Despite a recent study linking the use of relaxers to uterine cancer and dozens of lawsuits pending against relaxer brands like L’Oreal, relaxers are trying to make a comeback. Though relaxer sales in the United States have been declining significantly over the past 10 years, according to one market survey, the global relaxer market is actually expected to grow by 3.44% by 2028. But it doesn’t have to be this way. There are relaxer alternatives that help with ease of styling that don’t come with the risk of potentially developing cancer or fibroids down the line.
Many Black women on social media are posting about how they’re going back to relaxers. Some reasons women give for going back to relaxer are that their natural hair is too much work and too much money.
“As a professional who works with many chemicals in the salon, I advise every client about the risks before applying any chemical to their hair,” Sophia Emmanuel, a New York based licensed trichologist and cosmetologist, told me. “In addition, I advise all clients to discuss with their doctor whether they should stop using relaxers based on their family history or health history.”
Natural hair is versatile and doesn’t have to be a chore. Health should never come second to straight hair.
If you like to wear your hair straight or are just looking for ways to make styling your hair easier, here are some alternatives to relaxer:
If you like wearing your hair straight more than wearing it curly, you can do it without relaxer. While constantly wearing your hair straight with no breaks will likely lead to the loss of your curl pattern, there are ways to stretch the life of your silk press to avoid heat damage. With the right products, like a good heat protectant and bond building treatment, you can easily make a silk press last a month.
Some of my favorite products for achieving a long lasting silk press without damaging my curls are K-18 Leave-In Molecular Repair Hair Mask, CHI Keratin Silk Infusion, and Oribe Impermeable Anti-Humidity Hair Spray.
While henna doesn’t straighten hair, it can help with the health and manageability of the hair. Henna, which is a plant based dye, has been used in India and the Middle East for centuries. Henna coats the hair strands and fills in broken spots on the cuticle, making hair less prone to breakage and damage.
For some, henna has the potential to loosen or straighten curls, especially if it is used repeatedly over time. This is because henna can coat the hair shaft, making it slightly thicker and heavier, which can weigh down curls.
Also known as thermal reconditioning or Yuko System, Japanese hair straightening is a treatment that uses chemicals and heat to permanently straighten curly or wavy hair. The treatment takes several hours and can cost anywhere from $400 to $800. While Japanese straightening involves chemicals like ammonium thioglycolate and can be damaging if not done properly, it does not contain formaldehyde, which is a known carcinogen and in many relaxer brands.
Keratin treatments work by depositing keratin — the protein that makes up hair, nails, and the outer layer of skin — with keratin. The process involves coating the hair in the keratin solution, blowdrying it, and then sealing it with a flatiron. Keratin treatments can reduce frizz, add shine to dull hair, and in the case of curly and kinky strands, completely straighten the hair. The process can be extremely damaging to hair if not done by a trained professional.
Though many brands of keratin treatments contain formaldehyde, there on many on the market now that do not contain the harmful chemical.
If you do relax, stretch the time between touch ups
“Twenty percent of my clients relax their hair and wait about ten weeks before retouching,” Emmanuel said. “It is a personal choice, and I can help guide you on the risks.”
A twist out on blown out hair is a great way to stretch a relaxer. My favorite cream to use for a twist out is Camille Rose Almond Jai Twisting Butter.
It may be tempting to go back to relaxer, especially if you’re having trouble taking care of your hair. But with some patience, you can build a natural hair routine that works for you and doesn’t damage your health in the long run.