Hair Relaxers 101: Types, Pros, Cons

by Tara Smith
[ Hair Stylist ]

Relaxers have been around for so long and for good reason too. In the quest to attain straight, smooth, glossy hair, women have done many things. I know how frustrating it can be to try for hours in the mirror to get that perfect straight look and the hours it would take to go from my naturally coily, kinky hair to that sleek, straight vision that I wanted desperately.

Flash forward through history and there have been various products created, new technologies innovated, trendy hair styling methods practiced, and more to get and maintain straight hair. This is where relaxers take home the gold!

Relaxers are one of the easiest and fastest chemical texturizers to obtain straight, smooth hair, but, you definitely want to do your best to be as knowledgeable about the procedure as possible. Let’s take a look at some of the basics of relaxer types and the advantages, and disadvantages associated with them!

Types of Relaxers

1. Lye Relaxers (Sodium hydroxide)

  • The most commonly used relaxer types on the market are lye or “alkali” relaxers. The main reason for its commonplace in salons is because of its fast-acting active ingredient, sodium hydroxide. This solution is strong and it works fast so it is imperative that a professional apply it.
  • The strength of this relaxer allows it to be used on all types of textured hair from curly to super coily and kinky.

2. No-Lye Relaxers (Calcium hydroxide, Guanidine hydroxide)

  • No-Lye relaxers do not work as fast as lye relaxers and they are usually milder in strength. I know I continually push to have all chemical processes done on your hair in a salon setting, however, a lot of “No-Lye” relaxers are designed, packaged, and marketed to be done at home. Also, because of the moderate strength, these relaxers are ideal for individuals with sensitive scalp
  • Please do not let the phrasing of “No-Lye” encourage you to believe that you cannot damage your hair with these relaxers. These relaxer types can most definitely damage your hair if done incorrectly so be sure to thoroughly read the manufacturer’s directions.

3. Thio Relaxers (Ammonium thioglycolate)

  • The active ingredient in thio relaxers is Ammonium thioglycolate, the active chemical in permanent waves as well.
  • The difference between hydroxide relaxers and Thio relaxers is the pH, thio relaxers are at a 10 while hydroxide relaxers are at a 13. Thio relaxers are neutralized by an oxidizing agent which is not used in hydroxide relaxers. Lastly, the thio relaxers do not permanently break the hair bonds needed to straighten the hair like hydroxide relaxers do.
  • Thio relaxers and hydroxide relaxers should not be interchanged, for any reason. They also are not as strong as lye and no-lye relaxers so it is said not to use them on coarse and/or very coily hair since the efficiency will be dulled.

    Understanding how different types of relaxers work will help you in speaking with your stylist to determine the best route to take for straightening your hair. This includes knowing the pros and cons of relaxers as well.

Advantages of Relaxers

  • The permanence of relaxers makes them ideal for styling. No longer will you have to stretch and smooth your hair with excess heat with blow-dryers and flat irons.
  • Relaxed hair won’t be disturbed by the weather. Humidity and rain will not result in your reverting back to its natural state.
  • Straight hair is not as prone to tangles as curly and coily hair.

Disadvantages of Relaxers

  • Certain types of relaxers, if not applied correctly, can truly damage your hair.
  • The relaxer process in total can be costly depending on where you go and the state of your hair.
  • Though relaxers are permanent, you will need to go back every six to eight weeks for a touch-up or to chemically relax the new growth.

Overall, relaxers are a great option for chemically texturizing your hair. Be sure to become knowledgeable about your hair in its natural state, the type of relaxer you think you may want, and the necessary steps to ensure your hair is kept healthy following a relaxer.

Relaxers can open up an array of styling options that may have been complicated to complete before. Enjoy your new look knowing your hair is healthy, strong, and beautiful!

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