Caring for Your Relaxed Hair, For Those Of Us Who Aren't Ready to Embrace Our Natural Textures

I deeply respect the natural hair community. I also respect that for some, the choice to stay in the processed camp for the time being has been made.
Publish date:
October 15, 2012
shoppables, hair, relaxers

Before I start writing these tips, I would like to acknowledge that there is a lot of sensitivity about relaxers vs. natural hair right now. As someone who has tried both styles, I want to say that while many have made the choice to embrace their gorgeous, natural curls, some of us have decided to continue to chemically alter our hair. It’s my belief that there needs to be knowledge sharing about both options. I deeply respect the natural hair community. I also respect that for some, the choice to stay in the processed camp for the time being has been made.

NOW, let’s be real: These processes can cause a SHITLOAD of damage, breakage and chemical haircuts if we’re not super freaking careful. As someone who went back to relaxed hair after almost a year of natural growth, I think I might have finally figured out how not to melt my hair on a monthly basis. Shall we discuss? Yes, let’s:

Only wash your hair once aweek.

Girl, I know this is a rough one, but please, PLEASE try to comply. Excessive washing only leads to –- what? -– excessive heat styling and that is a drying nightmare mess. Once a week should get it, twice if you are SUPER FUNKY. Don’t let trips to the gym be a deterrent. Just pull that hair back and keep it rollin’.

Use sulfate-free shampoos and conditioners.

When you do wash your hair, I strongly suggest leaving sulfates out of the equation entirely. We’re already putting enough chemicals on our hair without starting the vicious dryness cycle that happens when we use products with sulfates. Sulfate-free shampoos protect the cortex of the hair and are amazing when caring for relaxed, chemically treated hair. This link is a GIANT list of sulfate-free shampoos that are available at Ulta, here’s one for Sephora and here’s another one from Currently in rotation in my shower right now is Carol’s Daughter Tui Moisturizing Sulfate-Free Shampoo ($13.) It is LIFE CHANGING.

Only deep condition every couple of weeks and don’t exceed processing time.

OK, so remember the days when you would slather your hair with deep conditioner and leave it on for the whole day? Yeah, cut that shit out -- this is a situation where more is NOT better. Deep conditioners actually start to break down the protein of your hair, making it even more dry and damaged. Watch the clock.

Gloss treatments are a great color solution.

Let me tell you about my desire to be Mary J. Blige blonde. Now, let me place in your mind the number of times I’ve tried this to result in a pixie-length haircut and JACKED UP results. I am not supposed to have hair that short -- I look like a jack o’ lantern. I am also not supposed to be blonde. Hence, I embrace gloss treatments, a kinder, gentler approach to hair color. You gotta do you, boo, but I would ask your colorist about these treatments. Rich hues with no split ends in the sink? I’m signed up for life.

Pure oils and nut butters are miracle workers.

Pure coconut, almond, and even olive oils are pure miracle workers for our dry, Sahara-like parched strands. A quarter-sized dollop in the morning run through my hair and then styled has turned my hair AROUND. Plus, you can head to your kitchen for it. Look hot during the day, whip up a meal at night? Works for me.

Don’t use too much heat.

As I stated with the washing your hair once a week thing, please use that rule for heat styling. I KNOW when you wake up things may not be in their right place, but step away from the flat and curling irons. The more you fry your hair, the more damage occurs that can’t be undone. Blow your hair out once a week, then wrap set it and try to back up off the heat.

Take good care of your scalp.

The damage that relaxers do to the scalp is pretty wicked, so if you’re going to keep processing it, you have to pay particular attention to the health and maintenance of your scalp. I strongly suggest using the Carol’s Daughter Olive Oil Infusion At-Home Treatment ($25) and following the instructions to the letter to help soften and hydrate your hair. You HAVE to maintain a healthy scalp, no matter what kind of hair you have. This kit? I cannot extol its virtues more highly. It is beauty crack that is not whack and you will be happy to go back.

Dry your hair with an old T-shirt and with warm, not hot, air.

I’m learning to be more gentle with my hair. I throw my head through the neck hole, twist it up and leave it until it’s about 75 percent dry, then blow it out on the WARM setting. It might take a little longer, but it causes less damage. Between these two processes, I’ve been rewarded with considerably less damage.

Don’t overlap or over process.

The first rule about processing your hair is to wait until you have enough growth to keep processing. My impatience has led to disastrous results. If you have to wait eight weeks, you have to wait eight weeks. It’s like trying calling your significant other while you’re on a break: too much too soon can cause shit to fall apart prematurely.

But I know you’ll want to chat about these and other hair issues, so let’s split some hairs over the issue. Have you tried other products that have worked? Do you have other solutions that help save relaxed and/or color-treated hair? Let’s chat in the comments section.