This week I'm going to post up as many as possible of the questions that I have promised to answer in my inbox and on the comment pages. I'll start off with the oldest questions. I have received quite a few questions on relaxers. I will skip the part on what relaxers do to the hair as this info is well established. Some of the interesting questions I received include:
Alice asks, 'I have a question, is there any truth to the myth of the green tinted brains/skulls of dead women who used relaxers for extended periods of time? If there is, what would cause this?'
I have heard of this on internet forums. My scientific search however yielded only one case of a green brain due to poisoning by hydrogen sulphide. This paper was published in 2009, so I'm not really sure why I was reading this in forums 5/6 years ago (Forensic Science International, pg e19-e21, 30 May 2009).
I also found a case of a green tinged brain lining in patients with a specific gall bladder ailment (Archives of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine: Vol. 125, No. 7, pp. 961–963, 2001).
I really do think sometimes relaxers are villified hence little myths like this start off. I think that long term use of relaxers may indeed impact the scalp but I would like to see some research first. This one is filed under myth.
Gillaine asks, 'My question for you is regarding relaxing children's hair. I have always heard that you should not relax the hair of children who are under the age of 10. But I have never really been given any real in-depth/scientific info as to why. But I just want to know how you feel about this topic and what knowledge you have of the effects of relaxer on children's scalp.'
There actually isn't an official age guideline as to when relaxers can be applied to hair (FDA). Science does tell us that children are at risk of getting caustic burns through ingestion of the relaxer ( Pediatrics, pg 1154-1155,2000 and Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology & Nutrition, 120-125,2003) . This can happen if the child finds the relaxer lying around and consumes it or may touch their hair during the processing.
Additional concerns are the processing and post maintenance of the relaxer. The hair needs to be conditioned, regular protein treatments to help give the hair strength, wrapping or bunning the hair before sleeping. Many adults (nearly 70% in one study!) have problems such as burns, breakage, traction alopecia etc so you can expect children to equally experience these issues ( International Journal of Dermatology. 46 Supplement 1:23-25, October 2007 and British Journal of Dermatology, pg106-110, July 2007).
My own personal view is that children's hair should not be relaxed ever ever (yes I can be radical!). However, if a relaxer is going to be used, then I would never recommend it for a very young child (fidgety, will scratch scalp, may harm self during processing, may not scream if burnt etc). I think older children (14 years plus) would be more able to understand what they are doing to their hair and therefore more able to get a better experience.
All the issues that I highlighted are physical. I think relaxing a child's hair can have a serious impact on their identity and psychological development. I think kids should be consumed with learning, playing and just being kids. Their natural hair texture should be regarded for what it is - beautiful just as it is, nothing more nothing less. (This is not my area of expertise - I would appreciate contributions from Child Learning, Psychology and/or African Studies experts).