It may seem funny to think about it now, but there was once a time when relaxed hair was the hairstyle of choice for many black women. The question wasn't if you were going to relax your hair but when you were going to relax it.
Like clockwork, women showed up at their salons every few weeks to get their roots retouched and their hair blown out and set into beautiful styles that would last them for the next few weeks.
Then, something happened.
Like Wilona (RIP Ja’Net Dubois!) bursting through the front door, the natural hair movement rolled on in. Natural hair, once looked at as something to be avoided, was suddenly embraced. Thanks to the social and emotional issues surrounding natural hair, relaxing one’s hair came to be viewed as an oppressed choice. Natural hair was associated with health and vitality.
Fast forward to today, and many women have decided that hair is...hair. As long as you're not changing it because you want to literally change your DNA makeup (and why would you?? Helloooo, melanin! Fountain of youth?!),hair is something to have fun with, keep healthy and wear exactly how you see fit. There are women who have resumed relaxing their hair - if they ever stopped at all - and they're enjoying the results.
Now the question comes how to take care of this hair.
Troubles Taking Care of it Back in the Day
One of the many reasons that women became so enamored with their natural hair is that they’d become scarred with all the difficulties they’d experienced with their relaxed hair. Women had had trouble keeping their relaxed hair healthy because they didn't understand how the chemicals affected their hair.
They didn’t have the tools they needed to keep their relaxed hair in good shape. This lack of knowledge resulted in millions of women around the world suffering from all kinds of relaxer-related damage like breakage, dryness, stunted hair growth, bald spots, hair loss, and scalp burns. This damage led to many people believing that relaxers were bad for your hair, FULL STOP.
When women started learning about how to take care of their natural hair, they learned about all of the different products that could damage it. They learned about texture, moisturization, protective styling and all the other things that would help them grow lush, beautiful natural tresses.
During this learning process, people came to learn and understand why relaxers had been so damaging to their hair. They simply didn’t know how to take care of it in its relaxed state. Some people started to experiment with the knowledge they’d learned taking care of their natural hair, wondering if the same dedication and care could be applied to relaxed hair.
What many people discovered was that if they took the time and dedication to learn about relaxers and what they actually did to their hair, they could figure out ways to keep their hair healthy if and when they decided to wear relaxers again. Today, many women who have relaxers have much healthier hair. They took the knowledge they learned and applied it.
What Relaxers Do to Your Hair
Relaxers work by breaking down your hair’s disulfide bonds, the bonds that allow your hair to curl. Problem? Those disulfide bonds also help your hair remain strong. If they’re broken down, your hair is weaker, hence the broken, fragile relaxed hair many women rocked. They needed to figure out how to stop the breakage.
Steps To Healthy, Relaxed Hair
Look, any chemical process is going to damage your hair to some extent because it’s a chemical. Your hair will always be its strongest in its natural, virgin state. There are ways, however, to protect your hair when it's processed so that it looks great and can live its healthiest, best life.
Stretch Out Your Retouching Timetable
Figure out your retouch schedule. If you’ve got a looser hair texture with strong strands, you will probably be able to go longer in between relaxers than people with thinner, weaker strands. The longer you wait between touchups, the better. Relaxer damage is usually caused by overlapping when applying the relaxer for touchups. The relaxer gets on the already relaxed hair, causing overprocessing and ultimately breakage. You’re less likely to have issues with overlapping if you have more new growth to relax.
Get it Done Professionally
You may be tempted to relax your hair yourself or get it done from that girl down the street offering to do it for $20 in order to save money, but DON’T. This is NOT the time to save money. This is a chemical process that you're going to have to get done at least every few weeks, if not every few months.
Chemical applications should be handled by professionals, people who know what they’re doing and are as invested in your healthy hair journey as you are. They’ll know exactly what type/strength of relaxer you’ll need, and they’ll recommend products that are less likely to damage your hair.
Stop Touching It
One of the biggest ways to damage your hair is to constantly touch or manipulate it. Your hair has already gone through a chemical process where it’s no longer in its natural state. Hair in a weakened state needs to be manipulated as little as possible. Stop touching it. Once you get in the style that you want, do everything that you can to keep it in that style but Nick's all of the brushing, combing and other manipulation that could put your delicate strands at risk.
Use Protective Styling
A million years ago, a famous black supermodel named Wanakee Pugh created a line of hair products that were intended to keep black, textured hair in good condition. She was the innovator and pioneer of the whole protective styling movement. You can read all about it here. She let black women know that even if they relax their hair, they could experience healthy, lush growth as long as they protected their hair.
When you wear your hair out, The ends of your hair are exposed to the air, causing dryness and breakage. It's fun to wear your hair down sometimes, but other times keep it up in a bun or braids or some other form a protective styling in order to keep the ends safe and the hair less manipulated. Many women with relaxed hair often wear wigs and weaves to help protect their relaxed hair from being manipulated too often.
Diet is extremely important when it comes to the health of any type of hair, let alone relaxed hair. Eat foods rich in hair-enriching vitamins and nutrients like Vitamin E, Vitamin D, B vitamins, protein and silica.
Clean Properly/Condition Often
Deep condition your hair at least every two weeks to help infuse moisture and repair damage. Protein-based conditioners help strengthen strands, while moisture-based ones help keep strands supple. Co-wash your hair when possible, and use sulfate-free products across the board to avoid buildup that causes dryness and breakage.
Protect your hair at night. Wear a satin or silk bonnet to help prevent the exposed cuticles from becoming roughed up and breaking.
Relaxed Hair Alternative
If you like the look of relaxed hair but would rather eat paint than relax your hair, you can still get the look by rocking a gorgeous wig or luxurious extensions. A beautiful, well-made wig or lush bundles with a closure can give you the relaxed hair look you’re looking for without sacrificing any of your own strands to do it. The good news is that if you use quality hair, you can color, use styling products and do all of the other things you’d hesitate to do with your own relaxed hair.