Basics of Relaxing Black Hair and Keeping it Healthy

Woman with relaxed hair
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It's highly recommended that you see a professional when you decide you want a relaxer. Relaxers offer a permanent way to straighten black hair, but you should be as informed as possible about them before taking the plunge. Lye, no-lye, mild, strong -- they're available from many different brands and in different formulations. Know the basics to see if this chemical treatment is right for you.

Basics of Relaxing Black Hair: Before the Relaxer

What will a good stylist do during a consultation?

  • Examine your hair: A professional needs to know whether or not you currently have any chemicals in your hair, including color. Unless you've completely grown out a previous relaxer or color, explain when you last applied chemicals. It's great if you can remember the brand as well.
  • Perform a strand test: This may happen after the consultation, but a strand test is always a good idea. This way, you'll know if you're allergic to the chemicals (before they're placed all over your head) and get a rough idea of how your tresses will look once treated with that particular relaxer.
  • Ask your questions: Besides finding out your chemical and color history, a stylist may ask you how you prefer to wear your hair on a daily basis, how you care for it at home and the amount of time you're willing to spend taking care of it.

Once you make an appointment, it's important that you don't scratch or aggravate your scalp.

Getting relaxer chemicals on open or irritated skin is sure to lead to burning. Don't shampoo your hair for at least three to five days before you get it relaxed. On the day of your appointment, simply detangle your hair as much as you can, but without a lot of manipulation.

The Relaxing Process

Hopefully, you have an appointment with a professional who believes in being on time and taking his time with your hair.

You don't want a stylist who's gossiping on the phone over your head or leaves for lunch in the middle of your service.

You should be draped with a clean cape and your hairline, nape and ears should be protected with some type of barrier or "base" (usually petroleum jelly). The stylist will then proceed to apply the relaxer to any hair that hasn't previously been straightened with chemicals, or in the case of a "virgin" head of hair, all over to the ends. This is done small sections at a time. A relaxer should be smoothed down with the hands, but not combed through.

If your scalp begins to burn at any point during the application, tell the stylist! Don't sit and suffer in silence because you want your hair bone straight. Stinging and burning lead to pain and scabbing.

Another serious issue that causes so many of the problems with black hair today is that relaxers are left on the hair too long. This is especially true for chemicals applied at home. There's a reason for that recommended time frame; ignore it and you run the risk of damage and hair loss. A stylist should work quickly to apply the relaxer on the hair and spend just as much time during the smoothing process.

After the Relaxer

After the time frame is up, your hair is rinsed with warm water.

All of the relaxer must be rinsed away. This is followed with a neutralizing shampoo. You must use a neutralizer to stop the chemical action; otherwise, the relaxer continues to work on your hair. This can lead to hair damage, breakage, hair loss and serious scalp damage.

Your stylist should then apply a conditioner or deep conditioner. After this, your hair can be wet set on rollers or blow-dried straight and bumped with a flat iron. Enjoy your new straight locks!