The Irreversible Damage of Chemical Relaxers

It’s time to seriously reconsider that relaxer on your three year old!  A NEW medical research report from the University of Cape Town says using hair relaxers on children and younger women can lead to total baldness.

Dermatologist Nhlanhla Khumalo, who works at the university and at Groote Schuur Hospital, found that chemical relaxers cause irreversible damage to the scalp.

NEW KNOWLEDGE: Research has found that chemical relaxers cause irreversible damage to the scalp.

Khumalo published her research in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology last month.

She wrote that “the link between relaxers and hair loss was becoming clearer”. The highest risk of hair loss happens when hairstyles and braids are done on relaxed hair.

Based on a study of school girls and young women in Langa, Cape Town, Khumalo’s research found that up to 70percent of schoolgirls and adults were using hair relaxers to straighten their hair.

“For black African women, the most worrying cause of hair loss is traction alopecia (TA) – the loss of hair which is most common in the hairline as a result of pulling hair into a tight pony tail, braids and weaves,” she said.

The highest risk occurs when the hairstyles are done on relaxed hair which is already soft, she said.

Hair relaxers change the level of cystine – a protein responsible for strengthening the hair.

“The end result is that the hair is fragile and brittle compared to the original unrelaxed hair,” Khumalo said.

She said adding hairstyles like braids and extensions onto the hair puts pressure on the relaxed hair, which results in hair breaking or falling out.

Lucy Mibey, hairdresser and owner of Braids Sensation Hair and Beauty Salon in Mowbray, Cape Town, said “the problem is that the majority of African black people have no proper knowledge and education about hair grooming”.

Mibey said many people who had lost their hair had passed through the doors of her salon and that even dermatologists had not been able to help some of them, she said.

“The hair products industry is a booming one, and unfortunately quality hair products and relaxers are expensive and many people cannot afford them.”

In her opinion, many hairdressers have “no knowledge at all” about the dangers of chemical hair products.

Khumalo said: “If you do use hair relaxers, stay away from braids and extensions which will add more weight to the hair – or else go natural.”

In 1999 the American Journal of Epidemiology released a publication that began with, “Several studies suggest that toxic chemicals in hair products may be absorbed through the scalp in sufficient amounts to increase the risks of adverse health effects in women or their infants.” Some of the effects are low birth rate and premature delivery. The studies were on black women and the effects their hair relaxers might have on their unborn babies. Sodium hydroxide, ammonium, and formaldehyde are just a few named chemical ingredients that can penetrate the scalp skin and enter the body of the mother and unborn baby. Outside of straightening hair, these same chemicals are used as drain cleaners, household cleansers, and embalming fluid.

Additionally, according to the EWG (Environmental Working Group) many of the chemicals contained in hair relaxers result in those specific relaxers being banned in those countries.  For example, Luster’s PCJ No-Lye have been banned in Canada because they contain phenolphthalein.  Phenolphthalein has been linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, developmental/reproductive toxicity and much more.  Hair relaxers are not the only culprits.  You check check out the Banned in Other Countries List on EWG’s

Reportedly, most of the black women with straight hair that lays sickly thin against their scalps are the same women who chose at-home box kit relaxers. These relaxers can be up to $70 cheaper than a chemical process at a salon. The truth is lye relaxers or professional strength relaxers contain the best quality products for the hair. As a result, they are sold exclusively to professional salon professional. The comforting news is that a licensed cosmetologist has been trained to apply relaxers in the proper manner. They can usually assure the scalp is not burned by the chemical and the hair is not over processed.  Our advice, if you choose to use hair relaxers, go to a trained professional.

About the Author

Wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, and most importantly a child of the King! I'm fearfully and wonderfully made and continually being transformed into God's divine image for my life.

  • Laurelbree

    Can anyone recommend a very good professional braider in the Atlanta area.

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  • Celestine Jordan

    My scalp was damage by using wave nouveau, it began to just fall out.

  • Thank you so much for this article.  So many women are going bald due to chemicals in the hair which have caused the hair to tangle and break. 

     There are many  women who have scalps that are just as/if not worse than the pictures above and then they use hair glues to add hair extensions or hair weaves.

     It really is an international epidemic amoung women of color.  We deal with hair restoration calls daily.  Please let us know how we can support your blog.

    Thank you 

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