The Fascinating Evolution of Chemical Perms and Relaxers on Natural Hair

Maya Allen

Natural girls, let's take it back to the '90s. How often did you see big afros and kinky curls featured in beauty advertisements, the runways, or on the big screens? Instead, the only images we saw glorified were silky, straight hair with soft curls. So growing up a little black girl as a minority in Portland, Oregon, that was all I wanted.

If we're being honest here, I have a vivid memory from a class field trip to a water amusement park that was a defining hair moment for me. One of my close friends could get her hair wet and she'd come out of the pool with bone-straight hair. I want my hair to still look straight too, I thought to myself. I was so jealous that every time my natural, hot-combed hair would touch water it would immediately transform into frizzy curls. I went home and cried to my mom, begging her for a relaxer like my best friend's so my hair could stay "pretty and straight." My mom refused to let me put chemicals in my hair. "Once you put chemicals in your hair, your natural curl pattern is going to change for a long time," she warned me during the time that she was trying to grow out her relaxer from her hair and go natural. 

You see, chemical relaxers were all my mom and grandmother saw. Naturally curly hair was nowhere. I talked to celebrity hairstylist Nai'vasha Johnson of Exclusive Artists Management about the evolution of chemical perms and relaxers on natural hair and how its transformed over time. 

 

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