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April 9, 2012

The Relaxer Encounter...


by Bennii Blast of The Culture Pine

This weekend during our time in Amsterdam, where we are staying over Easter, we decided to take an overdue trip to one of the many museums the city has to offer. The journey to our destination involved catching two trams, and so we had a few minutes to burn while we waited for the second tram to come along. The area was familiar to us, as I instantly recognised the Afro-Indian hair and beauty shop across the street that I had spotted on previous journeys. Curious as to what products they had to offer, we strolled in to take a look and to pass some time.

As soon as we walked through the door I was greeted with a smell that tickled my memory and needed no time at all to be recognised. Sure enough, a lady at the far end of the shop (and apparently salon) was getting her hair relaxed. Boy it’s been a long time since I endured that smell, and I am glad to say that it has not been missed! Upon experiencing the unpleasant smell again after so long, it stirred up memories of other things about Relaxers I do NOT miss: the burns, not being able to scratch/comb your hair prior to a treatment, and of course the dreaded re-growth!

This month funnily enough, marks one year into my transition and this encounter couldn’t have come at a better time. It made me realise just how happy I am that I decided to look for an alternative outside the world of relaxing, and spur me on in continuing with my natural hair journey. You know what the best part of the experience was? How free I felt leaving the shop and any traces of relaxer behind. That feeling of freedom is one that I will remember if ever I stumble along the rest of the way, as it truly is a wonderful feeling…..

Have you had an accidental run in with the Relaxer?

32 Chime in!:

Anonymous said...

I had a similar experience where I was in a beauty supply store where there was a small "area" in the back of the store, and a woman was getting a relaxer. My initial reaction was, "There's a salon in here? What?"
THEN I recognized the smell. Lol!! I don't miss that at all.

Anonymous said...

I miss the smell, the stirring of the product with the wooden popsicle stick, the too big gloves, the smoothness of my hair afterwards, the sleekness, the chemical smelling hair for a few days afterwards. It's true, I do miss it, but I love my natural hair so much.

b. said...

@ Anon 11:27,

Sounds like you miss the ritual of it. I know for myself, that smell stank but at the same time I associated the smell with the camaraderie of having my hair done and my definition of beauty at the time (which, even then, was fractured between straight and unstraightened...but the opinion of a 12 y.o. doesn't count for much back in the day).

I now love my hair pampering sessions of a different sort, even the tedious ones (detangling anyone?). Washing my hair feels so awesome. :)

Anonymous said...

A few months ago I was at work and this lady came in. Instantly in my head I said WTH is that SMELL!? I've been natural since 10/2009.
After a while I realized it was the smell of fresh perm - that stinky, burnt hair smell... yuck. I DO NOT miss that because that smell lingers for a few days.
Her hair was bone straight too. I don't miss that either. My hair had no body for a good 2 weeks after a touch up.

Anonymous said...

@ Anon 11:27

I thought I was the only one! Yea, I do kinda miss that smell, and the smoothness, and the sleekness...but I surely don't miss shelling out the $65+ that came along with it!! Plus, I love my natural hair so much now!!

-Neesha.Cherie

Anonymous said...

LOL, I kept a box relaxer under my bathroom sink for at least 3 years. Only time I ever saw it was when reaching for the cleaning supplies. I did not use it, but I did have a relapse for a few years and let a professional relax my hair. I guess there was enough actiivity and other smells at the salon that I didn't notice the smell from the relaxer. But OMG! The burning scalp, dreaded new growth, no touching/scratching/washing/combing or working out for two days before my appointment was torture. Plus I did a 6 and 7 month deployment during which I only washed, blowdryed, and plaited my hair and pulled it back into a "bun", and of course experienced a lot of heart dropping breakage. It took me a while to build up the courage to even find, not to mention go see a stylist so there was no way I was going to let someone else relax my hair. After that last deployment I received my wakeup call and left that mess alone, again! This time for good.

Miss TeeTee

TussahSilk said...

Yes, yes, yes! But for me the best thing about my natural hair journey (only four months so far) is that my scalp no long itches, is no longer scabby, and I'm no longer finding my DNA all over the place! I can genuinely say that this week, I washed my hair because it was the day to do it, and not because I was ready to scalp myself if I didn't.

Laurie said...

I kinda had a panic attack moment this weekend. I was stuck in a You Tube Natural Hair loop and came across this lady going to a Dominican salon to relax her hair after a few years of being natural...I swear I could smell the relaxer through the screen. It made me very uneasy...Just the memory of that, all day in the salon, the parting, the relaxing, the neutralizing, the hot ass hooded dryer, the roller set, the lava hot blow out....I don't miss it. It made me love my natural hair even more.

Patrice said...

Getting a relaxer is NOT the worst thing in the world. Some of the things people EAT has a worse affect on your body then a relaxer does on your scalp. Secondly, THE RELAXER IS NOT THE ENEMY-it is a lack of knowledge on how-to care for hair that is chemically-treated that is the issue. Please, let's redirect and correctly align our frustration. 9 out of 10 times, it should be aimed at the person staring back at us in the mirror, because we were not properly informed nor did we execute good judgement.

Anonymous said...

How can you tell someone what the worst thing in the world is to them? One could have all the knowledge on how to properly care for chemically-treated hair, and still think that relaxers are the worst thing in the world. And there's nothing you can do about it. Everyone has an opinion. You can not tell someone that their opinion is wrong.

NaturalNubian said...

@Patrice;

" Some of the things people EAT has a worse affect on your body then a relaxer does on your scalp. " You're joking, right? Even the most unhealthy food would have to be eaten routinely in order to have a lasting negative effect, whilst a relaxer can be detrimental to hair and scalp health with the VERY FIRST application, even when done by a professional. The chemical burns and even the potential for chemical alopecia is there right from the beginning.

"it is a lack of knowledge on how-to care for hair that is chemically-treated that is the issue."
Again, even with the very best care, a relaxer can be incredible damaging, even when applied and cared for by a seasoned professional. This is why long, healthy relaxed hair is the exception while long, healthy natural hair is the rule.

"we were not properly informed nor did we execute good judgement."
I don't know about you, but MY definition of good judgement is learning to care for and appreciate your hair in its natural state rather than put my hair health, scalp health and even eyesight on the line to try (and fail)to achieve someone else's standard of beauty. The hard truth is that even the most beautiful relaxed hair will never look, feel, or even smell as beautiful as naturally straight hair. This is why letting our hair be all that it can be is so important for our self-esteem, health, and wallet.

Anonymous said...

Patrice,
There is no food on the planet that is worse than the chemicals in a relaxer. If you want to relax your hair, or continue to provide relaxers for others, that is your choice. Those of us who chose to embrace our natural hair executed good judgment for ourselves. There's no need to get in your feelings because you can't relate.

Anonymous said...

I suspect Patrice is selling something as she included a link to an outside side and her comment doesn't really seem related to the article.

NaturalNubian said...

@Anon 2:22: You are so right. It's so sad that so many women with relaxers want to call naturals out for celebrating our variety of textures and want to defend relaxers like it's their first-born child every time someone says anything negative about them, even if it's the truth.

Anonymous said...

I will say, and I actually hadn't thought about this before, but after getting a relaxer, the smoothness of my hair, the continuity between the "new growth" and the rest of my hair did make me feel like I had accomplished something. Even though, looking back, straight hair never suited me. And I do not miss the burn, the pain, the waiting. It's funny, everytime I knew i would be getting a perm within the next few days, my scalp would ITCH like crazy. It was probably psychosomatic.

NaturalNubian said...

@Anon; OMG, i thought I was the only one! My head would itch like crazy, too! And pre-touch-ups, i always felt so ugly and hated it if I had a special occasion to attend but after a relaxer, I felt beautiful, as if I had morphed into someone else, someone worthy. I had to learn to find that worth in myself and celebrate my natural beauty.

Anonymous said...

I had an encounter this weekend. There was a woman getting a relaxer and I thought wow I don't miss those days of the stylist giving you that mirror and turning that chair around to show you hair breakage and how they need to cut a few inches off. That hair was a hot mess. She was the only person that had badly damaged hair. Most people were getting blowouts, trims, and color. SMH!

honeybrown1976 said...

Patrice,

I'm glad that you feel that relaxers are good for YOU. However, respect that others, including me, do not feel the same any more.

I'm almost two years into my long transition (23 months! I can't believe it) and I don't miss relaxers. My hair and scalp have been rejuvenated since I decided to transition.

Anonymous said...

I don't really understand why anyone so vehemently pro-relaxer would try to market their services 1. on a natural hair site and 2. by insulting people with natural hair by saying they lack good judgment.

Frankly, that's a piss-poor marketing plan and business model and not likely to generate business beyond a few curious page hits.

@anon 3:59. Yes!! I remmber the "breakage spin." I was often one on the receiving end with the stylist showing me how well (or not well) covered up it had been. Don't miss that!

Anonymous said...

I really used to hate the fact that my scalp and hair would smell like relaxer for days afterwards. Even after the first hairwash after a relaxer did my hair smell like that.

Being a henna using natural, my hair smells a bit like henna for a day after my henna treatment. The smell, however , is a very natural one that isn't so pungently embarassing.
I have been natural for twelve years, but I will never forget that smell. For me, that lingering rotting egg smell was one of the worst things about a relaxer. Someone could make a grip of money if she created a relaxer which had a totally neutral scent.

Anonymous said...

well i miss the look of my relaxer sometimes too. but i love that being natural has really reduced the breakage i used to see. i honestly dont remember the smell of perm lasting more than when it was actually on my head.

LBell said...

From the day I did my original BC (1995) to today I have NEVER missed ANY part of the relaxer process. You would have to PAY ME to go back to it...and not some little piddling amount either...

Bennii's experience in Amsterdam took me back to my experience in Barcelona. We were just wandering the streets and peering into storefront and then all of a sudden I'm looking at black women sitting in chairs getting their hair done. I went from happy ("Black women! YAY!") to sad ("I miss the States") to repulsed ("Eww! Relaxer! GROSS!") all in about 30 seconds. lol :)

Sophie said...

My relaxer encounter was once last year when I went to get a trim. Like you all said, that smell was wafting over from a chair near me. I do NOT have happy feelings associated with that!! It smells like spending a long day in a salon, feeling my scalp tingling unpleasantly, listening to my too-loud hairdresser gossip, all to come out with limp thin hair (my hair isn't really thick enough to suit being straight, it was basically two dimensional!)... ugh! Now, my hair and I have quiet Sundays with some deep conditioner and a book. My hair feels like mine, not some chemically made thing and I can do what I want with it! Man, I'm so happy to be natural!

Anonymous said...

I know this was a post made in fun, but imo it provokes more holier than thou sentiments from the natural crowd. I have a few relaxed hair co-workers and I don't smell "that just relaxed, burnt hair smell" when their hair is freshly done--in fact I don't even know when they get their hair done. It often seems to me on these boards a lot of women are still trying to convince themselves they made the right choice. I have been natural for about 15 years, and don't have awful flashbacks nor nostalgia when I see a box of Fabulaxer. Geez.

Anonymous said...

@Anon 9:34. I'm not really sure what you are upset about. I didn't detect a holier than thou attitude as most people were talking about their own memories and associations and not bashing people with chemically treated hair. If you've never smelled "that just relaxed, burnt hair smell" maybe that's just your sense of smell. Some people are obviously more sensitive. If you don't have flashbacks/nostalgia that's great for YOU but your experience is neither monolith nor the rule. And hey, maybe after being natural for so long you just don't remember that smell, good for you, but some of us do and want to share.

Anonymous said...

@ Anon 10:03 pm--I am Anon 9:34 pm and where did I say I was upset? My comment is an observation, and your reply is so indicative of the quick to be defensive of the converted naturals.

It's rather interesting that even after the decision to not use relaxers, many of you still love to talk about them so often-how relaxers invevitably lead to breakage (depends on your hair), and how badly they smell (yes relaxers STINK but I have read many naturals online say they wash their hair once a month-lol). But I get that it's a support group for the newly converted. It'll just be an interesting breakthrough when we get past this initial trend phase, and see how many natural haired women have stopped reminiscing (or having "panic attacks"-really?) about using lye on their hair.

Carla said...

I haven't had a recent experience, but this post takes me back to a time I used to go to the shop weekly for a press/flat iron. I never had a relaxer before, but I remember constantly smelling other people having it done. I don't miss that stench at all!

Anonymous said...

Yes, I had a similar moment at the beginning of this semester in school. On the first day a girl came and sat next to me with a FRESH relaxer. The smell from the chemicals hit me and unable to stop myself (and much to my own embarrassment) I instantly turned up my nose as if to say "What is that smell?!" A second later I recognized the smell and quickly fixed my face embarrassed by my own actions and hoping I didn't make her feel self-conscious (after all she's just doing her). But that smell brought back memories that my own hair used to smell like a chemistry lab. It reminded me about how my husband (then boyfriend) used to complain about the smell of my hair and I must say that is one smell I DO NOT miss!

Anonymous said...

We each have to do what we think is right for us.

I have been natural for 3 years, and lemme tell you, it has not been easy! I have relapsed 3 times over the years, and each texturizer application has resulted in another chop for my 4c hair.

It took me three texturizers to realize that 30 years of "bad relaxers" was due to not knowing how to manage my hair, and as Patrice at April 9, 2012 1:28 PM wrote, "THE RELAXER IS NOT THE ENEMY-it is a lack of knowledge on how-to care for hair that is chemically-treated that is the issue". This logic is applicable to any altering beauty process, be it tanning, bleaching freckles, or whatever.

If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn't have been walking around looking like a 'perm victim', with my hair looking 'fried, dyed and laid to the side'. Relaxers are harsh, but poor maintenance practices wrecked my hair. These injurious maintence practices were abandoned when I went natural...

Recently relaxers have been investigated as a causitive factor in the promotion of uterine fibroids. But like Patrice stated, some of the things we eat are risky too; e.g. trans-fatty acids in baked goods, BPA in bottled water, antibiotics and hormones in animal feed, tne list goes on and on.

The key is to educate yourself and make the choices appropriate for your lifestyle goals.

One of my daughters wears locs, and the other uses relaxers. She may or may not decide to go natural because she maintains her relaxed hair and likes the way it looks. She admires the length of her sister's locs and says my coil-outs are cute and "poppin'". I wish she would abandon the relaxer, but it is her decision and I have no other choice but to respect it.

Anonymous said...

ps. My loc'd daugher and myself have had uterine fibroids removed. I was relaxed for 30 years, and my daughter for 8 years. Is it genetics or is the relaxer an 'initiator' for tumor growth?

Jo Somebody said...

I too don't have bad memories of the relaxer, and that's even with my scalp regularly burnt. #shrugs# I'm natural because I prefer the look of natural hair and I'm trying to be healthier overall.
In the same way, if/when I stop eating junk food, I will not have only bad memories of it, it's just a better for me to do what I'm doing now.
I think there's a lot of cognitive dissonance going on here and elsewhere in the natural community. Tbh, it surprises me that people could have been having such a horrible time and continuing to do it for so long! Who knows, maybe you're 'hating' your natural experience too and will be badmouthing these horrible detangling sessions in years to come...

Decemberpumpkin said...

never like the burning of a relaxer so glad i made the switch

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