From the Progressive Era to “School Daze” and beyond, the natural vs. relaxed hair debate has been around for over a century. Whether you are looking to change up your signature style with a relaxer or are interested in transitioning to natural hair you might wonder—which option is best for me?
Healthy hair is happy hair. For every person, that means something unique! But in most cases, a natural style ensures the longevity and health of your locks. In this guide, we’ll get into the main factors to consider when choosing between relaxer or natural hair.
Perms, straighteners, “creamy crack,” chemical treatments—these are just a few names you might know for hair relaxers.
As far back as the 1900’s, people have used chemicals to transform curls and coils into straight hair.1 These formulas transform the protein structure of each strand, lasting anywhere from six to 12 weeks.2 But before you head to the salon, you should know the ins and outs of this procedure.
Not all relaxers are created equal. Between salon and boxed formulas, relaxers range across mild, regular, and super strength formulas—and the stronger the formula, the straighter the style (and the higher potential damage). Consider all of your options before heading to the salon:3
- Sodium hydroxide – Also known as lye relaxers, sodium hydroxide formulas work on every hair type, from curls to dense coils. On the flipside, many women avoid lye relaxers due to their harshness on the scalp, which can often result in scalp irritation.
- Calcium hydroxide – To protect the scalp, these gentle relaxers use zero lye to straighten all hair types. However, calcium hydroxide formulas often damage healthy hair more than lye relaxers, leaving strands dry and brittle.
- Ammonium thioglycolate – The gentlest formula, ammonium thioglycolate only works on fine hair or looser curls. While it protects hair health the most, the results of this chemical treatment might not last as long.
Above all, relaxed hair may become more susceptible to damage, however, there are ways to maintain the health of your hair throughout the process. Daily moisturizers are a must, alongside neutralizing and sulfate-free shampoo like PATTERN’s Hydrating shampoo and Curl Cleansing Shampoo that can help provide hair with the nutrients it absolutely needs. On the other hand, heat styling tools and harsh hair color dyes are highly discouraged.
“Going natural” can seem like a big commitment. However, that’s not always true! Natural hair, or hair that’s free from chemical treatments, is just as maintainable as any treated style (and usually a lot healthier).
Natural hair covers a wide range of textures. To find your best natural hairstyle, you have to know your curl pattern. The denser and tighter your curls, the more moisture they’ll need. With so many different curly hair types, see which curl pattern category matches your own texture:4
- Type 2a – Fine hair with light waves
- Type 2b – Medium to thick hair with loose S-shaped waves
- Type 2c – Thick hair with sharp S-shaped patterns, waving up to the roots
- Type 3a – Finer hair with large, loose, and defined curls
- Type 3b – Medium hair with buoyant and springy curls
- Type 3c – Tight, pencil-sized corkscrews curls that go up to the root
- Type 4a – Dense coils with an S-shape, about the size of a straw or smaller
- Type 4b – Highly dense coils that can form angular shapes when styled
- Type 4c – Velvety, tight coils, nearly indiscernible from a distance
Natural vs. Relaxed Hair—Which is Best for Me?
Length, texture, styling, wash days—it can be tough figuring out which hairstyle matches your lifestyle. If you are debating between different hairstyles for transitioning hair vs relaxed hair, we can help narrow your decision with these factors:
- Daily care – Yes, relaxed hair can reduce daily detangling time. However, both styles require daily moisturizing and regular washes (although you can get away with washing once a week or less with certain natural hair textures).
- Hair and scalp health – When it comes to health between relaxed hair vs. natural hair health, natural wins. If not used properly, relaxing chemicals (even lye-free formulas) can easily create scalp sores, burns, and inflammation. And even when used correctly, relaxers carry the risk of hair breakage and dry texture. Natural hair only requires nourishing curly hair products and minimal heat exposure to stay healthy and luscious.
- Growth rate – It’s a common rumor that either natural or relaxed hair grows faster. The truth? Neither does (if your hair is healthy). Your hair growth rate completely depends on your genetics and hair care habits, which apply to both styles. However, if used incorrectly, a relaxer could damage your scalp, which may impact hair growth.
- Styling – With relaxers, you get one style—straight hair. Natural hair opens the door to countless styling options such as bantu knots, braids, cornrows, afros, and twists. One distinguishing callout, the porosity of relaxed hair makes it easier to dye.
- Cost – Maintaining relaxed hair requires new applications approximately every 12 weeks. While at-home kits cost much less than professional treatments, they’re also riskier for burns. You should factor in professional treatment costs with relaxed hair. Finding the right products for your natural hair is sometimes a matter of trial and error, but the overall price is usually far cheaper.
Embrace Your Natural Beauty with PATTERN
The right hairstyle is the one that makes your hair look and feel beautiful. How do relaxed hair vs natural hair compare? For those with a crunched schedule and a love for straight locks, relaxed hair might fit. But for many, natural hair is a step towards healthy, affordable, and luscious beauty.
Not sure where to start with your natural texture? PATTERN can smooth out the kinks on your hair care journey. Our hair treatments for curly hair bring moisture and nourishment to natural or transitioning hair. With PATTERN, your natural beauty is enough.
- Simeon, Aimee. "Politics, Policy, & Social Media: How Natural Hair Has Influenced A Generation." Roots. 23 February, 2021. https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/natural-hair-industry-history-evolution
- Mone, Kindra. "The Best Hair Relaxers a Hair Stylist Loves for Smooth, Straight Hair." Byrdie. 22 February, 2022. https://www.byrdie.com/best-relaxers-damaged-delicate-hair-348328
- Amay, Joane. "Relaxers 101: What to Expect When Straightening Your Hair for the First Time." The Fashion Spot. https://www.thefashionspot.com/beauty/598061-hair-relaxers/
- Amay, Joane. "How to Figure Out Your Curl Type." Allure. 31 December, 2021. https://www.allure.com/gallery/curl-hair-type-guide
- Sandeen, Del. "7 Signs That Relaxers Are Damaging Your Hair." Byrdie. Updated on 20 January, 2022. https://www.byrdie.com/signs-a-relaxer-is-damaging-your-hair-400143
- Sandeen, Del. "The Growth Timeline for Transitioning from Relaxed to Natural Hair." Byrdie. Updated on 29 January, 2022. https://www.byrdie.com/what-to-expect-as-you-transition-to-natural-hair-400345