Reader Questions Week : Relaxers

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).

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  1. The reason we say this in the beauty industry is that your hair goes through many hormonal changes before during and after puberty. It starts one way and ends up another just as during pregnancy. This is an ideal time to encourgae beaking and shedding with harsh chemicals. It is the equivalent if getting implants at 15 when the breasts have not had a chance to fully form. Not to mention that from 5-18 (if youre lucky) those girls don't know what they want. It changes daily and is usually dictated by someone else, so why put a permanent chemical on a childs hair for them to have to maybe hate it one day?

  2. I got my first relaxer at 4. Yes FOUR years old. My mother feels bad but I had hair down my back and it was torture to style in the mornings. We would both leave the house in tears. If only she had known about detangling with conditioner and styles that could be done once weekly....ahh we live and we learn. I would say DON'T RELAX YOUR CHILD'S HAIR!!!!! I had burns so bad sometimes over half my scalp was covered in scabs. I thought it was my fault for scratching too much, like I was being punished for scratching my scalp pre-relaxer. How RIDICULOUS!

  3. @ Anon - I have not heard of hair undergoing changes at puberty. I know that pregnant women can have changes to hair growth and shedding rates but I haven't heard of changes to hair texture. I will have to investigate this further

    @Leslie - Thanks for sharing. I think it was an awful experience and really solidifies for me the the fact that children shouldn't have a relaxer

  4. I am openly against anyone under 13 getting a relaxer. I voluenterred at a summer camp and it KILLED me to see these girls with missing edges running away from a sprinkler when it's close to 37C/100F outside because they don't want to "ruin their hair" at SIX. SIX!! At six I was still making mud pies!

    It just kills me.

    Is it possible for hydrogen sulfide posining and causing green tinted brains from a source NOT a relaxer helped cause the myth? I know the chemical is present in volcanos and swamps so in THEORY could posining from either source cause green brains --> oh, that's in my relaxer--> OMG GREEN BRAIN IN DEATH!!--> I NEED TO TELL EVERYONE I KNOW ONLINE!

  5. Thanks for answering my question, JC!!
    I also agree - Children should not have relaxers at all!!

  6. I agree wholeheartedly! I would never allow relaxers near my hair again. Yeah they are villified but with good reason - lets face it, the process itself is inherently damaging to hair, rendering it weak and defenceless. And this is with perfect applications but let us be honest, how common is it for the application process be termed perfect - that is - protecting scalp and hairline, making sure there is no overlap, not leaving it on for too long, rinsing carefully enough times etc. Yet so many women end up with scalp burns, hair loss, hair sticking on scalp, etc so it appears the concept of perfect application is just that.
    Relaxing did my hair and scalp a lot of harm and I take full responsibility for the mess I found myself in, thank goodness I stopped the madness and have been nursing my abused hair back to life. I would not DREAM of putting a child through the ordeal.

  7. My hair was relaxed for the first time when I was almost 15, because my mother decided that I was old enough to do my own hair and I could not manage it. And I really did try.

    Even now, I wish I could deal with my hair without a relaxer in it, but I have absolutely no time, skill, or patience with my natural hair, and the last time I tried to go natural I cut my hair down to less than an inch and I still could not pull a comb through it wet or dry! (I thought my relaxed ends were standing in the way.)

    Now my hair is long again, and relaxed, and I'm too afraid to put myself through that again, even with all the new information I've acquired. Besides, most men do not like short hair and I feel too old to start over.

    I just wish I had been taught to take care of my natural hair when I was a teen, so I wouldn't feel trapped now.

  8. @ Andrea and to anyone else out there who feels that they are too old to go natural.

    Believe me it is never to late my mother did it at 40 and I am doing it right now at 30. I always thought that my hair was coarse, too thick, too unmanageable. But I love my new hair that is coming through it is beautiful and soft and curly.

    My hair is finally transforming into what God intended it to be.

    If anyone is on here lurking and thinking about going natural, just do it! Its the best decision I ever made about my hair.

  9. I strongly believe children should not recieve relaxers. My husband and I adopted a 4 y.o. from fostercare and I couldn't believe this little girl had a relaxer. It started with her birth family and the foster mother continued because she did not know how to transition her. I'm happy to say - she has been with us for almost a year and her hair looks so much healthier. Most of the relaxer is gone - I cut off a little from the ends every month and keep her hair moisturized. I've decided once I get her hair braided for the summer - I will cut off the remaining bits of the relaxer on her ends. I'm proud of how healthy her hair is now and she loves the styles I put in her hair. She is my doll. :)


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