Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.
For those who crave smooth, sleek strands—but have been born with the opposite—the quest for straighter hair can be just that, a serious quest. There is, of course, the option of waging a daily war with your blow-dryer and/or flat iron. Or, you can opt for semi-permanent, in-salon keratin treatments. But there’s another good option that falls somewhere in the middle when it comes to cost, upkeep, and time and effort involved.
Hair relaxer—lotions or creams that work by chemically altering the structure of the hair—can be used at home and will leave your hair smooth and straight for about six to eight weeks. This offers a nice alternative for those who don’t want to deal with hot tools on the reg, but perhaps don’t want the super long-term commitment (or to have to spend the time and money at a salon) that comes with a keratin treatment. Hair relaxers are admittedly pretty powerful, so you will want to be cautious when using one, and make sure to opt for a solid product as well. We’ve taken the hard work out of that second part for you.
Check out our favorite hair relaxers below.
Most commonly, relaxers fall into one of two camps: those that use lye, and those that don’t. The former work quickly, though may also wash out quickly, while the latter use calcium hydroxide instead and are choice for those with sensitive scalps. This particular lye-free version also has the added benefit of being extremely moisturizing and strengthening, thanks to the addition of ceramides and coconut oil. So much so that it promises up to 90% less breakage.
As any curly girl will tell you, not all curls are created equal. That’s why we appreciate that Mizani offers a unique ‘Curl Key’ on their website that helps you figure out exactly which type of relaxing technique and product is best for your specific curl pattern and tightness. This particular iteration comes in two strengths, one for fine/color-treated hair and one for normal/medium hair. Plus, they all contain protective conditioners to help maintain the health of your spirals.
Ammonia-free, this is totally safe for color-treated hair. And, not only that, it contains silk proteins and moisturizing ingredients. Because, FYI, if you’re both coloring and chemically relaxing your strands, you’re definitely going to want to infuse strength and moisture any which way you can. Bonus points for the fact that it’s free of color-stripping sulfates, too.
First and foremost, this comes in an adjustable formula, so you can make sure you’re not using more than you need. But even better, it has strengthening polymers to ensure your locks stay strong and healthy, even after they’ve been smoothed out, and a conditioning relaxer to also add back much-needed moisture to strands in need of a little TLC.
Freelance hairstylist Giulia Heiman is a fan of this relaxer too, saying it is "designed to retain more moisture and offer better cuticle protection than other traditional relaxers on the market."
Olive oil is the moisturizing star of the show here, rich in fatty acids that your dry strands need. It’s infused into the relaxer, so it works to impart moisture at the same time as the relaxer does. (Shea butter, honey, and jojoba oil also help hydrate.) But it doesn’t stop there. This kit also comes with an olive oil-based shampoo, deep conditioning treatment, and setting mousse that you can use afterward to keep those hydrating benefits going.
This egg- and soy-based formula (who knew?) helps to straighten strands, while keratin, mallow extract, and cinchona (a Peruvian tree bark, again, who knew?) tame errant frizzies and flyways. We also like that you get everything you need in this kit, from a pre-care balm to the relaxer to a post-relaxer treatment, and even gloves and an applicator stick. Convenience for the win.
Scalp irritation is one of the most common (and irksome) side effects that can come with using a hair relaxer. For those with sensitive skin, this lye-free pick is choice. It doesn’t contain potentially irritating artificial colors and parabens, but it does have a host of natural soothing ingredients, think aloe vera, green tea, and calendula.
Given that the results of most relaxers last about two months or so, you may start to notice new (curly) hairs start to come in during that time. To quickly touch-up just those errant spots, reach for this option. Because it’s lye-free it won’t irritate your scalp, extra important in this instance since you’ll be using it so close to the hairline and roots. Plus, it’s also a no-breakage formula that actually is made to help improve the health of the hair follicle.
The one drawback of going with a lye-free relaxer is that it can lead to calcium build-up on the hair. But not with this guy, which actually removes calcium and other unwanted residues. It comes with a triple oil complex that you’re meant to use immediately prior for extra hydration, and also proved to offer plenty of protection against breakage in combing tests.
Ideal for normal to medium textures, this one-step relaxer couldn’t be easier to use. And, not only is it infused with three different conditioning ingredients—namely coconut oil, shea butter, and argan oil—they’re also cationic in this formula. That’s basically a fancy way of saying they’re better able to lock onto each strand to deliver the ultimate conditioning effects. The affordable price doesn’t hurt, either.
As the saying goes, variety is the spice of life, right? If you want to relax your hair, but not necessarily end up with super, stick-straight strands, reach for this pick. While it can be used as a relaxer, it can also be used as a re-texturizer to subtly soften curls, without completely wiping them out. Either way, hair ends up soft and smooth with enough oomph to it that it never looks flat or lifeless. Also nice: The addition of, you guessed it, ultra-moisturizing shea butter to combat unwanted dryness.
To get the most bang for your buck, pick up this big tub which comes in at the cost of lunch. While this formula is choice for coarse hair, there’s also an option for medium textures. Happy shoppers rave about how fast it works, and how soft it leaves their newly-smoothed strands.