If you've made it to this article, the worst must have happened. After relaxing your hair, it's limp, breaking off at the ends, and very, very dry. What can you do besides cut it all off and start over?
Normally, the first piece of advice would be to not relax at home (where so many people have problems), but you did the right thing by visiting a pro, and it's still too late. Unfortunately, even the professionals sometimes make mistakes. However, you can nurse your hair back to health. Don't expect a magical cure, though. It takes time and dedication.
Get a Dose of Protein
The first thing your hair desperately needs is protein. An emergency treatment, such as L'Anza Keratin Healing Oil, ($46,) may be required for locks in really bad condition. If your hair has lost almost all elasticity and/or looks and feels "spongy" or "mushy," a treatment should help. If it doesn't feel this way, you should still probably use a treatment. You must follow all the directions carefully, and follow the treatment up with an intensely moisturizing conditioner for the best results.
Assess Your Hair
After a protein and moisture dose, assess your hair. Its condition may be significantly improved or not much at all. If you don't see much of an improvement, do not reapply a strong protein treatment. Your hair may still need protein, but not in such an intense application. Instead, products containing protein can be applied on a weekly or biweekly basis to keep your hair strong. Too much protein may dry your tresses out and lead to breakage, so don't overdo it, no matter what condition your hair is in.
Add Moisture to Balance Out Your Protein Treatment
Instead, your hair needs plenty of moisture, not only to balance out the protein but to keep it from becoming more brittle. Deep condition with a product like tgin's Miracle RepaiRx Deep Hydrating Hair Mask, ($18,) at least once per week, using the low heat of a dryer if you can. It might help the moisturizing properties penetrate your hair's cuticles more effectively, but you don't want to fry your hair, so if your dryer is too hot, skip it. Avoid sulfate-rich shampoos. (You should be doing that for Black hair anyway, but definitely try sulfate-free options if you haven't before). You should still only shampoo about once per week, but if you co-wash you can do that more often—you may find it preferable for now, because it's gentler. You should also avoid as much direct heat as possible. This includes curling and flat irons. Gentle setting methods, like wet sets and wrapping, are what your tresses need.
Try a Bond-Building Treatment
"The disulfide bonds of the hair have been broken down during this chemical processing. Protein and moisture are helpful. But, In addition to those, Olaplex and many other bond builders like it help reattach the disconnected bonds," colorist Jeremy Tardo explains.
If All Else Fails, Cut it Off
Even with all of these steps, however, these remedies cannot repair hair that's damaged beyond its breaking point. If your hair is at that point, there's nothing that's going to restore it—you'll know your mane is irreparably damaged if, after all these measures, it hasn't improved within several weeks. Healthy hair withstands some pulling without breaking, so if your hair continues to snap or break at the slightest touch, it's lost its elasticity and unfortunately, needs to go. Also, if it feels "slimy" when wet, and feels and looks "roughed up" when it's dry, it needs to go. Your hair probably looks or feels like straw at that point, and not many people want to go around with that.
The only solution is to trim or cut the over-processed parts. It can be painful, but it's preferable to the alternative: living with extremely damaged hair that looks and feels terrible. Visiting a stylist who's skilled in cutting may yield you a style that you love while you wait for your tresses to grow back.
Next Up: How to create a relaxed hair-care regimen.