In the past years, we’ve seen texture services evolve from double-piggy-back spiral perms to the hugely popular Japanese Relaxer.Ancient Egyptian women used mud and clay to set their hair in curls and dried them in the sun. My mother ironed her hair on an ironing board when the 60’s required texture go the other direction.
As we round the corner on the first decade of the new millennium, it seems that fashion has found a happy medium, exploring all variations and combinations of texture. Despite the welcome arms of a social green movement that says “natural is sexy”, women’s lust for the trendier side of the fence hasn’t faltered. “Natural-looking” is good, too. Thank God. While a quality perm is getting increasingly hard to find, a fine-haired girl’s desire for volume, body and bounce has not. A stylist who can roll out a superb permanent wave is a treasure indeed. The other side of campus, however, is dealing with out-of-control curly hair that fearless stylists must take either scorching heat or caustic chemicals to whip into shape.
What I have discovered from listening to the savvy women in my chair in that they want the silky hair of their dreams with ever elusive “wash-and-go” potential. These gals are well versed in options with their given hair texture, and have traveled most of hell’s-half-acre to find the answer. They want hair that they can wear super straight or with a beachy wave, with enough body to hold a curl as well. The beauty industry has expanded is borders and created some incredible variety for a fashion forward person who wants to control or create the texture of their dreams. The two hair relaxing (chemical straightening) services most asked about in salons right now are the Japanese Relaxer and the Brazilian Blow-dry.
The Japanese Relaxer (also called Yuko, Liscio, STR8) is the heavy hitter of salon services. Due to the dual chemical processes (dismantling the building blocks of the hair and restructuring them in smooth, straight lines) hair is sleek as a pane of glass, forever and ever, until it grows out. At which point the texture can be maintained by “retouching” or only applying the chemical to the new growth.This is the most effective PERMANENT chemical straightening for overly curly, coarse, or kinky hair textures. After this service, hair will dry to be super smooth, shiny, and straight.
One major downside is a strong line of re-growth, which is the place where your natural texture grows in and requires thermal straightening (blow-drying and flat-ironing) to match straightened hair. This service is NOT recommended for hair highly sensitized by bleach, heavy color, or old texture services. To process such sensitized hair or overlap a retouch of the relaxer on previously relaxed hair will almost certainly cause severe damage or breakage. Once the hair is relaxed, there is no way to reverse the out come; the hair is straight until it grows out or is cut off. Most permanent color services are discouraged once hair has been relaxed. It can also be very hard to change the part, or have hair hold a curl. As long as the stylist is experienced with this specific relaxer service, this can be a dream come true for beautiful, polished, easy to manage hair. This service takes several hours in the salon and the price tag ranges widely from $300-$600, higher at specialty salons. This process is recommended for retouching 2-3 times a year.
The Brazilian Blow-dry (also called Keratin Treatment, BKT) can be a good solution if you are a little shy of the severity and/or permanency of the Japanese Relaxer. Since the process is essentially an intense blow-dry using a Keratin based treatment, the time in salon, and cost, are considerably less than the Japanese Relaxer, starting around $200 in most areas, but ranging up to $500 in some salons. The longevity of the service is also considerably less, and the effects will slowly wear off entirely over the course of approximately three months. This is a huge point of interest for a person looking at their first chemical straightening experience, hesitant to commit to the grow-out of a service they may never chose to do again. The semi-permanent nature of the product, as well as its ability to leave the hair smooth and shiny while retaining body and the ability to be curled are also big differences. Additionally, this process is an excellent choice to use over chemically treated or color sensitized hair. There was a time when I asked my clients to choose between their highlights or their desired texture to maintain the integrity of their hair, but this treatment allows another option. Since the hair is made up of almost 80% protein, this keratin relaxer also acts as an intensive treatment, and the overall condition of the hair is vastly improved after the service. Combining heat (a blow-dryer and flat-iron) and the chemicals in this solution, the outer cuticle layer of the hair is sealed down and smoothed, while the internal structure is not compromised, unlike the Japanese relaxer. This creates unbelievably straight glossy hair from frizzy, wavy, or generally unruly hair. For thicker, coarser, curlier hair types, the experience is a notable reduction in volume, softer waves, and elimination of frizz. It greatly reduces drying time and the need for hot tools on most hair types. The biggest threat in this service is during the service itself. While the product is dried into the hair, steam is released containing one of the active ingredients, formaldehyde. Proper ventilation, masks, and eye-coverings are strongly suggested. Leading manufacturers of this product make a “formaldehyde-free” version of the treatment, which is less effective on strong curl patterns and still may contain less than 2% of the chemical. Most salons, aware of inhalation concerns, offer fans, open air, or a private room for the service.
Either of these services can literally change the way one moves in the world, granting freedom from frizz and costly professional blow outs, and the closest thing to wash-and-go hair the beauty industry has ever offered. Providing client education and a carefully considered service provider, the minimal risk is worth the incredible reward: hair dreams are made of.