Hair Relaxer Q&A

How Do Relaxers Work?

During a chemical relaxing procedure using a hydroxide relaxer, a process called lanthionization occurs. It is the breaking of disulfide bonds in the hair to alter the curl pattern of the hair. During this process the curl pattern is loosened or relaxed. The cortex is thus elongated, stretching the original curl pattern, therefore making this a permanent alteration.

What are the different types of Hydroxide relaxers?

There are several types of Hydroxide relaxers also known as Metal Relaxers which are sold to professionals and consumers with no mixing requirements. The ionic metals include Sodium (Na), Lithium (Li), and Potassium (k). These metals are combined with oxygen (o) and hydrogen (h), forming ionic compounds known as relaxers which include the following active ingredients: sodium hydroxide (NaOH), potassium hydroxide (KOH), and lithium hydroxide (LiOH). Sometimes calcium (CaOH) is added to hydroxide relaxers, but it is not used solely to relax hair.

What is the difference between Lye and No Lye Relaxers?

The main active ingredient in a Lye Relaxer is Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH). Sodium Hydroxide relaxers are very effective in breaking down the hair’s bonds (straightening the hair) quickly. Because they work fast, they are also the most commonly used relaxers by professionals. Through speedy and precise application, professional stylists are able to apply the relaxer evenly, process the relaxer in a timely manner and wash it off thoroughly with a neutralizing shampoo to avoid damage and potential irritation that may occur after the chemical process.

Lithium hydroxide (LiOH) and potassium hydroxide (KOH), calcium hydroxide (CaOH) and Guanidine hydroxide relaxers are marketed as No Lye relaxers. Although these ionic compounds are no lye, hydroxide is an active ingredient. No lye relaxers are ideal for people with sensitive scalps, as the chemicals and pH level of these types of relaxers are milder than lye-based relaxers. No lye relaxers are commonly associated to dryer hair due to the calcium buildup they cause. This can easily be addressed through the use of a chelating shampoo to remove dull deposits and a deep conditioning treatment to add moisture back to the hair.

What is a Low Lye relaxer?

A Low Lye relaxer has the lowest concentration of sodium hydroxide which is less than 2.5%. It is just as effective as other Sodium Hydroxide relaxers however much more mild due to the lower percentage of active ingredient. The low lye relaxer gently loosens the bonds for increased manageability while maintaining some level of texture in the hair.

What if my client has a sensitive scalp?

Normally, Guanidine hydroxide relaxers and calcium hydroxide relaxers are recommended for clients who have a sensitive scalp. Those types of relaxers like Design Essentials Sensitive Scalp relaxer tend to be less irritating to sensitive clients.

Why are there different relaxer strengths? Don’t they all relax the hair the same way?

The level of hydroxide used in relaxers determines the strength. For example, super strength contains a higher concentration of sodium hydroxide than a regular strength relaxer. Although the result from a relaxer, irrespective of strength, is straighter more manageable hair, the strength of the relaxer used to achieve the result is very important. The goal is to avoid hair and scalp damage based on the texture of the hair, so you should only use a strength that is suitable for your particular hair type and hair condition.

What is pH?

pH is a measure used to determine the acidity and alkalinity of a substance. The scale is represented by numbers ranging from 0 to 14 where 7 represents neutral. Anything greater than 7 on the pH scale is alkaline and anything less than 7 is acidic. The pH of hair ranges between 4.5 – 5.5. Lye relaxers range from 12 – 14 and no lye relaxers range from 9 – 11.

Can any type of shampoo be used after a relaxer?

Following a relaxer you should always cleanse hair with a neutralizing shampoo. A neutralizing shampoo will ensure that you remove all traces of chemical residue and restore the hair to its resting pH level of 4.5. The pH of a hydroxide relaxer is typically 13 or higher which is considered a high alkaline concentration. Therefore an acid-balanced shampoo must be used to neutralize the hydroxide, and to return the hair and scalp to a normal pH level.

What is the processing time for a relaxer?

Processing times vary from brand to brand and from product to product. However, most processing times are a maximum of 15 minutes. This obviously depends on the type of relaxer being used and the texture of the hair being straightened. Fine, porous hair will have a much shorter processing time than thick, coarse hair. It is important to NEVER exceed the recommended processing time under the assumption it will make your hair straighter. Going over the recommended amount of time only causes over-processing, in short damage to your hair.

What is wrong with processing your hair until it is bone straight?

If you relax the hair until it is bone straight, you are essentially over processing the hair. This removes any degree of elasticity, thus weakening the hair. Over processed hair will be unable to retain moisture, have little to no elasticity to withstand manipulation from styling, be dry, split and break very easily. To avoid irreparable damage and maintain the integrity of the hair, stick to the processing time recommended by the relaxer manufacturer – this usually means relaxing your curls so the hair is 65% – 75% straighter than it originally was.

What is a Thio relaxer, and how does it differ from a hydroxide relaxer?

Thio relaxers are also used to straighten hair. The primary agent, ammonium thioglycolate (ATG), is also used in permanent waving. Hydroxide relaxers and thio relaxers should not be used interchangeably. Overlapping these chemicals can cause extreme damage to the hair, and can result in hair loss.

Thio relaxers differ from hydroxide relaxers in a few ways. The pH of thio relaxers is typically around 10 whereas the pH of hydroxide relaxers is approximately 13. Also, an oxidizing agent like hydrogen peroxide or sodium bromate is used to neutralize thio relaxers. During this process the disulfide bonds that were broken by the relaxing process are reformed. When using hydroxide relaxers, the broken disulfide bonds are permanently broken and can no longer be repaired. Oxidizing agents should not be used with hydroxide relaxers.