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How to Transition From Relaxed to Natural Hair

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I enjoy giving tips and advice on how to care for and manage hair.

How to transition from relaxed to natural hair.

How to transition from relaxed to natural hair.

What's a Relaxer?

Relaxers contain carcinogenic (toxic) chemicals that penetrate your hair shaft during perm application. Imagine taking a beaker full of hazardous waste and pouring it onto your scalp. Relaxers are like hazardous waste, but not to the extreme.

They break the hair bonds that curl your hair, leaving a straight and smooth finish. All relaxers contained lye at one point. What is lye? Lye is an alkaline solution used in cleaning products. It’s corrosive and poisonous. Lye relaxers contain sodium hydroxide and high pH levels between 12 and 14.

Our hair’s normal pH level is between 4 and 5, so you do the math. Lye quickly breaks down your hair bonds and causes scalp irritation. A neutralizing shampoo is used to balance the pH levels after perm application.

No-Lye relaxers contain calcium or guanidine hydroxide. Its pH levels are between 9 and 11. These relaxers dry hair due to calcium buildup. Clarifying shampoos removes this. Deep conditioning treatments are needed to restore moisture since clarifying dries your hair.

There are milder chemicals in no-lye relaxers, so those with sensitive skin would prefer to use this one. Either way, both kinds of relaxers have harsh chemicals. The chemicals burn your scalp if the relaxer is left in for too long.

To leave relaxers on your hair beyond what’s recommended will lead to over-processed and dull hair. It can cause breakage and fall-out. African-American hair texture is already weak because of its natural curliness. Relaxers only weaken your hair even more and gradually damages it.

Relaxers Damage Your Hair

  • With relaxers comes great responsibility. It’s because the hair is chemically processed that it needs special post-treatment.
  • The hair needs to stay well-oiled and moisturized to prevent breakage. Curls, flat ironed styles, weaves, waves, etc. should be worn with relaxers.
  • Braiding relaxed hair will only cause excessive breakage because the hair is already fragile. Once the relaxer wears off, normally after six weeks, a “touch-up” is needed.
  • A touch-up is when a relaxer is applied to the roots of the hair because the natural curl pattern starts to grow in. Relaxers are a temporary fix.
  • Reapplying relaxers regularly is what causes damage over time. Your hair thins out and can eventually break off.
  • Some relaxer applications can permanently burn your hair follicles to where your hair won't ever grow again.

I've read articles and have seen videos of relaxers gone wrong. Relaxers weaken your hair over time. They can cause split ends and hair fall-out.

Micro-braids: A transitional style I wore.

Micro-braids: A transitional style I wore.

Ways to Transition

The first step to transitioning from relaxed to natural hair is to prepare yourself to accept your hair in its natural state. It may be your first time as it was mine, and so you have to be ready to love your hair for what it'll be natural. The transition from relaxed to natural is more than a hair thing: You have to change your mindset.

Before we go on, let's quickly throw away the term "good hair." Soft and curly hair does not constitute good hair. This is a ridiculous hair adjective that African-Americans need to do away with. We only segregate and discriminate against ourselves when we do this. All hair is good hair as long as you take good care of it. This will be your first time seeing your natural hair grade without chemicals, so you have to prepare yourself for this drastic change.

There are two ways you can transition from relaxed to natural:

  1. Big Chop, or
  2. Wear transition styles.

The Big Chop

The Big Chop (also known as BC) is when you cut off all of your hair at once. You start with a low hair cut and let your hair grow out.

Wear Transition Styles

The second way to transition is by wearing transition styles. This is where you wear braids, plaits, weaves, flexi-curls, or any style that conceals both hair textures as your hair grows out. Instead of jumping in all at once, you take baby steps with the transitioning method.

When I transitioned from relaxed to natural, I wore plaits and braids for one year. The picture above is a style I wore during my transitioning phase.

Once you feel your natural hair has grown out enough, then you can cut off the permed ends. This way allows you to have some hair to work with as you allow your natural hair to grow out completely.

All hair is good hair as long as you take good care of it!

My hair without a relaxer after one year.

My hair without a relaxer after one year.

The Growth Is Endless

  • Since being natural, my hair has become stronger, fuller, and longer. Relaxer damage influenced me to transition to natural. My hair was thin and never grew to touch my shoulders.
  • My hair touched my shoulders two years in to my transition.
  • As a new natural, I haven't used heat; I've only used natural curling methods (plaits, twists, braids) and let my hair air dry whenever I wash it.
  • I condition my hair more than I shampoo. Keeping my hands out of my hair has helped me retain hair length also (I've worn protective styles 99% of the time I've been natural).
  • My hair's mini-twisted even as I write this.
  • I mostly focus on keeping my hair conditioned and moisturized.
  • Also, I'm very particular about the products and ingredients I use.
My hair at almost 2 years natural.

My hair at almost 2 years natural.

Don't Forget

  • Relaxers contain carcinogenic (toxic) chemicals that penetrate your hair shaft during perm application.
  • African-American hair texture is naturally weak because of its tightly coiled structure.
  • Relaxers weaken your hair by using strong, harsh chemicals.
  • You can still achieve straightened hair with natural hair.

Quick Tips

  • Educate yourself on healthy hair practices.
  • Treat your hair as you would the health of your overall body.
  • Consider the damaging effects relaxers have on your hair over time.
  • Read and research relaxers so you can get a better understanding of what's in them and what they actually do.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Asia


Asia (author) from Georgia on August 19, 2014:

Hi Paulette:

Try using a leave-in conditioner when combing. Natural hair should be moisturized when combing through it. I usually use water, a moisturizer, or conditioner to comb my hair, but that's normally during wash-day.

Paulette on August 17, 2014:

My problem is my natural hair is thick and I can't get a comb through it unless I wet my hair. What products can i use on my thick natural hair, that would make it easier to comb?

Asia (author) from Georgia on July 21, 2014:

Hi Sharon,

I felt the same way about the big chop, which is why I wore micro-plaits and braids for an entire year. Plaits aren't as intense as braids, so maybe you could try getting plaits with extensions. Weaves are another option. I'm not too familiar with weaves, but I understand that your hair still needs to be braided beneath it. The main point of transitioning is trying to blend your relaxed hair while you're growing out your natural hair.

Another hair option could be flexi rods. This is great because it blends both your natural and relaxed hair while you're transitioning. If you'd like, you can visit my site for more on natural hair care tips. Also, feel free to message me through the contact page or email (lovenaptural[at] if you still need assistance.

I hope this helps!


sharon on July 20, 2014:

Hi I am contemplating on going natural but wants a change. Thing is I love to style my hair and make sure my hair looks good however I don't know if I have the patience for this as my hair don't grow fast. The big chop is something im not sure of as don't know how I will look. Is there any advice u can give or suggestions towards my trasition. Its been three months now I haven't relaxed my hair. Oh I can't do braids as two days and they begin to irritate my scalp