Using Relaxer & Color at the same Time

Straightened African-American hair
Photo: Vitalii Smulskyi/Shutterstock
Q: I am an African American woman with a somewhat normal length of hair. I recently changed beauticians and was seeing a greater change in the length and condition of my hair. I was so proud of its growth. I decided to have my beautician relax and color my hair at the same time to perhaps cut down on my trips to her. When I asked her if this would be harmful to my hair, she informed me several times that using both a relaxer and color at the same time would definitely not harm my hair because she mixes the relaxer with water rather than with a chemical. After a few months, she and I noticed breakage of my hair.
She asked what I was using on my hair at home. I informed her that I recently started using a product called "mane and tail" for moisture. She said that this product was not good for my hair. She said that it will help it to grow, but once a person stops using it, the hair will then begin to break or fall out. I decided to stop using the mane and tail product, as well as not have her relax and color my hair at the same time anymore.
Also, I must add that I've always used a press iron on my hair at times as well. But typically, I've not experienced any breakage like I am now. I'm not sure which decision I made caused the problem I am experiencing, but I certainly don't want to lose all of my hair to excessive breakage as I am experiencing. Do you think using the relaxer and color at the same time was a bad choice? What would you recommend to stop the breakage? I've started using a perm repair product. It moisturizes it well, but later dries out my hair.
Is it OK to continue using the perm repair product? I've read some of your answers to questions, but I really would like to hear your opinion to my personal problem. Please let me hear from you if at all possible. Thank you so much.

A: Let’s start with the question of the relaxer/color service combination. Generally speaking, there isn’t really any reason you cannot do both services in the same day. Some stylists prefer not to, while others will make judgments according to the condition of the individual’s hair.
The only concern comes in the fact that regardless of how gentle the service(s) are, most color and texture services will cause the hair to be more porous than before. This means that the hair will not hold moisture as readily. Because of this, the products you use for after-care are very important. The hair – especially chemically treated hair – needs to be conditioned DAILY. Daily conditioning helps to restore moisture levels and keep the hair looking healthy and shiny.
Shampooing the hair should be done only when the hair is soiled or becomes oily and unkempt-looking. You will likely find that a rinse though conditioner will provide ample “cleansing” and freshening action for daily soil levels.
You also have to remember that any damage done to the hair is cumulative. You may not notice any damage at first, but things like repeated chemical processes, and heat styling (such as with a flat iron) can result in stress to the hair that gradually add-up to more significant levels of damage, where you suddenly notice that the hair begins to be fragile and breakage occurs.
So, it’s not realistic to lay blame entirely on the combined chemical services. The state of your hair is a result of a range of factors that add together into damage.
Now, as for the Mane ’N’ Tail shampoo and conditioner products, these products have been in use for decades and have been touted to have a variety of benefits. Back when I first began hearing about them being used, the benefit was that they made the hair thicker and fuller. In general, the shampoo formula is more alkaline and will cause the hair to feel thicker, while the conditioner formula is designed to make the hair smooth and shiny using botanical oils.
Given the porous nature of your chemically treated hair, this may have made the shampoo a poor choice for your use. Nevertheless, the product isn’t at fault, and your hair dresser is wrong in that A) it does NOT help grow hair, it simply fortifies the hair to try to make it stronger; and B) discontinuing use of the product is no different from discontinuing any other shampoo or conditioner. If breakage occurs after stopping use, then likely the damage was there to start and was being helped somewhat by the product.
At this point, the important thing is to get you on a routine that will help you salvage the hair you have and allow you to grow out the damage. I suggest that you begin by reducing the frequency with which you shampoo the hair. Start with every three days, and if that seems to work, then stay with it. If your hair seems to be oily or you feel irritation, increase it to every other day. Use a shampoo that is as gentle as you can find. I even recommend that you dilute your shampoo with equal parts water and follow it with a rinse through conditioner. Use products that have a protein-based formula (such as Pantene Beautiful Lengths).
You should also use a leave-in conditioner every day, whether you shampoo and condition traditionally or not. This extra protection helps to protect the hair from styling damage (which should be done ONLY with very low heat settings if at all).
Furthermore, I suggest you start weekly deep-conditioning treatments. You might also use hot oil treatments once a month or protein treatments on a monthly schedule, but two weeks behind the hot oil treatments. Feel free to cut back the hot oil and protein treatments to alternating months if your hair gets oily or “over conditioned” and limp.