost impossible to do in reality. Audrey Davis-Sivasothy suggests that you cover the relaxed hair with a thick cream or oil to form a protective barrier between the new growth and the relaxed hair. This may be the best way of preventing over processing. In practice, I know many of us did not take this rule seriously and I have seen hair stylists applying the mixture to about half of the hair. They certainly didn’t take care to ensure that they only applied the relaxer to the new growth. Hence, this is why many of us endured over processing as a regular occurrence.
Protein and moisturizing treatments
How many of us knew the difference between protein and moisturizing treatments when our hair was relaxed? And the importance of balancing moisture and protein with our treatments and products? I can now concoct my own homemade protein and moisturizing treatments and I’m aware of the benefits. I don’t do protein treatments very often because I don’t have to, but with relaxed hair frequent protein treatments are a must. Getting the protein/moisture balance right takes time and practice. Protein treatments combat the weakening effects of the chemicals in relaxers. Regular moisturizing treatments are also important in between relaxers. Relaxed hair is even more prone to dryness due to the chemicals in relaxers, despite clever marketing to convince you otherwise.
I only had treatments at the salon once in a while and the treatments I bought from the shops were mainly moisturizing treatments. I probably should have been having more protein treatments but I was unaware of the difference. According to expert advice, protein treatments should be done every two to three weeks and moisturizing treatments should be done weekly with relaxed hair.
After truly researching the effects of relaxers, I do not consider relaxed hair easier to manage. It also takes time and effort to maintain the health of relaxed hair. Dealing with the effects of chemical relaxers can be more of a headache, literally and figuratively speaking. I think it was a miracle I made it through my relaxed years with hair still on my head, because I broke so many hair care rules. Besides, you can still have straight hair when it is natural without the use of chemicals. If you are happy with your relaxed hair that’s great! You may still believe it is easier to manage. We are all allowed our own opinions and our individual experiences differ. However, I would suggest doing your research and adopting good hair care practices whatever your hair texture.
Whether relaxed or natural we should all learn to manage our hair correctly and no longer be stereotyped as the race that has the hair that doesn’t grow. Or that women with long hair in the black community must be bi-racial. I know there are black women with healthy, long relaxed hair too. But when I was growing up they were always the exception, not the norm. For me personally, it was not a healthy period for my hair or for my self-esteem. Now my hair is longer than it has ever been. It is a wonderful experience to not have to rely on weaves or extensions for length and thickness. It takes time to learn how to manage your natural hair but it is worth it!
What do you think? Whether you have relaxed or natural hair, share your thoughts below.
· The Science of Black Hair, Audrey Davis-Sivasothy; Saja Publishing Company 2011
· Ultra Black Hair Growth II, Cathy Howse, UBH Publications 2000
· Grow It! Chicoro; ChicoroGYM Publishing 2009