Ladies, it’s been a while since we talked about relaxers. Not because I have one (currently, I’m rocking a super short, rose gold cut), but because it’s somehow become such a taboo to have one. Think about it, who do you know who is still reliant on the infamous “creamy crack” but scared to admit it? Or, considering “going natural” because it’s the only way to go? From the looks of things, the once-popular prom queen, cheerleader sister (a.k.a. relaxers) have been eclipsed by the growing natural hair movement. The tables have seemingly turned—or have they?

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“I still have a steady business of relaxer clients, especially those that live in humid climates,” shares Phyto national director of education Christyn Nawrot, who applauds relaxers for their ability to allow for easier blowouts and styling for thicker hair. “The natural movement has created a wonderful dialogue about embracing your natural texture and curls—however, some clients still need assistance to eliminate frizz and smooth their natural curl shape.”

Yet despite the negative stigma, many women still opt to chemically treat their hair. The owner and stylist of LW Salon, Leona Wilson, estimates that she completes over 25 relaxers per week. “My clientele is now 60% relaxed hair and 30% natural hair (but worn straight) and 10% natural that’s considered wash-and-go. I see my clients every six to eight weeks for shorter styles and eight to 12 weeks for longer hair.”

Relaxers also get a bad rap because of the old age assumption that it’s damaging. “There is a misconception that relaxing your hair is not healthy—that’s not the case,” adds Dark and Lovely Style Squad member Stephanie McLemore, who works with a mostly chemically free client base. “In my opinion, Black women have gained a new sense of pride in regards to discovering their true texture. Remember, most Black women had relaxers since they were children!”

For most, the main reason relaxers are still in the mix is because of convenience. I know firsthand the challenges of maintaining your natural texture for the first time and truly struggling. Admittedly, it’s easier for me to deal with (and feel confident about) my hair when it’s straight via chemicals or super short like it is now. It’s not about hating my hair or trying to “look white”, it’s about what fits easiest into my lifestyle.

“Relaxer sales and use might not necessarily be on the incline, but I think it will stabilize,” shares Wilson who has had a relaxer for 28 years. “Women are finding that natural hair is not necessarily the easiest, the least time consuming, or even the less expensive route to take.”

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Wilson’s happy that the boom of the natural hair movement has forced the haircare industry to step it up. “[Newer] relaxer formulas now have more conditioning agents in them, are milder on the scalp, and it’s no longer a one-size-fits-all approach. Now, companies are forced to also create safer alternatives called thermal reconditioning or smoothing systems. These products smooth, fight frizz, and elongate your curl pattern, which allows the consumer to transition between a curly and straight look easier.”

A few of her favorites include Avlon Texture Release, Design Essentials Smoothing Systems, TMS Beautiful Texture Manageability System, and Mizani Thermal Straightening System. “The downfall of relaxers doesn’t necessarily mean the replacement of straight hair, it just means more options for us and our beauty needs,” she adds.

The first time I got a relaxer, I was pretty young—maybe six or seven. My mother constantly traveled (she was a flight attendant) and unfortunately my dad’s braiding skills weren’t up to par. I loved my weekly salon visits when I was treated to them, and would patiently sit as my hair was processing because I was obsessed with the results.

Since my teens, I’ve switched back and forth between everything from daily flat ironing (terrible!), wave nouveau (hey, it was the ’90s), weaves (high school!), and a super short pixie cut (my favorite!). I’m grateful that I’ve always had the option to reinvent my hair without judgment, hence why I wanted to share another perspective and open a new dialogue about Black women and their hair. It’s not really about choosing which “look” is superior over another, it’s about respecting the choices each of us make resulting in us feeling more confident, beautiful, or honestly, simply making our mornings easier.

“Your hair is the only accessory that you’re born with: You can cut it, grow it, color it, straighten it, and curl it and really make a statement with our hair,” Nawrot elegantly shares. It is a statement of diverse culture and personality that can be modified whenever you wish—so long as you keep it healthy, it will be beautiful no matter how you style it!”

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