By Leah Fletcher
As a child, Elsa Maddox remembers being dropped off at the beauty salon while her mother ran her weekly errands. After arriving home, she noticed that her kinky hair was “bone” straight, but after it got wet she noticed that her hair was a different texture.
“My hair would stick to my head,” said the 43-year-old hair stylist, who recalls when her first relaxer was applied “the tingling scalp” and “the extra expense”.
Like many African-American women and girls, Maddox’s naturally kinky hair was typically the victim of chemical relaxers that provided a smooth, straight appearance, eliminating her own natural locks.
The chemical hair relaxers generally favored by African American women have been around since the early 1900s. They also were not subjected to the same severe health warnings or regulatory intervention, according to Maddox, who operates a mobile hair salon called The Salon Shuttle.
“Many African-American are abandoning chemical relaxers, but are still seeking ways to straighten their hair,” said Maddox. However, the good news is that there are many ways to straighten extra curly hair without the use of chemicals. The results don’t last as long but they are safer.
Hair relaxers were once very commonplace among African American women, who frequently reapplied the cream-like product to their roots every two to eight weeks. The treatment may cost between $50 and $100 per month, and those repeat visits add up.
The revenue garnered from sale of hair relaxer aimed at Black consumers has continually declined for several years. Sales for hair care products for African-American reached $744 million in 2014, representing a 12 percent increase since 2009, according to consumer research group Mintel. Meanwhile, sales of relaxers, which represent about 18 percent of the market value, were worth $131.18 million in 2014, a drop of 34 percent since 2009.
Mintel expects hair relaxer sales numbers to decline to $72 million by 2019. “The inconvenience and expense of frequent hair appointments, as well as concerns about the health impact of hair relaxers, have paired with a resurgence of pride in natural hair to help those numbers fall” opined Maddox.
This trend, according to Maddox, is emerging despite growth in the market value of hair products for African American women, who are leaving behind relaxers and embracing Afros, locs and other natural hairstyles that demand natural products and styling tools and techniques that will maintain their hair’s natural features.
“Before the introduction of relaxers, Black women straightened their hair with a hot comb,” Maddox explained. “Many still choose to straighten their hair by using a hot comb or electric straightening comb or even a flat iron because they believe the chemicals in the permanent relaxers are far too harsh.”
African-American hair has a texture that is unique, explains Maddox. It ranges from straight to extremely curly, and should be treated with patience and delicate care. “Chemical straightening treatments, improper combing, tight styling and lack of sufficient moisture may cause breakage of African-American hair,” she explained, noting that while many women are embracing their natural hair, others still have a desire to straighten their hair for manageability minus the chemicals.
Consider these non-chemical hair straightening options
“Knowing how to properly care for highly textured hairs goes a long way toward keeping it healthy and growing,” said Maddox, who also explained there are many women seeking non-chemical straightening options.
Maddox, who also believes lifestyle, environment, scheduled hair maintenance and costs are factors that influence styling choices, offers the following for straight-hair seekers.
Manipulate a blow dryer. Put a comb attachment on it. Then on freshly washed hair, apply conditioning oil. With your blow dryer on high, comb through sections of your hair until it is straight. Then, style as desired.
Set your hair in rollers. This process works for African American women who enjoy tight curls. Apply setting solution to wet, clean hair. Then roll up individual sections. Keep in mind that the more rollers you use, the curlier your hair will be. Then, sit under a hooded dryer for 15 to 30 minutes. Your hair will be straight and curly after it is completely dry.
Work a hot comb through your locks. Use a hot-comb heating appliance or heat it up on a stove and then wipe it off on a paper towel. Then, section off quarter inch sections of your hair. Apply light conditioning oil to each piece and comb through the hair. Work your way through your entire head until it is completely straight.
Manipulating a curling iron. Use one with a large wand. Let it heat up. Then, section off 1-inch pieces of freshly washed and dried hair. Wind them around the curling iron until they are straight.
Flat iron your hair. Make sure you use an expensive one because they generate more heat. Apply light conditioning oil to your entire head. Part your hair into small pieces. Then flat iron each.
Protecting Your Hair
Protect your newly straightened hair and prolong your style by wrapping your hair up at night with a silk or satin scarf or by sleeping on a silk or satin pillowcase. This keeps your fragile hair from snagging and breaking during sleep.