Relaxers & Hair Breaking Off

Broken hair
Photo: Shutterstock
Q: My hair is a fine to medium texture and still I use relaxer - mainly "organic olive oil cream based relaxer no lye" - to get that smooth shine and tangle-free hair that I like. Well becoming pregnant did help my hair during my first pregnancy, and I relaxed my hair once with this brand with smooth results. Now I am on my second pregnancy, and I've stopped relaxing my hair.
I started with good 8 inches; now I am at 6 inches, and my hair is breaking off with the slightest touch. Why? Yes, I trim my hair every six months or so but I’m scared to touch my hair now. Also, I don't wash my hair and haven't in 3 months I just use a cream-based conditioner every three days or so. What steps can I take to stop this breakage so I can wear my hair natural?

A: If I follow you correctly, you have previously relaxed your hair using Organic Root Stimulator’s Olive Oil Built-In Protection No-Lye Relaxer System once with good results, and that you feel your first pregnancy helped to improve the strength of your hair.
But now, during your second pregnancy, even though you have stopped relaxing your hair, it is breaking off at the ends, sufficiently that your hair has gone from eight inches in length to only six. You want to know what to do in order to wear your hair natural, since that is your goal.
You don’t mention how much time has passed between relaxing treatments, between pregnancies, or even since your last relaxer treatment, so I am forced to assume that not enough time has passed to have grown out the previously relaxed hair. This means that the hair that is breaking has been chemically treated and is probably suffering from damage as a result.
Since I can’t physically inspect your hair to make an assessment, I have to address some general issues that seem to be in play here. Many women use “at-home” relaxers (and at-home perms) to take care of their hair and get the results they want without realizing some of the basics of the processes with which they are dealing.
Hair relaxers use hydroxide formulas – commonly sodium hydroxide or lye – to break the chemical side bonds in the hair and remove the wavy texture of the hair. No-lye relaxers still use hydroxides, but they use other types of hydroxides and usually guanidine derivatives as well.
Both types of relaxer formula have to be used only on “virgin” (or not previously treated) hair, since the breaking of the chemical side bonds is permanent and repeated exposure will result in destroying the integrity of the hair. Hair that has been exposed to a relaxer chemical will never again be “natural”, no matter how much time has passed. Only the new growth of the strands will be “natural”.
You state that you want to wear your hair natural. In order to do that you have to allow the hair to grow out until the previously relaxed portions can be cut away. What I suspect you are experiencing now is the result of chemical overlap from previous at home relaxers. Even if you don’t do the entire hair length when you have your relaxer retouched using the at home kits, any portions of the hair that are overlapped with these chemical processes can result in weak points in the hair.
I recommend you continue to treat your hair with care, and as soon as you get to a length you are comfortable with in the new growth, trim away the chemically processed hair ends.
See also:
How to tell the difference between broken hair and new growth
How to care for chemically treated hair
After care for colored or chemically treated hair
The scientific processes during perming & relaxing