Every six to eight weeks, black women put a product on their hair that contains some of the same chemicals found in drain cleaner. Most women say relaxers, or perms, help their hair, but experts say they are actually doing irreparable damage.
“The average person who wears a relaxer gets it anywhere between the ages of 16-50,” said L.A., owner of the Pretty Lady Studio in Detroit. “And they get it every six to eight weeks, so calculate how many times that is.
“Now imagine what it would be like to soak your head in bleach for 15-20 minutes that many times,” he said.
L.A. said in fact, relaxers have a pH balance (acid level) stronger than household bleach. Most hairdressers do not tell their clients the damage perms can cause, but L.A. said they damage the entire head – roots, scalp and all.
“It burns because it’s put on the skin, and essentially has the same effect as a suntan that starts to burn,” L.A. said. “Can you imagine having a skin burn in the same spot that number of times?”
L.A. studied hair at the Vidal Sassoon Academy and Dudley University, which he said is one of the top universities for black hair care. He said women get relaxers solely to achieve a certain look that is considered beautiful.
“You all are going for a look,” he explained. “A perm is only an aesthetic look. It does nothing for the health of the hair.”Students Judith Sarkodee-Ado, Cleo Jean-Pierre and Deidra Solomon have three different stories that give evidence to the theory that relaxing hair has permanent effects.
Sarkodee-Ado, 20, an environmental science student from Columbia, Md., wears a mass of long, natural hair but is getting frustrated with caring for her hair since discontinuing the use of relaxers.
“It’s hard to go natural, so I’m probably gonna quit,” she said.Jean-Pierre, 19, a sophomore from Miami, used to wear an afro, but jokingly said, “I wanted to be cute,” to explain why she got a relaxer. “I was once natural, permed it, and now I’m gonna cut it and start over.”
Solomon, however, still wears a perm. “As long as you let a professional do it, you should be OK,” said the 20-year-old biology pre-med sophomore from Wildwood. “I dealt with box products and it broke my hair off, so now I have a short cut.”But this is a myth. Some women believe there is a difference between lye and no-lye relaxers, salon perms and box perms. While no-lye relaxers are considered safer, the FDA said both can cause damage if not applied properly.
The FDA Office of Cosmetics and Colors said hair dyes and straighteners sit near the top of the list of complaints the FDA receives. Women complain of hair thinning, hair breakage, scalp irritation and bald spots.
In an article titled “Heading Off Hair Disasters: Use Caution With Relaxers and Dyes,” author Michelle Meadows said, “Both relaxers contain ingredients that work by breaking chemical bonds of hair.”
The article, published in the January-February 2001 issue of FDA Consumer magazine, said lye relaxers contain sodium hydroxide as the active ingredient, and no-lye relaxers have calcium hydroxide as the active ingredient.
Search engine Yahoo! has a site called Yahoo!Answers that allows users to post questions and get responses from other users. While anyone is welcome to answer a question, not necessarily experts, some users may have informed advice.User “RecoveredPermie” shared the same information as the FDA. RecoveredPermie said, “In order to straighten hair, they break down its chemical structure. Hair has two bonds, S and H bonds. S bonds create the S-shaped kink or curl in African-American hair. Chemical processing hair changes molecular structure by breaking bonds.” The user went on to explain that once the hair bonds have broken, they can be formed into straight hair. But the S bonds can never go back to their original shape.
But women continue to process their hair for the look it helps to achieve. Renee Job, 23, an English education student from Fort Lauderdale, said she has been getting perms for about 12 years because it made her hair easier to maintain.
“It (my hair) was ridiculously thick, and it (perms) was easier than getting it braided or putting in a ponytail,” Job said.
What women may not know is relaxers were created by a man. Garrett A. Morgan, the same man who invented the gas mask and stop light, invented the first hair relaxer cream in about 1909. Morgan owned a tailor shop and used Singer sewing machines often. The popular story on Web sites like Black Inventor Online Museum says Morgan invented a lubricant to keep the sewing machine needle from getting so hot.
He wiped his hands on a pony-fur cloth and returned to find the hairs on the cloth were straight. He rubbed the liquid next on an Airedale dog, which is known to have curly hair, and later tried the liquid on his own hair.
After Morgan found the cream effective, he patented the first relaxer, G.A. Morgan Hair Refining Cream.