When it comes to relaxing your hair, some feel the age-old adage applies: “If it burns, it must be working.”

This, of course, is far from the truth and can lead to burns, scarring and hair loss among other things.Wwe sat down with Dr Leticia Kuda Mupawosa to discuss relaxing your child’s hair.

What makes relaxing your hair so dangerous?

Relaxers remove your hair’s natural curl by altering the chemical bonds. Chemical burns occur when the chemicals used to break down the hair structure are allowed to remain on the skin long enough for the skin to start to break down and dissolve. Severe chemical burns are not only painful, but also can result in secondary infections, permanent hair loss, severe scarring and emotional distress. Chemical burns range in severity from first degree to third degree, with the most extreme requiring skin grafts.

How can relaxers affect the development of children?

Reproductive Development Girls reported that children using chemical hair-relaxers and hair perms were 1,4 times more likely to experience early puberty. In one of the studies, African girls as young as seven started showing signs of puberty after using products containing animal placenta found in many detanglers and conditioners. This information, along with the proliferation of chemicals in our hair and beauty products, and the possible impacts of untested, unregulated chemicals on the reproductive health of black women, is alarming. For most girls, the onset of menstruation before the age of 15 is linked to early exposure to relaxers.

READ MORE: Four things to remember when transitioning from relaxed to natural hair

What studies have shown that relaxers are physically harmful and how harmful are they?

While fibroids can be genetic, studies have shown that uterine fibroids are linked to the use of hair relaxers. A recent study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology determined that the use of hair relaxers is linked to uterine fibroids in black women and girls, something that is estimated to affect 80% of black women over their lifetime.

The study, which interviewed more than 23 000 pre-menopausal African women from 1997 -2009, found two-to-three times higher rates of fibroids among black women. Chemical exposure through scalp lesions and burns caused by relaxers are linked with high fibroid tumor rates. The main ingredients found in relaxers, lye (sodium hydroxide) and no lye (calcium hydroxide) are linked to scalp lesions and burns. Women who use lye relaxers have a higher risk of scalp lesions or burns, which increases dermal absorption of chemicals directly into their bodies.

Cancer-causing chemicals in hair and beauty products are of special concern within the black community. Black Women for Wellness found that women of colour, particularly black women, often use cosmetic products that are found to be more toxic, when tested, than the general population. Chemicals found in hair relaxers, hair dyes, and straightening products, such as Brazilian blowouts, have links to carcinogenic materials.


How can one treat one’s hair and scalp after they have been burned?

In the case of blisters and third-degree burns, seek medical attention. Treat mild irritation with aloe gel or soothing lotions. Treat extreme breakage with weekly conditioning treatments. While you cannot reverse breakage that has already occurred, you can prevent new breakage by strengthening and repairing the hair. If you talk to your stylist about the breakage, she will likely offer to perform all corrective treatments free of charge.