Kiddie relaxers are thought to be a more gentle way to achieve relaxed hair on fragile youth tresses. Despite the smiling, healthy-haired children on the box, these products are generally just as harsh as adult relaxers and can lead to hair damage, though they may be labeled softeners or silkeners. Manufacturers don’t typically display the amount of relaxing agent (sodium hydroxide, calcium hydroxide or thioglycolate) products contain; so it is hard to tell how strong these applications really are.
Relaxing at early ages can cause irreparable hair damage–affecting children’s scalp and hair follicles. Often the result is sparse, recessed, or even balding hairlines. In addition to permanent hair loss, allergic reactions and sight damage (chemicals running into the eyes) have been reported. We must also consider the psychological effects on a child to believe they must go to such lengths to be attractive.
Parents can make wise decisions by practicing protective styling techniques; using resources like this blog, and researching products before use. Practice collecting hair from the child’s brush for strand tests and do spot tests behind their ears to gauge product irritation levels. Consider investing in easy to use pH test strips to determine true product strength beyond marketing classifications (Sensitive, Normal, Super).
Healthy alternatives to avoid the hair damage of relaxing are stretching natural curls or pressing the hair. To keep virgin hair manageable and growing:
1) Use water-based detanglers to help smooth and strengthen the cuticle while increasing hair’s pliability.
2) Keep hair in an organized state by shampooing and conditioning in loose braids or twists.
3) Allow hair to dry fully in this detangled state and then style for added stretch to show hair’s true length.
If parents still choose to relax a child’s hair, wait until they are at least 12 years-old and explore techniques to mitigate the hair damage of the relaxer’s effect such as texlaxing. The only ways to control chemical action is to reduce hair’s exposure to the relaxer or reduce the amount of time the chemical is on the hair. Consider stretching the time between relaxers longer periods (10-12 weeks) to reduce hair damage. Note: children’s hair should be maintained in protective styles such as braids and buns to minimize breakage during this period.
Don’t entrust your child’s safety to companies that sell products by any means necessary. Be attentive when your child is with a stylist to ensure damaging techniques are not used. Trauma induced in the formative years can follow your child through the rest of their life.
Simple Do’s and Don’ts
Do base the scalp well with a protective petroleum-based product and protect previously-relaxed length with oil prior to relaxing.
Don’t shampoo hair or in any way abrade scalp within three days of a chemical service.
Do strand, spot and pH test products before using them on your child.
Don’t leave your child alone with the stylist.
Do reinforce hair before, during and after chemical applications with restorative protein treatments.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with your child’s natural texture. Many manageable styles are possible without the use of chemicals on children’s hair.