Permanent hair straightening

Published by Sarah Horrocks
Published on 13 August 2008

Frizzy, undisciplined, difficult to style, afro, permed or curly hair can be a hassle, and many women are resorting to permanent straightening to make their lives easier or so they don't have to get the straighteners out every day. Here's our guide to permanent hair straighening.

How it works
The hair is given a new structure to make it more manageable. First, an alkaline (sodium based) product is used to break the original chain of keratin molecules (hair fibre). Then an oxidant product is added to neutralise the action of the keratin and to set the fibres in place in the desired shape.

Precautions
The products used for straightening are powerful, even sodium-free ones which are still based on aggressive sodium or potassium derivatives. As a result, you need to:
- Wear gloves to protect hands and nails.
- Stick to the time it says on the instructions: if you go over, it could cause irritation.
- Use the product only on naturally curly hair and not on hair that has already been straightened, especially when treating roots.
- Do a strand test if you have fine hair and if the instructions tell you to.
- Only use if your scalp is healthy, and free from rashes and itching.
- Rinse thoroughly with warm water if any product comes into contact with your eyes.

Side-effects on your hair
- The product breaks the chain of keratin molecules that constitute the hair fibre, so it becomes fragile.
- It also dries hair out. Water molecules that usually attach themselves to the protein in your hair no longer have anything to fix onto. This can cause dandruff and an itchy scalp.

Products to care for your hair after permanent straightening
You need to restore the balance of hair that has been damaged by the process of straightening by reconstituting its natural defences and hydrating it.
The best products are proteins and plant vitamin based ones mixed with linseed, wheat germ or shea oil which penetrate to the heart of the hair and strengthen it without turning it greasy.
Products with animal fat or mineral base, in particular Vaseline, lanolin or glycerine should be avoided because they are too greasy and prevent the scalp from breathing, encouraging dandruff and irritation.

Daily care for permanently straightened hair
To avoid having to untangle your hair, plait it loosely before bed or wrap it in a scarf (preferably a silk one). Cotton absorbs moisture while synthetic or wool make your scalp sweat and hair become static.
If your hair is still tangled and you don’t have time, untangle the top layer gently to prevent breaking it. Untangle your hair properly later strand by strand with a wide-toothed comb, working from the ends to the roots.
A daily massage before bed will improve circulation to the scalp: place your fingertips on your scalp, apply strong pressure and rotate or use back and forth movements without moving your fingers. Massage your entire scalp like this.

Shampooing permanently straightened hair
Choose a very gentle shampoo that doesn’t foam too much (this is a sign it contains lots of detergent). Wet your hair with warm water then apply the shampoo without lathering too much, just gently rubbing with your fingers flat on your head. Massage the hair without being too aggressive from the scalp to the ends to prevent tangling it. To rinse, start with small jets of water to get rid of the shampoo, then rinse thoroughly and gently.

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