Today i want to discuss the dangers of relaxers. I’m a health conscious person who will try to look at things from the perspective of health. A ‘healthy’ person consists of a healthy body AND a healthy mind. If you keep in mind your wellbeing as a whole person then you will consider what you put INTO your body and also what you put ONTO your body.
So we will start with hair relaxers and move on to other ingredients in future posts that we should keep an eye out for in the products we choose to put onto our hair and scalp.
There is plenty of information out there on the net that will do a good job of explaining what relaxers are, how they work and also the side effects of using such chemicals REPEATEDLY on your hair and scalp. So here i will summarise all that i have learned and also share with you my personal experience with relaxers.
Why hair is curly
*90% of your hair is made up of protein known as keratin, a very robust and tough structure that your nails are also made of.
*One reason that hair curls is that the hydrogen bonds between the proteins (keratin) of your hair are weak and bend easily, especially when wet. "Hair straightening" shampoos and conditioners work by coating your hair strands with oils that keep them from absorbing water. These products do not do anything chemically to your hair except coat them with various types of oils that keep your hair from absorbing water. Another way to alter hydrogen bonds is with heat; electric straighteners work because of this principle. The platters on electric straighteners are flat so that when your hair cools it takes the shape of "flat" as the hydrogen bonds reform. The same thing occurs with curling irons, but since the heating element is circular, the hair stays curled as it cools. The effect of heat, however, is temporary, over time the hydrogen bonds eventually return to their original form and the hairs goes back to the way they were. This rearrangement happens because moisture in the air hydrates the proteins. Hydrating the proteins in hair causes your hair to swell and allows the proteins (which like to exist in water) to become more "at home," and your hair will take its original form again.
*But the main reason hair is curly is because of the amino acids, called cysteines, that the keratin proteins contain. These cysteines link to each other by disulfide bonds (two sulfur atoms connected to each other). All hair has disulfide bonds. How many and how they are put together depends on the shape of the hair strand. Hair strands that are round have fewer disulfide bonds so the hair is straight. Hair strands that are flattened have more disulfide bonds. Simply put, the more disulfide bonds you have, the curlier your hair is.
What’s in a Relaxer?
Lye relaxers contain a 5 to 10 percent solution of sodium hydroxide (NaOH) as the active ingredient. These products also contain emulsifiers, mineral oil, petroleum jelly and water to give the hair relaxer a creamy consistency. A lye relaxer weakens the internal bonds of the protein in the water, causing hair fiber to swell open. This type of hair relaxer is simply applied and rinsed out after the appropriate time interval. A "base" lye relaxer is a stronger solution of sodium hydroxide and requires a coating of petroleum jelly on the scalp to prevent it from being burned by the hair relaxer. A "no base" lye relaxer is a weaker solution and doesn’t generally require the scalp to be protected.
sodium hydroxide – also known as caustic soda or soda lye. This chemical is known in chemistry to be one of the most dangerous substances that must be handled with extreme caution. Is found in many household cleaning products such as drain cleaners and detergents and is also used as the lye solution in soap making. It is harmful and corrosive and should not come in contact with the skin. It also causes severe burns, may cause serious permanent eye damage, is very harmful by ingestion, is harmful by skin contact or by inhalation of dust. During skin exposure, the substance causes severe burning, ulceration and scarring. One of the dangers of skin exposure is that the chemical tends to destroy deeper layers of the skin until it is washed off. The extent of injury depends on the length and amount of exposure
A "no lye" hair relaxer uses an alkaline agent other than sodium hydroxide to straighten hair. This may be an alkaline agent that’s slightly weaker than sodium hydroxide, such as guanidine hydroxide, lithium hydroxide, ammonium thioglycolate or potassium hydroxide. A home hair kit may also use ammonium sulfite, which weakens the protein structure more selectively than a lye relaxer. This type of hair relaxer primarily weakens cystine bonds, which is a protein that’s more common in hair than skin.
guanidine hydroxide – There is minimal data available on the toxicity of guanidine hydroxide. However, information is
readily available on the two parent chemicals: calcium hydroxide and guanidine carbonate.
*Calcium hydroxide – Upon inhalation, calcium hydroxide can cause irritation to the respiratory tract. Symptoms may include coughing and shortness of breath. This caustic, or burning, agent can also cause chemical bronchitis. In addition, calcium hydroxide is a gastric irritant, as ingestion may be followed by severe pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and collapse. A narrowing of the esophagus may occur weeks, months, or years after ingestion, making swallowing difficult. This chemical is also corrosive and when it comes in contact with the skin it may cause severe burns and blistering, depending on duration of contact. If calcium hydroxide gets into the eyes it may produce severe irritation, pain, and ulcerations of the corneal epithelium. Therefore, calcium hydroxide exposure can cause blindness. Prolonged or repeated skin contact may produce severe irritation or dermatitis
*Guanidine carbonate – It is an irritant to the skin, eyes, and mucous membranes. Guanidine carbonate also has an irritating effect on the lungs upon inhalation. There are no known allergic or sensitization effects associated with exposure to this chemical. Unfortunately, the acute and chronic toxicity of this substance is not fully known. It is known to be very hazardous if ingested.
Lithium hydroxide – Poison. May be fatal if swallowed. Eye contact may cause serious, irreversible damage. Corrosive – causes burns. May cause severe eye irritation or burns. Chronic exposure may cause CNS, liver or kidney damage. Lithium Hydroxide (LiOH); is a corrosive alkali hydroxide, white, hygroscopic, crystalline material; soluble in water, slightly soluble in ethanol and insoluble in ether; there are commercially forms of monohydrate and anhydrous; used for purification of gases and air (as a carbon dioxide absorbent), as a heat transfer medium, as a storage-battery electrolyte, as a catalyst for polymerization, in ceramics, manufacturing other lithium compounds and esterfication specially for lithium stearate which is used as general purpose lubricating greases due to its high resistance to water and the useful at both high and low temperature.
Ammonium thioglycolate – also known as perm salt, is the chemical compound with the formula HSCH2CO2NH4.
SYMPTOMS: Exposure to this compound may cause sensitivity dermatitis of scalp or hands, with edema, erythema, subcutaneous lesions, burning of skin, papular rash and itching. It may also cause hypoglycemia. Other symptoms include central nervous system depression, convulsions and dyspnea.
ACUTE/CHRONIC HAZARDS: This compound is a strong allergen. When heated to decomposition or in contact with acid or acid fumes, it emits highly toxic fumes of sulfides.
potassium hydroxide – Potassium hydroxide (KOH) is a very caustic, extremely alkaline substance. Potassium Hydroxide in its pure form is a hazardous substance and should therefore only be handled by qualified and competent persons. Although some of the weaker concentrations of KOH are not as hazardous, they should still only be handled by suitable individuals. KOH is also used in the manufacture of soaps, particularly in the manufacture of softer soaps. The textiles industry and other trades use large quantities of potassium hydroxide.
Potential Health Effects of KOH
Severe irritant. Effects from inhalation of dust or mist vary from mild irritation to serious damage of the upper respiratory tract, depending on the severity of exposure. Symptoms may include coughing, sneezing, damage to the nasal or respiratory tract. High concentrations can cause lung damage.
Toxic! Swallowing may cause severe burns of mouth, throat and stomach. Other symptoms may include vomiting, diarrhea. Severe scarring of tissue and death may result. Estimated lethal dose: 5 grams.
Corrosive! Contact with skin can cause irritation or severe burns and scarring with greater exposures.
Highly Corrosive! Causes irritation of eyes with tearing, redness, swelling. Greater exposures cause severe burns with possible blindness resulting.
Prolonged contact with dilute solutions or dust of potassium hydroxide has a destructive effect on tissue.
Aggravation of Pre-existing Conditions:
Persons with pre-existing skin disorders or eye problems or impaired respiratory function may be more susceptible to the effects of the substance.
Ammonium Sulfite – Is a colourless crystalline solid. The. It is used in the manufacture of other chemicals, in medicine, and photography. It’s an irritant. Inhalation of dust causes irritation of nose and throat. Ingestion causes irritation of mouth and stomach. Dust irritates eyes.
How Relaxers work
There is a scale called a pH (potential of hydrogen) scale. It ranges from 0-14. Water is right in the middle with a pH of 7 and is "neutral" (neither acidic or basic). Substances with higher pH are called alkali, caustic or basic. Solutions with lower pH are called acidic. The farther from the number 7 (either high or low), the more the solution will do in terms of burning or breaking chemical bonds. The pH scale is a logarithmic scale. What that means is a whole number difference is greater than you might think. A solution that is pH 8 is ten times more basic than a solution that is ph 7. One that is a pH 5 is 100 times more acidic than a pH 7. The hairs natural pH balance is between 4.5 and 5.5 scale so it’s classified as acidic. Relaxers, whether lye or no lye, have a very high pH (very near the top of the scale). In other words, they are caustic.
Relaxers work because they break the bonds that actually give strength to the hair. This causes the hair to straighten. Therefore, relaxed hair is, by definition, weaker than natural hair. Relaxers also deplete the hair of sebum (the oil your scalp secretes).
Hair "curliness" can be changed by altering the disulfide bonds. Chemical straightening actually rearranges the basic structure of curly hair by breaking the disulfide bonds.
Hair relaxers, through their active ingredients of sodium hydroxide, guanidine hydroxide or ammonium thioglycolate break the bonds and then cap them so that they cannot chemically reform.
Sodium hydroxide, the stronger of the three, also causes the hair to swell as it penetrates into the cortical layer and breaks the bonds.
After the disulfide bonds are broken and capped or altered, they become resistant to moisture and don’t curl when they get wet.
Usually after treatment, it’s important to use a neutralizer like an acidic shampoo to remove the lye and rebalance the PH levels of your hair or the lye can continuously break up the hair structure leading to hair breakages and brittleness.
The Side Effects Of Relaxers
- Hair breakage
- hair thinning
- hair loss
- scalp irritation
- scalp damage
- receding hair line
- potentially toxic fumes from the chemicals
So we see from this research alone that it is better to stay away from such chemicals as continual use will cause damage to our hair and scalp.
I’ve had my hair relaxed since the beginning of secondary school (age 11). My hair as a child was really thick and long(ish). At first, to relax my hair i had to use super strength relaxer and sit there for ages just waiting for it to relax, much longer than recommended, and even then it wouldn’t be bone straight. I would do this every 4-6 weeks as suggested by my hairdresser (who was my aunty). several years later and even a mild relaxer was too strong. The relaxer destroyed my scalp completely. I could not take the chemicals anymore. My scalp was so sensitive. But a mild relaxer was not strong enough for my hair and it would remain kinky. I have suffered from severe breakage, where my hair had length but was extremely thin. So on several occasions i have grown out my relaxer and when my hair was nice and long and STRONG flung relaxer back in again. It would get weak, break and i would repeat the cycle all over again. I had my last relaxer when i found out i was pregnant with Darion (my oldest son), over 5 years ago now. It was something i decided to do because of a lot of health and diet information i was learning at the time. My scalp still has not fully recovered yet (hence some of my earlier posts on scalp care) but it’s much better now as it is not subjected to the torturous crème they call relaxers.
After doing such research it’s no wander that over time relaxers damage your hair and scalp. If you want to be healthy both inside and out i would fully encourage all to ditch these harmful crème’s and to embrace, love and work with what God has given you.