We all know that chemical relaxers loosen the natural curl of one’s hair. But can long term use of chemical relaxers alter the texture and curl pattern of your hair as it grows naturally? I’ve heard on more than on occasion an anecdote along the lines of “When I was a girl my hair was so thick and full. Even though I’m natural now, my hair just hasn’t returned to what it once was.” Is this observation rooted in reality or just perception? There are a few reasons why you may notice what appears to be a texture change when you begin wearing your hair naturally as an adult. Some of these reasons have to do with the effect of chemical relaxers and other are a result of completely different reasons.
Natural Hair Changes
Ever heard of the term “baby hair”? Baby hair is the soft, usually fine silky hair along the nape or edges of your head that once covered your entire head as an infant. As we age our texture changes and becomes more reflective of the hair texture that we will have as adults. If you had your first chemical relaxer as a child, four or five for example, it is quite possible that your hair texture may still have been in the process of changing. Therefore, if you begin to grow out your natural hair as a teenager or an adult, it should not be a surprise to learn that your hair may be coarser or denser than it once was. The hair that you have on your head as an adult is certainly not the same head of hair you had as a child. In fact, each time new hair grows there is a possibility that new follicles may grow in a different shape. After puberty, however, we can generally predict how the majority of our hair will grow.
It is also important to take into consideration any physiological or hormonal changes that may have altered the condition of your hair. As you get older, seemingly thinner hair may not be a matter of texture change, but rather a change in hair density. If you are not entering menopause, which can alter the density of one’s hair, then it is important to rule out any other hormonal causes, such as thyroid disease, that may be at the root of changes in your hair.
When Relaxers “Change” Your Natural Hair
So, you’ve made the decision to wear your hair naturally and find that your hair seems thinner than you remember. It is important to disentangle changes in the texture of individual strands and changes in the overall density of your hair that may appear to be related to changes in texture. The latter may be a result of damage caused by a relaxer not to your hair, but to you scalp. Chemically induced alopecia results when strong chemicals permanently damage hair follicles that would otherwise produce hair. Unfortunately, if this happens throughout your scalp it can lead to what appears to be thinner hair. While this can be caused by chemical relaxers, it is not the case that the relaxers altered your natural hair texture, rather it altered your scalp which impacts the overall appearance of your hair.
So, is there any way that chemicals can alter the texture of your hair as it naturally grows? I’ve reviewed a number of articles on the issue and most indicate that while relaxers can permanently damage your scalp or follicles, they do not alter the curl patter of your hair as it grows. Now, this is not to say that other interventions cannot alter the texture of your hair. For example, individuals who have undergone chemotherapy for cancer treatment report a change in hair texture. Hair processing treatments however, do not have this impact.
Did you notice any changes in your hair texture when you transitioned to wearing your natural hair? At what age did you get your first relaxer and at what age did you “go natural” later in life?