In April 2010, I had my last chemical hair relaxer. "I have had it," I thought as I decided to go natural once and for all, and I made the firm decision that I would never use a relaxer again in my life.
May 2010 was a new beginning for my hair.
At the time, my hair was not healthy—though when you saw it you would think it was. The chemical relaxers seemed to be getting stronger and weaker at the same time; they burned my skin easier and quicker, but they did not last longer than two weeks.
I see it more now than ever before: African Americans are embracing their natural "roots." They are not ashamed of wearing their hair in kinky-twists or in Afros, and they are staying away from chemical hair colorants. I never thought I would see as many African Americans with natural hair living in Mississippi. I was born and raised in the South, and for some reason, we believed in climbing onto the beauty bandwagon of straightening our hair—an unnatural process, especially among African Americans.
I could be wrong, but I always assume that the people here who have natural hair come from other states. They are in Mississippi for college or some other reason. They come from places where having natural hair is more acceptable.
Going natural has health benefits. I am not frying my brain with chemical hair treatments (shampoos, conditioners and hair dyes included) that may be linked to cancer. I don't have to spend thousands of dollars each year to look like someone else. I can care for my hair naturally, on a low budget and in the comfort of my home.
Since I started using more natural products, I have noticed that my skin is clearer. I have never had a problem with acne, but lately I have noticed almost flawless skin. I have headaches less often. And my hair does not shed all over the bathroom floor, because it is no longer dry and brittle from too many chemicals.
If you are considering transforming from chemically treated to all-natural hair, read on for help in making a more informed decision. I made the transition to better health starting with my hair, and I urge others to do the same—not just to embrace your natural beauty, but also to limit the harmful substances your body comes into contact with—for your overall good health.
What's In That Relaxer?
Relaxers contain the most potent alkali chemicals you can use on your hair, such as sodium hydroxide, guanidine hydroxide and ammonium thioglycolate.
- Sodium hydroxide is used in household products like Drano to dissolve hair in drains.
- Guanidine hydroxide is a mixture of calcium hydroxide (used in chemical depilatories, among other uses) and guanidine carbonate (marketed as a "no-lye" product and safer for hair).
- "Ammonium thioglycolate, known as the thio relaxer, is less dramatic than sodium hydroxide, and, in some cases, than guanidine hydroxide, but it also breaks down the bonds in hair," authors of the website http://www.lesstoxicguide.ca say.
- Relaxers raise the pH of your hair so that the other ingredients of the treatment can further alter its structure.
- The active ingredients in the majority of relaxers have a pH of approximately 13 (a neutral pH is 7; 0 is very acidic; and 14 is extremely alkaline) Drano—which dissolves hair and soap scum in your drains—has a pH of 13. Relaxers and Drano work the same way.
- The purpose of relaxers is to destroy peptide bonds. Those bonds give your hair strength. When the bonds are destroyed, the hair straightens because its strength is now gone
- Relaxers also deplete hair of essential fatty acids, which can result in thinning, breakage, discoloration, dryness and brittleness.
SOURCE: Devon Austin, on http://www.angelfire.com/journal12/mysisterslocks.
If you are already natural or you're thinking about making the transition, begin by using natural hair-care products likes shampoos and conditioners, oils, moisturizers and dyes. Beware of products claiming to be "all natural." I cannot stress it enough: Read the label. Here are a few of my favorite products and places to shop:
- Jamaican Mango and Lime Shea Butter Conditioning Shine, $4.99 (Goldstar Beauty Supply, 2544 Robinson St., 601-353-7029)
- RA 100% Natural African Shea Butter, $5.49 (Hair Plus Beauty Supply, 202 Clinton Blvd., Clinton, 601-924-2992). I buy this product to mix with other natural oils to give my hair nourishment and shine.
- Karishma Herbal Henna, $1.99 (Patel Brothers, 1999 Highway 80 W., 601-353-6611).
If you are serious about going natural and want to start shopping for natural hair-care products, food, and vitamin and mineral supplements, try Rainbow Natural Grocery Cooperative (2807 Old Canton Road, 601-366-1602) or The Sesame Seed (505-D Springridge Road, Clinton, 601-924-1012).
Not Just 'On Your Head'
Hair products do more than just sit on the surface of your hair and skin. Here's a sampling of some of the problems they can cause:
- "Women who used products advertised as having animal placenta were shown to have a higher rate of breast cancer. ... Animal placenta is a common ingredient in many shampoos and conditioners and is marketed as a being a benefit when used on the hair," Dr. Rosenberg of Boston University says on http://www.thefendersonline.com.
- Your diet is a factor in hair health; what you eat (or don't eat) makes a difference. "Your hair needs protein and iron to stay healthy ... along with omega-3 fatty acids, zinc and vitamin A, but not too much—which can promote hair loss. ... Very low-cal diets are often lacking in sufficient nutrients and can stunt hair growth or leave hair dull and limp," according to http://www.webmd.com.
- "Long-term use of hair dye promotes lymphatic cancer, says new research from Yale University. ... The finding isn't surprising: The toxic ingredients used in hair dyes have long been known to be highly carcinogenic. ... It's yet another example of the health dangers of personal-care products like deodorant, perfume, shampoo and soap, all of which contain toxic ingredients that are inevitably absorbed through the skin and enter the bloodstream," Mike Adam says on http://www.naturalnews.com.
- Keratin hair treatment, also referred to as a "Brazilian blowout," is linked to formaldehyde, a chemical that is also used in building materials, glues, permanent-press fabrics and as a preservative in mortuaries. "In small doses, formaldehyde is approved for use, and is found in several everyday products, including makeup. The FDA says prolonged exposure can cause burning eyes, breathing difficulties and even cancer," Michael George says on abcactionnews.com. Keratin treatments are commonly used by Caucasians and other non-African American ethnic groups to reduce frizz and straighten hair for several weeks.
The moral of this story is to stay away from products that contain even the smallest amount of harmful substances, and watch what you eat as well.