8 No-no's for Relaxing Black Hair

The majority of black women straighten their tresses through chemical means, usually through application of a relaxer. If you want straight hairstyles, a relaxer gives you that option without worrying that your hair will revert to its naturally curly/kinky texture if you get caught out in the rain or want to swim. Getting your relaxer done in a salon, in the hands of a professional you trust, is the best way to go about this process. For various reasons, some women apply relaxers at home. If you'd rather do it yourself, make sure you avoid these relaxing no-no's!

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Shampooing Before

Avoid washing your hair right before relaxing it.
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Before opening that relaxer kit and mixing your chemicals, ask yourself when was the last time you shampooed your hair. Cleansing or even wetting your hair and scalp before you relax will lead to burning once the chemicals are applied. This is because your scalp hasn't had sufficient time to "rest" from being stimulated at the last shampoo. No matter what your regular cleansing routine is, do not shampoo your hair for at least one week before a relaxer application. On that note, this includes scratching your scalp and/or the dubious practice of "lifting dandruff." In other words, when you know a relaxer is in your near future, leave your scalp completely alone.

In order for a relaxer to work properly, it needs to reach all of the new growth, or all the hair if this is a virgin application. The chemicals won't be able to touch all areas if there's tangling or matting. Now, this isn't the time to perform an intense detangling session with a lot of pulling and tugging -- that will irritate your scalp and lead to burning. Instead, work through your new growth with your fingers first. You may want to try this the night before your touch-up so that your scalp has a chance to rest. After a gentle finger detangle, use a wide-tooth comb to work only through your hair. Stay off your scalp as much as possible. Comb through all the way to the ends, but don't overwork a section. Detangle and move on. More »

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Working in Big Sections

As with detangling, the relaxer can't cover all areas when you work in big chunks. You should work quickly, but thoroughly. Use the tail end of a fine-tooth comb to gently separate sections; don't create parts. Only use the comb to lift sections so you can apply the relaxer to the new growth. If your hair is detangled, you shouldn't have a problem separating small sections into 1-inch areas.

This is one of the most important problems to avoid, but it's also one of the most difficult to get right. Although the line of demarcation between the new growth and previously relaxed hair may be obvious, it's still hard to be as precise as you can when placing a relaxer only onto the new growth. If you relax without help, it's especially difficult to avoid overprocessing on the back part of your head. Not only should you enlist help for touch-ups, you should try to visit a professional for this whenever possible. More »

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Combing the Relaxer Through

Part of the relaxing process is smoothing the chemicals onto the hair. Smoothing, not combing. Yet, some women insist on raking a comb through their hair as they relax it. This can lead to severe breakage. Only use your fingers to smooth the chemicals onto your tresses.

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Leaving Chemicals on Too Long

This is another common mistake, and one that's easily avoided. Each relaxer kit gives time recommendations, and you should adhere to them. Leaving your hair to process for a period of time shorter than the recommended one is preferable to leaving the relaxer on longer than suggested. Have a timer handy; this isn't the time to eyeball a clock.

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Not Using Neutralizer

There's a reason you buy relaxers in a box: everything you need should be included. More important than the conditioner or mixing stick is the neutralizing shampoo. You cannot use your regular shampoo to stop the relaxing process. If you do, expect to see major breakage and hair fall in the coming days and weeks. A neutralizer stops the relaxer from continuing to work on your hair and essentially eating through it. One of the issues some women face is that a small bottle of neutralizing shampoo isn't enough for their long and/or thick hair. If you routinely relax at home, do yourself a favor and purchase a separate bottle of this product at your local beauty supply.

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Skipping Conditioner

Once the relaxer and neutralizing shampoo is completely rinsed away, don't skip the critical step of conditioning. Processing your tresses places stress on them, and they need to be restored and treated well after relaxing. You'll probably have a small bottle or packet of conditioner in your relaxer kit, but feel free to apply more of whatever you have on hand, including a deep conditioner.