Friday, April 10, 2015

the 4 types of relaxers

Posted by Yahya at 8:13 PM
Mentioned in my last post, there are 4 types of relaxers, and today I'll be breaking them all down. Before I dive into a chemistry lesson, let's recap on what I have explained before. In my Hair Patterns post I explained how perming allows us to permanently alter the wave pattern of our hair -because the chemical processes break and reform the disulfide bonds in the cortex. There are three essential bonds within our hair cuticle, and the disulfide bonds are the most important. They are the strongest of the 3 and account for 1/3 of the hairs' overall strength. Keep this in mind as I breakdown the different relaxer options. It can help aid your choice if you plan on relaxing in the near future.

It was only recently I found out there was a fourth, individual type of relaxer -ammonium besulfite. I knew of it before, but thought it was another form of ammonium thioglycolate (the active ingredient in Japanese straightening). I wouldn't have looked more into it if it wasn't for the Hair IB incident, and am glad I learned the difference -another healthier solution for those that want to straighten their hair permanently. Take note that there are a few other solutions that can be used to rearrange hair wave patterns, like monothioglycolate, but those are only in curly perms. In relaxing, which means removing curl in cosmetology, there are 4 main types of reducing agents. I can confidently say that after doing quite a bit of research.

Now, let's go to my handy dandy notebook!


  • Hydroxide
    • pH 9 - 14
    • exothermic
    • high pH relaxer
    • goes through process of lanthionization and weakens hair 
    • can relax coarse, thick, and resistant hair
  • Ammonium Thioglycolate 
    • pH 8 - 10
    • exothermic
    • neutral pH relaxer
    • less damaging to hair
    • can relax coarse, thick, and resistant hair
    • compatible with soft curl perms
  • Ammonium Bisulfite 
    • pH 6.5 - 8.5
    • enthothermic
    • low pH relaxer
    • less damaging to hair, a better option for very unhealthy and porous hair
    • does not sufficiently relax extremely curly hair ( weak on afro hair )
    • is also weak at curling hair 

  • soften & swell the hair - meaning they raise the cuticle, which allows the solution to penetrate into the cortex and rinse out of the cortex easier
  • go through a chemical reaction called reduction - when in the cortex the solution breaks the disulfide bonds with either the addition of hydrogen or the removal of oxygen. Once the disulfide bond is broken, the polypeptide chains are able to slip into their new curled or straightened shape.
  • can be categorized as exothermic (cold/ alkaline perm) or endothermic (warm/ acid perm)

Exothermic perms
  • produce heat
  • create an exothermic chemical reaction that heats up the solution & speeds up the processing
  • strength is determined by the concentration of the reducing agent and degree of alkalinity 
    • Reducing agent - stronger perms have a higher concentration, impacting the reduction process, and therefore more disulfide bonds are broken
    • Alkalinity - second factor in overall strength of perm solution, pH ( alkalinity ) of the perm solution should correspond to the resistance, strength, and porosity of the cuticle layer
  • example of reducing agents: Ammonium Thioglycolate, Hydroxide

Endothermic perms
  • absorb heat from its surroundings 
  • are activated by an outside heat source, will not process properly at room temperature  
  • example of a reducing agent: Ammonium Bisulfide

Reducing/ Relaxing

  • Commonly referred to as lye
  • The reduction reaction is undergone through a process called lanthionization
    • -where the hydroxide solution breaks the disulfide bonds by removing one atom of sulfur from the disulfide bond, thereby converting it into a lanthionine bond
    • When a hydroxide relaxer breaks a disulfide bond the bond is permanently broken and can never be reformed ( -weakening 1/3 of the hairs' overall strength ).
  • Has a high pH, therefore hydroxide is able to swell the hair and penetrate the cortex without the addition of an alkalizing agent

Thioglycolic acid 
  • Commonly referred to as thio 
  • Provides the hydrogen that causes the reduction reaction in perm solutions 
  • Thioglycolic acid alone does not swell the hair or penetrate into the cortex 
    • -so manufacturers add an alkalizing agent 
    • Ammonia is added and produces a new chemical called ammonium thioglycolate ( the active ingredient in Japanese straightening )

Ammonium Bisulfide
  • Better known as an acid perm/ relaxer
  • There is minimal swelling and few bonds broken during the reduction process
  • Endothermic perms rely on heat to open up the cuticle so that they can penetrate the cortex

Neutralizing/ Oxidating
For Thioglycolate & Acid relaxers 
  • neutralization has three functions: 
    • to lower the pH of the hair
    • to shrink the swollen hair shaft
    • and to restores the disulfide bonds
  • the chemical process that removes the hydrogen atoms and reforms the disulfide bonds is called oxidation. Oxidation can result in the lightening of the hair color especially if a strong thio compound was used – and this is why the hair should be rinsed carefully and blotted thoroughly before applying the neutralizer. 
For Hydroxide relaxers 
  • neutralization does not involve oxidation or rebuilding disulfide bonds
  • The pH remains extremely high even after a thorough rinsing
  • the function of neutralization is to normalize any remaining hydroxide ions to lower the pH of the hair and scalp


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