The Truth About Hair Relaxers

The Truth About Hair Relaxers

We’re not here to judge you about what you want to do with your hair. Here at Brown Skin Women, we believe you have every right to do whatever you want with your beautiful curls. This blog is for educational purposes. So, let’s get down to it. Hair relaxers have been a staple within our community for the last few generations. They were developed like many modern products—accidentally. In 1909 Garrett Augustes Morgan, a Black businessman, was in the process of creating a solution. Not for hair, but for sewing machines. He wanted to ease the friction that was created during use. Eventually, he tested the product on a neighbor’s dog and saw its potential. He created the G.A. Morgan Hair Refining company and began marketing to Black people. This was the start of relaxers as we know them.

Most of you reading this blog have had a  hair relaxer or some sort of texturizer in your lifetime. You also likely know someone who still regularly gets them. Brown Skin Women’s founder and staff have lived the relaxer life, too. Why? Because it was “easier” and presented as more desirable to have straightened hair. Our tight curls weren’t embraced like silky straight hair. It was more socially acceptable for us to have our hair straight instead of letting it take up space in its natural form. You might have had similar experiences. If your hair wasn’t full of loose curls there’s a chance you heard harmful and hurtful comments.

“Your hair is nappy.”  “Your hair is too kinky for that.” “Get your kitchen together.”

When you hear comments like that as a young child or adolescent, getting your hair permanently straightened is all more desirable. You’re told it’s easier to manage, that it will look better, and you’ll feel more beautiful if you alter yourself. Then, you or your caretakers struggle to do your hair. Getting a hair relaxer just seems like the right thing to do. And hey, if you like getting relaxers and aren’t interested in natural hair then we say more power to you. It’s your hair and you can rock whatever style you like. It doesn’t make you any less magical. But we want to inform you of the real, medically proven risks that you’re taking. Black and brown women are predominately the ones getting relaxers and they haven’t been told about these risks. We believe that everyone deserves the chance to make informed decisions regarding their body.

What is a Hair Relaxer?

Let’s start with the basics. A relaxer is used to chemically straighten your hair by breaking down the curl pattern. The process of relaxing hair is also known as lanthionization. (It’s often referred to as a “perm” but that’s incorrect. Perms are a way to chemically curl straight hair.) Once the relaxer is done, the hair is permanently changed and can not return to its natural state. In order to maintain the style, you must get touch-ups to straighten your new growth. You can only “get rid” of a  hair relaxer if you cut it off. Hence the big chop and transitioning.

Burn, Baby, Burn

If you’ve gotten a relaxer, you know it can hurt. You’re told not to scratch your head a few days prior so you can avoid pain Even the lightest scratch can lead to tiny cuts on the scalp. When those cuts come in contact with chemicals there’s an acute stinging pain. The longer there’s contact, the worse the pain can become. Inconveniences like sores and scabs on the head after a relaxer is commonplace. This can lead to further hair damage or even hair loss.

You’re Not Getting What You Paid For

Do you know the pictures on the relaxer boxes? The ones with the girls and women smiling into the camera with gorgeous, thick, straight hair? Yeah…Their hair isn’t what is seems. Models who posed for those images have recently been coming out and telling the truth about their hair. In many cases, they never had a hair relaxer, to begin with. The models had natural hair and had a silk press done for the photoshoot. If you’ve gotten a relaxer and wondered why it doesn’t look nearly as good as the box, it’s because the box is likely lying to you.

Medical Research

Lye is a common ingredient in relaxers. It’s a dangerous chemical that can lead to permanent scarring, wounds, irritation, and baldness when left on the scalp for too long or used incorrectly. Relaxers with no lye are also sold but aren’t as safe as people may think. Though there’s less of a chance to burn your scalp, it can still happen. The scalp may also face irritation and dryness after these treatments. Once again, this can lead to the hair issues we mentioned above.

Beyond what meets the eye, lye has other dangers. There have been recent studies that link the use of hair relaxers to cancer. Those who use relaxers regularly significantly increase their risk of both breast and uterine cancer. Exposure to strong chemicals can affect certain hormones and lead to different types of cancer. This study is especially alarming when we remember that Black women are also likely to face racism within the medical field. It takes longer to diagnose Black women with illnesses and it’s more difficult for them to receive the care that they need. Black women deserve to know the risks they’re taking when they get a relaxer.

The fumes alone can cause problems. If you are getting a relaxer in a poorly ventilated space it can affect your breathing or make you light-headed. Those who visit or work in salons that don’t provide fresh or clean air are passively exposed to these strong chemicals. Those with asthma may especially struggle with the fumes. As more Black people join the medical field more lifesaving information is found.

Make Sure You Know What You’re Signing Up For

We’re not telling you all this to scare you away from getting a hair relaxer. We just know that women, especially Black and brown women, are often left behind when it comes to medicine. We are ignored, belittled, judged, and gaslit frequently by medical professionals. It can be harder for us to get a diagnosis or afford the care we need. There are doctors and nurses still being taught that Black people “feel less pain” than other races. These obstacles make it harder to save our lives when we’re sick. It’s important for us to have the chance to make well-informed decisions when it comes to our health. That includes deciding if your desire for a relaxer outweighs the potential risks. The truth about hair relaxers is that there’s a lot more to them than we think.

Stay informed, Curlfriends.

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