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5 Effects Hair Relaxers Can Have on Your Health

Recent studies show rising concern as to the safety of hair relaxers and their affect on personal health.



Any narration of black history would be incomplete without the mention of Walter Simmons and Madam C.J Walker. Mr.Simmons invented the hot comb and Madam Walker became the first black female millionaire thanks to her hair straightening products. They were both pioneers in creating solutions focused on helping black people manage their hair with more ease.

Hair relaxers pursued the same niche market and became the new haircare fad. As the name suggests, their chemical formulation works to soften kinky hair to a straighter more 'relaxed' texture. They make hair easier to style and achieve what many believe to be a more glamorous look.

In recent years, there has been rising concern as to the safety of hair relaxers. What are the health effects of using hair relaxers? Here are some answers.


The Endocrine System

Almost all functions in your body are controlled in one way or another by hormones. Metabolism, growth, reproduction are a few examples in a much longer list.

Your endocrine system consists of glands that produce and release these hormones into your bloodstream.

A significant percentage of hair relaxers contain ingredients that disrupt the proper functioning of the endocrine system. Prolonged use of relaxers containing phthalates, parabens, and lye has been proven to cause:



Reproductive Challenges

Hair relaxers contain some ingredients whose shelf-lives are quite short. Due to this, manufacturers needed a way to keep their products available without them going bad too quickly. Parabens presented the perfect solution as a preservative agent.

In the female reproductive system, estrogen plays a crucial role in maintaining the menstrual cycle and fertility therein. When parabens are present in the body, they can imitate estrogen. It is registered as a surge of the hormone. When that happens regularly, the consequences are often a shortened or irregular reproductive cycle. In turn, conception becomes more difficult to achieve.



An alarming number of young African and African-American women are diagnosed with fibroids each year. Medical research has linked these unfortunate statistics to the presence of parabens in hair relaxers made for children.

The puberty stage comes with a lot of changes and developments driven by hormones. When the endocrine system is disrupted and young girls suffer hormonal imbalances, the growth of fibroids is accelerated. Unfortunately, fibroids also cause secondary problems such as infertility.



Ovarian and Breast Cancers

Phthalates are used as solvents in cosmetic products including relaxers. Similar to parabens, they too are endocrine disruptors. It is this unfortunate quality that has proven them culpable for causing ovarian and breast cancer.

The bane of parabens strikes again with one particular type, propylparaben, exhibiting the ability to affect genes. Breast cancer is sometimes genetic as some people have markers that make them predisposed to it. Propylparabens can play a role in spurring on those genes. In such an instance, cancer metastasizes faster or comes about much earlier.


Skin Burns and Irritations

If you have used hair relaxers or witnessed their application, you know that timing is everything. When rinsed off too early, the hair does not quite process as it should. In the event that it is left on too long, a burning sensation ensues.

Lye, which is also known as sodium hydroxide, is a caustic chemical and thus contributes to such irritations. In response, some brands switched to 'no-lye' formulations. Still, the irritation persists for most users. In fact, when it is not addressed quickly enough, it causes actual wounds and burns.

If your scalp is suddenly more prone to dandruff and itchiness after a straightening treatment, the product might be to blame. The active ingredient in no-lye relaxers is calcium hydroxide which has a dehydrating effect. After an application session, you may develop an itchy and flaky scalp. While dandruff is mainly a bacterial issue, the constant scratching of a dry scalp can also instigate it.



Hair Loss and Breakage

The chemical straightening of hair involves breaking down bonds that make the hair rough and curled. Therein lies the problem because while breaking the disulfide bond may straighten the hair, it also weakens it. Soon, if you use relaxers, you will begin to notice more frequent breaking off of hair strands.

Further, the weakening of hair follicles can also cause split ends and much thinner hair. A good illustration of this is a comparison between natural hair and relaxed hair. You would notice that natural hair is much denser as opposed to relaxed hair. A lot of density is lost in the chemical process and it is possible for it not to be regained if applications persist.

Hair loss in relation to relaxers tends to happen due to excessive weakening and breakage. However, it can also occur when the product is not properly rinsed off of hair. The product remnants may continuously act on the hair and seep into the root causing hair to fall out.




If you are asthmatic you may want to re-evaluate the use of relaxers. One common trait in almost all brands is that they come with a rather striking smell. Besides that, phthalates that are used as ingredients in them can exacerbate asthma attacks.

In previous years, only phthalate dust and its presence in plastics were believed to cause harm. However, further research indicates that the prolonged use of products containing phthalates can increase the frequency of asthma attacks.



For centuries there has been some sort of resignation that every good thing must come at a price, including beauty. The question is, how much are you willing to pay for straightened hair? Is it worth putting your health on the line?

All is not lost though, some brands are making an effort to do better. Private label hair products formulated by entrepreneurs using natural healthier options are worth considering. They are also more upfront about the ingredients in their products.

In summation, personal care is entirely discretionary. Your appearance and how you go about achieving it, should not be dictated to you. However, now that you have all the facts, go on, and make an informed decision.