Mother Nature doesn’t give everyone easy-to-control hair. Additionally, some ladies like to switch up their hairstyles for fun as trends change. Subsequently, salons offer perming, texturising and relaxing services. These services are all fairly basic, but they are very different in terms of their basic use, chemical makeup, how they work, pH, overall results and appearance.
Texturisers, relaxers and perms are all different in the effect they provide for your hair. Relaxers are used to take wave or curl out of hair. Texturisers work basically the same way, with stylists often referring to texturisers as weak relaxers. They won’t take out as much curl or wave because they use a smaller concentration of active ingredients or aren’t left on as long. Generally, people use perms to add waves and curls to the hair, not remove them.
Typically, traditional cold perms use a chemical called ammonium thioglycolate to work their magic. Some perms use glyceryl monothioglycolate. These perms are known as acid or acid-balanced perms, depending on how high their potential of hydrogen (pH) levels are. Texturisers and relaxers fall into two broad categories: lye and no-lye. Lye products use sodium hydroxide. No-lye products use other hydroxides such as potassium hydroxide, lithium hydroxide and calcium hydroxide. This matters big time for hair results because thioglycolate mixtures (most perms) aren’t compatible with hydroxide products (most relaxers and texturisers). If you’ve just permed, you can’t relax or texturise and vice versa. The exception is if you use thioglycolate texturisers or relaxers. These products are known as “thio” or “theo” relaxers and texturisers.
How They Work Understanding that perms, texturisers and relaxers aren’t always the same chemically, they all work by breaking disulfide bonds within the hair. Disulfide bonds are made of two polypeptide chains connected by two sulfur atoms. Perm chemicals break these bonds by adding hydrogen atoms. Once the disulfide bonds are broken, the polypeptide chains can move into a different shape. You pick the shape when you pick your rollers or rods and roll the hair on these tools in particular directions. With a thio relaxer or texturiser, you just skip the rods and rollers. When you apply the neutralising chemical, which normally is hydrogen peroxide, you remove the extra hydrogen and reform most but not all of the disulfide bonds – that is, the neutraliser initiates the process of oxidisation.
Hydroxide products work slightly differently. They get rid of one of the sulfur atoms in the disulfide bonds. This creates a different kind of bond, a lanthionine bond, so the process is known as lanthionization. You cannot rebuild the disulfide bonds broken through this process, so your hair will be weaker than if you hadn’t treated it or if you had used a thioglycolate product. The neutralisers used with these products (typically shampoos) are used solely to bring the pH of the hair and scalp back down to normal levels.
What About pH?
Perms, texturisers and relaxers also differ in the pH levels they have. The weakest products generally are acid perms, which use a pH of about 4.5 to 7.0. Next come acid-balanced perms with a pH of 7.8 to 8.2. Traditional cold or alkaline perms have pH levels of 9.0 and 9.6, which is about the same as the pH for thio texturisers and relaxers, which max out around 10. No-lye relaxers and texturisers weigh in at 9 to 11, while lye products are 12 to 14.
The normal pH of hair is about 4.5 to 5.5, so acid perms are extremely gentle on hair. Lye products are the harshest. Matching your hair type and condition to the pH level of your hair care product is imperative for getting good results. The lower the pH, the looser and gentler your results will be. The more stubborn your hair is, the higher pH you might need. It’s always best to use the lowest pH that gives you the results you want.
A final difference between perms, texturisers and relaxers is how stylists apply them. Perms normally are liquid solutions the stylist squirts onto the hair from a bottle. Texturisers and relaxers are creams the stylist mixes together before putting the product on your locks. Stylists use a variety of methods for putting on the texturiser or relaxer, including combing or manual distribution with the fingers. Texturisers and relaxers tend to have higher pH levels, so stylists have to work fast to get an even look over the whole head. Products with lower pH levels usually need a little more time to process following application.