Types of Relaxers

Chemical hair relaxers are designed to straighten extremely curly, coiled or tightly coiled hair by breaking the disulfide bonds found within the cortex layer of the hair. Hydroxide and Thio are the most common types of hair relaxers. Hydroxide relaxer types include sodium hydroxide, potassium hydroxide, lithium hydroxide and guanidine hydroxide.

These relaxers can be marketed as base and no base relaxers. Base relaxers require stylists to base the client’s entire scalp with a protective cream prior to the chemical relaxer application. No base relaxers have a protective cream built within the relaxer that settles onto the scalp according to the client’s body temperature. Although no base relaxers have a thin, oil like protective cream within the relaxer system, most stylists use a base cream around the ears and hairline for added protection.

Relaxer Q&A

How Do Relaxers Work?

During a chemical relaxing procedure of a hydroxide relaxer a process called lanthionization occurs, which is the breaking of a disulfide bonds to alter the curl pattern of the hair. During this process the curl pattern is loosened or relaxed. The cortex is thus elongated, stretching the original curl pattern, therefore making this a permanent alteration.

What are the different types of Hydroxide relaxers?

There are several types of Hydroxide relaxers aka Metal Relaxers which are sold to professionals and consumers with no mixing requirements. The ionic metals include sodium (Na), lithium (Li), and potassium (k). These metals are combined with oxygen (o) and hydrogen (h), forming ionic compounds known as relaxers which include the following active ingredients: sodium hydroxide (NaOH), potassium hydroxide (KOH), and lithium hydroxide (LiOH). Sometimes calcium (CaOH) is added to hydroxide relaxers, but it is not used solely to relax hair.

What is the difference between Lye and No Lye Relaxers?

The main active ingredient in a Lye Relaxer is Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH). Sodium Hydroxide relaxers are very effective in breaking down the hair’s bonds (straightening the hair) quickly. Because it processes quickly it is also the most commonly used relaxers by professionals. Through speedy and precise application, professional stylists are able to apply the relaxer evenly, process the relaxer in a timely manner and rinse thoroughly with a neutralizing shampoo to avoid damage and potential irritation during the chemical process.

Lithium hydroxide (LiOH) and potassium hydroxide (KOH), calcium hydroxide (CaOH) and Guanidine hydroxide relaxers are marketed as No Lye relaxers. Although these ionic compounds are not lye, hydroxide is an active ingredient. No lye relaxers are ideal for someone with a very sensitive scalp, as the chemicals and pH level of these type of relaxers are milder than lye based relaxers. No lye relaxers are commonly associated to dryer hair due to calcium buildup. This can easily be addressed through the use of a clarifying shampoo to remove dull deposits and a deep conditioning treatment to add moisture back to the hair.

What is a Low Lye relaxer?

A Low Lye relaxer has the lowest concentration of sodium hydroxide which is less than 2.5%. It is equally as effective as other Sodium Hydroxide relaxers however much more mild due to the percentage of active ingredient. The low lye relaxer gently loosens the bonds for increased manageability, while maintaining some level of texture in the hair.

What if my client has a sensitive scalp?

Often times Guanidine hydroxide relaxers and calcium hydroxide relaxers are recommended for clients who have a sensitive scalp. Those types of relaxers like Design Essentials Sensitive Scalp relaxer tend to be less irritating to sensitive clients.

Why are there different relaxer strengths? Don’t they all relax the hair the same way?

The level of hydroxide used in relaxers determines the strength. For example, super strength contains a higher concentration of sodium hydroxide than a regular strength relaxer. Although the result from a relaxer, irrespective of strength, is straighter more manageable hair, the strength of the relaxer used to achieve the result is very important. The goal is to avoid hair and scalp damage based on the texture of the hair, so you should only use the highest strength for the most resistant healthy hair.

What is pH?

The pH is a measure used to determine the acidity and alkalinity of a substance. The scale is represented by numbers ranging from 0 to 14 where 7 is neutral. Greater than 7 on the pH scale is more alkaline and less than 7 is more acidic. The pH of hair ranges between 4.5 – 5.5. Lye relaxers range from 12 – 14 and no-lye relaxers range from 9 – 11.

Can any type of shampoo be used after a relaxer?

Following a relaxer you should always cleanse with a Neutralizing shampoo. A neutralizing shampoo will ensure that you remove all traces of chemical residue and restore the hair to its resting pH level of 4.5. The pH of a hydroxide relaxer is typically 13 or higher which is considered a high alkaline concentration. Therefore an acid-balanced shampoo must be used to neutralize the hydroxide, and to return the hair and scalp to a normal pH level.

What is the processing time for a relaxer?

Processing times vary from client to client. However, most processing times are a maximum of 20 – 25 minutes.

What is wrong with getting hair bone straight?

If you relax the hair until it is bone straight, you are essentially over relaxing the hair. This removes any degree of elasticity, thus weakening the hair. Over a period of time of continuous over relaxation, blow drying and hot curling, the hair will become damaged and prone to breakage. To avoid irreparable damage and maintain the integrity of the hair, Design Essentials recommends straightening the hair 65% – 75% straight.

What is a thio relaxer, and how does it differ from a hydroxide relaxer?

Thio relaxers are also used to straighten hair. The primary agent, ammonium thioglycolate (ATG)is also used in permanent waving. Hydroxide relaxers and thio relaxers should not be used interchangeably. Overlapping these chemicals can cause extreme damage to the hair, and can result in hair loss.

Thio relaxers differ from hydroxide relaxers in a few ways. The pH of thio relaxers is typically around 10 whereas the pH of hydroxide relaxers is approximately 13. Also, an oxidizing agent like hydrogen peroxide or sodium bromate is used to neutralize thio relaxers. During this process the disulfide bonds are reformed that were broken by the relaxing process. When using hydroxide relaxers, the broken disulfide bonds are permanently broken and cannot be formed again. Oxidizing agents should not be used with hydroxide relaxers.