Hairstylists have recently come under fire from social media followers concerned about their services to girls under the age of 10. A video recently went viral, showing a toddler receiving a relaxer treatment at a salon. Many expressed that treating hair at such a young age coincides with the hidden dangers behind chemical processing.
Since haircare for young girls under 10 has become a hot topic, Glowsly contacted a few experts for their opinions on whether toddlers should turn to relaxers for more manageable hair.
Meet the experts
- Caroline Nyamu, Hairstylist
- Jasmine Nichole Cobb, Ph.D., and Author of New Growth: The Art and Texture of Black Hair
- Yvey Valcin, Master Stylist
- Michelle-Nicole Jones, Founder of Bounc’n & Behaving Hair Studio
What is a relaxer?
For generations, relaxers have been popular amongst the Black and Afro-Latino communities thanks to its ability to chemically straighten hair (or relax strands) from roots to ends. The process typically lasts 6-12 weeks, depending on activity levels.
According to Caroline Nyamu, “A relaxer is a chemical that changes the integrity and structural makeup of the hair. These relaxers contain ingredients like sodium hydroxide, ammonium thioglycolate, and sodium thioglycolate, irritating and corrosive once in contact with the skin.”
The hidden dangers of relaxers
Nyamu acknowledged that these chemicals can burn the skin and cause permanent scalp damage, leading to hair loss. “There is the possibility of follicle damage, which can be irreversible at times, thinning of the hair with overprocessing, and breakage if relaxed hair is not properly maintained,” she said.
According to the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, there’s a link between the use of straightening products and cases of uterine cancer. “Using chemical concoctions to make Afro-textured hair permanently straight is associated with a host of reproductive health issues, including earlier menstruation,” said Jasmine Nichole Cobb.
“Hair straightening with chemicals is hazardous at every age,” she added. “Children’s straightening products, or so-called ‘kiddie’ perms, can be misleading since the packaging implies these are mild treatments.”
Products like Kid’s Organics or Just for Me can easily fool you into thinking they’re safe, primarily when they feature images of food items on the box, like olive oil and coconut oil, which could mislead you into believing the product is natural.
“Relaxers marketed for children contain many caustic chemicals — such as parabens, bisphenol A, cyclosiloxanes, diethanolamine, metals, and formaldehyde — as contained in adult formulas. Therefore, I would not recommend anyone perm their hair, especially not children,” said Cobb.
Embracing Afro-textured hair
Aside from the physical harm relaxers can cause, Master Stylist Yvey Valcin believes that straightening a child’s hair can cause psychological complications, too. “At such a young age, I think a child would want to process the hair because he or she thinks having their hair permed is ‘beautiful’ because it seems easier to manage, which is not true,” he said.
According to Valcin, embracing your texture is where true beauty lies. “While a relaxer is considered a good option and time efficient, it can also be addictive,” he shared. “The danger of killing the hair begins because you have to retouch it frequently, and it’s hard to stop.”
Nyamu reiterated the possibility of developing scalp disorders like alopecia, inflammation, and psychological issues. “The worst damage is the psychological damage embedded deeply in childhood memories.”
Opt for safer options
Our hair experts agreed that there are better options than relaxing, and most said a silk press is a great alternative.
“The safest way to straighten a child’s hair is with a silk press, using heat protectants to prevent heat damage,” Nyamu shared. “When certain styles are properly done by using the right products, you save the integrity of the hair.”
Natural hair is beautiful
“Our culture has moved forward when it comes to our hair,” Michelle-Nicole Jones said. “Gone are the days when you had to get a relaxer because it was textured or because you’re Black. Teach your children to embrace and explore the natural hair they were given. If you need help learning the range of their hair, seek the assistance of a professional specializing in natural hair.”
Overall, our experts believe that there’s no reason why anyone under 10 years old should receive a relaxer. Look for styles that protect their hair, such as braids, twisties, and natural curls. And if you need a hand, don’t be afraid to turn to a specialist who can assist you and your child along their hair journey.