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Straight Talk: Hair Straightening -- What are my options?

Sit Back and Relax
Chemical relaxers can be damaging to both hair and skin.
Chemical relaxers can be damaging to both hair and skin.

If you've seen Chris Rock's documentary, "Good Hair," then you know that chemical relaxers have been the hair straightening method of choice within the African-American community for years. But many people outside that community can and do use chemical relaxers. Basically, relaxers contain high-pH chemicals that break the chemical bonds that give your hair its shape.

It used to be that most relaxers were made with lye (otherwise known as sodium hydroxide), which got a bad rep for damaging hair and skin. Think about lye soap. So now there are a whole bunch of "no-lye" products out there. These no-lye relaxers contain chemicals like calcium hydroxide, ammonium thioglycolate, guanidine carbonate and lithium hydroxide -- that claim to be all-natural and non-damaging. Unfortunately, you can't believe the hype. Really -- do those chemicals sound remotely natural?

Yes, it's true that these chemical relaxers can produce shiny, stick-straight hair. But no matter where those chemicals come from, they still work the same way -- and they can still be incredibly damaging to your hair and scalp. Come on, you know there's a reason the stylist is wearing those plastic gloves -- and it's not just for your protection.