We all know that stretching relaxers is something that many long haired relaxed ladies have in common. After the recent look at the regimen that created hip length relaxed hair and it got me wondering what is it was about frequent relaxers that made them so damaging.
It seem unlikely that all the blame lies in overlapping the relaxers. Some people’s hair grows pretty fast so even at 8 week intervals, they may have the required minimum of one inch of hair. Some people are also really careful to avoid overlapping but the issue remains that hair that is relaxed often tends to break often too.
You see it’s not uncommon to see women who decide to transition without a big chop finally grow their to lengths previously unreached while still transitioning. While a good regimen can guarantee longer relaxed hair, that alone does not explain everything.
I will let you in on a secret. The last time I relaxed my hair was in June 2008 just a month or so before I discovered the hair forums. After reading and absorbing all the information that was available at the forums about relaxed hair, I really had no intention of going natural. Having discovered the benefits of stretching however, a reacquaintance with my natural texture albeit temporary was in order. At the time I was relaxing almost monthly but I decided to stretch my relaxer for at least 12 weeks and see what happened.
My hair that was perpetually stuck at neck length after years of ‘trying to grow it out’, suddenly shot up to just about shoulder length, and this was before I even started protective styling!
Of course if you are aware of my story you will know that after the 3 month stretch I decided to transition to natural, my very weak relaxed hair at that point just couldn’t be saved so I crossed over to the other side.
Relaxer Run Off The Real Culprit?
Relaxer run off if you don’t already know is what happens when you are rinsing your hair after a touch up. Even if you are extra careful not to overlap your relaxer, when you are rinsing it off, some of the relaxer will of course come into contact with previously relaxed hair. Depending on how long it takes you to neutralize the relaxer during the shampoo, the exposure to your previously relaxed hair could last minutes with each minute weakening your hair more and more. Yep, I think relaxer run off has a lot to do with why relaxed hair tends to get weaker over time!
Bearing in mind that this is just conjecture at this point and with no studies that show how subsequent relaxers affect hair, we can only give educated guesses through observation. What I observe is that with women who stretch the time between relaxers to 3 months plus, in addition to the benefit afforded by the longer amount of new growth, their hair is also exposed to relaxer far fewer times per year hence it keeps more of it’s strength.
Stretching relaxers at first may seem counterintuitive because of course you are dealing with two textures of hair so you are more likely to experience breakage at the line of demarcation. And to be honest, if you stretch way too long while manipulating your hair a lot, breakage is exactly what you will get. Even so, there is an individual sweet spot somewhere between 12-24 weeks for many relaxed ladies that will ensure increased length over time.
Robin from Grow Afro Hair Long famously relaxed her hair only twice a year and she grew her hair to waist length in just a few years (unfortunately her own hair story is no longer on her website). However, there are countless other examples in hair forums and blogs of ladies that show how stretching can help with length retention in the long term.
Protecting Against Relaxer Run Off
It’s not all doom and gloom. Relaxer run off can be prevented somewhat by the use of oils* or conditioner. The same way that you would add oil or conditioner to a relaxer to slow down it’s action on your hair when you want to texlax or texturize it, coating your previously relaxed hair with plenty of oil, petroleum jelly* (vaseline*) or conditioner before your touch up will slow down the relaxer’s action during the run off.
Bear in mind that the oil doesn’t completely negate the relaxer, it just slows it down, so you still have to be pretty quick when you are rinsing and make sure that you rinse thoroughly. If there is one thing that you should take on board in your relaxed hair journey, it should be to STRETCH YOUR RELAXERS!