Your Relaxer Could be Damaging Your Hair

Back view of a woman with curly/kinky hair, from the waist up


Delmaine Donson/Getty Images

Although natural hair is all the rage right now, many people still love the look and ease of straight hair that stays that way. But a poorly done relaxer can cause irreparable damage. Unfortunately, some of the warning signs a relaxer is damaging your hair are commonly accepted. Relaxing your hair at home can be dangerous, but even professional stylists can make mistakes when applying chemicals.

The best way to prevent bad relaxer damage (and potential hair loss) is to visit a pro who specializes in kinky or curly hair and prizes your hair and scalp's health above anything else. If you experience any of the following during or soon after a relaxer treatment, you're probably suffering damage to your hair and/or scalp. Ahead, check out some signs that could mean your relaxer is damaging your hair. 

Meet the Expert

  • Abra McField is the founder of Abra Kadabra Hair & Healing.
01 of 07


Some people believe that "beauty is pain," but that doesn't have to be true, and definitely shouldn't apply to any burning sensation you feel from relaxer chemicals. Don't think that the pain only happens when a relaxer is left on too long. Your scalp can be sensitive to a certain formulation, and leaving it on for even the minimum time period has the potential to give you chemical burns.

Too many people believe their hair will turn out straighter the longer the chemicals stay on, but usually, bone straight hair is just over-processed. Ignoring time frame instructions is a recipe for potential and permanent disaster. As soon as you feel tingling from a relaxer application, rinse it out thoroughly and with plenty of lukewarm water.

02 of 07

Unbalanced Scalp pH

"A burning or tingly sensation can be normal in some cases," says Abra McField, CEO and Founder of Abra Kadabra Hair & Healing. She says this due to our scalp's pH. "[The scalp] is somewhere between 4.5 and 5.5," says McField. "The pH balance of a relaxer is around 9-14, so when applied to your scalp, your scalp has an organic reaction of swelling, which causes inflammation. Depending on the exact pH balance of the type of relaxer, how long it sits on your scalp, where your pH balance naturally falls, and whether or not a base was used to help protect the scalp will determine the severity of the reaction. Some have burning sensations, and it doesn’t affect them at all."

03 of 07

Sores on Scalp

Along with burning, you may experience sores on your scalp soon after a relaxer causes damage. In some cases, the sores may ooze fluids and/or crust over. This is serious, and could lead to infection or permanent hair loss. You might develop sores due to a reaction to the chemicals, no matter how long they're left on your head. You could be allergic, or the relaxer may be low-quality (another reason to see a stylist who has the proper products at their disposal). Any break in the skin means your relaxer has gone way too far.

04 of 07

Follicle Inflammation

"Your scalp works very similar to your skin," McField. "If you are burned or cut on your skin, you may notice a scar after it has healed. The same process occurs with your scalp. However, it's more of the follicle that can potentially become scarred. A relaxer burn will immediately cause inflammation to the scalp. As a result, you more than likely will lose hair in that area."

McField says the hair loss can be temporary or permanent. "If you are lucky, the burn will just be surface level, which is directly on the first layer of the epidermis (scalp), and as it heals, the hair will immediately start to grow back because the hair strand itself was only damaged at the surface of the scalp and not underneath the scalp."

05 of 07


Thin hair is only unavoidable in cases of genetics or natural aging. Relaxer damage and over-processing are both major, problematic causes of hair thinning. Applying chemicals to already thin hair or damaged follicles can eventually go so far as to lead to baldness. Instead of trying to relax hair as straight as possible, cut the time you leave relaxers on. You'll have more body and volume, and lessen the chance of damage.

06 of 07


If it seems like your hair isn't growing, it's possible that it's breaking at the same rate (or faster than) it grows. Unless you have an experienced partner to help you apply a relaxer, it's difficult to do a good job on the back of your head at home. Overlapping is common and leads to breakage.

Identifying breakage isn't always easy, since humans shed hair every day. But if you constantly find short hairs lying around right after styling, there's a good chance it's just breakage.

Avoid heat styling if you relax your hair. It can increase your chance of breakage.

07 of 07


Relaxers are designed to break the disulfide bonds in the hair, so by their very nature, they cause damage. Because the hair shaft undergoes such a change, it's weaker than healthy natural hair would be. Because of the damage, hair doesn't hold onto moisture the same way, which leads to serious dryness. Oil sheens, sprays, and lotions don't actually add moisture; they're designed to hold it in, but hair needs to be moist before adding products. Otherwise, they simply sit on top of the hair shaft and help to keep moisture at bay.

McField recommends her version of a dynamic moisture duo. "Abra Kadabra's Growth Support Conditioner restores moisture to your hair and scalp by acting as a moisturizer and conditioner. For added conditioner, Design Essentials Almond Butter Express Instant Moisturizing Conditioner is a perfect hydrating product." To create what she calls "moisture magic," she suggests combining the two and deep conditioning with them for at least 15 minutes. "Sitting under a heated hooded dryer for 30 minutes really makes a humongous difference."

Design Essentials Almond Butter Express Instant Moisturizing Conditioner
Design Essentials Almond Butter Express Instant Moisturizing Conditioner $32

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