Toxic Hairmerica

2 Jun

I just got done watching Sanjay Gupta’s “Toxic America” show on CNN.  Yikes!  This particular segment was a documentary highlighting the possible deadly effects of the emissions and substances of chemical industrial plants on the residents in one U.S. city. 

A "box perm" you can buy in the store, with the professional Mizani relaxer next to it.

All this toxic talk got me thinking about the toxins some of us expose our scalps to, usually every six to eight weeks.  That’s right, chemical relaxers!  Some of us with coarse or kinky hair use relaxers to get our hair straight.  For many of us with that kind of hair, we have been getting our hair pressed or relaxed since we were younger in order to obtain shiny, smooth and sleek strands.

But there are costs to such a beauty ideal.  Let’s go straight the source.  On the outside of a container of professional relaxer (Mizani Butter Blend) I counted at least 25 safety warnings/guidelines for “professional” stylists.  I use the term “professional” loosely, because I’m not quite sure that all professional hair stylists can be trusted.  Anyway, here are a few of the guidelines under the heading “What you should know before relaxing your client’s hair:”

1.  Read and follow directions and warnings completely.  Failure to follow directions or warnings, or other misuse of the product, can cause serious injury to eyes or skin, and can damage hair or result in permanent hair loss.
2.  Keep out of reach of children.
3.  Contains alkali.
4.  Keep relaxer off scalp and other skin areas. Contact with scalp or other skin areas can cause serious skin irritations or burns.
5.   If irritation occurs during relaxing, rinse thoroughly and use Mizani balance hair bath neutralizing and shampoo immediately.  If irritation persists, consult a physician (doctor).
6.  Avoid contact with the eyes.  Can cause blindness.

Permanent hair loss?  Blindness?  Really?  Now that’s toxic America for ya! 

So why do we do it?  Us kinky-headed folk say relaxers make our hair more manageable.  Neal Lester, English professor at Arizona State University, says it is the advertisements that tout relaxers as making kinky, hard-to-comb hair more manageable.  Clearly, these advertisers have sold many of us.  

Lester says he has observed his daughter who said she likes straight hair for its manageability.  However, when his daughter relaxed her hair regularly, it was not in good shape.

“When you straightened your hair, it was falling out,” Lester said as if he was speaking to his daughter.  “It was getting weak.  So you tell me what’s more manageable.”

Still, I think it’s not just about manageability, rather beauty, desirability and conformity.

How many of you women perceive kinky hair as a negative thing?  I must say, I am one of them.  Lester, who has researched the effects of racial beauty ideals and their effects on little girls, says that the terminology we use is all wrong.  Lester says we use phrases like “getting our hair done” or “getting our hair fixed” which suggests something is wrong with our hair in its natural state.  

Not exactly my hair's natural texture. No, not at all.

I know that I have grown up thinking there is something bad about my hair when it is “nappy” or natural.  And that’s something I am trying to break myself of.  Still, others around me have influenced me into believing I’d better beware if my hair “goes natural” too long without a chemical retouch.  People have suggested to me that my head looks bad and is not desirable if it is not straight right down to the root.  That’s kind of deep.  However true these subjective assessments are, one thing is for certain: chemical relaxers are dangerous, and I believe they have proved detrimental to the health of my hair.  And that’s a problem.  Who should be held accountable?  I’ve got a few ideas.In the  meantime, if your hair professional is about to relax your hair with a Mizani relaxer, or probably any relaxer for that matter, make sure you and they are following the guidelines you may or may not be aware of:

Safety warnings
When you should not relax your client’s hair
1.  If your client has an irritated or damaged scalp.
2.  If hair is fragile or damaged – for example, due to frequent coloring or other chemical processes – or has been bleached or highlighted, processed with a thio (perm) product, or treated with henna or metallic salts, hair breakage and/or hair loss could occur.
3.  If your client has applied permanent or semi-permanent hair color in the 14 days (2 weeks) before relaxing.
4.  If hot combs or other heat appliances have been used on your client’s hair before the relaxer process.
5.  If hair has been wet or shampooed in the 3 days prior to relaxing.
6.  If hair has been braided or extensions have been put in during the 14 days (2 weeks) before relaxing.
7.  If braids or extensions have just been removed, deep condition and wait 14 days (2 weeks) before relaxing.
8.  If scalp has been scratched with a comb, brush or fingernails in the 3 days prior to relaxing.
9.  If your client has used an anti-dandruff product in the 14 days (2 weeks) prior to relaxing hair.
10.  Not for use on children.

How many of you or your hair care professionals have followed these guidelines when relaxing your hair? I know I haven’t!  Who can go three days without scratching at all???  Why do we go through this painful process numerous times throughout the year when it is not always healthy for our hair?

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5 Responses to “Toxic Hairmerica”

  1. Theresa June 3, 2010 at 1:17 am #

    I have to agree with professor Lester about how we have a negative attitude or outlook on natural hair. I think using relaxers is taking the easy way out for most, because I know people who are natural and they often times do have to work alot harder to maintain there hair. I use relaxers and I know they have great temporary results but I also believe they are doing long term damage. My grandmother used to press my hair when i was younger and it was long and thick. After I got my first relaxer my hair fell out and was very damaged and has never been the same. I do see more and more ladies going natural these days which I think is a good thing! Btw, great subject Brittney!!!

    • Brittney Henton September 11, 2010 at 6:17 pm #

      I totally feel you. I used to get my hair pressed and I seem to remember it being thicker and longer. I’m thinking of going back, but it’s going to take some patience for that new growth to grow out, I know!

  2. Vonda R Foreman June 3, 2010 at 2:15 pm #

    Wow…you are really digging into this permed hair issue! Your hair looks healthy to me though. I hope you find a solution for this, so you can pass it along to me! I am very interested in your findings. Keep on digging, I know you will get the solution you are looking for. Good job, very interesting.

    Thank you for sharing and the illustrations.

  3. Leona June 30, 2010 at 10:25 pm #

    It seems to me that since Chris Rock started talking about this its been a big issue for women of color. My thing is if you want to not have a relaxer make sure your hair is healthy. Natural hair doesnt mean unkept. I have many friends that have natural hair and they keep it looking healthy. The thing is when you go from relaxed hair to natural hair you have to have some sort of plan. You cant just not do anything to it. Black womens hair is exremely fragile. My thing is keep your ends neat, keep your hair with enough moisture so there is no breakage, minimal heat (alot of times thats where the breakage comes from) comb and groom your hair on a regular basis. This is if your hair is natural or relaxed.

    Now as far as relaxers, yes there are warnings when applying them…you have to know what you are doing. There are many women that have had relaxers for years and had no problems then there are some that has only had one and it has caused breakage. This could be due to many factors.

    Yes, relaxing is an easy way to keep your hair managable, but not everyone has the same texture hair.
    Natural hair can also be beautiful. You have to have a plan for it, whether its braids, afro, blow dry, press, but by no means have your hair all over your head.

    Brittany, I hope you find a solution for your hair issue.
    Women love for their hair to look nice. If its not how you want it to look your whole appearance suffers, which affects your self confidence.

    • Brittney Henton September 11, 2010 at 6:15 pm #

      Thanks for your encouragement. I’m a little disatisfied with how relaxers have treated my hair, so I’m trying to figure out something else. It’s kind of difficult, though, to keep my hair looking how I’d like. I’m trying to learn how to do it myself, which is a challenge! I’ll figure it out though!

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