via The Beau­ty Brains

Kim com­ments…

What’s worse: chem­i­cal­ly straight­en­ing hair or blow­ing hair out and flat iron­ing it 2–3 times per week? I know they’re both bad, but is there a less­er of the two evils?

The Right Brain Replies:
Chem­i­cal­ly straight­en­ing is about the worst thing you can do to your hair. That’s because the first step in the hair straight­en­ing process breaks apart the pro­tein bonds in hair.

Break­ing those bonds allows you to take the curl out of the hair but it’s very harm­ful because not all the bonds are repaired. So, your hair is left much weak­er after straight­en­ing.

Blow dry­ing and iron­ing are harm­ful too, but they’re much less dam­ag­ing than chem­i­cal attacks. Plus, you can use heat pro­tec­tion prod­ucts that will help cut down on the dam­age.

The Beau­ty Brains bot­tom line
You can iron your hair straight many times before you’ll equal the dam­age from chem­i­cal­ly straight­en­ing it one time.

NOLA Dar­ling says…

As Denise point­ed out [in recent com­ment on this post], a chem­i­cal relax­er “rearranges” the hair bonds, per­ma­nent­ly smooth­ing the cuti­cle so that the hair remains straight. While the hair may be per­ma­nent­ly altered, it is not dam­aged in the sense of split ends and break­age one gets with reg­u­lar use of a flat iron. As a black woman with 3B hair (i.e., tight corkscrew ringlets) liv­ing in the most humid place in the coun­try, who has used both the flat iron and a chem­i­cal relax­er to straight­en my hair, I (and any hair styl­ist spe­cial­iz­ing in “black hair”) will attest to the fact that reg­u­lar flat iron­ing is far more dam­ag­ing. When I decid­ed to start wear­ing my hair straight for work, I had to flat iron it at least twice a week to keep it frizz free, and every time I washed it, I had to blow dry before using the flat iron. Well the cumu­la­tive effect of all that heat and ten­sion was lots of split ends (even after use “heat pro­tect­ing serum”). Once I relaxed my hair, which is a one-time process com­bined with reg­u­lar “touch ups” on the new growth, my need for heat styling less­ened severe­ly as well as the asso­ci­at­ed break­age and split ends. Right Brain, this was clear­ly a ques­tion you should have sought a few expert opin­ions before respond­ing.

The Right Brain responds:

Thanks call­ing us out on this NOLA. We encour­age our read­ers to push back when they dis­agree with some­thing we’ve said.  You raised a cou­ple of points that we thought were wor­thy of a fol­low up post.

Can’t take the heat
In the first point NOLA (and Denise?) took issue with our state­ment that “chem­i­cal­ly straight­en­ing is about the worst thing you can do to your hair” and that “blow dry­ing and iron­ing are harm­ful too, but they’re much less dam­ag­ing than chem­i­cal attacks.” I’ll stand by my state­ment that in gen­er­al, the dam­age caused by chem­i­cal relax­er is worse than dam­aged result­ing from heat styling. How­ev­er, NOLA makes an excel­lent case for why this is not true for her spe­cif­ic sit­u­a­tion. This is because her tight­ly curled hair requires SIGNIFICANT manip­u­la­tion to get it straight with­out chem­i­cal pro­cess­ing. The com­bi­na­tion of suc­ces­sive ses­sions of brushing/combing, blowdry­ing, and high tem­per­a­ture iron­ing, does cre­ate a tremen­dous amount of cumu­la­tive dam­age. If her hair was only slight­ly kinky and she didn’t have to work so hard to straight­en it phys­i­cal­ly, the result would be dif­fer­ent.

Relax­ers wreck cuti­cles
The sec­ond is a minor, but impor­tant, tech­ni­cal dis­tinc­tion. NOLA (quot­ing Denise) said that “relax­er rearranges hair bonds, per­ma­nent­ly smooth­ing the cuti­cle so that the hair remains straight.” While relax­ers do straight­en hair by rear­rang­ing bonds, it’s impor­tant to under­stand that these are the disul­fide bonds inside hair (in a region called the cor­tex.) The cuti­cles (the out­er “shin­gle-like” cov­er­ing of your hair are NOT smoothed by relax­ers, in fact, if any­thing, relax­ers can tend to dis­rupt the cuti­cles by lift­ing them up due to alka­line swelling of the hair.

The Beau­ty Brains bot­tom line
So there you have it. Heat styling hair CAN be worse than relax­ing. Thanks to NOLA for shar­ing her point of view and giv­ing us a chance to clar­i­fy our point.

Ladies, in your expe­ri­ence, does your hair suf­fer more from relax­er dam­age or heat dam­age?

Black Girl With Long Hair

Leila Noel­liste, founder of Black Girl with Long Hair (April 2008). Social media, pop cul­ture and black beau­ty enthu­si­ast. bell hooks’ hair twin…

Leave a Reply

51 Comments on "Relaxer Damage vs Heat Damage"

Notify of
Vivian Westwood

Years of using hot combs my hair was dam­aged and just looked dull. The Shielo Smooth­ing shampoo/conditioner and the Shielo Restore Mist has helped bring it back to life. They have some spe­cial oils in them that my hair real­ly respond­ed to — I can def­i­nite­ly see a change since using them. AND I am get­ting com­pli­ments again!


Love the way you explained about the relax­er dam­age vs heat dam­age.

Angel Christian

Such a great writ­ing and nice expla­na­tion about relax­er dam­age vs heat damage.Nice points you shared with us for that.


I flat­iron my hair at least once a week because if i don’t, It’s VERY hard to con­tain. And I may use a tex­tur­iz­er once-twice a year. So i believe i suf­fer from minor heat dam­age.

I suf­fer more from heat dam­age. But nei­ther heat or relax­er are good for hair.

If Nola was flat iron­ing her hair twice a week, while liv­ing in a humid cli­mate, was she wash­ing her hair twice week? Of course, she would expe­ri­ence dam­age if she is flat iron­ing pre­vi­ousy flat ironed, but now dirty hair. She made no men­tion of flat iron temps used. Nor how many pass­es were made. Nola didn’t real­ize it, but her heat pro­tec­tant “serum” is dime­thicone based.…a bad choice for pro­tect­ing hair from heat. She could have been using Chi Iron Guard 44 and got­ten real pro­tec­tion. All of these fac­tors can cause heat dam­age on nat­ur­al hair.  There is… Read more »

I am African Amer­i­can and I used to straight­en my hair with a relax­er. I used the Shielo Antiox­i­dant Leave In Pro­tec­tor after wash­ing and con­di­tion­ing and it helps keep the mois­ture in my hair. After using a blowdry­er to straight­en, it comes out soft and straight.
Now I am nat­ur­al and still use the Shielo Antiox­i­dant Pro­tec­tant on my curls. They are soft after adding it to my wet hair and it retains the curls and coils I have.

Every­one has their own unique hair tex­tures. Find­ing the best prod­ucts to care for your hair can be a chal­lenge. Nat­ur­al hair has dif­fer­ent needs than relaxed hair(except nutri­tion­al­ly). Relaxed hair runs away from water. Water is nat­ur­al hair’s best friend. Dai­ly seal­ing mois­ture into your hair is anoth­er best friend of ours.  For me, I nev­er use heat in the sum­mer. I live in a humid cli­mate and it would be a waste of time heat styling my hair. My style wouldn’t hold. In the win­ter months, my flat ironed style will eas­i­ly hold a week. I pre­fer my nat­ur­al… Read more »

will curl pat­tern return if you are expe­ri­enc­ing heat dam­age? I tran­si­tioned 5 months then BC I have a few strands that are simi curly where I had my leave out when I wore weaves dur­ing tran­si­tion

It real­ly depends on how often heat is used. Hair should be fresh­ly cleaned before apply­ing heat. The low­est pos­si­ble temp should be used. The iron shouldn’t be allowed to “stall” on the hair. No flat iron­ing touch ups, between sham­poos, should be done, A good heat pro­tec­tant should be used. I rec­om­mend Chi Iron Guard 44. Of course hair should be prop­er­ly sham­pooed and conditioned.…and rinsed. A good qual­i­ty flat iron with temp degrees con­trol should be used. With prop­er hair care for your hair’s tex­ture, there should not be a prob­lem. Your cared for nat­ur­al hair is the… Read more »

Relax­ers com­plete­ly destroy my hair with­in 6 months, regard­less of whether or not I stretch between touch-ups. I’m also sen­si­tive to the chem­i­cals (lungs AND skin) so I couldn’t relax my hair if I want­ed to.

Straight­en­ing my hair more than once a month caused SIGNIFICANT dam­age, to the point of me hav­ing to cut off near­ly 3 inch­es of hair this sum­mer. I’m try­ing to stay away from alter­ing my hair as much as I pos­si­bly can now.

Nappy SLP

Relax­er is obvi­ous­ly more dam­ag­ing than heat styling. It can dam­age the hair, as well as the scalp, and there are doc­u­ment­ed long-term health issues asso­ci­at­ed with relax­er use.

I have nev­er had a perm so I can only speak to heat dam­age. I believe that heat dam­age is no joke. It wasn’t until I embraced no heat nat­ur­al styling prac­tices that I noticed that the curl pat­tern on my hair had been per­ma­nent­ly loos­ened by years of heat appli­ca­tion. It’s so fun­ny because I nev­er thought I had the clas­sic new growth issue that so many of my relaxed friends men­tioned, but sure enough when I went con­scious­ly nat­ur­al I have new growth, about 3 1/2 inch­es now, lol. Anoth­er prob­lem I was encoun­ter­ing with exces­sive heat styling… Read more »
I would have to say my hair suf­fered more from heat daamge that relax­er dam­age but the prob­lems I’ve had might have been cause of both. I start­ed tran­si­tion­ing in 2008 after my last perm and relaized the less heat I put on my hair the health­i­er it got. I fact the less manip­u­la­tion to it the bet­ter it got. but after I cut off all the permed and straight ends and grew it back out shoul­der length i got it pro­fes­sion­al­ly straight­en for the first time in months…*MISTAKE*… after wash­ing the press and curl out i real­ized how good… Read more »

This was sent to me in my email acct as a heads up on this sale, and just want­ed to share with you ladies.


For this Black Fri­day Sale .…start­ing with Jane Carter Solu­tion. Here’s what we’ll be offer­ing start­ing at 12 a.m. on Fri­day, Novem­ber 25, 2011:

•Buy 16 oz Curl Defin­ing Cream, get Revi­tal­iz­ing Leave-In Con­di­tion­er FREE
•Buy Nour­ish & Shine, get Nat­ur­al Hold Spray Gel FREE
•Buy Twist & Lock, get Nat­ur­al Hold Lock­ing Spray FREE
•Buy Hair Nour­ish­ing Cream, get Revi­tal­iz­ing Leave-In Con­di­tion­er FREE

From experience.…yes I got more dam­age from a relax­er than with heat.….by far! I would only get touch ups every three months but try as I might I could not keep the split ends away. Though I sat under the dry­er occa­sion­al­ly to dry my hair, I NEVER used direct heat on my relaxed hair, (I have to admit I was para­noid when it came to blow dry­ers and flat irons). I did hot oil treat­ments and DCs reg­u­lar­ly, wrapped my hair at nights and wore a silk scarf or put my hair on rollers -EVERY NIGHT, nev­er braid­ed or… Read more »
Oh real­ly I thought site was for only nat­ur­al ladies …Yea I was kin­da upset about it being that its ok to relax and nat­ur­al may not be for me, so when I became a an of this site…I was think­ing no need to alien­ate ladies who relax. For some of you who claim your hair wasn’t grow­ing when you were relaxed, maybe you didn’t take the time out to plan the best reg­i­men pos­si­ble, and also it could be that its not for you just like nat­ur­al isn’t for me. Any­way to the meet of the mat­ter, relax­er dam­ages… Read more »

Yeah, I do find it iron­ic that although this is a nat­ur­al hair site, there seems to be a bit too much focus on try­ing to alien­ate women who wear relax­ers (which was pret­ty appar­ent in this one post called “What You Want to Say to Relaxed Women…”). I know perms/relaxers are bad but late­ly there has been too much neg­a­tiv­i­ty on women who wear relax­ers. Just too much neg­a­tiv­i­ty for my lik­ing.

You’re not alien­at­ed. No one is judg­ing you. Most women who wear their hair nat­ur­al have worn their hair relaxed at some point. Now, we have made a bet­ter choice for our hair. You may even­tu­al­ly make that choice, too. Believe or not. What­ev­er your choice, it’s cer­tain­ly respect­ed. It’s seems sad to me when women polar­ize them­selves over hair style choic­es. I grew up in the “I’m Black and I’m Proud” ’70’s. Almost every­one wore afros. We went nat­ur­al as a Nation. We said it “loud” to the world…This is who were are and proud of it. That afro… Read more »
omg. i would imag­ine that going to a web­site that focus­es on nat­ur­al hair might make some­one who is not nat­ur­al feel alien­at­ed. but you know what? there are tons of sites where nobody cares about nat­ur­al hair and where they empha­size straight relaxed hair. if you were there, you would not feel alien­at­ed. the great thing about the inter­net is that there are so many choic­es around and with one stroke of the key­board, you could eas­i­ly be some­where else. you could even cre­ate your own blog — it’s most­ly free even. it’s weird because there is far more shade… Read more »

I am on lots of hair forums and We focus on both nat­ur­al and relaxed, I have a right to feel alien­at­ed because the site is called “black girl with long hair” and that can most def­i­nite­ly incor­po­rate relaxed women who has learnt the art of man­ag­ing chem­i­cal­ly treat­ed hair, no need to make relax­ers look like the devil..Why call the site that then, lots of relaxed ladies liked it on fb I’m sure… think­ing it is for every black girl who wants or has long hair not a cer­tain cat­e­go­ry.


1. Scroll to the top of this page

2. Read: Black Girl with Long Hair

3. Con­tin­ue read­ing —-> Cel­e­brat­ing the dope­ness of nat­ur­al hair

You can feel alien­at­ed or you can read.


You know what, why don’t you just go away. If you had any sense and re read what I said you would have seen I said…ON FACEBOOK it sim­ply says black girl with long hair, it didn’t say any­thing abt relaxed or nat­ur­al. So go away and get a life. Idiot.…..I hate talk­ing to per­sons who lack rea­son­ing skills, I wasn’t dis­crim­i­nat­ing against nat­ur­al hair, so what’s with the “scroll up and read”.


+ 1. If u any to read about relax­es hair go to that web­site! If this web­site doesn’t cater to ur inter­ests go to one that does.


Lol my dear I have no prob­lem with doing that, all I was say­ing is I thought talk­ing abt relax­ers was taboo here and its ok to appre­ci­ate that oth­er per­sons relax.

I have nev­er lost my coil pat­tern as a result of using heat on my nat­ur­al hair. How­ev­er, for a time some years ago I got into the habit of blow-dry­ing every week. That was the one and only time I ever expe­ri­enced a sig­nif­i­cant amount of split ends.  When I was relaxed, I don’t remem­ber see­ing split ends. I just saw ends. Straight, bro­ken-off ends. All over my back. All over my bath­room floor. And I saw them EVERY time I combed my hair. In hind­sight I now see that things could have been done to rec­ti­fy the dam­age in both… Read more »
Ok so I had to chime in I’ve been nat­ur­al for two years now and recent­ly decid­ed to wear my nat­ur­al hair straight via wash and set then blow out. Per­son­al­ly I think the key state­ment in this post is that the writer states she flat ironed her hair 2–3 times a week to reduce frizz! Whether nat­ur­al or relaxed that is com­plete­ly exces­sive and will cause severe dam­age to any hair tex­ture. Using heat tools once a week should be the absolute min­i­mum for any­one that desires long healthy hair. If frizz becomes an issue before than I would… Read more »
What about treatments.…The thing is, peo­ple are going to relax and flat iron their hair regard­less of the dam­age as soci­ety still plays a big part in what peo­ple do to their hair. Since straight is the major­i­ty, I encour­age my clients to come in for reg­u­lar treat­ments or to do them at home if they can’t come in. Also pro­tect­ing from heat with things like Moroc­canOil before blowdry and flat iron are high­ly rec­om­mend­ed. There are great heat pro­tec­tants out their so if you’re not already using some, get on that. And lessen flat iron­ing with a good wrap… Read more »

damn ads are not cheap! Its hard out here for a pimp… Don’t be mad cause a self made sis­ter found a loop hole! I acknowl­edge the hus­tle girl!
[imgcomment image[/img]


Thanks Ki.…guess im a shame­less self adver­tis­er :)


Tacky. def not going to your tacky salon


why not take out a paid ad on this site to adver­tise your ser­vices instead of post­ing this?

Mrs. R



Lol @ mer­ry

I can say that for ME relax­er dam­age is MUCH worse than heat dam­age. When I had a relax­er my hair nev­er grew past my shoul­ders. It seemed a lot thin­ner and I always had split ends. After tran­si­tion­ing in 03 and not hav­ing it pressed until about 08, my hair had grown down my back. I did encounter SOME heat dam­age but my hair was still extreme­ly thick, full, and healthy all the way through to the ends. Grant­ed, I did loose a lit­tle bit of my curl pat­tern but my hair was still healthy. After a year of… Read more »

Inter­est­ing read, thanks for shar­ing.


For me heat dam­age was the worst because I didn’t even know that I had heat dam­age. Atleast with a relaxed you can try to accom­mo­date your hair. I’m hap­py that I’m tran­si­tion­ing with no heat this time around.

Chi chi
(dis­claimer: i am nat­ur­al; been nat­ur­al for 12 years. I am in no way putting any side down. Although being a no heat nat­ur­al is ulti­mate­ly the health­i­est way to go, i under­stand that peo­ple will do what they want. I am a cos­me­tol­o­gist who helps peo­ple main­tain their pref­er­ence the best and safest way possible.…I’m speak­ing in terms of hair not scalp) As a licensed cos­me­tol­o­gist I’ve seen both sides. First let me say that heat will per­ma­nent­ly dam­age ur curl pat­tern. Peri­od. I have Many clients who str8n n now their hair is bone str8 on the ends n… Read more »

Per­haps a sil­ly ques­tion. But what about effect to scalp as far as heat vs relax­er? Note: I have nev­er done a relax­er but I’m assum­ing that is greater risk of skin and scalp dam­age than with heat? In fact, greater risk of hair loss? And what are the dif­fer­ent health con­cerns?


Good ques­tion!!! Scalp burns are com­mon­ly asso­ci­at­ed with relax­ers and doesn’t chem­i­cal process­es leave deposits that are absorbed into skin/body?? (Actu­al ques­tion).


i was lis­ten­ing to a radio pro­gram once and a doc­tor said black women (whose heads need­ed to be open for an oper­a­tion) often had a whitish lay­er of build-up beneath their skin. it was pre­sumed to be relax­er.

so, yes, it is absorbed by the body as the skin is an organ that absorbs the things we put on it.


O…M.….G!!! Now that’s some scary ish!!!


yeah the relax­er all the way who knows how else it effects the body and its so close to the brain.


That’s creepy and scary to think about.


O wow that’s real­ly dis­gust­ing :-(


relax­er or some sort of mold build up


HeyTheres this hair wash called Brazil­ian Hair Treetment.You can get it at like Tar­get or Walmart.I got it and my hair is so much clmaer. Im half japan­ese so my hair is kin­da curly, so I got this and it is so much bet­ter now I relle recomend it xx

when my hair was com­plete­ly nat­ur­al heat dam­age was what i expe­ri­ence but i nev­er knew that my hair was dam­aged till dur­ing my cur­rent tran­si­tion i was sit­ting on my bed with soaked hair and i could feel a curl pat­tern, i looked in the mir­ror and real­ized that the tex­ture i thought i had was not my nat­ur­al tex­ture and that heat dam­aged had stretched it. i hadn’t put heat on my for months, so that’s how it came to be. i had been so busy i just twist­ed and didn’t both­er look­ing at new growth that way.… Read more »

I think the obvi­ous answer is that relax­er is more dam­ag­ing, because it actu­al­ly changes the tex­ture of your hair PERMANENTLY where as heat does it only tem­porar­i­ly. As with any­thing though, mod­er­a­tion is key, if either is done exces­sive­ly it will/can do much dam­age that can­not be reversed back to the way it was before.


I agree. Now that my hair is nat­ur­al 6 yrs and count­ing, I rarely ever get split ends *knocks on wood* Where as my permed hairs ALWAYS had spit ends.
Maybe she should’ve tried let­ting her hair air dry (in about 4–6 six braids) before flat iron­ing instead of blow dry­ing. This is one way to reduce the excess amt of heat applied to the hair and cut bck tra­men­dous­ly on heat dam­age.