Hairstyles, Hair Care & Fashion

Straighten Very Curly African Hair

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.
Related posts:
How to straighten hair
No lye relaxers for African-American hair
African American hair and Japanese thermal straightening
The scientific processes during perming and relaxing