A few weeks ago, it became evident that I’m not the only natural who’s ever felt the creamy crack calling out to them in the midst of failed attempts at learning how to take care of their afro-textured hair.
It was a few emails in, after going back and forth between questions about hair management and products to try, that one of my subscribers asked me one of the best (and most transparent) questions I’ve ever received;
The woman was struggling, and to be it’s a struggle I’ve had personal experience with. I felt that it was important for me to give her more than a short answer.
The truth is any harsh chemical has the potential to be no good and even terrible for any hair type. I’ve gathered some information on the use of the most popular relaxing treatments for women who prefer a style that isn’t bone straight; texturizers and keratin hair treatments. Both treatments employ caustic chemicals, so the question isn’t which is better for your hair, but which is worse.
Now, don’t read me wrong here; I am not judging anyone who decides to go down either path, in fact I tread that road myself last year when I tried a keratin treatment for the first (and last) time. It’s important to know the facts, and that’s what I’ll be sharing with you in this post!
Why use a texturizer or keratin treatment?
Texturizers and keratin treatments have been created to loosen tightly curly and kinky hair. Some ladies find their hair to be ‘more manageable’ with a looser texture for various reasons including less opportunity for hair to tangle, less time spent styling hair, etc. These products provide permanent (texturizer) to semi-permanent (keratin treatment) results and should generally not be applied to previously processed hair.
How does each treatment work?
Texturizers employ the use of a chemical with a high pH in a cream base. A few of the chemicals used to create texturizers are sodium hydroxide (also know as ‘lye’) and guanidine hydroxide (no lye). Texturizers are applied to the hair and then rinsed out thoroughly with a neutralizing product.
Guanidine hydroxide texturizers usually have two components; a cream that contains calcium hydroxide and a liquid made of guanidine carbonate. They are mixed together to create guanidine hydroxide. This is the texturizer of choice for sensitive scalps. But while it is mild on the scalp, it is harsher on the hair because it is more drying and swells the hair more than sodium hydroxide based texturizers.
Keratin treatments contain silicone polymers and formaldehyde. When combined with the heat from a hair dryer and hot flat iron, the polymers coat the hair shaft to relax the hair. The formaldehyde helps hair’s keratin to link with the product’s keratin forming a bond that keeps hair straighter for a time.
What are the side effects of each product?
The chemicals in texturizers can burn exposed skin if left on too long. Many of the chemicals are used in hair depilatory (hair removal) creams and in solutions that help clear out clogged drains. Those with damaged and fine hair types may find that their hair immediately begins to break. This is because the hair’s bonds have been compromised and the strands are thus less elastic and more prone to dryness.
You’ve probably also heard that many of the chemicals in texturizers have been linked to fibroids. According to studies done at Boston University’s Slone Epidimiology Center, black women with an increased exposure to chemicals though scalp lesions and burns (from chemical hair treatments) experienced increased fibroid growth.
One thing to note is that no-lye relaxers don’t contain less chemicals than lye relaxers. No-lye will straighten hair better than lye relaxers, but have the tendency to cause more dryness through repeated application.
With Keratin treatments, there are two things to consider- (1) the very high heat needed to provide the most effective loosening and (2) the formaldehyde and other aldehyde derivates they contain. I did a keratin treatment using 350°-400°F heat last year, and while my hair felt very nice afterwards, similar to when I do a henna treatment, I didn’t experience any noticeable amount of curl loosening because I opted not to use the recommended amount of heat (450°F) for the best straightening effect. That being said, I imagine that many people can have negative reactions such as hair breakage just from the high heat needed to activate the chemical reaction.
The formaldehyde in the keratin formula is released via heat and as the coating on the hair breaks down over time. The problem with unnatural levels of formaldehyde is that the effect on the body hasn’t been sufficiently tested. There have been lots of stories of ladies losing their hair from the roots months after treatment and it’s just not clear whether this could be a cause of the extreme heat or the release of formaldehyde as the rate of chemical reaction doubles with every 18°F/ 10°C increase in heat.
There are keratin treatments that are said to be formaldehyde free, though many do contain aldehydes which are in the same family as formaldehyde and act like a less potent formaldehyde.
So, are texturizers good for natural hair?
Here’s the thing, most of these curl loosening treatments aren’t the best for us health wise and will degrade the hair in one way or another. The alternative might be to heat train your locks to eliminate any chemical exposure, but you risk compromising your hair’s structure permanently through heat damage and increasing dryness in already dryness-prone hair. There are lots of things we do that aren’t 100% healthy, but we do them because we believe the benefits outweigh the risks. It’s all about weighing the pros and the cons and being very well informed before you make a choice and then keep yourself informed even after you’ve already made your choice. At the end of the day, you have to make the best decision for you and your hair.
Where I got my info from:
Halal, John, Hair Structure and Chemistry Simplified Fifth Edition; 2009 Milady, Cebgrage Learning.
Ladies, would you consider a keratin treatment or texturizer?