Mystery solved: How exactly do chemical hair relaxers work?
25 May 2018
Relaxer for curly hair is something that every African woman will be familiar with, whether you’ve used it or not. You know what relaxer does – straightens curls so you artificially change your natural hair type – but do you know how it works?
The basic principle of chemical hair straightening is that the relaxer penetrates the cuticle – or outside protective shell – of hair strands, and acts on the thick inner layer known as the cortex. The cortex consists of rope-like protein fibres, and relaxers work on these “ropes”, breaking the bonds between them so the core is stretched and restructured. The result is straighter hair that can last for around 6–8 weeks, and provides a break from everyday curl care and frizz management.
Lye vs No-lye Relaxer
There are many different types of chemical relaxers, but one of the most common distinguishers is lye versus no-lye. What’s the difference?
Lye relaxers typically use sodium hydroxide (also known as lye) as a primary ingredient. This is a strong alkaline or base chemical that quickly straightens hair, helping to avoid irritation as the process is faster. That said, the precision required in terms of application time means lye relaxers are more commonly used by haircare professionals.
No-lye products, rather unsurprisingly, given their name, skip the sodium hydroxide and substitute something slightly milder instead, like calcium hydroxide or lithium hydroxide. This alkaline formulation is preferable for women with sensitive scalps. Also, its lesser intensity means it’s more common in kits for hair relaxing at home, just like Dark and Lovely Moisture Plus No-Lye Relaxer.
Whether you go lye or no-lye, look out for products that have additional moisturising properties, as relaxing typically has a drying effect on hair. Neutralising shampoo is an essential follow-up to the process, as well as the use of special relaxed hair products designed to maintain chemically treated hair. For example, Mizani Strength Fusion Intense Night-time Treatment works overnight to fortify and condition thanks to a combination of nourishing shea butter and vitamins.
If you are uncertain about relaxing, but want to experience its effects for yourself, visit your nearest reputable salon. This way the process will be managed by an expert in line with your specific hair and scalp needs. It will also incorporate salon-quality products for extra peace of mind. Make an appointment now, and relax right.
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