Posted on December 21, 2008 at 2:12 AM

February 22, 2008


Whether done professionally or in the privacy of your own home, chemical hair relaxing can magically alter the basic structure of naturally wavy or curly hair into a new straighter form.
It is important to note that the treatments known as Japanese hair straightening (Yuko, Liscio, etc.,) are not chemical relaxers. Instead they are known as chemical straighteners.
The difference between chemical hair straighteners and chemical hair relaxers (Phytospecific, Rusk, ) is that straigheners will result in stick straight strands and relaxers will soften and relax.
Chemical straighteners are must stronger than relaxers and can be very harsh and damaging. Depending on the hair type, texture, condition and prior chemical use, some hair should be chemically relaxed instead of straightened.


Some hair consumers with naturally curly hair would never ever think of either chemically straightening or relaxing their hair. While they might temporarily straighten their hair with styling products, brushes, blow dryers and hot irons, some people with curly hair pride frown upon using chemicals to alter their natural ringlets.
This is not the case with all naturally curly blessed people. Some prefer to eliminate their natural texture with chemical relaxers because they are much less damaged than chemical straightening


There are two types of relaxers which include:

Sodium hydroxideAmmonium thioglycolate
Sodium Hydroxide

Sodium hydroxide relaxers, which are considered to be caustic relaxers, are designed to soften and swell the hair's fibers. Hair experts consider sodium hydroxide to be more like a hair straightener than a relaxer.
As the solution penetrates into the cortex of the hair, the cross-bonds (sulfur and hydrogen) are broken. The action of the comb, the brush or the hands in smoothing the hair and distributing the chemical straightens the softened hair.
Manufacturers vary the sodium hydroxide content of the solution from 5% to 10% and the pH factor between 10 and 14.
In general, the more sodium hydroxide used and the higher the pH, the quicker the chemical reaction will take place on the hair, and the greater the danger will be of hair damage.
Because of the high alkaline content of sodium hydroxide, great care must be taken in its use.
Ammonium Thioglycolate
Ammonium thioglycolate is a chemical compound made up of ammonia and thioglycolate acid. It is the main active ingredient in both chemical hair relaxers and chemical perms.
Although ammonium thioglycolate which is also referred to as a "thio" is less drastic in its action than sodium hydroxide, it soften and relaxes overly curly hair in somewhat the same manner.


The neutralizer also is called a stabilizer or fixative. The neutralizer stops the action of any chemical relaxer that may accidentally remain in the hair after rinsing. Even with complete rinsing, it is possible that some relaxer may still be present.
The neutralizer for a thio type relaxer reforms the cysteine (sulfur) cross-bonds in their new position and re-hardens the hair.

Base Versus No Base Formulas

When using sodium hydroxide, there are two types of formulas, base and no base. The base formula is a petroleum cream that is designed to protect the client's skin and scalp during the sodium hydroxide chemical straightening process.
This protective base also is important during a chemical straightening touch-up. It's applied to protect hair that has been previously straightened, to prevent over-processing and hair breakage.
Petroleum cream has a lighter consistency than petroleum jelly and is formulated to melt at body temperature.
The melting process ensures complete protective coverage of the scalp and other areas with a thin, oily coating. This helps to prevent burning and/or irritation of the scalp and skim.
Previously treated hair should be protected with a heavy moisturizing cream conditioner during the straightening process.

No base relaxers are also available. These relaxers have the same chemical reaction on the hair, although usually the reaction is milder.
The procedure for the application of a "no base" relaxer is the same as for a regular relaxer except that the base cream is not applied. It is advisable to use a protective cream around the hairline and over the ears.

Chemical Hair Relaxing Steps

The neutralizer also is called a stabilizer or fixative. The neutralizer stops the action of any chemical relaxer that may accidentally remain in the hair after rinsing. Even with complete rinsing, it is possible that some relaxer may still be present.

1. A chemical relaxer is applied. The hair begins to soften so that the chemical can penetrate to loose and relax the natural curl.
2. As soon as the hair has been correctly process, the chemical relaxer is completely rinse out with warm water followed by a shampoo neutralizer or a prescribed shampoo with neutralizer.
3. Depending on the client's needs the conditioner may be part of a series of hair treatments, or it may be applied to the hair before or after the relaxing treatment.
Extremely curly hair that has been damaged from heat appliances or other chemicals must be re-conditioned before a relaxer service is performed.
Hair treated with lighteners or metallic dyes must not be given a chemical hair relaxer because it might cause excessive damage or breakage.

Recommended Strength Of Relaxer

The strength of the relaxer is determined by the strand test. The following guidelines can help in determining which strength relaxer to use for the test.

1. Fine, tinted, or lightened hair - Use mild relaxer.Relaxers to try: Radical AntiCurl
2. Normal, medium-textured virgin hair - Use regular relaxer.Relaxer to try: Radical AntiCurl #2
3. Coarse, virgin hair - use strong, super relaxer or for resistant strands.Relaxer to try: Radical AntiCurl - Resistant Formula #3

Rusk AntiCurl Relaxers do not contain sodium hydroxide. As a result it will not get hair stick straight. It will however relax it, defriz it and soften it.

The Rusk Anti-Curl will not get curly hair straight. However, what you need to use depends on what the hair texture is and what your desired results are. If the hair is only slightly wavy and you don't need to get the hair bone straight, then the Rusk would probably be ok.
If the hair has any kind of curl pattern or a frizz problem, any thermal reconditioning product would be a better solution. Provides exceptional "obedience training" for hair that frizzes uncontrollably in high humidity. Radical AntiCurl Formula 3 is specially formulated for coarse, resistant hair. It delivers the extra control required for altering the curl of these hair types and creates a perfect foundation.

Not recommended for use on hair that has been straighened previously with a relaxer. Not recommended for bleached or double-processed hair. For normal hair or hair that has been treated with semi/demi permanent haircolor, use Radical AntiCurl Formula 1. For high-lift tinted or highlighted hair, we recommend Radical AntiCurl Formula 2.
No animal testing. No animal derived ingredients.

By the way, the ingredients in the Rusk thioglycolate. There are formulas for virgin, colored, or highlighted hair and you just need to use the appropriate solution.

Most of the Japanese straighteners (i.e. thermal reconditioners are not meant to be used on Afro-American hair because they will not get the hair straight)

Regular relaxers usually don't last long and just damage the hair.
Scalp Examination
It is very important to always inspect the scalp carefully for any scratches, eruptions or abrasions before applying a chemical relaxer. To obtain a clearer view of the scalp, part the hair into 1/2" sections. Hair parting may be done with the index and middle fingers or with the handle of a rat-tail comb.
In either case, you must exercise great care not to scratch the scalp. Such scratches may become seriously infected or seriously aggravated by the chemicals in the relaxer.
Lye Versus No Lye Hair Relaxers

Relaxers containing no-lye are based upon calcium hydroxide. No-lye relaxers are popular with Caucasions but not work as well for African American textures or hair that is extremely curly or nappy.

Hair Relaxer Myths

Hair relaxers have cycled in popularity throughout the years. As their use has grown, hair myths have popped up.
Listed below are some of the most common myths and misinformation:
Curls Will Come Back Before Root Regrowth
Some people believe with Rusk or PhytoRelaxer that the curls eventually come back. Depending on who you talk to, if applied correctly, the relaxers will permanently block the return of curls, except with root regrowth.

The reason that the manufacturers warn against leaving the relaxer on for more than 20 minutes is to prevent less experienced hairdressers or consumers from overprocessing and burning hair.

There is a risk in testing long application beyond the recommended minutes in the instructions. If you decide to push the envelope, work with an experienced hairdresser who can apply the relaxer and then watch your hair closely as it processes to determine the perfect processing time for your hair. Hair relaxers can be used on any length of hair from super short to long.

Some people use spot relaxers to deal with stubborn cowlicks or whorls. They may also use spot relaxers on uneven growth patterns.
Hair relaxers can also be used on just the roots, just the ends or throughout the entire head of hair.
It works on hair of all races and is used by men and women. African American men often use "kits" as they call them to help them achieve softer strands that can be styled into 360 Wave styles as well as for braiding.
Hair relaxers work for hair that is combo meaning one part curly, one part wavy and one part straight. Depending on how long the relaxer is allowed to process the results will rank from stick straight to subtle waves with soft bend. In general it leaves healthy hair looking shiny and healthy.
Curls and natural texture always come back when the roots grow back.
Relaxer treatments can be applied to 100% human hair extensions. They can not be applied to synthetic extensions.
Depending on chemical relaxing preferences some people prefer Rusk, some Phyto, some Dark and Lovely and other prefer other product options.
Chemically relaxed hair can be easily altered to add back curls and waves or straightened even further through hot irons and rollers.
Hair that has been highlighted may or may not be able to handle a very mild relaxer like Rusk. This should only be attempted after a series of patch tests to make sure that hair will not break off.
It will relax hair enough to make waves more manageable in humid weather.

"Japanese style straightening" or "Thermal straightening"

Often referred to as "Japanese style straightening" or "Thermal straightening" because a flat iron is used and the hair is super heated as part of the process, the revolution is not so much in being able to get your hair straight but the amazing condition it leaves your hair in. Having seen this process done and checked out some of the results I'm definately impressed, something not so easily done as I've seen just about everything there is to see in the world of hair care.

Curly, wavy or frizzy hair is left looking healthy and your hair stays smooth and needs little or no blow-drying. Of course, like with anything the actual results you get are still about the skill of the person performing the straightening.

Who can have it?

Almost anyone with curly, wavy or frizzy hair who wants it straight (but Afro hair is too strong a curl for this type of product at the moment but I have been told that they are working on a formula for this hair type too).
Even if your hair has previously been coloured, highlighted, bleached or permed it is still possible as long as the condition is good. If you are not sure as to what constitutes good then make sure the hairdresser does a strand test first.

Who can't have it?

Those of you with afro hair as mentioned or extremely curly hair which you cannot garanteed to get perfectly straight.

Japanese style straighteners can't be used over the top of previous straighteners that are sodium hydroxide, potassium hydroxide, calcium hydroxide based or chemical relaxers.
In general you are not going to know whether your last straightener was of this type but if you can remember back to having it done a tell tale sign is if your hair was shampooed twice at the time. Basically sodium hydroxide straighteners require you to shampoo your hair and then have a lotion applied then have it shampooed again. They are also often referred to as 'lye' straighteners.
A test strand should be performed prior to trying this so that the hairdresser can see how your hair will respond. If they turn around and say it won't work for you or the condition of your hair is not up to it, then it's best to believe them!

What does it involve?

3 to 5 hours of your time! To see whether it is worth spending this long in a salon, ask yourself how long it takes you to blow-dry your hair straight and do the maths.
$AU200 to $AU800!! Yes, it is expensive mainly because of the labour involved. Shop around for best prices and make sure what is included in the price you are quoted, sometimes there are add ons that should be included i.e. a treatment or the cut. Some salons offer all the home care products and a follow up blowdry free as part of the initial cost, so shop around.
The process involves the initial use of a lotion applied to your shampooed and treated hair, followed by hours of perfect flat ironing with special, very hot irons and finally a naturalising stage where your hair is rinsed or air oxidation as mentioned. I've never been a fan of the smell of straighteners but these have little or no smell to speak of.

Things to consider.

If you colour your hair you will experience a small degree of fade.
You can't shampoo your hair for 48 to 72 hours and should avoid any humidity i.e. steamy showers or exercise.
If once you have straight hair and you hate it, you can perm after 7 to 14 days to make it curly again (but permed hair is not the same as naturally curly hair).


You must follow the after-care advice and use recommended products to maintain the condition of your hair.
If you have very curly hair, your new growth will need to be done quite frequently (every 4 months) and you should budget for this cost (generally less than initial charge). If your hair is only a little wavy you can go between applications for far greater lengths of time.

Categories: Relaxers & perms

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