Should You Be Relaxer-Free?

A woman with long, natural hair in twists smiling and relaxing on her bed( — There are some in the Black community who believe that relaxing your hair is the equivalent of selling out or wishing to be white. Others see it as a measure to promote manageability.  Either way, the debate continues (and each year, home relaxer sales still total over $45 million).

All About The Relaxer

The relaxer was discovered by an African American named Garrett Augustus Morgan. Morgan was born the seventh of eleven children to former slaves. He is best known for his invention of the automatic traffic signal and the gas mask. But it was around 1910 that he stumbled upon what would become his major contribution to the hair care products industry, and what would pave the way for several other entrepreneurs and manufacturers over the next hundred years.

While working in a sewing machine repair shop and attempting to invent a new lubricating liquid for the machine needle, it is widely believed that Morgan wiped the liquid off of his hands and onto a wool cloth. Returning the next day, he found the woolly texture of the cloth had “smoothed out.” Morgan then set out to find how the liquid chemical had changed the cloth’s texture. He experimented on an Airedale dog, known for their curly textured hair, and the effect was successfully duplicated.

Morgan then tried his lubricating liquid invention on himself, called it a “hair refining cream”, and thus patented the first chemical hair straightener. Morgan  founded a personal grooming products company which included hair dying ointments, curved-tooth pressing combs, shampoo, hair pressing gloss, and the one that started it all: the “G.A. Morgan’s Hair Refiner Cream” (advertised to “Positively Straighten Hair in 15 Minutes”).

The Relaxer Today

Many years after Morgan’s invention, there have been many social, cultural, and political discussions and debates about relaxing or not relaxing hair.

As a stylist, of course, I believe the bigger issue is that, if performed incorrectly, relaxing can cause hair breakage, hair thinning, lack of hair growth, scalp irritation, scalp damage, and hair loss. These are just some of the complaints from many who experience problems due to the misuse of chemical hair relaxers.

In fact, the FDA lists hair straighteners and hair dyes among its top consumer complaint areas. Because of the fragile nature of highly textured hair, the use of any chemical process should always be done with caution, patience. Following a manufacturer’s directions is always a must.

If applied correctly, hair can be relaxed safely and effectively. But for many of the reasons listed above, many of my clients do change their minds about relaxing their hair, and one of the most frequently asked questions I get is how to successfully transition from a relaxer to natural hair without extreme breakage?

Option 1 – The Slow Transition

• Step 1 – Grow It Out
This step requires a lot of patience, but sometimes it is the only way to transition from relaxed hair back to your natural hair. Hair grows at a length of ¼ -1/2 inch per month so it may take 9 months to 2 years or more to truly grow out your relaxed hair. Of course that will depend on how you care for your hair and how much length will make you feel comfortable.

• Step 2 – Trim Gradually
The easiest rule of thumb is growing an inch, and then cutting an inch. Remember, condition regularly and take care and patience with your hair in that it is very fragile when you have both relaxed and natural texture on one strand. Hair will tend to break off at the point where the 2 textures meet, with the weaker part of the strand, the relaxed part breaking off.

• Step 3 – Condition. Condition. Condition
It is important that you never skip this step. Keeping hair balanced between strength from proteins and softened with moisturizers will be key to a healthy transition.

• Step 4 – Set & Go
Wear textured styles- straw sets, rod set styles, and two strand twisted styles will keep hair healthy and allow the new texture to work with the relaxed hair with minimal damage.

• Option 2 – Cut It All Off

Cutting off all of the relaxed hair and starting fresh is one of the fastest ways to go from relaxed hair to natural hair.

• Option 3 – Temporarily Wear Other Hairstyles

Style your hair in cornrows, braids, extensions or wigs until the natural hair grows out. This will allow you to look stylish while simultaneously transitioning from relaxed hair to your natural hair. The key here is make sure braids or extensions are not too tight, and condition regularly.

Above All, Remember It’s A Journey

Remember that, ultimately, how you wear your hair is about you and what you’re comfortable with. Being natural isn’t for everyone. Relaxers aren’t for everyone. If you do decide to transition to a natural style, you may find yourself doing any or all of the options above – if this is the case, just be patient and don’t give up. Also, consult with a professional who can ease you through your journey.

It also may help you to know that I’ve personally gone through the relaxer-to-natural process. I would never go back. I am glad that I did it.

By Jacqueline Tarrant, BDO Hair Expert

Jacqueline Tarrant is a beauty expert, consultant, columnist, founder & CEO of Style Infinity Products & The Hair Trauma Center in downtown Chicago. Jacqueline Tarrant has pioneered effective methods to help men & women re-grow hair with her multi-layered approach to hair loss, known as Quadra-Follicle Stimulation. Jacqueline’s expertise on hair care and hair health is expressed monthly in national columns that reach millions through various publications. With numerous Style & Beauty appearances nationwide on Good Morning America, NBC, CBS, & the Fox Network; Jacqueline’s credits also extend throughout print in such publications as Seventeen, Cosmopolitan, Essence & the Wall Street Journal.

Her reputation as a renowned Educator, Trainer and Platform Artist has taken her throughout Canada, Europe, Africa, South America and the Caribbean.