One of the most frequently asked
questions we get involves
straightening African-American hair. there are better ways to do it and
worse ways to do it. If you straighten the hair incorrectly, you
can cause permanent damge. We're going to tell you what you need to
know to decide what's best for you or for the person whose hair you're
caring for. We will give you options for safely and effectively
straightening your hair. We
are not going to go into the socio-political and psychological reasons
why you might or might not want to straighten your hair- at least not
we begin we should probably define some terms (as we are going to use
- Permanent (as in a permanent change to the hair
texture)- we're defining permanent as a change that will not go away
until the hair is actually cut off or breaks off. Permanent changes to
the hair will grow out. But, permanent changes cannot be removed any
- Temporary- a change that will either gradually
wear off over a period of days, weeks or months or that can be easily
- Pressing- using a hot comb pulled through
the hair to temporarily loosen the curl pattern. Depending on how much
heat is used can gently loosen the curl pattern or completely
straighten the hair.
- Flat-ironing- using a device with two flat
plates to temporarily loosen the curl pattern. Depending on how much
heat is used can gently loosen the curl pattern or completely
straighten the hair.
- Relaxer- a chemical process applied to the
hair to loosen the curl pattern- causes a permanent change (see above
for the definition of permanent). Depending on the strength and how
long it is left on may make the hair completely straight or just loosen
the curl pattern.
- Permanent/Perm/Relaxer (as in a chemical
used interchangeably with relaxer. Sometimes you will hear of a
permanent that adds curl to the hair. This is just the opposite effect
of what we're talking about. Depending on the strength and how long it
is left on may make the hair completely straight or just loosen the
- Texturizer- a mild relaxer. Causes a permanent
change to the hair. But, by definition, the hair is not taken to
- Reversion- the process of temporarily
straightened hair going back to its natural curl pattern.
When it comes to straightening the
the hair, there is a range of what
people are interested in doing- both in terms of permanence and the
degree of straightness. In terms of time, you might want to wear your
hair straight just for a few days or a couple of weeks, as a break from
your naturally textured hair. Or you might want to wear your hair
straight permanently. You might want to get your hair completly
straight and wear it hanging down or add some loose gentle curls.
Or you might want to simply relax the curl pattern opening it up to
make it more manageable or make the natural kinks into coils.
Two Basic Ways of
Straightening African-American Hair
Curly hair can be straightened in a
couple of ways. Heat is the
simplest, quickest and most temporary way of straightening hair. Using
a pressing comb, a blow dryer and a comb or a flat iron hair can be
straightened at home in just a matter of minutes. However, a shower or
even a humid day will immediately revert the straightening, causing the
hair to curl up again or get frizzy. On the other end of the scale, a
permanent (also called a perm or a relaxer) can take the hair to
completely straight- permanently. We always recommend that perms be
done by professional beauticians because of the potential damage that
can be done by a relaxer put in the wrong way. There is another way of
straightening the hair known as a Keratin Treatment or Brazilian
Keratin Treatment. This is a semi-permanent straightening of the hair
normally done by a professional in a salon setting. It gives straight
hair for several weeks or months. However because of the harmful
chemicals found in most (if not all) of these treatments we cannot
recommend them in good conscience.
Other Ways of
Straightening The Hair
is a fairly unique way of straightening the hair. Certain compounds
present in nature when
applied to the hair with gentle heat can cause a temporary relaxation
of the natural curl pattern. This does not straighten hair but it does
loosen the curl pattern and makes the hair more manageable.
Natural-Laxer MIX contains a blend of natural herbs and clay from the
African Sahara desert. This unique combination of ingredients works,
over time, to gradually make the hair more manageable by loosening the
natural curl pattern. It can also be used in conjunction with heat
(pressing, blowing out the hair or flat ironing) to reduce the amount
of heat needed to do those procedures and make them last longer (delays
reversion). Besides the potential results and consequences of the
various straightening methods, there is another very important
consideration- your natural curl pattern and hair type. People with a
loose curl pattern and smoother, more round hair will get easier
straightening results than someone with kinkier, coarser hair. Many
biracial people are simply trying to eliminate fuzziness or want to
wear their hair relatively straight temporarily. This can often be
easily achieved using a warm comb (rather than hot) and some styling
The less heat you can use on your hair the better. The milder the
styling products you use, the better. Keeping your hair closest to its
natural curl pattern is less stressful. However, if you are applying
heat to your hair on a regular basis , you could be doing more damage
than just getting a perm. If you're wearing your hair "natural" but are
pressing and/or flat ironing it several times you mighte actually be
doing permanent damage to it. If you have your hair taken to bone
straight by a perm then hit it with a curling iron every day, you could
be causing severe stress to your hair.
Here is a chart showing the technique used to straighten the hair and
the considerations of using each method.
(changing curl pattern back
||Can be done in a few minutes at home. Easily repeated or
||Can wear hair straight one day, natural curl pattern the
next. Or, can wear anywhere in between.
||Very short term. Days or weeks at best.
||Not great if done with care. Can be done by lay people. Done
too much though can permanently damage hair.
||Anywhere from just improving manageability to completely
||Easily applied at home in a few minutes. Only needs to be
done monthly (or so).
||Does not straighten hair (by itself). Flexible in that
can temporarily straighten the hair using blow dryer or flat iron.
|Medium term duration. Wears off in a matter of weeks.
||Actually strengthens and conditions hair. Prevents breakage.
||Makes hair more manageable. Does not straighten.
||Recommend be done by a professional.
||Permanent. Requires "transition" phase to go back to natural.
||Less than a permanent since it is milder and does not stress
hair as much with a drastic curl pattern change.
pattern quite a bit. But, leaves much of natural curl pattern in.
Usually only done on hair up to a certain length (for styling purposes)
|Brazilian Keratin Treatment
||Normally done by a professional.
||Not flexible. Hair can be
||Doesn't seem to be harmful to
hair. But the chemicals involved can be very harmful to the
stylists and/or people getting their hair straightened
||Recommend be done by a professional
||Not flexible. Hair can be temporarily curled.
|Permanent. Requires "transition" phase to go back to natural.
||Great potential damage to both hair and scalp.
||Often done until the hair is bone straight (causing a great
deal of stress).
What is the Best Way to Straighten Black Hair?
With the move away from chemicals and
towards being more natural, many of our customers are women who have
already gone away from chemical relaxers, are in the process of going
away from relaxers or are considering giving up the "creamy
crack". I know this is both an exciting and scary time having
gone through it myself just a couple of years ago. Many of you
have also worn your hair straight for years and years and are having a
difficult time imagining yourself wearing your hair in its naturally
curly/kinky/nappy state. So, a question I get quite often
is "What is the best way to straighten
my African-American hair?" Often when I get the question
the customer will say she knows too much heat isn't good for her
hair. At the same time, she doesn't want to use chemicals. So,
she wants another way of getting her hair straight. You know I
always shoot straight with you. Besides going back and changing
your genetics, I don't know of a way to accomplish straight hair
without breaking down some bonds either temporarily (through heat) or
permanently (using a relaxer).
There are trade offs to each
method. Straightening hair with
the hair permanently thinner. Chemically treated hair is
more likely to becoming dry and to break off. That is not to say
that some women have not had success with relaxers. Many
do. I had my ups and downs with them for years. But, many
women find that they struggle with keeping their hair and scalp healthy
when they are getting relaxers. If your hair is chemically treated, it
is going to be more fragile than if you left it natural. To avoid
this, some people go natural but
decide they are going to straighten their hair with heat. Depending on
your hair type, the climate where you live, the activities you engage
in (that might cause you to sweat) and what products you use, keeping
your hair straight will require a different amount of heat applied at
different intervals. You might get away with pressing or flat
ironing every couple of weeks when washing. Some will require
some amount of heat daily. The more heat you put on your hair,
the more you risk damaging it. Damage
from too much heat can be just as permanent as damage from chemical
relaxers. Too much heat can actually permanently
straighten the hair (again, until it's replaced by new growth). Going natural and keeping the hair straight
by putting heat on it is not necessarily any more healthy for your hair
than using relaxers.
I recommend if you're going to go
to live with
your hair as close to it natural state as possible. If you have 4b or
4c hair (like I do), wearing your hair straight is not "natural" even
if it's being kept straight by heat instead of with chemicals.
The secret to keeping your natural hair healthy is to use heat sparingly and occasionally
If you're planning to use heat to keep your hair straight all the time,
tell you that it will necessarily be healthier than if you had not
given up the perms. For women who are in a situation where the
I listed above (climate, hair type, activity) cause them to have to use
a lot of heat, sticking with the perm may be the way to go until
decide you can live with not having straight hair all of the
time. If you are going to straighten your hair using heat, use
good products. A good flat iron like this tourmaline flat iron
helps. This pressing comb
is one you can use safely and easily
at home. You don't have to spend a fortune. But, the
technology in a good flat iron can help minimize the damage from the
heat. Natural-Laxer MIX
can help temporarily elongate
the natural curl pattern- making hair easier to straighten and holding
the press longer. This reduces the total amount of heat you have
to put on your hair. And, Treasured Locks Thermo Shield
can help protect
against heat damage and minimize how often you have to put heat on the
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