Natural Hair Relaxers: Why Women Are Going Back To Relaxers

Last summer, Amber Brice, a New York-based tech marketer, relaxed her hair for the first time in a decade. “It was the best decision I made in 2021,” she tells Coveteur. “I don’t know why it took me so long.” The moment was so significant that she decided to document it on her Instagram story, then the answers started coming in. “People were saying, ‘No! Why did you do that!’ and ‘You have given in’ ”. Before posting, Brice was happy with her decision, but some of her followers clearly didn’t share that sentiment. These exchanges in Brice’s DMs were microcosms of the unsolicited resistance that women of color often feel when opting for a relaxant. Ever since the realm of relaxants was eclipsed by the latest iteration of natural hair movement, there has been a divide between those who still embrace relaxers and those who hate them.

relaxing amber brice

Photo: Courtesy of Ambra Brice

relaxing amber brice

To be clear, there are a number of reasons to avoid relaxants. “Hydroxide relaxants permanently straighten curls, coils or waves by breaking disulfide bonds. Disulfide bonds are the bonds responsible for making hair strong and supple, “explains New York trichologist Sophia Emmanuel.” When you apply the relaxant to your hair, these disulfide bonds break and the curls take on a smoother shape permanently. disulfide bonds break, your hair is weaker and more prone to breakage. This is because the relaxing hydroxide penetrates the cortex of the hair. ”But for some people, like Brice, the convenience they offer, like not having to worry about how the weather daily will affect your hairstyle, it’s still a big draw.

“Having natural hair is essentially a lifestyle. What women are starting to realize is that it doesn’t fit their lifestyle, “says celebrity hairstylist Sade Williams.” The reality is we’ve been stuck for two years. women have realized that natural hair takes a lot of work. Women feel like they want a change. They realize they don’t have time, they have to invest in natural hair. ”

Growing up, I always thought taking a relax was akin to a black woman’s rite of passage. I vividly remember begging my mom for “permanent sauce” while I was still in elementary school. Even then, the risks were not kept secret. And whenever I forgot it, the tingling on my scalp during the treatment served me as a reminder. But I didn’t care. One day of school photos, a little bird literally pooped on my head just before the photos were about to be taken and my only concern was that my cool relaxation wasn’t getting in the way. When my mom got in step with natural hair movement, she abruptly stopped our relaxation regimen – I still wore straight hair for the most part, but traded relaxers for silk presses. My family’s relaxed era didn’t last long and within a few years we broke up completely with our stylist. Instead of going to his basement salon for touch-ups, we would visit our hometown natural hair convention (yes, that’s one thing). But while my reasons for not taking a relaxant again were valid, so were Brice’s reasons for revisiting the treatment.

“I feel so free. I feel like I don’t have any restrictions on which steps to go through and how many hours I need to dry my hair or if I want this style, I can’t. There were so many rules and I was just tired, “says Brice.” I don’t have to wonder if it’s going to rain or I’ll walk a lot. I just want my hair to be stretched out, that’s it. ” Months after the first treatment, he says that his return to relaxation did not compromise the health of his hair or his structure. He credits it to his own stylist Lorraine Melendez-Guity, who has been wary of over-processing, a common misstep that leads to significant damage.

Listening to Brice describe her experience on a morning video call, I couldn’t help but consider that many barely natural people describe their hair the same way she described her relaxing. So maybe it’s not about how you choose to wear your hair but in the choice itself. Brice isn’t the only one exploring this. There are pockets on TikTok for almost everything, so it wasn’t shocking when I came across #RelaxerTikTok, a corner of the internet where treatment is no longer taboo. It was there that I came across one of Courtney Reed’s videos. In one clip, she shares snaps of a salon visit with the caption: “Lol someone said people don’t chill anymore.” Another says, “You are starting World War III in the comments every time I write about being relaxed.”

“I think there’s a lot of screenings,” Reed tells Coveteur. “I can’t blame them because there’s a lot of historical weight in why black women felt the pressure to relax their hair in the first place.” She compares black women who now opt for relaxants to women who choose to be housewives.

“In 2022 you can be a housewife wife. She doesn’t carry the same weight as you did in the 60’s because you can choose not to be a stay-at-home wife. I feel I have the freedom to decide if I’m natural or not, while women who were growing up in the 60s, 70s and 80s maybe felt the pressure to be relaxed so they could be seen as professionals at work or to get the kind of attention they wanted from people.

Reed remembers taking his first break in middle school. Similar to the videos he creates today, he streamed hours of relaxing content on YouTube before his first treatment. “I just feel there are a lot of misconceptions about what choosing actually means and how they assume I want to present myself to the world because of the choice I made, but the real goal is to have a choice in the first place.”

It’s noteworthy that we’re not even dealing with the same relaxants as the 90s. “Relaxers have evolved over the years,” says Emmanuel. “Many relaxants today contain oils and conditioning agents that help soften hair and reduce breakage.” However, Nina Ross, a board-certified trichologist and holistic health professional, explains that it’s important to remain cautious about the chemical makeup of relaxants, which can have harmful effects over time.

To alleviate these possible effects across the board, Emmanuel suggests covering the scalp with a petroleum-based product to keep the burning at bay and make sure you use the right relaxant. “The greater the strength of the relaxant, the faster the relaxant will straighten,” he says. “A mild relaxant is for fine or colored hair. A normal relaxant is for normal or medium hair structures. Super [relaxer]which I don’t recommend, it should be used on coarse virgin hair that is strong enough to handle it. “

Time-wise, YouTuber Brianna Rashay limits the use of relaxants to every five months compared to the typical eight weeks. Meanwhile, Williams suggests an 8 to 10 week regimen for medium to long hair length. There is no consensus on best practices – each source interviewed for this story suggested a different window between treatments, from six weeks to several months – but the common thread is that consistency is key. “As long as you stick to a schedule, your hair will thrive and be healthy,” says Williams.

So yes, the risk of hair damage will always be present with relaxers, which is why many women are reluctant to revisit them in the first place, and some find it difficult to reconcile the pros that attract others to the treatment. But the most counterproductive thing is to control everyone’s choices. At the end of the day, we all make the best decisions for ourselves, especially when it comes to our hair.

Leave a Comment