This question comes from B, 'I think I remember you saying that you think relaxing the hair is more safe than using direct heat on it. Can you please tell me why? I have been thinking of relaxing my hair lately, but the thing that has stopped me, was that I didnt think my hair would be as healthy and that it would all fall out! I know its a bit extreme, but with the bad rep that relaxers get, I am terrified. Yes, I used to get relaxers before, but I knew nothing of hair blogs or hair forums with healthy hair tips.'
I did comment something to this effect on both BGLH and agrlcanmac. I do think that some natural hair really is not designed for repeated or high heat application. This applies to hair with kinks (random twisting of the hair) and to hair with very small curls.
If you wish to permanently wear hair straight then in my view using heat on a regular basis is not ideal. Why? If you refer to the How hot is too hot post, you will see that at a temperature as low as 160 celsius (320F), keratin, the protein that makes up hair begins to sustain permanent damage.
For some hair, this temperature is not high enough to actually straighten hair which means that the flat irons, hair dryers etc will be turned up even higher.
Does this mean relaxing is a fail safe method?
Not at all, relaxing also carries its own risks including chemical damage to the hair breakage and alopecia. Sites like mine exist because of this very real risk. I personally experienced breakage due to relaxing.
So why the preference of relaxing over heat use?
It is about mathematics to me. Hair can be relaxed once every 2-3 months, 'stretching' relaxers is now quite popular with some people who get retouches 2 or 3 times a year.If you are heat straightening, then you will more than likely be flat ironing at least once every week. In reality probably more than once a week - we know that at the slightest sign of reversion, it is super easy to just pick up the irons again.
This means that hair sustains damage every single time the heat is applied. This damage is cumulative, meaning that if you start out with 5% damage today (arbitrary number), in one month assuming 4 heat sessions, you end up with 20% damage or more because it easy to redamage damaged hair (how many times can I say damage lol).
With a relaxer, you will damage the hair once and it will not (if you have a good stylist) be damaged again. So your 5% stays there. If you have relaxer reapplied to your already relaxed hair then you will have some problems. Yes people do straighten relaxed hair too, but this will not require as much heat or as many passes of the iron.
Is there a fail safe method to straighten hair?
There is no fail safe method. I do think that if your hair has a larger more regular curl or is less kinky (ringlet forming or wavy hair) then the chances of serious damage from heat is low (because the heat needed to achieve the result is low). If heat is used very occassionally then this too is also safer (not safe).
Please note, I am NOT against straightening natural hair on occassion, the problem in my opinion arises if you regularly and repeatedly use high heat. Essentially natural hair works if you do not stray far from its default texture majority of the time.