My relationship with relaxers has been a bit of a cryptic one. While I did get my hair permed quite a bit during my adolescence, once I cut my hair short—really short—in college, I transitioned over to a mild texturizer; something that, by the way, is also a relaxer (it's just not as strong). Up until a few years ago, I would go in and out between a texturized TWA (Teeny Weeny Afro) and a completely natural (including no hair dye) Afro.
But a couple of years back, I decided that I wanted a Mohawk and that the top of it be bone straight. So, after years of not having chemically straightened hair, I got a jar of medium-strength white-lye-hair-crack and applied it to my hair. I must admit that the 'hawk was super-duper cute. But it was summertime, so when my head would sweat, the sides would stick out like little porcupine needles. Plus, my scalp started getting lots of flakes and, because I went back to retouching my new growth, my hair was weakening. The long short of it is, while the perm looked good for that particular hairstyle, the maintenance was more of a headache than I remembered. I'm back natural now. Well, under these box braids that I currently have, I am.
I shared that little hair tale because lately, I've been hearing more and more sistahs talk about transitioning out of their natural hair and going back to their relaxed tresses. Although India.Arie did have a very valid point when she sang "I Am Not My Hair", as someone who has done relaxed before and had a few regrets, I just want to make sure that you've really thought bringing it back into your life all the way through.
Have You Researched What’s Actually in Relaxers?
Have you ever read the label on a jar of relaxer before? Don't feel bad if you can only pronounce five of the names. And, well, that's kind of my point. The main chemical in lye relaxers that breaks down the coils of natural hair is sodium hydroxide. No-lye relaxers? They're honestly not much better; they've got lithium hydroxide, potassium hydroxide, calcium hydroxide and/or guanidine hydroxide in them. CNN published an article a few years ago indicating that these types of chemicals have been directly linked to "cancer, hormone disruption, developmental and reproductive damage, and allergies". Something else that might surprise you is there is scientific evidence connected to the fact that relaxers increase the chances of having uterine leiomyomata. And that? That is the technical term for uterine fibroids (crazy, right?).
Even though I've used relaxers before, I must admit that they always gave side-eye, being that children under 12 and pregnant women are advised not to use them. Definitely something to think long and hard about…isn't it? (Another read that's worth your time is "Study Reveals Black Women Exposed to Toxic Chemicals in Hair Products".)
Can Your Budget Handle It?
It's kind of funny—and by "funny", I mean ridiculous—that we make the beauty industry more money than anyone else (if you don't believe me, check out "Black Consumers Spend Nine Times More In Hair & Beauty: Report"), but we don't see nearly enough Black women in print and online ads, commercials and as spokespersons. Just the amount we spend in hair care alone equates to $473 million annually!
Per person? I can't speak for anyone but me, but back when I was going to a professional, it ran me around $65-75 an appointment. If I get a retouch every 6-8 weeks, that's roughly $400-500 a year (and that's just for the relaxer itself!). Not to say that professional protective styles are any cheaper, but at least those don't make you feel like you have to get them after an inch or so of new growth; if money is tight, you can style it yourself or wrap it up.
Relaxers have a way of making you feel like your hair needs to be super straight at all times, and yep, those appointments can really start to add up if you're not careful.
Do You Have the Time?
Speaking of professional appointments, I don't know what's worse—waiting at the doctor's office or in a hair salon. I never really get the point in setting a time if I'm still gonna have to wait an hour or more before even getting started (geeze!). I have spent countless hours that I wish I could get back, just waiting to get my hair done by a professional stylist. So, unless you've got at least three hours to kill every other week (either for a perm or hair maintenance), this is another huge reason to rethink going back to a relaxer.
Have You Checked Out the Other “Alternatives”?
If the more thought that you're giving this, the less you want to go the traditional relaxer route, there are alternatives to consider. You can apply a silicone cream. You can get your hair silk pressed. You can stretch your natural tresses with the banding or threading method. You can try some straight plates. You can do an old-fashioned blow out. There are wigs out here that continue to totally blow my mind (check out a few straight ones here, here and here , or even braided ones here, here and here)!
The awesome thing about all of these suggestions (except perhaps the silicone cream, if you overuse it) is, unlike a relaxer, they are not permanent. If you decide that you want to go back to your natural texture, the alternatives will allow you to do so. (A major plus in my book!)
Bonus point: Whether you want to perm your hair for extra inches or you'd prefer to stretch out your natural tresses, I found a Black chemist with a cool YouTube channel for how to gain length retention from a scientific perspective. Her hair is all the way down her back! Watch a couple of her videos here and here.
Is It a Matter of Personal Preference or Societal Pressure?
I know I'm not the only one who thinks that it's absolutely insane that there even have to be headlines like "California Becomes First State to Ban Discrimination Against Natural Hair" and "New York City to Ban Discrimination Based on Hair". America is something else, boy. It all takes me back to the first time I learned about the history of the tignon law. Anyway, the fact that we're cheering about no longer being "punished" in the workforce for wearing our natural hair in two states shows the very real reality of the pressure that many of us are under to get or keep our hair straight. So yeah, another thing to ask yourself is are you returning to chemically-straightened hair because you simply want to try something new or different, or is it because you're tired of feeling like an activist every day at the office.
Let me just say that if the answer leans more into "B", you should seriously rethink it. Even the Bible describes the Son of Man's hair as being like wool (Revelation 1:14). Warfare comes in many ways.
For all you know, the natural crown that you're rockin' is shaking the very atmosphere that you're in for such a time as this. Yes, it just might be that serious. Black beauty has lots of "truth to power" in it.
Is Being Natural Just a Hairstyle or a Way of Life?
Something that is so dope about a Black woman's hair is it's super versatile. With the right products, knowledge and finessing, there really is no limit to what we can do. But like most things in life, even hair has trends, and some of us are rockin' natural hairstyles because of the amount of popularity it's getting right now. Then there are those of us who find wearing our natural hair to be a spiritual, political and profoundly internal experience and statement. Because of this, we don't really consider changing it; not permanently, anyway.
Me? I know that whenever I've got my 'fro out, that is when people—Black, white or any other ethnicity—end up wanting to have some of the most interesting conversations about culture, history and everything in between. It reminds me that natural hair makes a really powerful statement. For me, I doubt I'll have a lot more relaxer days in my future.
As for you, even if you do decide to perm your hair, you're still amazin'. And if you want to go back to being natural, it's not like you can't cut it and start over. But once you've straightened it, it's straight. For a while. If you've already got some length on it (sidebar—check out sis I found on YouTube; I've never seen so much glorious natural hair on one head in my entire life!), you know what the square one process can be like (ugh).
All I'm saying is, just make sure that putting a relaxer back in is not an impulsive decision because once it's done, it's done. And even though there are some conveniences that come with permed hair, remember that it's still breaking down the bonds of your hair, which means that it is damaging it on some level.
If you're clear on all of this and still good, go for it. At the end of your hair appointment, you're a Black woman so, you're gonna be dope…either way.
Want more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter here and check out the related reads below:
This Is Why Your Natural Hair Ain't Growin'
One But Not Equal: Natural Hair Is Not The Same
4 Black Women On Their Relationship With Their Hair
Featured image by Unsplash.