Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Let's Talk Hair: Living The LYE..Relaxer Truths

Relaxer Truths by DeeCoily

A couple of years ago, I had to compose a "persuasive" speech for my public speaking class. I had to pick a subject and write a speech to persuade people to change their actions or their way of thinking about that subject. I chose chemical relaxers as my subject. I posted it on my web site, and many napptural friends have commented on how informative and helpful it was, so I thought it would be a good idea to submit it here so more people can learn the truth.

The information was compiled from Tulani Kinard's book "No Lye" and Pamela Ferrell's book "Let's Talk Hair". If you're thinking of giving up the creamy crack, I highly recommend these books. There's a wealth of helpful information in them. They have become my hair bibles and helped me a lot once I made the decision to....


This is a phrase that I read in a book when I was researching what I could do with my hair other than use chemicals to straighten it. So many women today suffer from all types of hair loss. Alopecia, aging, heredity, and stress are some of the most common causes. The cause that is found in almost epidemic proportions in black women, however, is chemical damage from relaxers -- or chemical hair straighteners.

The Process
Most of us have no idea what these relaxers really do to our hair... how they actually go about the process of straightening. There are two types of relaxers. They are SODIUM HYDROXIDE (lye-based) and GUANIDINE HYDROXIDE (no-lye). Although the no-lye products are thought to be less damaging, both types are harmful to the hair because in order to straighten it, they must first strip it of its natural moisture and then break down the structure of the hair.

Let me briefly explain. The hair has two bonds, a physical bond and a chemical bond, referred to as the S and H bonds. These bonds create the S-shaped kink or curl in African-American hair. Chemically processing the hair changes the molecular structure by breaking down these bonds... thereby damaging the hair. Once the bonds are broken, the hair loses its natural shape and elasticity, and can then be manually formed into straight hair. The changed S-shape bond can never be returned to its original healthy form. It has undergone a permanent change caused by chemical damage.

Hair Damage
Sodium hydroxide and guanidine hydroxide both have a very high pH factor, meaning they are highly alkaline products. When applied to the hair, they immediately strip it of all moisture, because any retention of moisture would reduce the effectiveness of the straightener. This is why a deep-conditioning treatment is always applied to the hair after the chemical process. These treatments are designed to drive moisture back into the hair shaft and to coat the hair strand to make it look shiny and appear healthy, or in other words -- to camouflage the damage. But no hair that has undergone a chemical relaxer is healthy. It's been purposely and permanently damaged by the chemicals... and hair can't be damaged and healthy at the same time.

Relaxed hair is always dry. This is why we're constantly putting something on it.. oiling our hair and scalp two or three times a week. There are several reasons for this: 1) Start with the moisture-stripping process of the chemical relaxer that I spoke about in the above paragraph; 2) Add the steady regimen of hot-comb touch-ups, curling irons & flat irons (all work with heat which is drying to the hair) and hair sprays and styling/holding gels, (these contain alcohol which is drying to the hair). The natural oils our scalps produce can't serve our hair's needs. The scalp can't manufacturer enough natural moisture to replenish the moisture we're stripping from our hair on a daily basis; and 3) The products we usually use in an attempt to fight dryness (usually petroleum-based products, or "grease") don't really add moisture to the hair at all. They simply coat the hair with petroleum to provide shine. At the same time, they clog the pores of the scalp so that the scalp can't secrete its own natural moisture.

I always thought black hair either doesn't grow as fast as Caucasian hair 'or doesn't grow at all. WRONG! All hair grows at the same rate 'on average 3/4 inch per month. But the reason that most black women have shorter hair is because of breakage. Why does the hair break? Because of the harsh treatment we give it. We strip it of its moisture in every way we possibly can! So after a period of time (short for some, a little longer for others) the need for a cut to camouflage the damage done to your hair will become evident. When your stylist suggests a 'designer cut' (like the fade), that's your cue that your hair has had enough.

Skin Absorption
In addition to the damage done to the hair by these chemicals, we should remember that the process involves more than simply straightening or texturizing the hair above the scalp. Chemicals are absorbed through the skin into the tissue, cells, and blood stream. We rub creams and lotions on our skin -- knowing that the skin will absorb them and be moisturized by them. The medical industry administers drugs through skin absorption -- like the patches for smoking, sea-sickness, and birth control. The skin absorbs everything; and as strong as these chemicals are 'causing sores and abrasions on the scalp' why wouldn't some of it be absorbed through the skull and possibly into the brain?

The instructions on the relaxer boxes always say to wear gloves -- because the chemicals are caustic, however it is applied directly to the hair and scalp and left there for a period of time. Women experience burns and scabs from the toxic chemicals, and yet they continue to go back every few weeks for their regular dose of this creamy crack. The FDA banned the manufacture of household liquid drain cleaners that have a higher than 10 percent solution of Sodium Hydroxide because it corrodes drain pipes. Because it is so strong, it may cause dermatitis of the scalp. If left on the hair more than 10 minutes, it will dissolve the hair, causing it to tear easily and become fragile and limp. Would anyone put this cream on their face, or on their arm, and leave it there for 10 or 15 minutes? Then why put it on your head?

And then there are the fumes. A study done by the Cancer Surveillance program at the University California School of Medicine found the number of cases of blood cancer to be excessive for females in the occupations 'cosmetologist, hairdressers, and manicurist.' Dyes, shampoos, conditioners, relaxers, permanent wave solutions, nail antiseptics, fungi, and bacteria are the suspect causes of this. Although the study does not specifically look for race in the findings, it is known that blacks in these beauty occupations typically have higher rates of blood cancer. Also, frequent inhalation of this chemical can lead to lung damage.

Love Yourself
In order to stop these damaging practices, we must first learn to love ourselves as we are. Why should we continue the practice of chemically damaging our hair so that we can wear it in styles created for other hair textures when African-American hair can be styled beautifully just as it is? It's not hard to work with, and there are lots of varieties of styles to choose from.. From locks to twists to coils to afros... from dressy up-dos to the no-care-hair of free-styling. Our hair is not unmanageable, as many people think. My aunt once told me that our hair is easy to manage as long as we stop trying to force it to do things it wasn't designed to do.

Hair doesn't have to be straight to be beautiful. It simply has to be well-groomed. There are books by natural hair care specialists that take you through every step of transitioning from chemically-straightened hair to healthy natural stylish hair. There are also support groups all over the country to help people cross over and maintain their natural hair. If you're interested in attending some of these gatherings in your area, visit our Napptural Gatherings Forum.

Our skin is brown because it's supposed to be. Our hair is kinky because it's supposed to be. It's not something that needs to be fixed or hidden. It's not something to be ashamed of. It's just hair. It's not bad hair or good hair. Just hair. The idea that it must be fixed (or straightened) is left-over baggage from the days of slavery... an idea that we've held for so long that we don't even realize why we do it, and we no longer have a clue how to manage and maintain our hair in its natural state. We shun our own natural hair texture because we have been told for generations that nappy hair is bad. We've been made to feel that the only way to attain 'good' hair is to straighten it. We've turned perfectly neutral descriptive words into negatives. Straight isn't a negative word. Wavy isn't a negative word. When we can hear the words kinky and nappy as being purely descriptive and carrying no negative connotation, and when we can all 'stop living the lye', we will have made it to true acceptance of ourselves.

Happy Lye Free Hair

credits: article at www.curlynikki.com


  1. Bravo! I love your aunts quote. I started my journey in oct 2010 and one thing that sparked it was that my daughter started wanting to wear wigs/weaves so that her hair would be "pretty" and long. After trying to change her perception I thought why..who said I "need" a perm?? How did this become a requirement for us? why can't I wear my hair as it is...I couldn't answer the questions so I took off, with my kids in tow and do not plan on ever looking back!

  2. @ Misskroberts..I'm so glad you enjoyed the article..We have been brainwashed, well let me say this, the world has been brainwashed into a western idea of what beauty is..from the texture of our hair, to brunettes dying their hair to achieve the 'blond hair/blue eye' look..The more our youth are exposed to those images, the more they are striving to fit into the mode of 'standard beauty'..Since I homeschool my children, they get to see the beauty of natural hair and help me make butters and ointments for our hair and skin..it's all inclusive. I want them to know that it's ok to like straight hair, but appreciate and love natural hair as well..see the beauty in all things natural. But the good hair/bad hair is going to take some serious work to remove that stereotype and it's going to have to start with parents, because if we leave it up to the media and the world, they will be just as confused as many of us were growing up..thanks for commenting

  3. I would like to say that this is a very informative article. I like the way it speaks of changing hair on a molecular level. For those that don't know changing it on that level affects the 9 ether which is a God property a way that certain hair types grow towards the sun for spiritual rejuvenation and Universal connection for hair serve as an antenna to connect vibes. Again thanks for the info Soul Sista

  4. Excellent and much needed post..thanks for sharing

  5. Excellent article..I think every cosmetology school need this info as well as hair stylists.. This was a fantastic article

  6. Excellent and informative read!!! I will repost this article on my FB to help spread the word. Thank you for sharing.

  7. Girl, your natural hair is gorgeous! Not afraid to compliment a beautiful Black sista when I see one. Kudos! I stopped relaxing my hair over 6 years ago and now my hair actually GROWS!

  8. I have just downloaded iStripper, so I can have the sexiest virtual strippers stripping on my taskbar.