Back in the nineteen twenties, and for several following decades, African American men were straightening their hair with pure lye, which was called conking. Many people learned through the life story of Malcom X, how extremely painful this process was to use. When lyes are used in hair straightening, a petroleum jelly is used to create a thick shield on the head. Any direct contact with lyes is known to be excruciating.
Is this a safe process and if not then what are our alternatives? Well, no-lye products have become popular and may technically be weaker in some ways than the hazardous lyes, but there is no room for error when using no-lyes either.
In the 1800’s, African-Americans had seen a straightening process occur while washing/combing their hair with lye soaps. The first relaxer was invented around the early 1900’s, where it was made from alkaline solutions including lye, potash lye or slaked lime. This was the first time a product was advertised as being able to relax or straighten hair.
Sodium Hydroxide is used in products that are referred to as “lye” relaxers. It is a rather strong chemical and is used in chemical hair relaxers because it provides the strongest and longest effects. To get an idea of its brutal strength, this substance was used to clear clogged drains. Its pH factor may be as high as 10-14. What this means is it will work rather effectively, but the damage caused to your hair and scalp increase greatly.
On the other hand “no-lye”, or alkali, relaxers use Guanidine Hydroxide, with a pH of 9-9.5. Note that the pH of hair should be around 4.5-5.5. No-lye relaxers can still damage your hair. By no means should it ever be considered a safe alternative. No-lye still uses extremely strong chemicals to straighten thick curly hair. Though it may have less damage, this ideal state assumes great health of both the hair and the scalp and general carefulness during its process. Some people have found no-lye relaxers to be more drying than lye relaxers. Another name of the no-lye relaxers is thioglycolate-based.
Lye or no-lye, there is going to be a radical shift in the fundamental structures constituting your hair. Take a moment to think about the magnitude of such a concept. You will be unnaturally loosening the curl pattern to a permanently relaxed and reduced state.
Any relaxers that you decide to rely on will require you to conditioning before and after each application. Remember these things and consider the complex process of hair relaxing from all angles. If you wish to keep your hair free from any damage, then it is best to not use a lye or no-lye formula.