Relaxers Can Cause AAs’ Hair Loss

Hair breakage by relaxers

An article I found on

What concerns me in the discussion about relaxers is the fact that somehow we refuse to see that these chemicals are hazardous and that they can take our hair out. When severe accidents happen, the explanation is improper application, misuse or it must have been a wrong batch. We rather blame ourselves, hairdressers or even the moon, before we even pay attention to the listed ingredients. Isabella’s case is a striking example. Although she extensively explained that she used the stuff following the instructions on the box, many questioned her story.


I do believe Isabella because of my own experience. Although relaxers were properly applied to my roots by professionals in a hair salon, I was continuously fighting a bald spot and severe hair breakage. Instead of explaining to me that this could be caused by the harsh chemicals they apply, the hairdressers substituted a regular relaxer for a “very mild” type. When this didn’t help I was even advised to do the application more often. I needed to go from a three month touchup to a two month and eventually an eight week touchup. Common sense told me this was absurd but the whole experience made me question myself at first.


The use of relaxers is so common that you would not expect the stuff to be as hazardous. No one ever mentions the hazards and especially the fact no body else seemed to have a problem with their chemically altered tresses, made me think there was something wrong with me or my hair.


If you can relate to this, you will be relieved by this article that I found on by Damian  McNamara. It confirms everything I already knew from personal experience. More than anything it makes me wonder why we have a hard time taking the hazardous of relaxers seriously and why we use them so often and so easy even on our underage girls.


HERSHEY, PA — African American women who complain that their hair won’t grow may have relaxer-induced alopecia, Dr. Jeffrey J. Miller said at a meeting on contact dermatitis.


African Americans comprise almost 13% of the population in the United States but have a disproportionate incidence of hair and scalp disorders. Familiarity with the unique hair care regimens in this group can help the dermatologist properly manage alopecia caused by hair relaxers. “You miss the diagnosis if you don’t ask about hair care routine,” Dr. Miller said.


Relaxers come in two general formulations: lye relaxers containing sodium hydroxide, which are most often used by hair care professionals; and no-lye relaxers, which contain the gentler guanine hydroxide for home use. Although these products straighten hair permanently they must be reapplied periodically as new hair grows.


Exactly how relaxers work is unknown, although it is believed the high pH of the products causes the cuticle layer of the hair shaft to open as the hair swells, and allows the product to enter the hair cortex. Disulfide bonds within the hair cortex are broken and rearrange into a configuration that straightens the hair.


Many relaxers are used without a problem, Dr. Miller said, but the risk of alopecia and other conditions is high because the application of the products must be timed precisely based on a number of factors, including hair thickness.


In fact, “73% of African American women complain of breakage, split ends, and dryness caused by relaxers,” said Dr. Miller, a dermatologist at the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center in Hershey.


“Relaxer-induced alopecia occurs more on anterior and posterior hairlines, where hairs are thinnest,” Dr. Miller explained. In addition, relaxers are often first applied along each hairline, thereby increasing the exposure time in these areas. Hair breakage, most often involving trichorrhexis nodosa, can also be found on the crown and throughout a patient’s entire scalp, he noted at the meeting, sponsored by Pennsylvania State University and the American Contact Dermatitis Society.


Patients with relaxer-induced hair loss may complain that their hair will not grow or is falling out, when in fact their hair is fragile and breaking off. Hair of different lengths along the front hairline can be a sign of such damage. Dr. Miller suggested taking a lock of hair and putting it between two layers of gauze, rubbing the gauze between two fingers, and observing whether the hair is broken.


Advise patients to wait at least 6 weeks between relaxer applications, he said. “The only effective treatment is trimming of the damaged hair, allowing it to grow out. I usually recommend that patients go to a professional who can more safely apply the relaxer.”

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