Many women still prefer the convenience of maintaining straight texture without having to compromise styling. Yet we still believe that relaxer damages our hair.

It is not the relaxer that causes damage, but the incorrect technique used and/or improper maintenance of the hair. In this article we will be looking at the 10 critical components of relaxing shared by our friends at ORS South Africa.

Proper Education

The purpose of a relaxer is to remove unwanted curl. This does not mean that you have to get the hair 100% straight. It is important to retain some curl pattern in the hair as well as elasticity in your hair; only 80-85% of the curl pattern should be removed. With relaxer you want to loosen the curl pattern to achieve desired straightness to make the hair more manageable and easier to comb.

Choose the right relaxer

The choice of relaxer depends on the type texture and porosity of the hair as well as the sensitivity of the scalp.

Some women have sensitive scalps either due to hormonal issues, scratching their scalp or brushing the hair too vigorously. If you have a sensitive scalp chose a no-lye relaxer and if you have a normal scalp you have the choice of either a no mix (sodium hydroxide) or a no-lye relaxer.

The next step is to determine whether the hair’s texture is fine, medium or coarse. Fine hair can be compared to silk fabric. How do you take care of it? Delicately. You hand wash your silk blouse and do not iron it on a high setting. Medium hair is more like denim fabric. You can throw it in the washing machine and iron it. Coarse hair on the other hand is like corduroy fabric. It is tough, strong and heavy, and requires extra steam to get the creases out.

If you have fine or medium textured hair, choose a normal strength relaxer. For coarse hair, choose a relaxer with extra strength.

Preparation

Thoroughly read through the instructions as well as the warnings of the product you choose. To process a relaxer you will need: protective base for scalp, hairline, top of ears, nape of neck; relaxer base; activator; neutralizing shampoo; conditioner and styling products. Other tools you will need include towels, a mixing bowl, spatula or applicator brush, gloves, a comb and clips.

Protection

It is important to protect your scalp with a petroleum base before you start applying the relaxer. The protective base closes the pores on the scalp, hairline, top of ears, nape of neck. This helps prevent the relaxer from causing premature irritation to the scalp. Apply the base in such a way that you get as little as possible on the hair as it will act as a barrier for the relaxer. For women with a really sensitive scalp, make sure you cover every part of your scalp in cross sections before starting to apply the relaxer. If you are having your hair relaxed at a salon you must insist that the stylist base your scalp, hairline, top of ears, nape of neck, hairline, top of ears, nape of neck properly.

Make sure you protect your clothes so that you don’t stain or damage them, protect your shoulders and/or bare skin with a towel, and your hands with the pair of gloves that is provided in the relaxer kit.

Application

Section the hair into four quadrants by parting it from the center of the ear to the center of the opposite ear and from front to back. Twist the hair and clip it in place to have clean sections to work with so as not to overlap.

When doing a new-growth application (touch-up) apply the relaxer to the new growth only. When relaxing the hair for the first time (virgin relaxer) apply the relaxer to the entire section from scalp to ends.

It is best to start the application at the center of your head and apply the relaxer very close to the scalp, but not on the scalp, focusing on the new growth only (for touch-ups) and pulling through to just under a centimeter away from the ends – saving the very ends until last (for virgin relaxer). You may apply the relaxer with an applicator brush or the back of a comb

Do not let the relaxer get onto your scalp. The heat from your scalp will automatically draw the relaxer applied nearest to the scalp towards it. If you accidentally get some product on a piece of the hair you don’t mean to, just wipe it off immediately.

Timing

You need to start calculating the time from the moment you start to apply the relaxer which means it should not take you longer than three to four minutes to apply. The processing time depends on the texture (fine, medium, coarse) and density (the number of hair in one section of your scalp – thin or thick) of your hair. If you strictly adhere to the processing time indicated in the instructions you will achieve optimal results.

It is important to note however that, if your scalp starts burning before the recommended processing time has lapsed, you need to rinse the relaxer off immediately followed by shampoo and conditioner. It is a myth that a relaxer must burn to be effective.

Post application

Rinse your hairline and the nape of your neck before you start rinsing the entire head. Make sure that you have thoroughly rinsed your hair, for a minimum of five minutes, before applying a neutralizing shampoo to stop the chemical process. After applying conditioner comb it through to ensure it is distributed evenly. Follow the instructions of the product you use for a maximum conditioning effect.

Finishing options

Your styling options with relaxed hair are endless: straight styles, up do’s, pony tails and textured styles (manipulated with rods, rollers, curling, braiding or twisting).

Maintenance

Whether your hair is relaxed or in its natural state, proper maintenance is of utmost importance. A regular cleansing and conditioning regime is paramount. It is also recommended that you trim your hair every six to eight weeks to aid in preventing split ends or hair breakage.

Follow up

The recommended frequency at which you relax your hair is six to eight weeks. However, dependent on the type and texture of your hair the frequency may vary.

Whether you do it yourself, involve a friend to help, or relax your hair at a salon you must be aware, any product (chemical) applied on the hair that permanently changes the shape or permanently changes the color of your hair is capable of damaging your hair and/or skin. By being aware of the 10 critical components of relaxing you can be sure beautiful, healthy hair.

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