Difference between hair straightening treatments

Difference between hair straightening treatments


thoughtful african american womanWhen it comes to wanting your afro hair permanently straightened, it’s a jungle out there! These days, you are no longer restricted to the simple choice of whether to use a lye or no-lye relaxer as so many more options out there. The main options out there are relaxers, texturizers, keratin treatments and the so called natural relaxers. It can be a daunting task to decide what is best for your hair, so in this article we will explore each of the options so that you can set the record straight when it comes to your hair.



Believed to have been discovered in the early 1800s, hair relaxer made with lye became available for sale to the general public in 1917, with no-lye formulations appearing on shop shelves in 1919.

The active ingredient in lye relaxers is sodium hydroxide (also known as lye). This lye, which is very acidic, breaks down the protein bonds in hair strands, causing the hair fiber to open, loosening its curly appearance.


No-lye relaxers work in the same way, but are make with slightly weaker alkaline agents, which require mixing with activating chemical. The majority of no-lye relaxers work much more slowly to break down hair bonds and are considered to be more gentle on the skin of the scalp.

Lye relaxers are generally produced for professional use only therefore the overall price is higher than no-lye relaxers, when you add the stylists fees and overheads. It is possible to buy lye relaxers for self application but in general this is not recommended due to the possibility of scalp injury and hair loss if applied incorrectly. Mizani, Silk Elements, Designer Touch  and Affirm are widely used in salons.

No-lye relaxer home relaxing box kits are widely available to be bought in stores. The price is slightly higher than buying a one application container of lye relaxer, however the kit will usually contain everything you need to apply the relaxer- including gloves, neutralizing shampoo, conditioner, leave-in conditioner and a protective scalp and/or hairline base, such as petroleum jelly. Dark and Lovely, Motions and Organic Root Stimulator are popular choices

Advantages of relaxers is that the results are permanent and hair does not revert to it’s curly texture when water is applied. Hair is easy to detangle and light heat only may be applied if a bone straight appearance is required

Disadvantages are the above mentioned risk of chemical burns and permanent damage to the hair shaft if relaxer is applied incorrectly and hair is not adequately conditioned, moisturized and cared for between relaxers/salon visits. Another disadvantage is that of course hair will grow so roots need to be touched up every 8 to 12 weeks to maintain a uniformly straight look, although some people do like to ‘stretch’ the time between relaxers for much longer than that. It all depends on your individual preference for how you wish to style your hair.




Texturizers (also known as softeners or texture softeners) are a weaker version of relaxers and come in lye and no lye formulations. The big difference is that they do not straighten the hair, only loosen one’s curl texture by breaking down the protein bonds. They tend to be more popular among men and those who wear short styles as they work better on smaller sections of hair.

Texturisers cannot make huge differences in curl pattern. If you have very tightly coiled hair, a texturiser cannot transform it into larger spiralled curls but will instead make your curl hang a bit looser so texturising can tend to make longer, thicker hair look crimped or wavy rather than curly and it may not reduce the thickness of hair like a relaxer would.

Texturisers are best applied by a professional as the timing needs to be precise in order to avoid over straightening curls and chemical damage. Luster’s S-Curl remains a popular choice both for at home box kits and in salons. Botanicals and African Pride texturizers are also big sellers.

The big advantage of texturising over other methods is that curls and texture are preserved, just loosened for ease of styling. Disadvantages, again like relaxing is that the result is permanent and hair will need to be grown out and cut if the look is no longer desired. Roots will also need to be texturized regularly to maintain a uniform look. As recommended with relaxed hair, texturized hair should be well conditioned, moisturised and protected, to restore the moisture lost by chemically altering the hair strands and to keep the hair healthy.

Keratin treatments

Keratin treatments, the most well known of which is the Brazilian Keratin Treatment (BKT) or Brazilian blowout, have boomed in popularity over recent years and this treatments is offered in salons worldwide catering to all races and hair types. This is one straightening treatment that is very popular with non African-American women, who may already have straight hair, as it promises to eliminate frizz, straighten curls and leave hair with a sleek flat ironed appearance for between two to four months.

Keratin treatments work by using a hot flat iron to seal a liquid keratin formula including preservatives into hair strands. Hair must not be washed or manipulated for up to 48 hours and then washed only with sodium and sulfate free shampoos to preserve the treatment for as long as possible.

There has been controversy around keratin treatments because they contain the dangerous chemical formaldehyde which can have a number of adverse health effects depending on the concentration contained in the treatment. Some countries have banned use of keratin treatments due to the amounts of regulated chemicals found in some of them.

This treatment should always be done in a salon and you should undergo a consultation as different keratin formulas are used depending on your hair type and the result you are seeking. If you have very curly hair, a keratin treatment may not straighten your hair completely but instead loosen the curls into smooth waves. The stylist should ensure that the flat iron used to seal the treatment is not too hot, as this can ensue in hair breakage and serious damage. Global Keratin Treatment is recommended for African-American hair by many stylists.

Those with relaxers can have a keratin treatment, however as this will result in a double chemical dose for the hair one should proceed with caution and make sure hair is regularly deep conditioned and aftercare recommendations followed.

Keratin treatments tend to be a lot more expensive than relaxers and texturisers, however an advantage is that the hair should no longer be affected by humidity or light rain. Blowdrying hair with keratin treatment should be much quicker and hair is strengthened by the addition of keratin, which is a protein that occurs naturally in hair strands. Hair will appear sleek and shiny with minimal styling time.

Disadvantages over other straightening methods is the high price, high chemical content and the need for repeat treatments every few months, which can result in eventual long term damage since it is reapplied over the entire hair shaft repeatedly.


Natural relaxers

There are many products out there that promise to relax the hair without use of chemicals, however several of these products have had to be pulled from the shelves and/or banned for making false claims after being found to contain chemicals. The consensus now is that there is no natural product that can completely straighten the hair.

Natural relaxers can loosen the curl pattern and add a lot of moisture or weigh down hair so that it appears straighter and more manageable but they will not straighten fully.

The advice is to read the ingredient list of any product that claims to be a natural relaxer very carefully and not to expect the same result as you would get from a traditional lye or no lye relaxer.

PhytoSpecific is a whole plant extract and essential oil based system that is used to produce straighter chemical free hair but cannot be used if hair is chemically relaxed or texturized. It is fairly expensive and cannot be used with many other brands of haircare products.

Some products such as Janelle Diva Smooth Chemical Free Relaxer home kit can be used along with flat irons to produce a result that can last up to four weeks, however as heat is needed there is the potential for damage to occur.

The advantages of ‘natural relaxers’ is of course avoiding the use of chemicals, which is healthier for the body and scalp but the disadvantage is that one will not get the bone straight look that may be desired and the products may be little more than very deep conditioners.

So there we have it! There are a wealth of ways to straighten the hair with or without chemicals. Do your research well and decide which is best for your lifestyle, wallet and personal style then give it to them straight!