If you don’t know about the health deficiencies of the relaxer by now, then you just don’t know. Perms and relaxers have been a long time favorite of many women, but this beauty regimen comes at a high price – hair breakage, scalp irritation, stunted hair growth, and even permanent hair loss.*
That’s because Sodium Hydroxide (the government name for the perm), is a dangerous chemical that eats away at any part of the body that it contacts, including hair. It is a very strong chemical that is also known as lye and caustic soda and is found in many industrial solvents and cleaners, including flooring stripping products, brick cleaners, cements, and many others. It can also be found in certain household products including:
• Drain cleaners
• Metal polishes
• Oven cleaners
The interesting thing about the drain cleaner, is that the Sodium Hydroxide in it helps to clear away the hair often found corked at the bottom of bathtubs and sinks (eww right). That said, let’s get to the point here shall we? What does this have to do with the hair on our head? While it’ll take quite some time to explain all of the information concerning the side effects to the perm, let us just focus on the topic at hand, why are perms so afraid of water?
We’ve all been there. You just got your hair lyed, dyed, and laid to the side! What the beautician just did to your hair is nothing short of amazing. But you can’t get it wet. You can’t go swimming and heaven help you when it rains!
Your hair is made up of layers. The outer layer protects the hair shaft. When the layer of protection is damaged with the use of chemical relaxers, this causes the ends of your hair to split. This damage can travel up the hair shaft and cause hair breakage, resulting in damaged uneven hair. Some say just trim the ends, but the truth is that perms and relaxers are actually quite jealous of the hair’s natural state so it promotes split ends. They dry the ends of your hair and wear down the protective layer.
As shown in the picture (below), relaxers in African American hair for example, works by allowing the chemicals to break the protein bonds in the hair in order to change its shape (we’ll speak more on the different shapes of the hair strands in tomorrow’s segment), and makes course hair straight. But by breaking the bonds that give hair its strength, the hair is left weak and vulnerable (poor hair). So when water hits the already weakened hair bonds, they become like useless limp strings (not a good look). It also weakens the hair follicle, making relaxed hair more susceptible to breakage.
The hair has a particular wave pattern that is held by two sets of physical side bonds and a set of chemical side bonds. The physical side bonds are not as strong, but are more numerous, while the chemical side bonds are much stronger, but there are fewer of them. Because of this, it is recommended that someone with a fresh perm wait a few days before shampooing or wetting the hair as to allow the hair time to “normalize” and fully adjust to the new wave patterns.
Perms basically change the shape and texture of the hair by use of strong chemicals. Your Perm is afraid of water because it just had surgery and needs time to heal and adjust to the new pattern.
*Fun Fact: Today’s modern relaxer was actually invented by an African American man named Garrett Morgan (same inventor of the gas mask and traffic signal), while trying to create a product for a sewing machine shop back in 1910. He wiped his hand on a wool cloth and found that the chemical gave the cloth a smooth appearance. This must have been some kind of strong chemical to turn a cloth into a different texture.