Several years ago, my friend Sandy Fields made a conscious decision to, “stop living the lye.”
Sandy, who lives in Detroit, made the transition from using chemical relaxers and has been basking in the beauty of her nappiness ever since.
For a school assignment, Sandy was asked to write a persuasive speech. She chose to write about why she feels the use of chemical relaxers is bad, particularly for African-American women with kinky textured, tightly curled hair.
The pros and cons of chemical relaxing is a touchy subject, especially in African-American circles where the ‘good-hair/bad hair’ myth unfortunately still exists. That’s why I salute Sandy for taking on such a sensitive topic and doing a good job of backing up her position. Sandy’s speech is not dogmatic or highly emotional. It is informative and based on pretty good research.
As a journalist, I’m big on stuff like that.
Since I’m often asked for information about the effects of chemical relaxers and its use on the hair of African Americans, I asked Sandy’s permission to run excerpts of her speech:
So many women today suffer from all types of hair loss. Alopecia, age, heredity, and stress are some of the most common causes. The cause that is found in almost epidemic proportions in black women, however, is chemical damage from relaxers or chemical hair straighteners.
Most of us have no idea what these relaxers really do to our hair—how they actually go about the process of straightening.
There are two types of relaxers. They are sodium hydroxide (lye based) and guanidine hydroxide (no lye). Although the no-lye products are thought to be less damaging, both types are harmful to the hair because in order to straighten it, they must first strip it of its natural moisture, and then break down the structure of the hair.
Let me briefly explain. The hair has two bonds—a physical bond and a chemical bond—referred to as the S and H bonds. These bonds create the S-shaped kink or curl in African-American hair. Chemically processing the hair changes the molecular structure by breaking down these bonds, thereby damaging the hair. Once the bonds are broken, the hair loses its natural shape and elasticity and can then be manually formed into straight hair.
The changed S-shape bond can never be returned to its original healthy form.
It has undergone a permanent change caused by chemical damage.
Sodium hydroxide and guanidine hydroxide both have a very high pH factor, meaning they are highly alkaline products. When applied to the hair, they immediately strip it of all moisture, because any retention of moisture would reduce the effectiveness of the straightener.
This is why a deep-conditioning treatment is always applied to the hair after the chemical process. These treatments are designed to drive moisture back into the hair shaft and to coat the hair strand to make it look shiny and appear healthy, or in other words, to camouflage the damage.
But no hair that has undergone a chemical relaxer is healthy. It has been purposely and permanently damaged by the chemicals, and hair can’t be damaged and healthy at the same time.”
Would anyone put this chemical on their face, or on their arm, and leave it there for 10 or 15 minutes? Then why put it on your head? That’s the message from Sandy Field, a natural-hair proponent from Detroit. In my April column, I ran an excerpt from a speech written by Field, who was asked to write a persuasive speech for a school assignment. She chose to write about the harmful effects of chemical relaxers, which are widely used by African-American women.
Chemicals are absorbed through the skin into the tissue, cells, and blood stream. We rub creams and lotions on our skin, knowing that it will absorb them and be moisturized by them. The medical industry administers drugs through skin absorption, such as patches for smoking, sea sickness, and birth control.
The instructions on boxes of chemical relaxers often say to wear gloves. That is because it contains chemicals that are caustic.
These chemicals are applied directly to the hair and scalp and left there for a period of time.
Sodium Hydroxide has been the main ingredient in many chemical relaxers. The FDA (federal Food and Drug Administration) banned the manufacturing of household liquid drain cleaners that have a higher than 10 percent solution of Sodium Hydroxide. The chemical has been known to corrode drain pipes.
There have been many cases where relaxers with sodium hydroxide has dissolved the hair when it was left on for long periods of time. Leaving it in for more than ten minutes can cause damage. Women have experienced burns and scabs from these toxic chemicals. But much like having an addiction, they continue to go back every few weeks for their regular dose of this “creamy crack.”
In order to stop these damaging practices, we must first learn to love ourselves as we are. Why should we continue the practice of chemically damaging our hair so that we can wear it in styles created for other hair textures when African-American hair can be styled beautifully just as it is?
It’s not hard to work with, and there are lots of varieties of styles to choose from. There are locks, twists, coils, and afros. There are dressy “up-do’s,” and the “free-styles.”
Our hair is not unmanageable. My aunt once told me that our hair is easy to manage as long as we stop trying to force it to do things it wasn’t designed to do.
Hair doesn’t have to be straight to be beautiful. It simply has to be well-groomed.
Our skin is brown because it’s supposed to be. Our hair is kinky because it’s supposed to be. It’s not something that needs to be fixed or hidden. It’s not something to be ashamed of. There is no bad hair or good hair. It’s just hair.
We shun our own natural hair texture because we have been told for generations that nappy hair is bad. We’ve been made to feel that the only way to attain “good’ hair” is to straighten it. We’ve turned perfectly neutral descriptive words into negatives.
When we can hear the words “kinky” and “nappy” as being purely descriptive and carrying no negative connotation, and when we can all “stop living the lye,” we will truly be able to accept ourselves.
Photo courtesy NaturallyCurly