What to Do When Your Relaxed Hair Is Overprocessed

A Major Cut MAY Not Be Necessary

Is your relaxer overprocessed?
Ghislain & Marie David de Lossy/Royalty-free Getty Images

Reader Question: Help! My stylist left my relaxer on too long and now my hair is in bad shape. I didn't even want to accept her offer to "fix" it, I just wanted to get out of the salon. My hair is limp, breaking off at the ends and very, very dry. What can I do besides cut it all off and start over?

What to Do for Overprocessed Relaxed Hair

Normally, the first piece of advice would be to not relax at home (where so many people have problems), but you did the right thing by visiting a pro.

Unfortunately, even the professionals sometimes make mistakes. However, you can nurse your hair back to health. Keep in mind that it will take time and dedication, so don't expect a magical cure overnight.

The first thing your hair desperately needs is protein. An emergency treatment, such as ApHogee Two-Step Protein Treatment or Nexxus Emergencee Reconstructor may be required for tresses in truly bad condition. If your hair has lost almost all elasticity and/or looks and feels "spongy" or "mushy," this treatment could help. You must follow all directions carefully and follow the treatment up with an intensely moisturizing conditioner for the best results.

After a protein and moisture dose, assess your hair. Its condition may be significantly improved or not much at all. If you don't see much of an improvement, do not reapply a strong protein treatment. Your hair still needs protein, but not in such an intense application.

Instead, products containing protein can be applied on a weekly or biweekly basis to keep your hair strong. Too much protein will dry your tresses out and lead to breakage, so please don't overdo it, no matter what condition your hair is in.

Protein Products to Try

Next, your hair needs plenty of moisture, not only to balance out the protein, but to keep it from becoming more brittle. Deep condition at least once per week, using the low heat of a dryer if you can during the conditioning treatment because this helps the moisturizing properties penetrate your hair's cuticles more effectively. Avoid sulfate-rich shampoos, which is good advice for black hair anyway, but definitely try sulfate-free options if you haven't before.

Sulfate-free Cleansers to Use

You should still only shampoo about once per week, but co-washing can be done more often, and you may find this gentle cleansing method preferable for now.

Next, avoid as much direct heat as possible. This includes curling and flat irons. Gentle setting methods like wet sets and wrapping are what your tresses need.

Note for Overprocessed Hair

Even with all of these steps, these remedies cannot repair hair that's damaged beyond its breaking point. If your hair is at that point, there's nothing that's going to restore it -- you'll know your mane is irreparably damaged if, after all these measures, it hasn't improved within several weeks.

Signs of severe damage include:

  • No improvement in elasticity: Healthy hair withstands some pulling without breaking. This is how you can comb or brush your tresses without them falling out. If your hair continues to snap or break when you gently tug it, it's lost its elasticity and unfortunately, needs to go.
  • Breakage at your slightest touch: Whether wet or dry, if your hair breaks off from the gentlest touch, chances are there's no hope for recovery.
  • Continued spongy appearance: This is usually a first sign that things won't get better. Relaxed hair that feels "slimy" when wet, and feels and looks "roughed up" when dry needs to go. Your mane may look or feel like straw, and really, who wants to go around with that?

The only solution is to trim or cut the overprocessed parts. This can be painful, but it's much better than going around with extremely damaged hair that looks and feels terrible.

Visiting a stylist who's skilled in cutting may yield you a style that you love while you wait for your tresses to grow back.