What are curl softeners and are they okay to use? When did we start relaxing our hair and why? Relaxers have been around for many years. This chemical has been a lifesaver for many to help African American women control their curly, coily and kinky hair. If you go back in history you will find interesting facts about relaxers and how they play a major role in hair care.
Where did it all begin?
Curl softeners are also known as texturizers and relaxers. Garrett A. Morgan invented the relaxer system more than a 100 years ago. Relaxers were created to help African Americans have more manageable hair. With today’s sophisticated technology, relaxers have improved dramatically. Companies are placing more natural oils and conditioners into their relaxer systems to preserve the hair. Now chemical relaxer systems are less irritating and come in two forms, thioglycolate (thio) and hydroxide.
When it comes to the chemistry of the hair strands relaxers break down the disulfide bonds and soften the hair. This causes curl reduction and the hair is straightened and forms its new shape.
Let’s talk more about ingredients
Thioglycolate relaxers are low in pH and are similar to a permanent wave. It can be neutralized with a form of Hydrogen Peroxide, which helps to build disulfides bonds and keeps the cuticle intact. Hydroxide relaxers are high in pH and come in many forms: sodium hydroxide, potassium hydroxide, lithium hydroxide, and guanidine relaxers. Hydroxide relaxers must be neutralized twice with a neutralizing shampoo. This will stop the action of the chemical and seal the cuticle to put the disulfide bonds back intact. Proteins are also broken down during the chemical relaxing process so many women are now opting out of using chemical relaxers.
In the past relaxers were considered damaging and women became weary because of dry, brittle, and shedding hair, which prompted the 1970’s afro. The Afro was popular and African American women were empowered by their Afros. In the 80’s the majority of many African American women grew tired of managing their Afro’s so they tried the Jheri Curl System or a similar permanent wave. This system contained thioglycolate relaxer.
Today’s “natural hair movement” is growing among African American women. She very confidently wears her natural curls and kinks. Turn on the television or search YouTube and you will find many products and tutorials for natural hair. However, there are some women who find natural hair difficult to manage. Some women have found that applying a curl softener helps them when styling their curls, coils and kinks. Are they still natural because only some of the texture is reduced? No, after applying a chemical relaxer or softener you are no longer part of the natural hair movement, sorry.
Please help me with my daughter’s hair!
Mothers can become frustrated with the challenge of managing their daughter’s hair. Kiddie perms and curl softeners are becoming popular again. I remember my mom had the same frustration, so she sent me to the local beauty salon. There she left my hair concerns into the hands of my hair stylist. I had every curl softening method from the chemical relaxers, texturizers, and Jheri curl. This was an era when relaxers that straightened 100% of the curl were trending. As an adult looking back, I would have declined most of those services. Maybe that is the reason I became a hairstylist. Most of my clients are natural and if they request a relaxer I only reduce up to 70% of the curl pattern. I found it is better for the health of the hair to gently loosen the curl rather than making the hair super straight. Is curl softening safe? Yes, here are a few tips on making sure you don’t compromise the integrity of the hair.
A few tips
1. Check the scalp for any abrasions—if you see any broken skin you should not perform this service. Also do not shampoo a few days prior to relaxer application.
2. Open the box and make sure all supplies are included and read the manufacturer’s directions.
3. Do a strand test before applying the relaxer.
4. After thoroughly rinsing the curl softener, be sure to use the neutralizing shampoo two times to close the cuticle and strengthen the bonds.
5. Deep conditioning the hair for five to ten minutes to restore moisture and shine.
6. Lastly, rinse the conditioner with cool water. This will be the final step to closing the cuticles and restoring the pH level.