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...

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51 Comments on "Relaxer Damage vs Heat Damage"

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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… 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… 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… 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.

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… 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.


+ 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.


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”.

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 »
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… 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 »

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


Lol @ merry

Mrs. R



Tacky. def not going to your tacky salon


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!
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Thanks Ki….guess im a shameless self advertiser 🙂

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… 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.


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


O wow that’s really disgusting 🙁


That’s creepy and scary to think about.


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.

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.