Source: David A. Sommers, The Saginaw News
Source: David A. Som­mers, The Sag­i­naw News

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?

Gen

Island girl raised in the most roy­al of NYC’s bor­oughs. Proud nerd, social sci­en­tist, edu­ca­tor and recov­er­ing awk­ward black girl. When not lis­ten­ing to NPR, try­ing to grow spir­i­tu­al­ly, or detan­gling my fro, I’m search­ing for the best shrimp and grits in the Queen City.

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21 Comments on "Can Relaxers Permanently Change Your Natural Hair Texture?"

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Chris Boggs

Well I got my first and only relax­er ear­ly last sum­mer and decid­ed to tran­si­tion back into my nat­u­ral hair because I missed my curls so much. I big chopped in Decem­ber and ever since, my hair hasn’t been too kinky and curly like it used to be ? my curls used to wrap around my fin­gers!! Now it’s just way looser and I got­ta strug­gle in get­ting it notice­ably curly and nice look­ing. It just looks like a fro.

Michele Antoinette

First relax­er 12 or 13 because my grand­moth­er had a lot of heads to do and most of us had a lot of hair

Hikinkz

I real­ized the the areas with the most dam­age grows in coarser thab the rest of my hair. I expe­ri­enced the most dam­age along my edged and nape.

Brittany

I can vouch (although not per­son­al­ly) on the state­ment regard­ing chemother­a­py. When my nephew’s hair grew back fol­low­ing his chemo treat­ments, his hair was curly and silky. He orig­i­nal­ly had kinky hair. Over time, his hair tex­ture returned to it’s orig­i­nal­ly kinky state. 

With that said, I think the only thing that could “per­ma­nent­ly” alter your hair tex­ture are oral med­ica­tions and treat­ments like radi­a­tion and chemo. Perms? Not so much.

agman

No, relax­ers are not per­ma­nent. Relax­ers work like hair dyes. It’s chem­i­cal com­po­nents that alter the hair tex­ture. But only as long as you keep the hair. If you cut your hair off or get new growth, it’s going to be your nat­u­ral tex­ture.

Lola

I prob­a­bly was 7 or 8 and I went back to nat­u­ral prob­a­bly about 19 or 20. I noticed no dif­fer­ence in hair tex­ture or den­si­ty. I did dis­cov­er curl pat­terns I didn’t know I had like I have some straight and 2a hair. My moth­er con­firmed I always had it, but I just didn’t know because of the perm. I have like 3 dif­fer­ent curl pat­terns with one more dom­i­nant, I love the diver­si­ty!

Carlyssa Pierre

Ummm. I got my 1st relax­er in ele­men­tary school so may­be 7 or 8 and I big chopped in 2013 at 19. 12 years of relax­ers and my hair is just as thick and course as ever ful­ly nat­u­ral lol. So I don’t think relax­ers per­ma­nent­ly change your hair pat­tern, but I do know of a wom­en who under went chemother­a­py and lost all of her straight hair and when it grew back it grew back curly.

Robin
I was prob­a­bly around 7 or 8 when I first got a relax­er. I didn’t stop relax­ing my hair until 2004, and then I spent a year tran­si­tion­ing via braid-outs. I didn’t notice any big changes in my hair thick­ness or den­si­ty. No change in curl pat­tern either, but that’s prob­a­bly because I don’t remem­ber what my pat­tern was before my first relax­er. I do have a few strands, ran­dom­ly placed around my head, that refuse to coil at all. They’re slight­ly wavy from root to tip, and the only way to get a curl or coil in them is… Read more »
African Naturalistas Products
African Naturalistas Products

Relax­ers can not change hair tex­ture of future hair to grow! Not pos­si­ble! The process of cell ker­a­tin­i­sa­tion has not yet tak­en place. Flat fol­li­cles will always be flat, and round/oval fol­li­cles will always remain the same. It is the­se shapes that deter­mine curl pat­tern. Yes, changes might hap­pen, but it has absolute­ly noth­ing to do with relax­ers

androu
I got my first relax­er at age 8. I ditched relax­ers when I was 21. When I did, I had no clue what my nat­u­ral tex­ture was, but I was expect­ing 4c, because all I remem­ber is my aunts and grand­moth­er tug­ging and fight­ing with my (nat­u­ral) hair. My hair is 4a. For a while, I won­dered whether relax­ers had pre­ma­nent­ly “loos­ened” my tex­ture. But I think it has more to do with the fact that the wom­en in my fam­i­ly were at a total loss of how to care for and comb any type of nat­u­ral hair.Lol. *Note* (before I… Read more »
LBell
I hear you…I’m still amazed to this day that I was able to fig­ure out fair­ly ear­ly in my nat­u­ral jour­ney that the prob­lem was nev­er with my hair tex­ture but with the meth­ods used to care for it. Con­trary to pop­u­lar belief, there’s more than one way to use a comb…and for some of us combs aren’t a great idea peri­od, lol. My old­est niece has the same fine strands I had grow­ing up (they appear to be 4c at this stage) but her hair is at least twice as long as mine was at her age because her mom… Read more »
JenniD

I don’t think relax­ers can change your curl pat­tern but hor­mones most cer­tain­ly can. That pic­ture of the wom­an with that relax­er on her head made she shiv­er a bit a the mem­o­ry of that stuff burn­ing and smelling awful. Oh lord do I not miss those days of self inflict­ed tor­ture lol.

Chanda

And don’t for­get the scabs it left behind. Those days are long gone for me.

agman

Hon­est­ly relax­ers can be healthy if done by pro­fes­sion­als or with pro­fes­sion­al prod­ucts. The prob­lem is some peo­ple use those box relax­ers and/or got their hair done by untrained pro­fes­sion­als like fam­i­ly mem­bers or friends. That’s when things go hay­wire.

Jazmin Jordan

Great arti­cle! I always won­dered about this.

Sarita
This is a great arti­cle. I have won­dered about this top­ic. I thought, per­haps my hair is hard and dif­fi­cult to man­age. May­be that’s why my Moth­er start­ed relax­ing it when I was six. How­ev­er, she said it was ” soft, but too thick”. Since I have tran­si­tioned a few years ago, I’ve noticed that it’s very soft, very thick and has a real­ly nice wave pat­tern. Here’s a thought: why was my hair so hard and unman­age­able when it was time for me to get it retouched? I mean it was real­ly hard and my head would hurt comb­ing… Read more »
Lola

It is because it is wavy. I have some wavy hair and it did the same thing. Plus it did and still does not like to be combed. I think the straight hair puts weight on a pat­tern that grows out with­out bound­aries.

Sheshe

Relax­ing your hair can def­i­nite­ly cause a change in hair pat­tern. I haven’t real­ly noticed it in my own hair to be hon­est, but my hair was only relaxed around once or twice a year for may­be four years at the max­i­mum. How­ev­er, two of my cousins had around 4b/4c hair as chil­dren and into their ear­ly teens, but now in their mid-20s have much looser 3c/4a curls.

Louise

This change could be because of hor­mones. Change of hor­mones can alter your curl pat­tern, which is why some preg­nant wom­en and some peo­ple who under­go med­ical ther­a­py (that effects their hor­mone lev­els) see changes.

obby
Could it also be due to the fact that they care for their hair a lot more than they did when they were younger? With all this nat­u­ral hair care infor­ma­tion float­ing around, wom­en are now able to see their hair reach it’s full poten­tial com­pared to how they cared for it back in the day. I know for my hair, it always appeared dry, brit­tle and exces­sive­ly frizzy as a teen. Now it’s a lot more shiny, soft­er, hydrat­ed with less frizz. Espe­cial­ly since I’ve lim­it the use of combs and brush­es. I detan­gle with fin­gers for the most… Read more »
obby

Are you sure it’s not heat dam­age or may­be may­be hor­mones? How is it pos­si­ble for relax­ers to change the shape of one’s fol­li­cle? I know a few wom­en who’s tex­tures changed as they aged and a few oth­ers due to preg­nan­cy?

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