Hey there, MMARA™ babe! If you’re reading this, we’re going to guess you are a relaxed lady, or thinking about becoming a relaxed lady. In recent years there has been a huge surge in women of color shunning relaxers in favor of their natural curls, coils and kink. With so many trying (without success) and wondering if it is even possible to have healthy relaxed hair, going natural can seem like an easy solution. Unfortunately, whether you’re relaxed or natural, having healthy hair requires the same thing of you – you have to get to know your hair. Then you have to build a healthy hair care regimen with the right products for your hair.
We know, depending on where you are starting, it can seem daunting. Lucky for you, we’re here to help! That’s why we put together this complete guide on all the key considerations and points to growing long and healthy relaxed hair.
Here’s the rundown on all the things you need to know to start or improve your haircare routine to give you the healthy long relaxed hair you want.
What’s in this guide:
- Types of Relaxers: What to Look For and What to Avoid
- How Relaxers Work
- Finding Your Moisture-Protein Balance: The Key to Growing Healthy Long Relaxed Hair
- Creating Your Relaxed Hair Care Regimen
- Troubleshooting Common Relaxed Hair Issues
Types of Relaxers: What to Look For and What to Avoid
While most people are aware of “lye-based” and “no-lye” relaxers, there are actually a few different formulations for relaxers and they are classified largely by their primary straightening agent:
- Sodium hydroxide (Lye) – higher pH (on average 12-14)
- Ammonium thioglycolate – is used in professional straightening or waving
- Lithium hydroxide (LiOH), potassium hydroxide (KOH), calcium hydroxide (CaOH) and Guanidine hydroxide are all ‘no lye” – slightly lower pH (on average 9-11)
While lye relaxers have gotten a lot of heat because of their negative health impact, they are still used widely by stylists in salons because of their ability to straighten hair quickly. Because of this, they are said to actually be less harsh on your hair. On the contrary, no-lye relaxers are more gentle on the scalp, but harsher on your hair because they require more time to work into the cortex and break down the di-sulfide bonds. The formulation leaves calcium or mineral deposits on the hair shaft which can in turn make the hair very hard and dry.
Because your health is your most valuable asset, we recommend sticking with no-lye relaxers when you want to straighten your hair. To solve for the drying effect of a no-lye relaxer, select a good chelating shampoo. Chelating shampoo is like a clarifying shampoo taken to the next level. These shampoos have a detergent in them strong enough to lift away mineral deposits (calcium, copper, chlorine, salts) that are typically found in hard water (for example), used in pools or left behind after chemical processing.
Follow up the chelating shampoo with a ceramide conditioner. Ceramides are “hair lipids”, a protective layer that covers the hair shaft, which is depleted during processing. Using a conditioner with ceramides will help keep your hair balanced and soft.
Now that we know we want to proceed with a no-lye relaxer, it is important next to select the strength you need to achieve your desired results. The strength of a particular formulation is dependent on the amount of the active ingredient present.
- Mild relaxers – best option for hair that is color treated OR fine in texture OR already showing signs of some damage.
- Normal relaxers – relaxers for the majority or women with medium texture AND some thicker textured hair AND hair that is not otherwise chemically processed.
- Extra Strength – these relaxers are really intended only for thick, coarse hair*
*Many stylists agree that “extra-strength or super” relaxers are too harsh for use and choose to use normal strength relaxers even on thick hair.
Pro Tip: Yes, we all want lustrous and shiny locks, but avoid the urge to relax your hair bone straight. You increase the likelihood that you’ll overprocess your hair (which will lead to damage) and your hair will lack volume. You can achieve perfectly straight hair through your drying technique. We particularly like setting hair with large rollers and sitting under the dryer because the hair isn’t subject to as much tension and stress as blow drying.
How Relaxers Work
You’re not here for a science lesson, but by understanding the chemical process that takes place during relaxing, you can better understand how to care for your hair moving forward.
The pH of any relaxer formulation is very high, which allows for the relaxer to lift the hair cuticle (thus, why chemically processed hair is considered to be high porosity). The relaxer then enters the cortex of the hair shaft — the section responsible for giving hair its pigment, shape and strength. The formulation breaks down the di-sulfide bonds in the hair (the bonds that create the curl or helix shape) rendering the hair straight. Even based on this simple explanation, it is easy to see how chemical processing essentially weakens the hair, leaving it more vulnerable to breakage.
To grow healthy long relaxed hair, we must counter some of the effects of relaxers in our daily, weekly and monthly hair care routines.
One last note: No-lye relaxers still rely on harsh chemicals to help breakdown the hair and change the helix structure. And while they are not as likely to burn you or damage your scalp, they can still cause harm. They should be handled with as much care as the traditional lye-based relaxers.
Finding Your Moisture-Protein Balance: The Key to Growing Long Relaxed Hair
You may have heard that relaxed hair needs protein. This is generally true. But what is not discussed as often, but is critical to master in order to grow long relaxed hair, is actually the balance of moisture and protein to keep your hair healthy and strong. Regardless of what porosity your hair is when you start, any chemical processing will leave your hair more porous (higher porosity) than before. This is because all chemical processing (curling perm, relaxing, coloring, etc.) works by impacting the hair’s cortex. In order to do that, it must lift the hair cuticle and in many instances, the cuticle is left slightly open after processing is completed.
It is important to think of porosity not as a finite state, but as a sliding scale. This is why it is rather elusive to find the perfect moisture – protein balance for your hair. Not only is your balance uniquely yours (no hair blogger is going to give you the magic solution), but it can change depending on the state of your hair.
So where do you even start?
With processed hair, your hair will be on the higher porosity side of the scale. High porosity hair typically requires more protein (the manipulation of the hair’s cortex depletes protein) than moisture. Intuitively, you can comfortably assume that immediately after chemical processing your hair will be farther along on the high porosity side of the scale. So a great place to start is with a protein treatment on the same day or the week after your relaxer. From there, you’ll want to try a relaxer every 4 weeks and monitor how your hair feels. If your hair feels stiff, you may not need as strong a treatment or to do it as often. Play around with the frequency of your treatments as well as the strength of the protein treatments you are applying until your hair feels consistently soft and manageable.
Another way to tell if your hair is in need of protein is if you experience shedding or thinning of the hair (when the hair comes out you can see the small bulb at the end indicating that it is coming out at the root). Your hair naturally sheds roughly 100 hairs per day. If you notice clumps of hair coming out or parts thinning over time, you may be suffering from a protein deficiency or hormone imbalance. In some instances, if not applied properly, relaxers can also damage the scalp and hair follicles making it more difficult to hold on to hair, thus resulting in shedding. In this instance, some scalp care may also be necessary to reverse the trend.
If you experience breakage you know the inch-long bits of hair left in your sink after blow drying or styling your hair, then your issue is more likely to be a lack of moisture. While breakage can be caused by overloading on moisture (hygral fatigue), with high porosity hair, it is typically a lack of moisture that is the culprit. Relaxers tend to dry the hair out since the cuticle remains slightly open making it hard for the hair to retain moisture. With more vulnerable hair (i.e., a weakened cortex) that ALSO lacks moisture, breakage is inevitable.
If you’re still unsure, take the MMARA Healthy Hair Quiz for your personalized hair analysis.
If you experience neither of these issues, you may be in balance. Your hair should be soft, manageable and have a natural sheen to it.
If you have been struggling to get your protein-moisture balance figured out you are not alone. Part of what makes it a difficult nut to crack is because most products have both moisturizing and strengthening (i.e., protein) ingredients in them. That’s why the more you know about the most common ingredients in your hair care products, the better equipped you’ll be to select products that leave your hair balanced and healthy.
Creating Your Relaxed Hair Care Regimen
Developing your own unique weekly relaxed hair care regimen can feel daunting. It does take some trial and error to see what your hair likes (both product and technique), but once you crack the code, the predictability of your routine will make your life a lot easier. To get you started, we’re providing a recommendation based on the MMARA 7™. Give it a try and tweak as you need to create your own customized relaxed hair care routine.
- Wash weekly – Yes, girl set some time aside for you and get to it. A lot of relaxed ladies stretch their wash days, but that is not ideal. Think of your washday as your “reset” button, giving you a chance to moisturize and nourish your hair.
- Deep condition weekly – Do you see why we want you to wash every week? Deep conditioning your hair weekly is a game changer, especially for women experiencing chronically dry/stiff relaxed hair. If you’re looking for a new deep conditioner, try Alodia’s Nourish & Hydrate Deep Conditioning Masque. It delivers protein (hydrolyzed wheat protein and silk amino acids ) and packs a punch with moisturizing ingredients like honey, avocado and peppermint oil (the tingle is awesome!).
- Develop a daily moisturizing routine – This can be as simple as adding your jojoba oil to your hair before bed or more comprehensive like adopting a L.O.C. routine for relaxed hair.
- Protein treatments – Protein treatments for relaxed hair are necessary to bond to the points on the hair shaft that are vulnerable to breakage. Start with a moderate protein treatment once a month and monitor how your hair reacts. If it becomes stiff, then you may need to back off the protein (either less frequent applications or a weaker protein formulation). If your hair gets softer, then you’re on the right track. Continue to moisturize to balance out the protein applications.
- Limit heat use (did you know the hair shaft can start to melt at 400 degrees F?) – Limit heat use all together, but when you do decide to apply heat, do not use heat beyond 365 degrees F and be sure to do just one pass of heat over each section of hair.
- Trim your ends – I know most of us want length, but stringy ends don’t look great and they don’t do great things for your hair. Trim your ends after every relaxer to support healthy strands.
If you’re interested in getting a personalized hair care routine (it only takes minutes), take the MMARA™ Healthy Hair Quiz.
Weekly Moisturizing Routine
While we relaxed ladies share a lot of experiences with our hair, just being “relaxed” doesn’t mean our hair will react in the same way to the same products or routines. Remember, we all start from a different starting line (i.e., our natural hair attributes). It’s really best to try products and monitor their impact on your hair. Same thing is true for technique. That said, sometimes you just need a place to start to help you get on your path. See below for a starter plan for moisturizing relaxed hair.
- Sunday: Wash Day – Shampoo and deep condition with a heat, if possible. For extra moisture, add an oil-rinse in the shower. Moisturize new growth and your ends.
- Monday: Spray water/aloe mixture or water/leave-in conditioner combo and apply either a cream or light oil (jojoba oil) to seal. Focus moisture treatment on your ends and then work through to your roots.
- Tuesday through Saturday: Moisturize daily. If your hair begins to feel oily or like product is starting to build-up skip a day and see how your hair feels. You can also switch to a lighter product what you’re using to moisturize.
- Daily: Take a multivitamin and drink plenty of water(hair health starts on the inside!), utilize protective styles as often as possible and sleep with a satin bonnet/satin pillowcases.
If you are particular about feeling product when touching your head or hair throughout your day (you know, you scratch your head and accidentally leave an oily fingerprint somewhere), we recommend moisturizing at night and sleeping with a satin bonnet. Your hair will soak up the moisture while you sleep.
Getting Ready For Your Next Relaxer
Doing a protein treatment the week before your next scheduled relaxer will help build up and strengthen the strands before processing. Your stylist may choose to do a protein rinse immediately following your relaxer. If not, plan to do a protein treatment in your first weekly wash after relaxer as well.
Troubleshooting Common Relaxed Hair Issues
- SHEDDING – On average, we lose 50-100 hairs a day. This is considered normal hair shedding. If you notice that you are consistently losing more than 100 hairs, you may be dealing with excessive shedding. There are a number of dietary, health-related, medical and lifestyle reasons for excessive shedding. You’ll want to evaluate what you think may be the culprit and adjust that area. To further support your hair, consider adding in or increasing the frequency of your protein treatments (and adding some protein to your diet) to strengthen your hair. It typically takes 3-6 months to begin to see improvement.
- BREAKAGE – Every relaxed lady’s enemy! Breakage is typically caused by too much tension or stress on the hair (caused by excessive manipulation, too much heat, etc). Relaxed hair is particularly vulnerable to breakage because of the relaxing process – which depletes protein and moisture. Getting breakage under control requires that you find a protein-moisture balance that works for your hair. A great place to start is to adopt a daily moisture routine first. As you monitor how your hair responds, adjust your protein treatments (strength and frequency) accordingly.
- Severe breakage – Try a protein reconstructor to reinforce fragile strands. Deep condition weekly. Moisturize daily.
- Moderate breakage – Try a protein treatment or protein shampoo/conditioner every 4 weeks. Deep condition weekly. Moisturize daily.
- Mild breakage – Try a protein rinse or use a leave-in conditioner after every wash. Deep condition weekly. Moisturize daily.
JUST A REMINDER – These are all starting points, not final recommendations. Since your hair is uniquely yours, you’ll have to start with a course of action and monitor how your hair responds. Make adjustments based on what you observe.
- LIMP/LACK OF VOLUME – There are a few different options to help preserve a little more volume to your relaxed hair.
- Oil your relaxer – Adding a tablespoon or two of oil to your relaxer can help moisturize your hair during processing, and slightly lessens the strength of the relaxer allowing you to maintain a little bit of your natural texture giving you some more volume.
- Rollersets – We know, roller-setting your hair takes time. While it does require more of a time investment than blow drying your hair, the shape and bump from the rollers can help create volume. Use large rollers (for your hair length) and sit under the dryer until your hair is completely dry. An added bonus of drying your hair this way is that it puts much less tension on the hair making it less likely to break.
- Wrap your hair – Wrapping your hair at night comes with several advantages. You can build your moisture routine in the evening, allowing your hair to hydrate overnight. When you wake, and unwrap your hair, it will have a natural bump to it giving you added volume without needing to use a heating tool or tease your roots.
- Nail your healthy hair routine – While some ladies are born with fine hair, many relaxed ladies lack volume because they experience a lot of breakage or shedding, which reduces volume by reducing the hair on your head. Being consistent with your relaxed hair care routine (strengthening and moisturizing) will help your hair flourish, reduce breakage and shedding and leave you with more volume and healthier hair!
- DRY HAIR AND/OR SCALP – Dry hair can stem from a lot of different issues. Most typically it can be combatted by adopting a consistent moisture routine. Follow the daily moisture routine as a starting place and adapt according to your hair needs. Make sure to also hydrate from the inside and drink plenty of water, which is great for hair, skin and nails!
- THIN/STRAGGLY EDGES – Thin ends are a telltale sign of breakage. Keep hair as healthy as possible by getting a trim with each relaxer. If you’re hyper focused on growing your hair you can ask your stylist for a “dusting” which will allow you to retain as much length as possible while still getting rid of your split ends. Mastering your protein-moisture balance for your hair will help reduce breakage allowing you maintain your hair density from root to end.
Whew! That’s it! We know, we just just dropped a lot on you. Feel free to bookmark this page so you can refer back as you need. Growing long relaxed hair truly takes patience, time and a fair amount of trial and error. For a detailed hair analysis and recommendation to save you some time, take the MMARA™ quiz.
We think we covered it all, but if there is something else you want to know, drop us a note in the comments.
Wishing you only healthy hair days ahead!