With natural hair acceptance having skyrocketed to the forefront of beauty and pop culture in recent years, it may be a bit shocking for some to hear that there are naturals who are pining for chemically straightened styles again–and that there are plenty of people who never stopped relaxing their hair in the first place. Even as the natural hair movement remains in full swing, some curlies are speaking out via social media about needing more manageability, a sleeker aesthetic, and more time-friendly styling options (a.k.a. No more two hour wash-days and detangling sessions!). Combine that with the idolized image of looser hair textures within the natural hair community, and you have the perfect recipe for a relaxer transition.
Simply searching the phrase “natural to relaxed hair” on YouTube yields tons of results, consisting mainly of Black women documenting themselves as they make the switch back to straight hair. Among them is a video from May of this year, uploaded by YouTuber Ky Janéa titled, “sis I’m TIRED! RELAXING MY NATURAL HAIR IN 2021 + 14 Weeks Post-Relaxer Update & Tips,” in which she explains her reasoning for going back to a relaxer, shows her viewers how she goes through the process at home, as well as updated photos and videos 14 weeks post-relaxer. Her reasons for altering her natural texture are an echo of the concerns of many other transitioners when she says “I’m not gonna miss crying on wash day. I’m not gonna miss detangling for hours. Period sis.”
In the first few minutes of the video, Ky also comments on how the unpredictable nature of natural hair can make styling difficult. In addition to a strenuous wash-day, styling her natural hair often consumes great amounts of time and tedious effort, and even then there’s a good chance the styles won’t come out the way she wants them to. But in spite of the bumpy ride, the 3-year natural is grateful for the journey. “I think my natural hair is beautiful, and I’m glad I got some experience on how to take care of hair in general. So I think that will help me a lot in taking care of my relaxed hair,” she says.
Natural, But Not Less Expensive
The time required to maintain natural hair might be the most prominent reason for naturals to jump ship. But it’s worth mentioning that the collective cost of maintaining and styling natural hair with products, tools, and salon visits also plays a factor, and it isn’t necessarily the best budget alternative to a relaxer.
Because of the recent focus on minimizing damage and prioritizing health in natural hair, brands are taking notice. Relaxer sales declined 22.7% from 2016-2018, but shampoo and conditioner sales increased 12.7% and 7.3% respectively during the same period according to a Mintel report. The Black hair market is worth over 2.5 billion dollars–and it’s still growing. New products are constantly being released, which can make it difficult to find the ones that truly benefit your hair type and extend the “trial and error” phase. The same report states that Black women are most likely to say they use five or more haircare products at home to maintain their hair.
When asked about the role ingredients play in pricing natural hair products in 2017, founder of Honey Baby Naturals Aisha Crump told NaturallyCurly, “Natural ingredients yield higher price tags. Products that are rich in natural ingredients perform higher, thus the cost is more. Synthetic products cost less because of the cheaper ingredients that are found in them, such as sulfates.”
In an article for HuffPost, Krissy Lewis gave a full run-down on how much she spends each year on her natural hair products, salon visits, and protective styling. The beauty blogger and XONecole writer ends each year having spent about $480 on hair products, $540 on four salon visits per year, and $300 for two protective styles per year, for a grand total $1,320. Although the 4C naturalista is in love with her natural hair and is not looking to change it, she admits that she does get frustrated with her hair’s level of dryness, and she spends money to ensure her hair’s health. “If I don’t keep it under control, it can cause breakage, and all of that makes my hair more high maintenance. Believe it or not though, I still love my wash-days, it’s my one-on-one time with my hair and I can give it a little TLC.”
Healthy Relaxed Hair?
The phrase “healthy relaxed hair” may sound like a bit of an oxymoron to some. The truth is that the nature of chemical straightening means that your hair will sustain some form of damage, but that doesn’t mean you can’t care for your relaxed hair in a way that promotes the healthiest outcomes.
Amidst several claims made throughout the years that relaxers may be a contributing factor for breast cancer among Black women (which was a huge push to make the transition to natural hair for many women), the most recent study shows that with moderate use, there is no increased breast cancer risk overall in Black women. However, with regard to “heavy use” (7 times a year for 15 years or more) of relaxers containing lye, there was about a 30% increased risk for estrogen receptor positive breast cancer. Even with these knowledge gaps filled, there is still a lot that is unknown about the long term effects of relaxer-use.
“Hair relaxers are very powerful chemicals. They have to be if you want your hair’s texture to be altered so drastically,” Texas-based stylist Latara Porch told NaturallyCurly. “Depending on your hair type, hair relaxers might cause breakage, hair thinning, and stunt your hair growth. The process may also result in chemical burns, on the scalp and other areas–with some women having complained of scalp irritation, scalp damage or hair loss.”
According to a natural hair expert-approved article from Byrdie, there are some pros to permanently straightening your curls including less knotting, increased versatility, and less styling time, says hairstylist Jawara Wauchope. Celebrity hairstylist Kim Kimble also weighed in on maintaining the healthiest relaxed hair saying, “Be sure to keep the hair conditioned and incorporate protein treatments.” Another tip: It’s always best to make sure you see a professional for the application of chemical treatments to your hair. You don’t want any slip-ups when your hair and scalp are on the line.
Do you think relaxers can make a true comeback? Would you ever consider going back to permanently straight hair (or even transitioning to a relaxer for the first time)? Drop in on the conversation in the comment section.