Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Relaxer Facts - Things your hair-dresser Never told you

by Devon Austin

Show Me the Money

There is plenty of money to be made in the African American hair care industry. Studies have shown that African American women visit a salon on an average of once every three weeks, while Caucasian women visit about once every 7-8 weeks. Hair relaxers make up the largest segment of this market. Styling aids (i.e. gels, oils, sheens, holding sprays, and setting lotions) are also common, along with moisturizing and conditioning products (including pomades, brillatines, texturizers, scalp protectors, colorants and curl activators).

Tightly coiled hair fibers are usually shorter and more elliptical which causes them to tangle, knot and break easily. African American hair has a higher cuticle to cortex ratio than other hair types. The average cuticle layer in most black hair is approximately 14 layers thick. This is twice as thick as whites who average 7 layers. Add in repeated chemical abuse and you have a tremendous potential for consumer product companies to market products to meet these unique needs. (Note: The majority of these consumer product companies are not African American owned) 

The Anatomy of African American Hair

Hair is made up of protein. When chemicals are used on the hair they alter the structure and destroy protein in the process. If you could view the hair under a microscope at the time of the chemical treatment you could actually see explosions on and in the hair as the protein in the hair is being destroyed. The alkaline chemical burns through the protein, lifts the cuticle and goes to work on the protein cortex of the hair. As much as 50% of the protein in the hair can be destroyed each time a chemical process is performed, until eventually nearly all of the protein in the hair is lost. The structure of the hair has now been significantly compromised; the hair has no way to hold itself together and simply falls apart.

Hair fiber showing elliptical shape and point of stress induced damaged           

Same fiber at stress point. With stress induced damage at 800X magnification the point of curvature.

Should you Relax?

Consumers who relax their hair generally turn to alkali relaxers formulated with sodium hydroxide, guanidine hydroxide (commonly called no-lye relaxers, they have a slightly lower pH of 9) or thioglycolate-based formulas.

Relaxers are one of the most potent alkali chemicals you can use on your hair. They raise the pH of the hair so that the structure of the hair can be altered by the other ingredients of the treatment. Peptide bonds create the strength in the hair. The purpose of relaxers is to destroy peptide bonds. When the bonds are destroyed the hair straightens because it’s strength is now gone. The active ingredients in the majority of relaxers have a pH of approximately 13+. This is very alkaline (a neutral pH is "7", "0" is very acid, "14" is extremely alkaline). Remember Draino (a product that removes hair from sinks and drains) also has a pH of 13, and they both work the same way. They break down hair!

Once the peptide bonds are destroyed there is no conditioner on earth that can fix, mend or repair it. Forget what the ads and commercials are telling you. You can deep condition all you want but once the peptide bonds are destroyed they are gone forever. Relaxers also deplete the hair of essential fatty acids normally found in the scalps natural oil, sebum. This can result in –thinning of the hair –damage to the hair – breakage to the hair – discoloration to the hair – dryness to the hair – brittleness to the hair.

for some photos of what a scalp which have suffered due to relaxers click here

What the Future Holds

In recent years African American women have become increasingly more concerned about the potential long-term damage being inflicted upon them through the use of chemical relaxers. In addition, in this day and age where "time is money" many women feel that it is no longer acceptable to spend large sums of their hard earned cash on frequent and lengthy visits to the salon (African American women statistically have the least amount of disposable income but spend the most on their hair).

Many women have begun to look for alternatives, discovering (often for the first time) the beauty of their natural hair. Despite the fact that many natural hairstyles are still not yet fully acceptable (especially in the corporate work place) Cornrows, Afros, Dreads, Twist outs, Bantu Knots, Sisterlocks - just to name a few – are becoming increasingly more popular. African American women are realizing their beauty and defying the rules. Standing tall and proud, equipped with knowledge, a love of self and a renewed spirit - what a wonderful gift to pass on to our children.

Information was gathered from various sources including ISP Corp-Ethnic Hair Care Guide-hair photos ISP Corp, Black Hair Care. Repost from On the Path

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