The women who choose to relax their hair

(This article was first published in 2014)

Black Beauty& Hair Editor-in-chief Irene Shelley explores some of the reasons why some black women continue to relax their hair

While the natural hair movement is here to stay, there are still a lot of black women who prefer to maintain their hair with a relaxer.

But in the last two years, chemical hair relaxer sales – marketed mostly to black women – have dropped by 12 per cent, according to Mintel, a consumer spending and market research firm. Black women’s hairstyling choices are complicated by a deep well of personal, social and commercial interests. Despite the decline in relaxer sales and a boom in beauty products, websites, blogs and YouTube channels aimed at black women with natural hair, the conversation around black hair is anything but closed. The question of when and why so many black women chemically relax their hair or go natural, remains fraught and very much open.

Natural hair it seems is the new black, but the truth is it is still in the minority. Relaxers are still worn by many, whether it’s to touch up new growth, straighten the hairline in order to blend in a weave, or a full relaxer application to achieve longer lasting, smoother results.

According the Hair Attitude Survey by Sister Sister and SofN’Free, over half the women surveyed stated they wore relaxers because it helps to keep their hair more manageable. About a quarter felt they simply preferred the look and the versatility relaxed hair offers. One per cent admitted that their man’s preference was a factor. Yet, more than half the relaxed women polled claim that someone has tried to talk them into going natural. Yet since an overwhelming 44 per cent of the relax group claimed they are borderline obsessed with keeping their hair straight and smooth, it’s likely not everyone will be convinced to make the switch.

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We talk to bloggers and women in the hair and beauty industry to learn their reasons for staying on the straight…

Chrissy Rutherford

Chrissy Rutherford, HarpersBazaar.com digital editor wrote an article for the website on why she wears a relaxer.
“There are times when I feel judged for having straightened strands around women who are au natural. Even when I mentioned to a friend who has recently gone natural that I was writing this piece, she remarked, “team natural!” with a bit of a holier-than- thou attitude. Yes, it is no secret that relaxers can be very damaging to one’s hair. I’ve experienced some of the negative effects, mainly breakage, but I adjusted my hair care to protect my strands.”

Nadege Lewis, hair blogger of Relaxed Hair Health
‘I wear a relaxer mainly because of my busy schedule. I travel almost every week and wearing straight hair, without having to use a lot of heat, allows me to wear simple buns, updos, and other manageable styles for work without a huge time investment. I grew out my hair from a damaged neck length to my waist whilst still continuing to use a relaxer. Since our hair is constantly growing, I see it as more as an issue of retention rather than growth. I made the mistake of neglecting my hair because of my busy schedule and lost length as a result. I learned that my relaxed hair requires constant moisture, the right amount of protein and low manipulation. Plus I had to treat my ends like a baby. When I started placing a focus on taking great care of my ends, retention became much easier. So to answer the question, those who are focused on retaining length can experience long hair, even with a relaxer.’

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Nadege Lewis
Lesley Buckle

Lesley Buckle, hair blogger of Fresh Lengths 
‘I’ve had chemically treated hair from a young age so I’ve never really had natural hair. Though I’ve thought about going natural before, I continue to relax as I know how to properly care for my hair as it is. I’ve recently decided to transition to ‘texlaxed’ hair (relaxed hair with texture) from bone straight hair. I used tips from other women who were relaxed with long and healthy hair which helped mine thrive. I think the key is to be committed and focus on retaining the length of your hair as opposed to obsessing over growth. Relaxed hair is thought of as ‘easier’ to manage and I think this leads some women to abandon healthy haircare practices as they assume they don’t need to care as much for their hair. Relaxed hair still requires regular moisturising, deep conditioning and careful styling to prevent breakage just as natural hair does.’

Valerie Amegatcher, Afro Hair & Beauty LIVE, exhibition assistant
‘I’ve been relaxing since I was 11 years-old. My natural hair is very thick and kinky and at the moment reaches bra strap length. I would scream whenever my mum tried to style it. We even tried hot combing it but my hair was just too thick to get the comb through. I’m happy relaxing my hair. I find it easier to manage. For a healthier hair regimen I get my roots retouched every 10 weeks. I rarely use heat and deep condition every time I wash and wear protective styles. No one’s ever come up to me and said I should be natural. But seeing so many naturals around, I’ve definitely considered it.’

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Valerie Amegatcher

Blogger Danielle Faust joined the natural hair bandwagon, then changed her mind.

Expert advice


More relaxed hair…

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