Caring for Relaxed Hair

Having natural hair is generally healthier for your hair, but it’s not for everyone, especially if you have type 4 hair (like most black Africans do) (check hair types). It is a learning process, and if you prefer to wear your hair straight all the time, it is not as easy to manage and style as relaxed hair. If you don’t feel like you have the time and patience to learn to take care of your natural hair, and or prefer to wear your hair straighter, you don’t have to go natural to have healthy long hair.

Relaxed African Hair can be healthy too. Having healthy relaxed black hair isn’t only possible; it’s actually very easy if you have the right information, techniques and tools.

“I have seen full blooded black African women with relaxed hair that was as short as chin length and those with hair as long as waist length. The most importantly thing was that their hair was healthy, beautiful and easy to manage”.

Whether you’re thinking of getting a relaxer or you’ve been relaxing your hair for years, it’s always a good thing to educate yourself.

Relaxer Basics: Lye vs No-Lye Relaxers

Relaxers are chemical treatment designed to permanently loosen the curl pattern and texture of black and African hair. It does this by altering the structure of the hair, breaking down the disulfide bonds that create the curl pattern and realigning them into a straighter structure.

There are two types of chemical hair relaxers lye and no lye.

  1. Lye
  • Sodium hydroxide is the active ingredient in a      lye-based relaxer. The pH level is higher in a lye relaxer than a no-lye      relaxer (approximately 12-14 for lye, 9-11 for no-lye, whereas your hair      should generally have a pH of around 4-5).
  • This higher pH doesn’t necessarily make a lye      relaxer worse. A lye relaxer works to break down the hair’s bonds more      quickly, which is good because you often experience more scalp irritation      with this chemical.
  • The Lye based relaxers are therefore easier on      the hair but harder on the scalp and if used incorrectly can lead to      serious scalp damage and hair loss.
  • These relaxers do tend to rinse cleanly and      quickly with a good neutralizing shampoo.
  • Lye relaxers are best left in the hands of      professionals.
  1. No Lye
  • The main, active ingredient in a no-lye based      relaxer is calcium hydroxide or guanidine hydroxide or thioglycolate.      These relaxers are gentler on the scalp but harder on the hair.
  • They come in box kits that you mix immediately      before application (examples include: African Pride, ORS’ Olive Oil, Soft      and Beautiful and Optimum Care).
  • They’re usually used by ‘kitchen beauticians’      and were designed for doing hair at home.
  • Although the pH level of a no-lye relaxer is      typically lower than a lye-based one, no-lye relaxers are often associated      with dryer hair due to potential calcium buildup.
  • No-lye relaxers are however, better for people      who have sensitive scalps, as the chemicals in this type of relaxer can be      milder on the scalp. This doesn’t mean that it’s better to use on children      or that the chemicals cannot burn you (they can).
  • Unfortunately, people sometimes make the      mistake of leaving a no-lye relaxer on the hair for too long, leading to      dry, dull hair due to over-processing. To remove calcium buildup, try a      clarifying shampoo once a month or so to remove dull deposits. Since      clarifying cleansers are often drying, a deep conditioning treatment      should be a regular part of your hair care routine.

Lye vs No-Lye Relaxers

Both types of relaxers come in 3 strengths – mild, regular and super. Either one will get your hair straight. At the end of the day these are harsh chemicals and you want to be as careful as possible.

It’s not recommended to constantly switch relaxer types or brands. Once you find the relaxer that works for you, it’s best to stick with it until or unless it stops.

Care for Relaxed Hair

All hair should be pampered, but relaxed hair requires even more special treatment due to its processed nature. Keeping the *Basic tips for healthy African hair in mind; here are some additional simple tips to bear in mind when caring for Relaxed hair.

Some tips repeated here should be taken with weight. For healthy relaxed Black and African hair:


1. Don’t over-relax hair (i.e. relax hair bone straight) –Don’t leave relaxers on for longer than the recommended time. For your strongest hair don’t straighten more than 80%. Leavening it on longer weakens your hair, making it easier to break.

2. Deep Condition and Moisturise - This keeps your hair soft and flexible. A deep conditioning treatment with every wash works wonders.

3. Use Protein Treatments - A protein strengthening treatment once every 4-6 weeks helps keep breakage away. It is important to maintain your hair’s moisture/protein balance.

4. Stretch Your Relaxers –One thing that can help with length accumulation is going as long as possible between each relaxer. Doing that allows your hair to grow out more and cuts the chance of over processing. Never relax more often than every 8 weeks. If you can stretch even longer, do. You should have at least an inch of new growth before your next appointment.

5. Be Gentle With Wet Hair - Your hair is most fragile when it’s wet so take your time on wash day.

6. Go Low on Heat - Don’t use hot tools more often than once a week. Wet sets are better for your hair.

7. Use Temporary Colour –If you must colour your hair, use colour with conditioning rinses or hair extensions. Permanent colour always leads to hair damage.

8. Allow Your Hair Rest – When protective styling, give your hair time to rest between weaves, braids, chemical treatment (e.g. relaxing), and even bunning (especially if hair is held back too tightly, to avoid damaging your hairline).

Top Tip for Relaxing Hair: The Mid-Relaxer Protein Conditioning Step               


Try a doing mid-relaxer protein conditioning step when relaxing your hair, to greatly improve your hair’s thickness, tensile strength and body, post relaxer.

Nowadays, some professional relaxer systems include a protein reconstructor or rebuilding step between the relaxer rinsing and neutralizing shampoo steps; two critical steps. An example of such relaxers is Affirm’s conditioning relaxer system, by Avalon.

However, this step can be incorporated into your relaxer treatment, regardless of what your preferred relaxer system brand. You can achieve this by simply applying for 5 minutes, a light protein conditioner, such as Organic roots stimulator’s replenishing pac, Aphogee 2 minute keratin reconstructor, amongst others, between your rinsing off and neutralizing shampooing steps.

The benefits of doing the mid-relaxer protein step include:


  • The mid-relaxer protein step replenishes precious proteins your hair loses through the chemical relaxing process. The conditioner’s proteins go a long way towards improving the condition of your hair, by binding deeply within the hair shaft, at its most fragile state (The hair is most porous and highly permeable at this stage) in the relaxer process.


  • The mid-relaxer protein step increases the      volume and thickness of your hair. This is because the proteins      deposited on the outer hair shaft during this step, dramatically increases      the shaft diameter of each hair fiber, creating the feeling of thicker,      stronger hair strands. This is in major contrast to the feeling of limp,      lifeless hair that is usually associated with the first few days after a      relaxer, especially if you have fine hair.


  • The mid-relaxer protein step has a neutralising      effect on the relaxer. This is because protein reconstructors and      conditioners are acidic in nature (pHs between 3.4-5.5), they start to      neutralise the effects of the high pHs of the relaxer. This ensures your      hair shaft is not damaged while the hair is being conditioned.

Main Tips to Note for Growing Healthy Long Relaxed African Hair


In summary, the key to getting healthy long relaxed African hair boils down to a combination of two things:


1. Preventing damage - Over processing, double processing (for example, relaxing and colouring hair on the same day), excessive heat styling and over manipulation all weaken your hair, leaving it brittle and prone to breakage, which is ultimately why hair ‘doesn’t grow’ (hair always grows, but length is harder to maintain).


2. Retaining moisture - Healthy hair that’s breakage free tends to have the perfect protein to moisture balance. Moisture gives hair flexibility and elasticity to stay strong throughout styling and processing.