What's the real deal behind relaxer sales dropping almost 20% in SA?

More woman are going natural to protect their hair.
More woman are going natural to protect their hair.

In October it was confirmed that relaxer and hair chemical sales have dropped 20% in South Africa, where Clicks also identified that this trend was happening across their other stores in southern Africa as well. 

READ MORE: Relaxer sales have dropped almost 20% in SA as women choose natural hair

This news was celebrated by many in the country as a natural hair movement milestone - one that meant black women are finally reclaiming their identity. However, as a black woman who has not relaxed her hair since May this year (and prior to that, November 2017), I don't think the natural hair victory/wig revolution is as political as it's painted out to be. 

READ MORE: ICYMI: Trust me, black women don't wear weaves because they aspire to be white

I think for most of us, it's just a practical solution for keeping our hair healthy and preventing it from damage. 

Relaxers are anything but relaxing

It's no secret that chemical relaxers are extremely harmful to your hair and scalp. It makes one wonder why this chemical concoction was dubbed a "relaxer" when it has quite the opposite effect on our hair.

Anyone who has relaxed their hair is familiar with that unbearable stinging/burning sensation that will have you rushing to the wash basin with or without your hairdresser to extinguish the fire on your scalp. 

There have even been extreme cases where some women have experienced third-degree burns as a result of hair relaxers. In a first-person account story I read on Fashionista.Com, the writer explains how she started playing around with natural hairstyles after she got third-degree burns down the back of her neck from a relaxer. 

As if chemicals eating away at your roots and your scalp isn't enough of a scary thought, exposing our hair to heat damage through the process of blowdrying to keep things looking sharp also means that finally going natural is the road to recovery a lot of us have had to take. 

READ MORE: My complicated relationship with hair relaxers

That' primarily why I stopped relaxing my hair; my hair was starting to get brittle and thin and the two occasions when I did relax my hair was because I missed how long (albeit thin) my hair is. 

This is what two women I spoke to shared about their reasons for going relaxer-free:

I used to relax my hair because I didn’t think I could do anything else with it. But I actually hated how flat it would be after relaxing, I love my hair when it has growth and volume, and I just like that it has no unnecessary straightening chemicals in it. So in high school I stopped relaxing it and opted for a fro, and then later dreadlocks. I haven’t looked back since.
I’ve always had my hair relaxed for as long I can remember, until I decided to cut it off later in life. During grade 10 or grade 11 I developed a huge desire to have an afro, I even tried transitioning my hair in grade 11 but went back to relaxing because I was scared to have short hair then. Because I preferred big hair, I started to relax my hair two or three times a year to achieve the look. This was not only about preference but relaxers always burned and scarred me more than they did my sisters and my friends. No relaxer was gentle enough so relaxing less helped with that too. In varsity, at the end of my third year I decided to cut my hair and start growing an afro. I probably had two to three months’ worth of non-relaxed hair, which I grew my afro from. Now I enjoy having an afro, whether it’s long or short. I’m not completely against straightening my hair again but it will definitely not be with chemicals and it will definitely not be through a permanent method.

Wigs have got us (re)covered

When we did away with all the damaging chemicals, we started seeking convenient hairstyles that would help our tresses recover, while also protecting them. And better yet, enhance growth. 

Enter protective hairstyles. With the right hair care routine, braids, dreadlocks, cornrows, bantu knots and wigs have saved many a hairline. 

Africa's hair industry is a multi-million dollar one, and it's set to grow even bigger, as wigs continue to dominate. A hair report published on W24 last year revealed that "there are more than 100 brands of hair in South Africa, the bulk of which is the synthetic kind from Asia. There’s also a growing demand for more natural human hair, sourced largely from India, Peru and Brazil," in other words, wigs. 

READ MORE: By numbers: how big is the hair industry?

Wigs perform a dual function worthy of an award. They transform and enhance your already beautiful face at your will, while also retaining heat that stimulates hair follicles. It's no wonder everyone's wig collection is expanding.

Increased accessibility to options

Previously, I think many women were not exposed to all the options out there, and perhaps representation of black women in mainstream media had a heavy hand in this. 

Black beauty was represented through this lens that portrayed it as a light-skinned, straight hair monolith. It's not until celebrities like Lupita Nyong'o and Solange hit mainstream media in a big way that dark skin and natural hairstyles respectively garnered mass appeal. Yes, Solange is light-skinned, but she was one of the first few celebrities of this era to embrace the natural movement.

Furthermore, social media has made obtaining wigs and braiding services more accessible than before, as people punt their hair businesses on these platforms, where you may also order your bundles. This means that even people in remote areas or smaller towns/cities have access, making the decision to ditch chemical treatments as easy as combing through relaxed hair. 

Sign up to W24's newsletters so you don't miss out on any of out hot stories and giveaways. 

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24