Choosing a chemical hair relaxer based on hair type and the length of time since the woman has last had her hair chemically treated is the best way she can prevent damage or breakage. It is important to note that a chemical hair relaxer will help the hair relax and straighten, but does not provide stick straight hair the way a chemical hair straightening process does. Chemical relaxers are divided into three categories: the lye relaxer sodium hydroxide, no-lye relaxer guanidine hydroxide, and ammonium thioglycolate. Chemical hair relaxer kits come in mild, regular, and super. While stronger kits using sodium hydroxide — considered the strongest of the chemicals used — will provide straighter hair, it carries the highest risk for damage.
Sodium hydroxide, the lye relaxer, works the best for extremely curly hair and on African American hair. It comes in a pH range from 10 to 14 with 14 being the strongest. It will take less time and will produce the straightest results of most chemical hair relaxer kits, but carries a high risk of damage such as dry hair, hair breakage, hair thinning or loss, and possibly chemical burns to sensitive skin. When a woman chooses a sodium hydroxide chemical hair relaxer, she should always find one that comes with a petroleum base cream which protects the skin from irritation. “No base” kits claim to have less damaging formulas, but women can still choose to use a base cream as an extra precaution.
Guanidine hydroxide and ammonium thioglycolate are considered no lye chemical hair relaxers and, while they still carry the same risks as sodium hydroxide, are generally less risky to use. Those who have fine hair or chemically treated hair should consider a kit with one of these chemicals in it. When choosing between a mild and regular kit, those with hair prone to breakage should go with the mild kit as should those who have dyed their hair within the past three to six months. The milder kits will have less effect on those with naturally curly hair but may help those with wavy hair. Those with extremely curly, untreated hair may opt for a super strength sodium hydroxide kit for best results, while those with fragile or chemically treated hair should choose a mild to regular strength kit that uses a no-lye chemical hair relaxer.
Women should reduce the risk of damaging their skin and hair by conditioning the hair both before and after the relaxing treatment. They should also follow the instructions and perform a strand test to see how to get the desired results from the kit. After finishing the treatment, a woman should always use the neutralizer found in the kit to remove any lingering chemicals from her hair. Regular conditioning and refraining from using heated styling products, such as hair dryers, on a daily basis after treatment will prevent breakage and dryness while the hair recovers from the chemicals.