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By Serfronya Wallace

Many African American women like their hair straight. Either they prefer that look over natural coils or they want a texture that can be combed and styled with ease. So they choose to use relaxers to achieve the smooth hair texture that they desire. Yes, properly applied hair straighteners succeed in giving natural black hair a straight, silky look and feel. But the potential dangers of relaxers necessitate a warning to all who use these products. Consumers should know that possible negative effects exist when relying on chemicals to straighten the hair.

Relaxers chemically altar the composition of the hair. The ingredients in relaxers are harsh to natural hair. The January-February 2001 FDA Consumer magazine warns about the possible dangers of chemical straighteners. In the article Heading off Hair-Care Disasters: Use Caution with Relaxers and Dyes, author Michelle Meadows states that “according to the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Cosmetics and Colors, hair straighteners and hair dyes are among its top consumer complaint areas.” Ms. Meadows then details how relaxers can cause bald spots, scalp irritation, and hair breakage. And worse, 2nd degree chemical burns can result when relaxers are improperly applied directly to the scalp.

But chemicals that over process the hair aren’t the only culprit. For the woman who chooses to relax her hair, heat serves as both friend and foe. Heat has to be applied to the relaxed hair to completely straighten it. Blow dryers and curling irons maximize the straightening process. This makes the hair silky and smooth, which is the desired result. But at the same time, heat damages hair. It can cause dryness and can make hair brittle. This increases split ends and breakage.

Most women have to deal with the time consuming process of getting their hair relaxed. From start to finish, this entire process takes several hours to complete. The relaxer must be applied to new hair growth and set for 15 – 25 minutes, depending on the hair texture. Then the relaxer is shampooed out with a neutralizing agent. Then trimming split ends may be necessary. And finally the hairstyle is completed by either sitting under a hairdryer or blow drying and using a curling iron. This easily results in spending the majority of the day at the beauty salon or several hours at home for the woman who puts in her own relaxers. And all these steps need to be repeated approximately every six to eight weeks.

Of course, most black women who use relaxers do not suffer from all of these negative effects. Although many do experience a few of these problems when dealing with products that chemically change their hair. But many women feel that the final result of straight hair makes it worth dealing with these issues. Nonetheless, care should be taken when using these products. Women should carefully consider the time and possible risks involved when dealing with relaxers.

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