I used to believe this same notion when I was growing up, I really didn't know why it appeared that the hair grew when it was relaxed, maybe it was because I saw the new growth, and that means growth, but for some reason my hair stayed the same length?? But knowing what I know now, there is no way possible a relaxer can make one’s hair grow.
Let’s start with the structure of our hair and then lets dive into what a relaxer is and then we can come to a conclusion as to why relaxers does not make the hair grow.
Basic Structure of Hair
First we need to know the basic structure of the hair that contributes to hair growth. We could go into detail about the different layers of the scalp but for now we will keep it as simple as possible. The 2 contributors to hair growth is moisture and protein. These two are so important that your hair already produces it; sebum and keratin. Sebum is an oil that is produced from the sebaceous glands that seals in moisture, and keratin is the protein, which makes up about 90% of our hair.
Since sebum is a natural oil that we produce it only makes sense that it has some benefits. Sebum is what helps the hair grow, and when we say grow, we say it loosely, (we say grow because hair needs moisture to grow, but there are many other contributors as to why your hair may not grow as long as someone else’s, (but that is another story for a different day)). Sebum has many more functions; it seals in moisture protecting our scalp and hair from getting dry, it moves the dead skin from the hair follicle to the surface (this helps your scalp to breathe), and it protects the skin from friction. Every person produces sebum, but for some textures of hair it does not move as easily throughout the length of the hair. When the hair does not have moisture it cannot thrive because it will become dry and brittle and break off. This is what happens with curly/kinky hair. The coils stops the sebum from moving throughout the hair, and if you do not add moisture to your hair or do not manipulate hair in a way so that these natural oils and added oils can move through the hair, your hair will not grow. Now you can understand why people with straight hair may have a better opportunity to have long hair, the sebum moves easily throughout the hair sealing in all moisture; keeping the hair nice and moisturized.
The function of protein in the hair
Since 90% of our hair structure is protein, we must realize that protein plays an important role in the overall health of our hair. What does protein do? We can look at the consumption of protein and how it helps our body the same way we look at how it helps our hair. It gives it strength, and when your hair is strong it does not break. Keratin can also give your hair shine, luster and keeps moisture in. Again, there goes that moisture word. Know that protein and moisture works hand in hand.
What is a relaxer?
A relaxer is a type of lotion or cream generally used by people with tight curls or very curly hair which makes hair easier to straighten by chemically "relaxing" the natural curls. The active agent is usually a strong alkali, although some formulations are based on ammonium thioglycolate instead. Source from wikipedia
Alkali - is a caustic or corrosive substance. Hence, why chemical burns happen when getting a relaxer.
Ammonium thioglycolate - although this is milder than alkali it is still indeed a chemical. Ammonium thioglycolate can dry out the hair, leaving it brittle and more susceptible to breakage. It can also cause scalp irritation, such as; itching, burning, and redness.
What does a relaxer do to affect both the sebum and protein in our hair?
Doing a relaxer changes the chemical structure of your hair permanently, it breaks the protein bond. And as mentioned above the relaxer will actually take out the moisture in your hair. But we do understand why some say that a relaxer helps the hair to grow. As mentioned above, having straight hair helps the sebum move to the length of the hair. If a person relax the hair the sebum can indeed move, but one has to be careful. If you choose to relax, hot oil treatments, protein treatments and regular moisturizers are needed. (this is the same for dyed hair). It is needed because the chemicals in the relaxer actually will dry the hair and since it permanently takes the protein out of your hair, using products with protein in them is a must. Protein is the link for strong moisturized hair. If you do see someone with a relaxer and their hair is long and looks healthy, know that they are taking care of it, and it’s not the relaxer that is making the hair grow but the maintenance that they are doing to it. Taking care of your hair can make a world of difference. Our body is one big chemical and it is balanced, but once we introduce any other form of chemical that is foreign it will have negative effects, it becomes unbalanced. Note - Know that sometimes it is just plain genetics. Some people hair just grows no matter what they do to their hair.
We are not for relaxers because we don’t like the chemicals that are in relaxers, 60% of applications that you put on your body is absorbed through your skin. You may not see an issue in the beginning but you never know what it may trigger down the road. If you want straight hair, you can always straighten it. Straightening is less intrusive, although it is a physical change that you are doing to your hair, it does not disturb the chemical balance. When straightening, note that moisture and protein is still a must.
Treat your hair good and your hair will be good to you.