IN THE BEGINNING
His name was Garrett Augustus Morgan, and he was born the seventh of eleven children of former slaves.
He is best known for his invention of the automatic traffic signal and gas mask.
But it was around 1910 that he stumbled upon what would become his contribution to the hair care products industry and what would pave the way for several other entrepreneurs and manufacturers over the next hundred years.
While working in a sewing machine repair shop, attempting to invent a new lubricating liquid for the machine needle, it is widely believed that Morgan wiped his hands on a wool cloth, returned the next day, found the woolly texture of the cloth had “smoothed out”, and set out to find how the liquid chemical had changed the texture as it had. He experimented on an Airedale dog, known for their curly textured hair, and the effect was successfully duplicated.
Morgan then tried his lubricating liquid invention on himself, called it a “hair refining cream”, and thus patented the first chemical hair straighteners.
He founded a personal grooming products company which included hair dying ointments, curved-tooth pressing combs, shampoo, hair pressing gloss, and the one that started it all: the “G.A. Morgan’s Hair Refiner Cream” (advertised to “Positively Straighten Hair in 15 Minutes”).
TO LYE OR NOT TO LYE
Sodium Hydroxide is the strongest type of principal chemical used in some chemical relaxers because it provides the most long lasting and dramatic effects.
However, this same sodium hydroxide is found in drain cleaners which well demonstrates the strength of this chemical.
It is what is used in products that are referred to as “lye” relaxers. The strength varies from a ph factor of 10 to 14. With higher ph, the faster the straightening solution will take hold, but the more potential the damage.
Guanidine Hydroxide is the other common option of relaxer chemical used today. This is what is referred to as “no-lye” relaxers.
This label can be misleading to some consumers. It does not imply that there aren’t any strong chemicals used or that the chemicals used are somehow less potentially damaging.
Some have mistakenly thought that with “no-lye” relaxers there are less steps and all the worry of chemical hair straightening is removed.
Although this type of chemical hair relaxer can be less damaging than its counterpart, the hair and scalp should be in top condition before attempting treatment, and this type also requires special care when applied.
All relaxers require conditioning treatments before and after application. The decision to straighten the hair chemically requires much forethought and really a commitment to healthy haircare treatments over a long entire period of time.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
How can chemicals “relax”, or straighten hair? Well first of all, as assumed, the chemical would need to be potent enough to do so. Both lye and “no lye” relaxers are very strong chemicals that work in the same manner by changing the basic structure of the hair shaft.
The chemical penetrates the cortex or cortical layer (see illustration) and loosens the natural curl pattern.
This inner layer of the hair shaft is not only what gives curly hair its shape but provides strength and elasticity. Once this process is performed, it is irreversible.
This process which produces the desired effect of “straighter” hair at the same time leaves hair weak and extremely susceptible to breaking and further damage.
One must keep in mind that relaxers do not help the hair, but actually strip it. So by applying chemicals to the hair, even if it is to achieve a desired effect, is never really to the benefit of your hair health.
Due to this, it is first strongly recommended that it be applied only under the direction of a haircare professional with a record of success with healthy haircare and chemical straightening, and that the client regularly obtains conditioning treatments before and after the process.
Possessing a healthy scalp beforehand decreases the possibility of problems occurring. Relaxers should never be applied to already damaged hair, or on someone who has had scalp damage.
Age should also be considered. Although your young children may want to have the hairstyles they see on adults or other young people, parents should seriously consider applying such strong chemicals to young hair and the potential damage that could last a lifetime if misused; most times, it is not necessary to apply any chemical product to young hair.
“Over processing”, the excessive use of relaxers on the hair or applying the chemical to already processed or relaxed hair, is the most typical misuse of these chemicals.
Once the initial relaxer is applied to “virgin hair” (or a “virgin relaxer” is performed), “touch-ups” (or chemical applied thereafter) should only be applied to new growth between 6-8 week periods (or more).
This however, depends on the rate of hair growth and condition of the hair as advised by your haircare professional. (Some say that even six weeks is too soon to reapply relaxer to new growth).
And it is standard to wait at least 2-4 weeks before applying hair color chemical (or dye) to recently relaxed hair, if applied at all.
We remind readers that the more chemicals applied to hair, the more possibility of damage may be experienced