By: Azuka Onye
Most of us saw Chris Rock’s movie “Good Hair” and we all had something to say about it, both positive and negative. One of the most controversial subjects in the movie was the use of relaxers.
Relaxers are used by many of us Africans to straighten our naturally kinky, curly hair. Whether you agree or disagree about the use of relaxers one thing that we should all agree on is that the “creamy crack” is bad for our hair. It can damage the scalp and hair cuticles beyond repair causing breakage and, in some cases, alopecia. Alopecia can be caused by a number of different medical conditions. It can also be caused by the use of relaxers.
There are two types of relaxers. Those that contain sodium hydroxide (NaOH) are called lye relaxers and those that do not are termed no lye relaxers. Do not be fooled. Both are harmful to the scalp.
Sodium hydroxide (NaOH) is an extremely harsh chemical found in the relaxers that most hairdressers use. It is often referred to as “lye” or “caustic soda.” Caustic is a term used for anything that causes corrosion. According to the NIH, NaOH is found in a number of industrial cleaners and solvents like brick cleaners and cements just to name a few. Why would we want to put something used in cement in our scalp? Is NaOH truly dangerous? According to the NIH this chemical can cause severe burns, irritation and necrosis. Necrosis refers to dying cells, which can form holes in the skin of the scalp or underlying layers. Relaxers can literally kill your scalp by killing the skin cells.
You may be thinking that manufacturers do not put much NaOH in relaxers so therefore they are not that bad. Think again. One relaxer may not be too harmful, however we do not just get one relaxer. Most people get a relaxer every 6 weeks. They can be poisoning their scalps with “caustic soda” for years.
Contrary to popular belief, no lye relaxers are not much better than those that contain lye. Manufacturers use calcium hydroxide (CaOH) as a substitute for the NaOH in relaxers. Also called slaked lime, it is used as a sewage treatment and is also used to make NaOH. Like NaOH, CaOH is also found in many industrial cleaners and solvents and can also cause burns, irritation and necrosis in the scalp. It is often portrayed as being harmless and as a great substitute for lye relaxers. However, with long-term usage it is just as bad.
It is important that we, as Africans, change are way of thinking. We try so hard to conform to the European idea of beauty and do not realize that we are jeopardizing our health and killing what makes us unique, our hair. I know that it is hard to live without the “creamy crack,” especially in the society that we live in. However, can you imagine relaxing your hair with “caustic soda” for the next 20 years? Finding healthy alternatives to relaxers now could save your scalp from irreversible damage, like alopecia, in the future.