Just like knowing which face products are appropriate for your skin type and knowing how to shade-match your foundation, having a firm handle on hair relaxing is important, whether you're a DIY'er or you prefer to leave it to the pros. Beyond application techniques, knowing how to upkeep a hair relaxing routine remains a question for some. A good rule of thumb: There should be enough new hair growth for the relaxer to adhere to, and you should be able to see a clear line of where the relaxed hair begins and where the new hair growth ends. Often, this means you'll need a 1/2 inch to one inch of new hair growth, which usually occurs every eight weeks.
And, a crucial part of doing a relaxer retouch is refraining from applying the product all over the hair. Because previously relaxed hair is permanently straightened, it doesn't require additional chemical processing, and doing so could result in hair damage (breakage, anyone?). Rather, stick to only applying the relaxer to virgin hair. Below, find everything you need to know about how often you should relax your hair with guidance from two haircare gurus.
Meet the Expert
- Jawara Wauchope is an internationally-recognized celebrity hairstylist and Dyson Global Styling Ambassador, who has worked with superstars like Solange and Cardi B.
- Kim Kimble is a celebrated celebrity hairstylist and the owner of West Hollywood salon, Kimble Hair Studio.
What Is Relaxed Hair?
Relaxed hair is curly or coily hair that is chemically straightened with a chemical cream. A relaxer opens the hair cuticles, penetrates the cortex, and breaks down the bonds that make a hair strand curl. If you're wondering if the process is permanent, the answer is yes. The only way to undo a relaxer is to cut it out of the hair.
How Often Should You Touch Up Relaxed Hair?
"I recommend anywhere from 8-10 weeks on average for touch-ups," says Wauchope. While eight weeks between touch-ups is recommended, some may feel the need to apply relaxers more frequently. Typically, this is the case among those with a short, cropped cut where the sides or back of the style require a touch-up while the top or crown of the head doesn't. Pixie cuts, for example, may require additional hairstylist visits for more frequent maintenance and trims every four to six weeks. The stylist may touch-up just the sides and back to make these areas look more uniform with the longer hair on top. Also, if you're prone to a quick-growing mane that grows faster than the average rate of around 1/2 inch per month, you may want to relax more often, perhaps every six weeks (versus eight).
What Happens If You Wait Too Long Between Touch-Ups?
"If you wait too long between relaxers, you can have some breakage in the hair," says Kimble. It's a slippery slope when it comes to the length of time in between touch-ups: If it's done too often, it could have hair-damaging effects, and if it's not done enough, it becomes difficult to maintain.
According to colorist Jeremy Tardo, "Relaxers respond more quickly to the hair that is nearest to the scalp because of body heat. When the hair is more grown out, the unrelaxed hair closest to the line of demarcation is further away from the scalp. This means there is less heat on that hair which slows down the processing of the treatment. To compensate for this, the relaxer has to be left on longer to achieve the same level of straightening that could be achieved in less time if the regrowth was short. The additional processing is what actually causes the hair to weaken and potentially break."
How to Maintain Relaxed Hair?
Maintaining healthy relaxed hair is possible. However, maintaining your touch-up schedule, keeping heat styling to a minimum, and conditioning properly are essential. To maintain healthy hair when using a relaxer, Wauchope recommends deep conditioning, hot oil treatments, and trimming off any split ends to maintain healthy hair. Kimble reminds us that our nighttime hair routine is also important to maintaining strong, healthy hair even when relaxed. "Sleep in silk bonnets or on silk pillowcases to help avoid breakage," she says. She also encourages relaxed hair wearers to lean into protective styling, wet sets, and protein treatments. "Styles like roller sets [help] avoid over manipulating the hair."
For those who intend to heat style their relaxed hair, Wauchope recommends investing in heat tools that won't over-heat and damage the hair. "If you are often utilizing a relaxer treatment, it's crucial to ensure you are not damaging the hair when using other tools," he says. "I would highly recommend the Dyson Corrale Hair Straightener ($499), for anyone who is looking to straighten or curl their hair. The straightener uses intelligent heat control and flexing plates to gather the hair, ensuring the health of your hair without sacrificing style. This allows you to straighten/curl in fewer passes, at a lower heat setting, versus other machines."