Concerned about hair breakage, hair loss and scalp irritation? Ever been “burned” by chemical hair relaxers? A growing number of women are making the move toward chemical-free hair relaxers as a gentler, safer alternative to traditional methods. Made from ingredients such as herbs, flowers and clay, they’re also more eco-friendly.
Hair relaxing has a long history that dates back to ancient Egyptian times. Back then, women hung weights on their hair to keep it straight. Cleopatra may well have been the poster child, as she’s believed to have been among the first women to have straightened her hair.
The majority of traditional hair relaxer products contain sodium hydroxide (lye), which is harsh and potentially damaging to the hair and scalp. Consequently, some women opt to use “no lye” products with guanidine hydroxide instead of sodium hydroxide. These products do have a lower pH (between 9 and 9.5) and are gentler on hair, but they can’t be considered 100 percent natural. So women who truly seek a chemical-free hair relaxer should look for an herbal relaxer, which is the gentlest, most natural option available. Another option is to use a non-chemical temporary strengthener or smoothing glaze. Such a product may use matricaria (genus of flowering plants in the sunflower family) and/or wheat proteins to straighten hair and reduce frizz. Of course, hair also can be straightened without chemicals by using a flat-iron or curling iron. However, repeated application of heat can be damaging to hair.
Using a hair relaxer that’s entirely chemical-free has its merits. On top of being natural and safe, chemical-free hair relaxers do not over-process hair. Natural, chemical-free hair relaxers may include ingredients such as myrtle, rose petals, fenugreek or nettle and often are clay or gel-based. Easy to apply, they’re fortified with minerals and vitamins and can help restore a healthy pH balance while straightening hair and improving its texture.
One of the biggest complaints about chemical-free hair relaxers is they may not make hair completely straight. Sometimes, natural relaxers must be used more than once in order to straighten hair. Further, women who opt to relax their hair naturally may require complementary treatments, including applying a clay-based “mask” to achieve desired results or to maintain the look of straight hair. However, using additional products in tandem can further help to make hair silky, smooth and manageable.
It’s important to read labels before purchasing and using hair relaxers of any kind, especially since some products are labeled “natural” but in reality are not completely chemical-free. It’s also key to avoid overuse of products–even natural ones–as it can stress hair, causing loss or breakage.