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Relaxer and Hair Damaging

Q: I was so relieved to find this website! I'm completely fed-up with my hair and really need good advice now. My hair is of Mixed-African ethnic type, and currently chemically damaged. I used to relax my hair regularly until my early twenties and it became quite damaged. I stopped all chemical treatments a few years ago thinking that by regularly cutting it and allowing the natural hair to grow back would reverse all the problems, but I noticed that even the ‘new hair’ was actually not the same as my hair used to be before starting the relaxer cycle. (It used to be wavy and curly and it ended up just being a thick, difficult to manage bush).
      So in Oct 2005 I opted for the type of thermal reconditioning – the product was from Schwarzkopf, thinking it was the answer to all my prayers and mainly because it promised to cut my hair washing/styling time drastically. For the first month following I was ecstatic with my hair. It was smooth, shiny and beautiful and so easy to manage. However, the hair started breaking off all over. The worst part was that the hair would start growing back and after about 1 centimeter it breaks off again. Also the re-growth on my entire head of hair was unlike my hair has ever been – extremely thick and coarse.
      Since this time I never used any chemicals on my hair again until I had it straightened with Loreal Xtenso in June 2007. I was quite satisfied even though I noticed more damage, but at least it was easy to manage. I had the Xtenso done again in Jan 2008 and now the hair broke off again, this time much worse.
      I have already tried all kinds of products that promise miracles against damaged or frizzy hair, but nothing so far has worked. I’m so fed up and depressed about this and to make matters worse I live in Abu Dhabi in the UAE with very high humidity that will soon start rising from 40% to 100% and this wreaks havoc on my hair. My hair is so thick and coarse right now. It takes me 2hours to wash, roller set and flat iron the hair, but within about an hour the hair turns into this kind of dull, kinky mop – even if I stay indoors.
      I there any kind of product out there I can use to get the relaxer/straightener effect without damaging the hair even more? When I cut my hair short, why doesn’t it grow back with the same texture it had before any chemicals – does these product actually penetrate the scalp and is there anything that can be done to reverse that?

 
A: You’ve raised a lot of issues here that you want answers to (or advisement on), so I’ll do my best to take them a step at a time and be as concise and helpful as I can.
 
      As for the thermal reconditioning service you said you had done, I am somewhat surprised because most of these thermal reconditioning (Japanese Straightening) services state that they are not intended for African-ethnic hair types (what they refer to as “kinky” hair). (This is based on a phone call I made to the corporate headquarters of the Yuko Company who created the original Thermal Reconditioning service.) I’m surprised that a salon would have taken you as a candidate, and can only assume that your hair is not what would be classified as “kinky-curly”.
 
      The Xtenso treatments are meant to be less rigorous in the reformation of the hair and are usually used by women with curly hair that tends to frizz to smooth and tame their curls. It is also used to “de-bulk” other hair textures and wave patterns.
 
      The thing that concerns me is that in each of the cases of problems following the services you mentioned, you don’t indicate problems developing until weeks or months later. The first month after the Thermal Reconditioning you said was fine, and you said that the hair was “easy to manage” after the initial Xtenso treatment (which would have been performed on hair that was already damaged). This concerns me because it leads me to think that you may be having a problem with your daily styling routine.
 
      Typically, you need to follow the after-care instructions for any chemical service carefully, and failing to do so often results in the salon at which the services were performed disavowing any responsibility for the condition of your hair.
 
      Unfortunately, there are NO miracle cures for damaged hair. The only real cure is time and care. There are other products, like Xtens which offer mild and/or “temporary” smoothing, but if the Xtens was damaging to your hair, then others would likely be the same.
 
      My best recommendation is for you to find a salon you are comfortable with and discuss the options available in your area for smoothing your hair. In the meantime, look for a moisture-rich shampoo and conditioner set to use and only shampoo your hair when it seems dirty, but condition your hair every day. In addition, look for styling products that contain silicone or specifically say they are for “frizz control” since these will help coat the hair and combat humidity. You can also use the new wax-based products for styling that not only helps manage frizz, but give you styles and hold that are adjustable.
 
      About the perceived changes in your hair’s texture when you cut it short. Unless the products used to perform the services caused chemical burns to your scalp, you needn’t worry about effects below the surface of the scalp. There are cases where sensitive people experienced damage to their follicles from chemical services but you would have been very aware of anything of that nature. What was more likely is that the difference is only a matter of perceptions, or that the body has made natural transitions in the way the hair grows that are only apparent once you cut off the hair and the new growth is all of the newer pattern.
 
      It’s very difficult to try and make any kind of assessment of your hair (and therefore give you specific recommendations) without being able to physically assess the level of damage, and the condition and other traits of the hair for myself. For this reason, I would like to restate that my best recommendation is to speak with a professional in your area so that he or she can perform an examination of your hair and advise you based on those findings.
 
{Update- February 2011: In previous articles and question responses, we have stated that Yuko Systems did not consider the Thermal Restructuring Service to be suited to African-Ethnic hair types. This information came directly from the Yuko Systems website. In addition, a call placed to a Customer Service professional at the Yuko Systems Training Academy where they teach the process, confirmed and clarified the restriction. Specific wave patterns found in African-Ethnic hair are not suited to the Thermal Restructuring Process and can be damaged by the service if attempted.
 
However, a recent reader questioned the validity of this statement since the Yuko Systems website no longer restricts African-Ethnic hair and says that the process is suitable to any hair type. I have once again spoken to a representative of the Yuko System Training Academy and once more verified that while their website has removed a statement that they felt was unfairly restrictive (given the wide range of wave patterns found in African-Ethnic hair) the problems with very tightly coiled and very kinky hair types is still at issue.
 
It is important that you see a professionally trained provider of these services to ensure that you do not damage your hair. Part of the Yuko Systems training is to teach stylists who perform the process how to properly determine which hair types are suited to the process, and which are at risk for damage. For more information or to contact Yuko Systems you can go to http://www.yuko-usa.com.}

 
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