Hair relaxers have been in use since the early 1900s. A hair relaxer is a cream that reduces the natural curl pattern of your hair by breaking down the hair strand and chemically altering the texture. Most people who decide to get their hair relaxed have curly hair who want it stick straight without the frizz. Usually a hair relaxer will leave your hair straight for about six to eight weeks. Hair relaxers are available in two types: Lye relaxers and No-Lye relaxers.
Lye relaxers are known to work quickly on the hair, but as a result they might also rinse out of your hair easily. Their main ingredient is sodium hydroxide, and they are also known as “alkali” relaxers. No-lye, on the other hand, is mostly made of calcium hydroxide, which can dry out the hair. However, no-lye is better for people with sensitive scalps. Hair relaxers are very powerful chemicals; they have to be if you want your hair’s texture altered so drastically. Depending on your hair type, hair relaxers might cause breakage, hair thinning, stunted hair growth, scalp irritation and chemical burns on the scalp.
Many consumers falsely believed that relaxers without lye were safe. But, in place of lye, these relaxers relied on other powerful chemicals, namely calcium hydroxide and guanidine carbonate, to effectively break the chemical bonds of the hair shaft. Therefore, “no lye” relaxers should be used with as much care as other chemical relaxers. There is no product to remove relaxer; when you relax your hair, it’s permanently straightened.
Although this process is mostly utilized by women, in the past, black men would also get permed, in a process called conking and the resulting hairstyle, a conk. This process was done with lye. This was a prevalent hairstyle for Black men from the 1920’s – 1960’s. The resulting straightened hair was styled as large pompadours, combed up and off the forehead with the sides pulled back towards the center. Men also preferred to wear their hairs slicked back against their head. To style it this way, they used a do-rag to prevent sweat from causing the hair to revert back to its naturally kinky state. As soon as their hair began to grow, relaxers again needed to be applied to keep it straightened. This process is repeated to ensure that newly grown hair is conked as well.