DIY Hair Relaxing: Risks and Alternatives You Should Consider

The allure of sleek, DIY hair straight hair can be strong. Coupled with readily available hair relaxers on the market, the temptation for DIY hair straightening might seem like a convenient solution. However, attempting to relax your hair at home without professional guidance has a multitude of risks. 

This article explores the dangers of DIY hair relaxing and offers alternative, less damaging methods for achieving straighter hair.

The Dangers of DIY Hair Relaxing

The chemical process of hair relaxers, while effective in straightening hair, can be harsh and potentially damaging when done incorrectly. These are some risks associated with DIY hair relaxing:

  • Chemical burns: Relaxers can cause severe burns on the scalp, face, and ears if not applied carefully. A 2022 study published in the International Journal of Trichology found that over 25% of participants who reported experiencing scalp irritation or burning after using relaxers had attempted to apply them at home.
  • Hair breakage: Relaxers tend to weaken your hair, leading to breakage and excessive shedding. A 2023 survey by the American Hair Loss Association revealed that 42% of women who relaxed their hair at home reported experiencing significant hair loss.
  • Allergic reactions: Some consumers may be allergic to the chemicals present in relaxers. This could cause itching, swelling, and blistering.
  • Eye damage: Relaxers can accidentally get into the eyes, causing irritation, burning, and even permanent vision loss.

Lawsuits and Safety Concerns

A detailed look into a hair relaxer lawsuit brings forth the reasons why there is increased scrutiny around the topic. In 2023, a surge of lawsuits emerged in the United States against several major hair relaxer manufacturers. 

These lawsuits allege that the chemicals in relaxers, particularly lye and certain relaxers marketed towards Black consumers, can increase the risk of uterine cancer. While the scientific evidence on this link is still being debated, the lawsuits highlight the growing concerns about the safety of some relaxer formulations.

Alternatives to DIY Hair Relaxing:

If you’re looking for straighter hair without the risks of DIY relaxing, here are some safer and gentler alternatives to consider:

  • Heat Styling:

Using a flat iron or blow dryer with a heat protectant spray can achieve temporary straightening effects. This method requires proper technique to minimize heat damage. Consider using a lower heat setting and avoiding frequent heat styling.

  • Keratin Treatments:

Keratin treatments can be your answer for smooth hair. They coat your hair in protein, leaving it smooth and manageable for months on end. According to TorHoerman Law, hair relaxers and some keratin treatments might contain formaldehyde, a hazardous chemical and potential irritant. Choose formaldehyde-free options for a safer experience.

Many hair-smoothing and straightening products marketed as “formaldehyde-free,” “organic,” or “natural” might be misleading. A New York State Department of Health investigation found formaldehyde present in over 150 supposedly formaldehyde-free hair products. Formaldehyde is used in various industrial products, not just hair treatments.

  • Chemical Straighteners (Salon):

Opting for a professional straightening treatment at a salon allows a trained stylist to choose the appropriate relaxer strength and application technique for your hair type. This minimizes the risk of damage while achieving the desired results.

  • Embrace Your Natural Texture:

The natural hair movement encourages loving and embracing your hair’s natural texture. With proper care and styling techniques, natural hair can be equally beautiful and versatile. There are numerous online resources and stylists specializing in natural hair care to help guide you.

“Gone are the days of perfectly straightened hair dominating the pageant scene”, says Lisa Drouillard, Miss Haiti 2015. While extensions and weaves were once the go-to styles, a new era of natural hair is taking center stage.

Drouillard tells NaturallyCurly magazine that contestants are proudly rocking their curls, coils, and kinks in all their glory. From short and chic cuts to voluminous afros, these queens are redefining beauty standards and proving that embracing individuality and natural textures is key to pageant glamor.

Looking Forward: Research and Regulation

The recent surge in hair relaxer lawsuits and growing concerns about potential health risks highlight the need for further research on the long-term effects of relaxer use.

Scientists are digging deeper into the connection between hair relaxer chemicals and health concerns, including cancer. Additionally, government watchdogs like the FDA are taking a closer look at the ingredients in hair relaxers. This increased scrutiny could lead to stricter regulations for relaxer manufacturers, potentially improving safety standards in the future.


As a hair relaxer user, how do I protect myself?

Research hair relaxer ingredients. Familiarize yourself with the chemicals commonly found in relaxers and their potential side effects. Discuss your hair care goals and any concerns about relaxers with a dermatologist. Opt for relaxers from well-established brands with a commitment to safety and quality. Consider the benefits of seeking professional hair straightening services at a salon for a safer and potentially better outcome.

How long does it typically take for relaxed hair to grow back looking natural?

Relaxed hair doesn’t actually “grow back” naturally. The relaxed part of the hair shaft is permanently altered. However, as new hair grows from the root, the relaxed section will move down the hair shaft and be trimmed or shed over time. Generally, it can take several months to a year or even longer to grow out relaxed hair completely, depending on hair length and how often you trim.

Are there any hair relaxer brands known to be safer than others?

Unfortunately, there is no right answer here. The safety of a hair relaxer depends on several factors, including the specific chemicals used and your individual hair type. While some brands claim to be “formaldehyde-free,” investigations have revealed formaldehyde might still be present under different names, like methylene glycol or formalin. Lye relaxers are often marketed as gentler, but they might still contain other potentially irritating chemicals. 

While the desire for straight hair is understandable, attempting DIY hair relaxing poses significant risks and potential long-term damage to your hair and scalp. Remember, the “safest” relaxer is often the one you avoid altogether. Consider alternative methods like heat styling, keratin treatments, or embracing your natural texture for a healthier approach to hair straightening.

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