Dangers of Chemical Hair Straighteners

Dangers of Chemical Hair StraightenersChemical hair straighteners, or hair relaxers, are a goldmine for the beauty industry. Many women with curly or kinky hair use relaxers to straighten their hair. Every six weeks the process is applied to new growth–year after year. What would bind a person to a chemical process this way?

There are many psycho-social factors at play. The Western concept of beauty is very narrow. Also, the ability to find professionals who know how to manage kinky or nappy hair is an issue. Some people look at nappy hair as unattractive, some people embrace it. Still others look at nappy hair as a political statement.

Relaxers work, because they break the bonds that strengthen the hair. Regardless of how pretty relaxed hair may look, it is damaged hair. Many women that have no visible hairline have over processed their hair. Over processing is common and easy to do with relaxers.

What are some of the dangers involved in relaxing your hair with chemicals?

• Hair relaxers have harmful health effects.
• Chemical burns
• Irritation
• Red scalp
• Receding hairline

The bottom line should always be health. So what are the active ingredients in hair relaxers? Take a look at the Skin Deep database and you will see that most hair relaxers are rated very negatively–moderate to high hazard. That’s because the same ingredient that cleans out the clog in your sink is the same ingredient used in relaxers. Remember, chemicals don’t stay on the surface of your skin. They migrate throughout the body.

• Sodium hydroxide is used in lye relaxers.
• Calcium hydroxide is used in no lye relaxers.
• Hydrogen peroxide, which is a weak acid and used as a disinfectant because of its bleaching agent.
• Phosphoric acid and is considered to be a health hazard questionable of neurotoxicant, respiratory toxicant, and skin and sense organ toxicant.
• Ammonium hydroxide which maybe the cause of respiratory toxins.

More and more people with kinky hair are deciding to leave the chemicals alone and wear their hair naturally. Another issue that has caused the popularity of kinky hair is cross cultural adoption. As children of African descent are adopted cross culturally, their parents generally opt to leave the chemicals alone.

If you are using a relaxer and decide to go natural be careful because for a time you will have two textures of hair. The straight hair–the weaker hair–will break off eventually leaving natural new growth. While you are in this in between stage, try only using conditioner–no shampoo. You can also experiment with braids or twists.


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  1. says

    I have gone back and forth over the years, from relaxed to natural several times. I honestly never made my decisions based on any strictly “ploitical” reasons, but rather, what I felt at the time. I’ve always been drawn to natural hair first and foremost because it is NATURAL. Secondly , it just feels more authentic. And the undeniable, overwhelming good reason is health. I always knew that I did not want to submit to the constant ritual of the relaxer or as a friend of mine puts it, “I don’t want to be chemically dependent.” Over the years I have learned so much about my hair and how to treat it and take care of, much of which is the exact opposite of what I had been taught. Alot of women just don’t know how to take care of their natural hair. The idea of being natural appeals to them and some even try to make the commitment, but it can be challenging (with and)without the proper information. Luckily , there are alot of resources out there if you do your homework. Thanks for the article!

  2. says

    ‘Chemically dependent’ is a good way to put it. You’re right though, even if you decided to go natural, many people have never done that and have to reeducate themselves about how to care for their hair.

  3. Sharon Lewis says

    I had my last relaxer in Nov 2007. I had been using no-lye relaxers for over 20 years and I have decided to go natural. I have very curly, kinky hair and used to get teased a lot because I rarely wore my hair “bone straight”. I got tired of using relaxers because they were making my hair and scalp very dry. I still have a nice thick head of hair and a good hairline. I just wanted to go natural and was encouraged by my sister, who went natural a year ago. Her hair has grown a lot and it is much more healthy. I am slowly learning how to care for my natural hair and have found some good products online. I recommend Qhemet Biologics products, all of their products are made of plant based natural ingredients and have no petroleum or heavy greases. I cut off a lot of my relaxed hair back in January and plan to stay natural. Now, when I see someone with relaxed hair, I personally find it unattractive. I really like curly and natural hair and think that it is much better than chemically relaxed hair.

  4. says

    Sharon, I think more and more women are turning away from the chemicals. I see more and more women with natural hair and even dreds.

  5. sandra hunter says

    I am undergoing chemotherapy for colon cancer and use a no-lye (Precis) brand relaxer.

    Hair loss has not occurred yet, but it may. I prefer no to go natural at this time, although I have frequently in the past and am proud of ny natural texture. I just don’t prefer it at this time. (The Q-tip effect – I am a silver fox)

    Any suggestions while I am still working with a full, thick head of silver hair?

  6. Tyra N says

    I have relaxed, colour treated hair and the Shielo Hydrate Conditioner is fantastic to use after both of those processes. Nice smell. I use it with each shampoo. Love this product!

  7. says

    Relaxers are dangerous when you do not have a skilled professional applying them.

    Relaxers do no break the bongs of your hair, they break down the bonds and chemically reform the hair.

    The problem here is that EVERYONE thinks that they are a professional when they do not have any professional skills and or training. Many women apply the relaxers incorrectly, do not know the proper techniques and do not have a clue on the proper types to use in conjunction with their hair type.

    As a stylist, who truly respects my profession, I cannot stand when people blame the chemical products on their problems and damage. The problem is that Black women in general are cheap and they want professional looks without paying for the services. What would you expect the result to be if you do your own relaxers at home without training?

    My clients do not experience damage because I know what I am doing.

    If a tooth extractions kit was available at your local CVS would your purchase it and try to do it yourself simply because it was sold to the public and not expect major problems?

    Ladies you have got to do better than this. Also remember to choose your stylist wisely, not all stylists are good.

  8. melissa says

    thnx for the info, I don’t recommend those type of straightening treatments, they have harmful chemicals that can severely damage the hair, that’s why I prefer the flat iron which is safer and cause less damage, I use a good one, it’s the Karmin G3 Salon Pro that has tourmaline ceramic plates which leaves the hair soft, shiny, healthy and very straight.

  9. Tonya Juanise says

    “The Western concept of beauty is very narrow”

    That is the problem, instead of embracing the different looks that God created, they made us hate what was actually beautiful and unique to us at one time. It’s so sad to see what Black people have become now due to brainwashing techniques from Whites. We used to be Kings and Queens who thought nothing was wrong with our kinky hair. We were a strong people, now look at us. It’s truly heart breaking. I wish we could all go back to loving ourselves again.

  10. says

    I think it is a good thing that women are more and more turning away from harsh chemicals and embracing more natural options. Just because a chemical was made in a laboratory or factory somewhere, does not mean it is better than nature.

  11. gary says

    Yes you are right my hair was damaged due to dye then i tried bio hair treatment to solve my problem and its work well now my hair is growing

  12. Kafiya says

    Kafiya says
    Honestly it is pretty ridiculous, women of all sorts of backgrounds, ethnicities ,religions should be comfortable in their skins. The active chemical in relaxers is a harsh chemical. In Chris Rocks “Good hair” but there was this one scene where he meets with a world renowned certified physcist. He dips an empty can of soda in a relaxer and immediately the can dissolved. Relaxers are proven to stunt hair growth and cause baldness


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