Permanent straightening, also known as a relaxer, is a straightening method that affects the structure of the hair permanently through a chemical treatment. The chemicals used in permanent straightening solutions cause permanent change to a person’s hair follicles, however, new hair growth is not affected by this procedure.
The science behind hair straightening is as follows:
Hair is made of keratin, a protein that contains sulphides. When they bond, they form a disulphide bond and your hair structure depends on how many disulphide bonds you have.
Permanent hair straighteners will break the hair’s bonds and practically “reset” your hair to become straight. The procedure is common in all salons and has been used for decades to straighten or curl hair permanently, or, at least until it grows again.
With permanent straightening there is also the risk of damaging hair, all the chemicals used could wreak havoc on the hair’s structure when not handled properly. There are different options when it comes to the chemicals used and some companies promise a “lye” based product or something based on a similar chemical.
A non-lye based hair straightener is usually based on calcium hydroxide or guanidine hydroxide and although it has a lower pH level than the lye based relaxer, it does make the hair drier due to the calcium.
Another reason would be the fact that non-lye based straighteners are usually left in the hair for a longer time than lye based ones, which can lead to more scalp irritation. So basically all hair relaxers contain chemicals that may be hard on your hair and once you’ve started straightening your hair with one type of relaxer you cannot choose another one. For example, if you used a calcium hydroxide based relaxer, you cannot use a lye based one. The procedure is as follows: the solution is applied at scalp level and the hair is pulled straight with a comb and it has to be repeated every 6 to 8 weeks.
Having your hair straightened can prove to be a healthy decision for your hair as it will substitute numerous other damaging procedures and materials like hot oil, flat irons, hot combs and so on. It is also much more wash-friendly, thus providing better care for the hair and scalp. If the procedure is done too often, it can lead to hair damage due to the overload of chemicals.
Like any procedure that involves chemicals, if done inappropriately, it can lead to damage to the hair or scalp. The best way to avoid any such problems is to always have your hair straightening done by an experienced technician who will monitor and can immediately adjust, change or intervene if something goes wrong or if outside factors like room temperature change. Leaving the hair relaxers on too long can also have adverse effects that can range from reduced elasticity, hair breakage to scalp burns.
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Even after a successful procedure, the hair is more sensitive to breakage and general damage so proper conditioning treatments that focus on keeping moisture in the hair are required. A good general approach would consist of daily conditioning for about two weeks before the hair relaxing procedure and at least one week after the procedure is done. The procedure is also not advised if your hair is already damaged or if your scalp is irritable.
Permanent straightening methods explained
There is more than one way to straighten hair and each method comes with its individual pros and cons, depending on your type of hair as well as your expectations and lifestyle.
The Brazilian Blow-Dry
This procedure works by adding keratin, the substance that hair is basically made out of, into your hair. After this 30 minute process the hair is blow-dried and straightened. The result should last up to 4 months. This procedure involves basically no damaging chemicals and is very safe when done properly. On the downside, it tends to loosen curls and not completely straighten hair. It can also become a very dangerous procedure if done improperly. According to the FDA some of the chemicals used in this procedure can release formaldehyde so it is extremely important to choose a good salon when undergoing a Brazilian Blow-Dry and always check the ingredients that are used.
Classic Chemical Straightening
Chemical straightening is one of the most popular ways of straightening even the curliest hair. It works by applying some potentially dangerous chemicals that help relax the hair, along with conditioners that protect the hair and scalp from the effects of the relaxing chemicals. Finally, this procedure also involves the use of neutralizers, which help the hair regain elasticity and a healthy pH level.
This procedure keeps your hair straight for up to six months with minimum care, making it one of the most efficient. The cons are, of course, the dangerous chemicals; if handled improperly, can damage your hair and scalp.
Thermal Reconditioning (Japanese Straightening)
Thermal straightening, also known as Japanese straightening or Yuko is a hair straightening procedure that is based on heat and chemicals. The chemicals used are less harsh when compared to any other type of straightening procedure and can actually heal the hair while they straighten it.
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The way it works is by fusing protein rich substances to the hair while pressing cuticle layers together. This results in a healthier hair that will remain strong for up to six months or until your natural hair grows long enough.
With this procedure you will also require less care and less intricate shampoos and conditioners. As cons go, this procedure can be quite expensive and time consuming as it lasts an entire day. You should also avoid styling your hair in any for at least 48 hours after the procedure.
Permanent hair straightening can be an effective way of styling your hair if done correctly and safely. To make sure you get the most out of it, it is important to always find reputable salons, discuss about your type of hair and history and know how to choose the best option for your needs.
References and further reading