Chemical Treatments: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
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Chemical Treatments: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The idea of having permanently silky straight hair that won’t swallow a comb whole is definitely alluring. Chris Rock set me straight though in his 2009 movie Good Hair. There’s a scene where he’s in a lab with a so-called “chemical genius” who demonstrates the effects of sodium hydroxide, the active ingredient in chemical relaxers. Sodium hydroxide burned through a chicken breast and completely disintegrated an aluminum can. The genius couldn’t understand why someone would willingly put this on their hair! For the beauty inclined among us, however, we can completely understand the attraction!

THE GOOD

Curly hair, especially coarse, kinky hair isn’t always easy to manage. Combing sleek straight hair is a breeze and some people just prefer the look.

There are a lot of options available but it’s important to look at every aspect before opting for pin straight hair.

Relaxers: Relaxers come in two types – lye or no lye. Lye uses sodium hydroxide whereas no-lye uses calcium hydroxide. No-lye is usually milder, causing less scalp irritation, however the calcium can make the hair look drier. Relaxers can straighten the tightest kinky, coarse curls.
Thermal Reconditioning: Designed for loose to medium curls, a chemical is placed on the hair to break the bond that gives each strand its shape. It is then washed, blow-dried and flat ironed and a neutralizing solution is added. The results are permanent until your roots grow in. Thermal reconditioning will create stick-straight hair that can’t be fluffed even with the help of curling irons or hot rollers.
Keratin Treatments and Brazilian Blowouts: A temporary smoothing treatment, both the keratin treatment and the Brazilian blowout will remove frizzy hair, add shine, fight humidity and decrease blow dry time. The option remains to add some bounce with a curling iron if the mood strikes.

THE BAD

Straight hair comes with a price. Hair that has been chemically treated requires a lot of TLC in order to make it look truly soft and healthy. This is especially true for hair that has double the chemicals with a straightening treatment and hair dye. If the hair isn’t properly replenished after being abused with chemicals, extreme dryness and damage to the hair’s elasticity and strength will show. It will also be more prone to breakage.

Chemical treatments can be very expensive and relaxers and thermal reconditioning need to be touched up every six to eight weeks. If you don’t touch up, there can be an awkward period where the ends of your hair are straight and your roots are curly. To avoid this, a lot of women are forced to chop off their hair and start over with their curls.

THE UGLY

As Chris Rock and his chemical genius so poignantly illustrated, relaxers can be down right dangerous. Sodium hydroxide is the same chemical used to unclog sinks – do we really want that in our bodies? By now, most people have accepted that our skin (including our scalp) absorbs what we put on it and that means the toxic chemicals used in relaxers can have serious consequences on our health. Beyond the grander chemical absorption issues, misuse of relaxers can also result in chemical burns, hair loss and severe irritation, including dermatitis.

Thermal reconditioning uses a chemical called ammonium thioglycolate, which although safer than the lye and no lye relaxers–poses the risk of allergic reactions.

Keratin treatments and Brazilian blowouts have received a lot of media attention recently due to the finding that some contain formaldehyde, which has been linked to cancer. Health Canada received complaints of burning eyes, nose and throat, breathing difficulties and hair loss associated with use of these treatments.

Overall, the choice to use chemicals or to go natural is a personal one. Personally, I’ve decided that natural curls are just too fun and unique for me to want to permanently change them. If I’m in the mood for Kate Moss hair, I’ll dust off my flat iron!

Written By: Joy Gurr
Joy has been a proud curly girl all her life, that includes the awkward stages of her youth when she would brush her curls (gasp!) resulting in a huge curly puff that could rival any 80’s ‘do. Since then, Joy has tried and tested many, many hair products, styles and cuts to now be a self professed curl connoisseur. Joy is a 9 to 5 working girl living in Ottawa, Canada.