Q: How can I straighten really, really curly African hair?
A: If I remember correctly, an article published by the makers of hair products for African-Americans stated that in the 1990s
approximately 80% of African-Americans used some form of relaxing process on their hair to lessen the amount of curl and facilitate
easier styling. The most common relaxing products used were made with some type of hydroxide formula, the most common being sodium hydroxide.
Hydroxide relaxers penetrate the hair shaft and permanently destroy the chemical side bonds in
the hair which give the hair its wave pattern. An average of 50% of the chemical side bonds are destroyed in this process, and can
never be reformed. The result is a softer wave pattern and easier to manage hair.
Relaxed hair can be styled in any way desired, and when a straight look is wanted, the hair is
passed through a flat iron or pressing comb to smooth the hair and remove any wave that is left.
There has been a lot of buzz in recent years regarding the Japanese Reconditioning process
which promises perfectly straight hair, however, African-American hair has been proven to be unsuitable for this process. Therefore,
the claims of giving “Asian-straight” hair do not apply to persons with African heritage.
Another alternative to the hydroxide-based relaxing products is thio-straighteners, which use
the same formula as permanent waving products to break the chemical side bonds and reform them into a straight pattern. You should
be aware that hydroxide relaxers and thio-straighteners are not at all compatible, and cannot be performed on hair that has had the
other process. The resulting chemical reaction when these two processes are crossed results in completely dissolving the hair.
The benefit of a thio-straightener over a hydroxide relaxer is that at a later time you could
decide to return to curl by simply having a perm service. Thio-straighteners give similar results to those of hydroxide relaxers,
and most often require the use of a flat-iron or pressing combs to fully straighten the hair.