My complicated relationship with hair relaxers


Ever since I was a young child, I’ve always been envious of white hair. I’ve been taught that having thick and unruly hair was a blight on my appearance and that I should do everything I could to tame my tresses to make it as smooth and sleek as possible.

But I, personally, hated all the prodding, the plucking, the hair pulling and the scalp burning that came with getting my hair done.

My mom would take me to high-end salons where I’d endure hours of hell, getting all sorts of treatments (from relaxers and straighteners, to fancy hair mask treatments that cost more money than my self-esteem), all in order to get my hair looking like the beautiful hair brand posters on display in the salon.

I never blamed my mother for taking me to the salon. I get that with her busy schedule, she didn’t really have the time to manage my unruly hair and that her only aim was to get my sister and myself looking neat and presentable. But personally, I hated all the prodding, the plucking, the hair pulling and the scalp burning that came with getting my hair done.

And all this to get my hair primped and preened to look like I have walked out of a Pantene advertisement.

Read more: Societal pressure and my natural hair

Speaking of advertisements, it’s funny how, in predominantly coloured hair salons, the models on those promotional placards were always white. 

Our appearance and hair have been denigrated for so long that the idea of using models of colour in hair salons was not only unheard of back then, but it was also ingrained into our psyche as an aesthetic that we should not aspire to.  

Fast forward a few years and my relationship with hair products like relaxer is still rather complicated. On the one hand, relaxing my hair every three months helps me with the upkeep. It’s easier to wash, comb, roll in and blow dry; and lessens the tangles, knottiness and bushiness.

It also really feels silky smooth to the touch after the fact.

On the other hand, I’ve had so many shitty experiences with relaxers that, most of the time, I really, really just want to give up on everything and shave my head. 

My scalp is extremely sensitive and prone to burning, so in the past I’ve had to deal with my strands breaking off, scabs forming on my scalp and my hair sticking together at the roots, as well as allergic reactions.

Is it worth enduring this process just for my hair to look good?

I’ve also had hair salons damage my hair badly because they ignored my complaints of my scalp being too sensitive. I remember one incident where I was actually crying because I was in pain, and yet the salon insisted on finishing the relaxer (instead of rinsing it off like they were supposed to do).

Needless to say, I never, EVER went back there again.

Read more: 5 things we need to stop believing about natural hair

I’ve gone through so many different brands with the sensitivity level at its gentlest, and have had no luck – at least until very recently.

The latest relaxer that I’ve found I’ve used but twice – and so far, so good – except, because of my experience, I can’t help but wonder if it’s not just a fluke.

Is it worth enduring this process just for my hair to look good? And why can’t I start thinking that my hair looks good – whether or not it’s been relaxed or not?

The one thing I do know is that my complicated relationship with relaxers have translated into me being obsessed with hair care. I know it’s not a bad thing, but this idea that hair care is tied to my self-image is not one that sits altogether well with me.

Still, hair care complications aside, I’m not quite sure whether I’m ready (or willing) to give it up just yet.

Do you relax your hair? What products help you to manage your hair? I’d love to hear from you.


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