Chemical hair treatments most commonly fall into one of three categories: Perming, Straightening, and Coloring. If used in an improper manner, these treatments can cause great damage to the hair shaft and scalp, leading to breakage, hair loss, and even scalp lesions. :-/ And that’s just with one type of treatment! Can you imagine the probable dangers involved with more than one chemical treatment? Double processing is when you treat your hair with two chemical processes. For example, relaxing and coloring your hair.
Relaxers are treatments that chemically straighten hair. They work by using a strong base, such as lye, to break the disulfide bonds that hold together the proteins in the hair shaft. Depending on the concentration of lye, the pH of the relaxer can range anywhere from 10-14. The more basic the formula, the more damaging it can be.
As the relaxer begins to work it’s magic, it lifts the cuticle of the hair. This is why you must be careful with the amount of time you leave the relaxer in your hair. The longer the relaxer is present in your hair, the more layers of the hair it will lift. Obviously, lye relaxers are stronger than no-lye relaxers, and usually require less processing time. Perms, which are used to add more curl to hair work by increasing the number of disulfide bonds in the hair proteins. Careful steps must be taken to to protect the hair and scalp, both before and after the chemicals are applied.
It is recommended that you apply a protein treatment to your hair one to two weeks before any chemical treatment in order to give hair added strength. It is also important to base your scalp prior to the application, unless using a base infused formulation. Following the relaxer or perm, it is important to have a strict regimen to keep your hair healthy. In between relaxers you must develop a method of caring for two textures of hair, the natural new growth and the relaxed ends. Similarly, if you are bold enough to chemically color your relaxed hair, you must incorporate a regimen that cares for:
1. The relaxed ends,
2. The new growth, and
3. The color treated hair
Coloring relaxed or permed hair is extremely dangerous and should be done, if at all with the utmost caution. Hair coloring agents work by penetrating the cortex of the hair and reacts with the cortex, to deposit or remove color. Most hair dyes follows a two-step process. First, to remove the original color and second, to deposit the new one. The general rule of thumb when applying color to relaxed hair, is to wait at least two weeks before applying the color.
Remember, you “color a relaxer, not relax a color.” Application before the two week mark will further enhance the damage to the hair shaft. Breakage will occur! Think of the hair shaft as a “tree” and the chemicals as a “lumberjack”. A lumber jack does not have to saw through the tree for it to tip over. He hacks away at the sides until…TIMBER! Down comes the tree, it’s the same way with your hair. The chemicals eat away at the hair cuticle until the hair reaches it’s literal “breaking point”.
In the two weeks between relaxing and coloring your hair you should do protein/moisture treatments to build your hair back up to it’s optimal strength. In the picture of the lady with double processed hair at the top, you can see breakage and thinning at the crown. This can be caused by poor preparation or poor maintenance after the treatment.
A regimen used to care for relaxed hair must incorporate pre-pooing and lots of deep conditioning*/protein treatments to rejuvenate the hair. Just like any other chemical treatment, you do not want to overlap the already colored hair when doing a touch up. Overlapping can lead to over-processing and cause breakage at the line of demarcation. Currently, most stylist will recommend a semi-permanent color for relaxed hair, as they are less damaging to the to the cuticle and do not contain as many of the harsh chemicals found in permanent hair dyes. There are several alternatives to permanent hair color that you can use to switch up your hair color.
Henna*, for example, is a plant derived hair colorant. Naturally, henna adds a reddish tint to hair, but with the addition of other plant pigments can yield different results. Colors can range from auburn, to orange, to deep burgundy, chestnut brown or deep blue-black.
There are also several benefits to henna other than a lack of chemicals. Henna coats the hair shaft, fillings in frayed spots in the cuticle, which adds a second layer of strength that does not lock out moisture. This also leaves the hair feeling smoother and leaves the hair with a shiny sheen. Though a few draw backs may be that you have to experiment to reach your desired color and the application can be quite messy.
Henna can be purchased from various websites and at your local Indian food market, though be sure to research the brand before you slap it on your hair. I plan to experiment with Henna* in the near future, once I decide what color I want.