Can Relaxers Permanently Change Your Natural Hair Texture?

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

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.

20 thoughts on “Can Relaxers Permanently Change Your Natural Hair Texture?

  1. 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.

    • 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?

    • 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 part and this has greatly changed the appearance of my strands by minimizing a lot of unnecessary frizz and breakage. There are so many factors why someone’s hair can appear to be different.

    • 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.

  2. 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 it no matter how much product I’d put in it. Was it the fact that my hair was chemical dependent? Once the retouch was done there was no problem. I have not had that problem since going natural. I’d appreciate it if you could provide some feedback on that. Thank you.

    • 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.

  3. 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.

      • 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.

  4. 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 get attacked by irrational people)nowhere in my post am I implying 4a type is “better” than 4c. I’m just politely saying the latter is what I thought I had.

    • 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 (my sister) knows the proper way to care for her hair. Let’s hope that this return to the original knowledge will continue through future generations…

      Also, on the topic of what relaxers *can’t* do, can someone write a post telling people that relaxers can’t be washed out? I don’t know if this has become common knowledge but back in the day folks were claiming you could wash out a relaxer with Tide, vinegar, etc. I had to tell this one girl that just because the Tide made her hair frizzy did not mean she was now natural…

  5. 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

  6. 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 to do a braid- or twist-out. When I was transitioning, I thought “is that because of all my relaxer years?” But I figured that couldn’t be the cause, and decided those strands just grow that way on their own for some other reason.

    The longer my hair gets, the looser my curl pattern gets on the top of my head. But that’s to be expected.

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

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

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