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How do I Apply Hair Relaxer?

By A. Carter
Updated Feb 16, 2024
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A hair relaxer straightens curly or coarse hair using alkali or other chemicals. The first time you apply hair relaxer, it is advisable to visit a salon and have it done by a professional who can test the hair’s reaction to the treatment. At-home relaxers can be done using do-it-yourself kits that are sold in pharmacies and discount stores.

The kits come with most of the items you will need: directions, relaxer base cream, activator liquid, neutralizing shampoo, conditioner that is left in the hair, a packet of gel used to protect the skin along the hairline and the ears and plastic gloves. You also will need a wall mirror, cotton balls to stuff the ears, a wide-tooth comb and a smock to cover your neck and clothing. Kits come in dozens of brands and varying strengths, such as mild (the weakest), regular or super (the strongest). Before you apply hair relaxer, talk with your hairdresser to determine one product most compatible for your needs and experience.

If possible, apply hair relaxer with some help to ensure that you do so evenly and in a manner that protects your skin and scalp from a chemical burn. Once all of the items you need are assembled, cover your ears and hairline from the base of the neck to the forehead with the gel. You can use petroleum jelly if the pack from the kit runs out. Plug your ears with cotton and drape the smock over your torso.

Once the plastic gloves are on, pour the activator into the plastic jar containing the relaxer cream and stir until the mixture is smooth. Using the mirror and wide-tooth comb, divide your hair into four sections, sized as equally as possible. Starting with the back sections, apply the cream to the new-growth hair at the root of each shaft only if you’ve had a previous relaxer. But if you are applying your very first relaxer treatment at home, then cover the entire shaft.

Cover your entire head with the cream as quickly as possible to prevent scalp irritation. Once the cream is in, use your comb to smooth out the sections but be careful not to stress your hair by pulling or stretching it. Each manufacturer’s kit tells you how long to leave the mixture in your hair.

Once that time has elapsed, rinse all of the cream out with warm water. But if you start to feel a burning sensation, then rinse the cream out immediately. When all of the cream is rinsed out, work the neutralizing shampoo into a lather to wash your hair. Rinse well and use your fingers to apply the leave-in conditioner. Now it’s time to towel dry or blow-dry your hair and have some fun experimenting with hairstyles.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cautions the public that relaxers can burn your scalp if used the wrong way. Relaxers without lye tend to be less bothersome for the skin, but still must be used safely. Follow-up applications are generally six to eight weeks apart for new growth, but it depends on the texture of your hair and how fast it grows. Remember, don’t be shy about consulting a hairdresser for advice. For more information from the FDA you can visit their website.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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Discussion Comments
By surflover00 — On Aug 19, 2010

travel28- Yes, it is typically safe to use hair relaxers on children. However, you will not want to apply hair relaxers on children younger than 12. The texture of their hair is constantly changing and you risk damaging it by applying highly potent products such as hair relaxers.

Make sure that you do not apply the hair relaxer yourself. Attend your local salon and have a professional do it.

Also, even though hair relaxers are typically safe for children over 12 years of age, it would be a good idea to consult your child's doctor before using one. Some children can develop allergic reactions to some of the products in hair relaxers.

By travel28 — On Aug 19, 2010

Is it safe to use hair relaxers on children?

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