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If you've been blessed with naturally wavy, curly, or coily hair, but prefer to wear it bone straight, then you've likely heard of hair relaxers before. These lotions or creams work by chemically altering the structure of the hair for temporarily (usually about six to eight weeks) sleeker strands. It sounds intimidating, but the good news is that hair relaxers have come a long way since the 90s.
You can definitely have healthy relaxed hair," says Lyonisha Sanders, hairstylist, and owner of Lavish Salon & Extensions Bar. "Just like any other chemical hair manipulation, you just have to care for it properly with TLC.” While a professional stylist offers the safest option for chemical relaxing, there are plenty of over-the-counter options that will give you the sleek, straight strands you’re looking for.
If you’re a kitchen beautician confident enough to relax your hair at home, here are the best hair relaxers on the market.
Best Overall: Dark and Lovely Moisturizing No-Lye Relaxer with Shea Butter
Easy to use
Needs a larger serum for longer hair
What do buyers say? 88% of 4,100+ Amazon reviewers rated this product 4 stars or above.
The results are consistent and the formula claims to protect the five signs of healthy hair: moisture, shine, strength, softness, and body. The kit is also super easy to follow, making it an ideal choice for newbies.
Active Ingredients: Water, Petrolatum, Mineral Oil | Hair Type: Coarse | Free Of: Lye | Size: Kit | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Budget: Revlon Professional Regular Conditioning Creme Relaxer
Creamy, easy-to-apply texture
Softens the hair
Not as strong as the original
Might need cosmetic knowledge
This no-frills, no-fuss relaxer gets the job done without breaking the bank. Fair warning: This is a professional-grade relaxer made for those with some cosmetology knowledge. However, if you’re a self-relaxing pro, go for this conditioning formula.
Active Ingredients: Water, Petrolatum, Mineral Oil | Hair Type: Color-Treated, Fine | Size: 8 oz | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Remember that healthy hair starts with a healthy scalp. You might have become accustomed to burns from relaxers, but burning and scabbing are not a good sign. Apply a base cream on your scalp and hairline to protect it from the chemicals.
Best for Damaged Hair: Design Essentials Conditioning Relaxer
Strengthens hair with infiltrated protein
Moisturizing with infused olive oil and shea butter
Might be drying for some
This relaxer is infused with olive oil and shea butter and enhanced with the HydraStrength Vitamin & Protein Complex to condition and strengthen while straightening your hair. Long story short, it doesn’t just make hair more manageable, it promotes health for the long-haul.
Active Ingredients: Water, Sodium Hydroxide, Shea Butter, Olive Oil | Hair Type: Coarse | Size: 64 oz | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Gentle: Just for Me No-Lye Regular Conditioning Creme Relaxer
Highly hydrating ingredients
Gentle on the skin with no-lye
Makes the hair sleek
Not as strong
Sure, this formula is targeted towards children, but adults looking for mild results or with sensitive skin can also benefit from this gentle no-lye relaxer. It delivers the sleek strands you’re looking for while also hydrating with ingredients like coconut milk, shea butter, vitamin e, and sunflower oil.
Active Ingredients: Water, Petrolatum, Mineral Oil, Coconut Milk, Shea Butter, Vitamin E, Sunflower Oil | Hair Type: Coarse | Free Of: Lye | Size: Kit | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
To avoid burning and irritation, always be sure to remove braids, extensions or any other hairstyles that create tension on the scalp at least a week before relaxing.
Best for Dry Hair: Mizani Butter Blend Relaxer Medium Normal Kit
Strengthens and conditions
Easy to wash out
Comes with a protective pre-treatment
Might take a bit longer to fully straigthen
You don’t have to settle for dry, brittle hair just because you choose to relax. This transformative relaxer leaves hair smooth and more manageable while also hydrating with shea butter, cocoa butter, and honey. It comes with a protective pre-treatment to prevent burns, and users rave that it washes it out easily.
Active Ingredients: Water, Petrolatum, Mineral Oil, Coconut Milk, Shea Butter, Cocoa Butter, Honey | Hair Type: All, Fine, Color-Treated | Size: 30 oz | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Best No-Lye: SoftSheen-Carson Professional Defy Breakage No-Lye Relaxer
Ensures up to 90% less breakage
Easy to use
Some reviewers reported dry hair
Lye, also known as sodium hydroxide, is found in many relaxers because it works to break down curls, but it can also cause burns and has a less than pleasant smell. This no-lye relaxer kit puts the health of your hair first and comes with six easy steps (from pre-treatment to conditioner) to ensure up to 90% less breakage than traditional relaxers.
Active Ingredients: Water, Petrolatum, Mineral Oil, Coconut Oil | Hair Type: Kinky, Curly, Wavy | Free Of: Lye | Size: Kit | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Best for Coarse Hair: ORS Olive Oil Built-In Protection No-Lye Hair Relaxer Extra Strength
Has extra strength for resistant hair types
Might not work on all types
For hair textures that are more resistant to relaxers, this extra-strength formula gets your hair straighter without compromising its integrity. The kit comes complete with castor oil and olive oil-infused treatments for nourishment and shine as you prepare to style your hair.
Active Ingredients: Water, Petrolatum, Mineral Oil, Castor Oil, Olive Oil | Hair Type: Coarse | Free Of: Lye | Size: Kit | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Best for Color-Treated Hair: Mizani Butter Blend Relaxer for Fine-Color Treated Hair Kit
Comforts the hair
Easy to use
Gentle on the hair
Hair that has been color-treated or bleached is more porous than hair types, so it’s important to find a safe relaxer that won’t damage the already sensitive strands. This formula is made with color-treated hair in mind to gently relax without causing breakage or brassiness of hair color.
Active Ingredients: Water, Petrolatum, Mineral Oil, Cocoa Butter, Shea Butter, Honey | Hair Type: Fine, Color-Treated | Free Of: Lye | Size: Kit | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
After relaxing hair, one should wait 2 to 3 weeks before doing color services to prevent damaging the hair.
Best for Sensitive Scalps: Avlon Affirm Fiberguard Sensitive Scalp Crème Relaxer
Restores moisture and shine
Adds elasticity to the hair
Sensitive on the scalp
If you’ve been relaxing your hair for a while, you’re likely no stranger to scalp burns—but this doesn’t have to be the norm. This gentle formula is safe for color-treated hair and even the most sensitive scalps. Users report that it can relax coarse hair with ease and minimal to no irritation.
Active Ingredients: Water, Petrolatum, Mineral Oil | Hair Type: Color-Treated, Damaged | Free Of: Lye | Size: Kit | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Texturizer: Beautiful Textures Naturally Straight Texturizer Kit
Gentle on the hair
Creates a looser curl pattern
Hair reverses but to a lesser degree
If you’re not quite ready to permanently relax your hair but are interested in wearing your hair straighter for longer, this texturizer kit is a great option. The reversible system lasts for up to six weeks, allowing you to straighten your hair less and experience less reversion. Some users are happy with the way it loosens curls while others are disappointed that their tighter texture didn’t return, so only use this product if you’re ready for a looser curl pattern.
Active Ingredients: Water, Petrolatum, Mineral Oil, Olive Oil | Hair Type: Coarse | Free Of: Lye | Size: Kit | Cruelty-Free: Unknown | Byrdie Clean: No
Best for Gray Hair: Gentle Treatment No Lye Conditioning Creme Relaxer for Gray Hair
Good on gray hair
Gentle on the hair
Need to prime or condition hair first
This gentle formula can relax delicate gray hair while also having enough strength to straighten unruly textures. It also neutralizes brassiness with its yellow-out formula.
Active Ingredients: Water, Petrolatum, Mineral Oil | Hair Type: Gray, Curly | Free Of: Lye | Size: Kit | Cruelty-Free: Unknown | Byrdie Clean: No
It’s important to find a relaxer suited especially for your needs. Dark and Lovely Moisturizing No-Lye Relaxer with Shea Butter made the top of our list for being super easy to use and straightening hair without compromising strength or shine. For coarse hair, we recommend ORS Olive Oil Built-In Protection No-Lye Hair Relaxer Extra Strength—it straightens even the thickest strands. And for those with sensitive scalps, look no further than Avlon Affirm Fiberguard Sensitive Scalp Relaxer. It gets hair sleek and straight while avoiding burns.
What To Look For When Purchasing A Relaxer
Lye Versus No Lye
Relaxers that use lye have sodium hydroxide as the primary ingredient. These relaxers tend to be stronger and have more of a potential for burns, so they are typically applied by a licensed professional. However, they tend to be easier on the hair, since they don’t leave behind a mineral deposit. Most at-home relaxers are no-lye relaxers that use calcium hydroxide. These tend to be a bit milder on the scalp but could result in calcium buildup and dryness if not used properly. Whichever you choose, be sure to check in with a stylist regularly to ensure your hair’s health.
If you have a dry, sensitive scalp or sensitive conditions like eczema, you’re going to want to be sure to purchase a relaxer that is gentle and specifically formulated for scalp sensitivity. You should also be sure to pretreat your hair with a protective base and be sure to never apply the relaxer directly to the scalp.
Coarse hair and tighter textures are going to need a stronger formula while light waves and finer textures might need a more mild formula. Take your hair texture into consideration before choosing a relaxer.
How long do relaxers last?
Is it safe to relax hair at home?
“I don’t typically recommend over-the-counter relaxers due to them potentially causing the hair to develop calcium buildup which could eventually cause the hair to become brittle, dry, and break," says Sanders. "However, if one must do their relaxer at home, choose a mild formula that’s safe for a sensitive scalp.”
How can you keep relaxed hair healthy?
To keep relaxed hair healthy, Sanders advises seeking a professional stylist for regular hair maintenance, including getting ends regularly trimmed. Other recommendations include always keeping hair moisturized and conditioned and sleeping on a satin pillowcase or satin scarf.
Why Trust Byrdie?
Byrdie contributor Kindra Moné has been creating fashion and beauty content since 2013. Whether contributing to some of the top women’s lifestyle magazines or working in-house with global brands, Kindra has collaborated with some of the most knowledgeable beauty professionals in the industry. When she isn’t writing or trying out Instagram recipes, she’s giving wellness tips and sharing fashion news on The StylingSOUL Podcast.