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Tips for Achieving Healthy Relaxed African American Hair

Updated on June 3, 2014

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My History with Relaxed Hair

Keeping up with relaxed African American hair requires the utmost diligence and care. For us African American ladies, we have to be mindful about the many things we use to treat our hair such as products, heat and even how we shampoo and condition our lovely locks. I had my hair relaxed when I was only thirteen years old. Over the many years, I have discovered a variety of ways to keep my hair healthy primarily through trial and error.

Getting My Hair "Done"

We either love going to the beauty salon or we hate it. Either way, over many years, I have learned a great deal about what should be involved when you get your hair done. When I was naïve in my first several years of going to the salon, I always trusted every word of the hair stylist and always had my hair relaxed, shampooed, cut, blown dry and then styled every 6 to 7 weeks.

It was no wonder my hair wasn’t growing or was splitting at the ends so easily. When I reached my twenties, I started to do more research and take advice from a variety of sources.

When it came to getting my hair done, it was time to start eliminating some of the processes and making sure the chemicals were fully washed out. Today, I now only get a relaxer, have it shampooed to wash out the product and leave the salon with wet hair. I do everything else myself and my hair healthier this way.

Many stylists will cut corners and only shampoo a client’s hair twice after a relaxer. Make sure your stylist shampoos your hair at least three times with a neutralizing shampoo. Or, you can do what I do and leave with it wet and wash it a few more times at home just to be sure. It seems like more work, but down the road you’ll never have to worry about your hair being over-processed from relaxer sitting in your hair long after your touch-up which can cause hair to break or fall out.

Shampooing At Home

With my new process after my re-touch, I obviously do not have my hair styled at the salon either. Upon returning home from the salon with my wet hair, I jump in the shower and shampoo with Isoplus Neutralizing Shampoo. It’s a cheap shampoo that does the job. Over the years of using it, I have always been confident that the entire product from the relaxer is long gone down the drain.

Deep Conditioning at Home

Deep conditioning the hair after a relaxer is extremely important. Your hair is in a weak state and is need of re-balancing its moisture level. Follow up with a high quality deep conditioner like Elasta Soy Ultra Hydration Deep Condition or Biolage Matrix Conditioning Balm. I like to use them interchangeably so that my hair does not get used to the same conditioner. If you’re short on time, wear a shower cap with the conditioner on your hair and tend to your other shower duties. Within 10 to 15 minutes, the deep conditioner will have done its job and your hair will be ready for a thorough rinse. If you have time or at least once a month, apply a deep conditioner to your hair and sit under a dome dryer for about 15 fifteen minutes.

Elasta Soy Ultra Hydration Deep Conditioner

Biolage Matrix Conditioning Balm

The “Wash n’ Go” Bun

Now that your hair is squeaky clean and silky from a shampoo and deep conditioner, what do you do? Several years ago, I would have thought I still had at least two more hours of tending to my hair, as the next step would be to wet set it with rollers and sit under the dome dryer for who knows how long. It always felt like forever! I also knew that if I cheated and used a blow dryer, I’d damage my hair from the hot heat no matter what type of hand-held dryer I used.

These days, I do the “wash n’ go” bun. After applying a leave-in conditioner spray like Healthy Sexy Hair Soy Tri-Wheat Leave-in Conditioner and moisturizing oils like African Royal Hot Six Oil, follow these steps…

  1. Brush the hair gently back and grab it in a ponytail with one hand.
  2. With the other hand, simply twist the pony tail and wrap it around the base.
  3. From here, the bun can be pinned down with bobby pins or clipped with a large claw clip.

Styling My Hair

How to Do a French Twist

More on Wet Updos

If I need to look more presentable, I can keep my bangs out and curl them separately with the curling iron. Need to be classier than a simple bun in a hurry? In addition to styling the bangs, sweep your hair into a French twist instead. See the video on the right. Keep in mind with African American hair, you won’t need the hairspray.

Whichever bun or twist style you use, having your hair in these styles allows it to straighten as the hair dries, saving you a lot of time while putting less stress on your precious locks. At the end of the day when it’s time for bed, wrap your hair or wear rollers to sleep. The next day or the following day, it will be dry enough to wear it as you please.

When to Cut

An instructor from a local beauty school explained to me to never cut my hair right after it had been relaxed. She says the cuticles in hair that was just relaxed are expanded. When cut, the ends can fray. It’s best to wait at least few days and then return to someone you trust to cut your hair when it is dry and completely straight so that the hair is cut evenly.

In addition to changing when to cut my hair I also made alterations to how much should be cut. In my early days, my stylist was cutting a full inch or more at each relaxer visit. Over time, I learned that my hair was not getting longer because too much was being cut off at each visit. Now I only have no more than ¼ of an inch trimmed off every 8 to 12 weeks. Selecting a separate professional to cut my hair made a huge difference. If keeping your hair long and having someone who listens to you is important, I highly advise finding someone who solely cuts your hair but does not relax it.

Other Hair Care Tips

  • Stylists will tell you it is safe to color or bleach your relaxed hair as long as you deep condition it weekly. This may depend on the strength of your hair but in my experience this advice only left my hair breaking and short. Because relaxers are so harsh on hair, I cannot stress enough to avoid putting any other chemicals in your locks like colors or dyes. If you absolutely must, stick with a tinted conditioner.
  • With rainy weather approaching, wear your hair in updos with bobby pins and hair clips. Keeping the hair’s ends tucked in prevents breakage and damage from humidity. Heavy winter clothing like sweaters and jackets also have a way of breaking ends so never wear our hair down when wearing such clothing.
  • If you like to wet set your hair with rollers, always use plastic rollers, never Velcro or foam rollers to avoid damaging your hair.


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    • poetryman6969 profile image

      poetryman6969 3 years ago

      Looks great! Nice tips on hair care.

    • mbusley profile image

      Mekia Busley 3 years ago from Bay Area


      Thanks for reading. If I am wearing the bun during the day time, I use the bun as a style to wear to work or elsewhere so I don't a scarf on. No matter what method you use at night, including the bun, it's always best to wear a scarf.

      With the relaxer, I am able to brush my hair straight and style it into the bun, but if you're hair is still a little wavy or curly you could try using Rusk Str8 Anti Frizz/Anit Curl lotion or something similar to further smooth your hair down.

    • profile image

      Kesha 3 years ago

      When you do the wash and go bun do you put a scarf or something on it. Also do you do this method after all washes. Is there a specific straightening serum that you put on to get your hair straight.

    • mbusley profile image

      Mekia Busley 3 years ago from Bay Area

      Thanks, urstrulee. I appreciate it!

    • urstrulee profile image

      urstrulee 3 years ago from Midwest USA

      Really great article!

    • mbusley profile image

      Mekia Busley 3 years ago from Bay Area

      Sue, a month is way too long. There are a lot of good and bad shampoos out there. I have an article specifically about what shampoos are best for relaxed hair. Go to this link to read.

      If you still have questions, let me know! Good luck!

    • profile image

      Sue 3 years ago

      This is my first time relaxing my hair and since it was relaxed a month ago I haven't washed it but its become very dry and have noticed lots of dandruff too. How regularly would you recommend I wash it and with what kind of shampoo and conditioner should I use.. am really worried because my hair doesn't look healthy.. Please advise and thank you replying to my previous post

    • mbusley profile image

      Mekia Busley 3 years ago from Bay Area

      Sue, I think it's best to wait at least 5 days, as you don't want to dry out your hair especially after applying harsh chemicals and heat to it. If your hair is feeling dry/brittle or suffering from dandruff in between washes, use a rich oil moisturizer like coconut or argan oil or try conditioning your scalp with tea tree oil.

    • profile image

      Sue 3 years ago

      After being relaxed, washed and styled how soon after can I shampoo it

    • mbusley profile image

      Mekia Busley 4 years ago from Bay Area


      Thanks so much for your comment and feedback. I'm so happy to hear this article was helpful for you. Wishing you happy, healthy hair!


    • profile image

      Dee Major 4 years ago

      I stumbled across this article and have to say it was an awesome read! I was also pleasantly surprised at how affordable all of the products are that you mentioned. It really helps when I'm on a tight budget, but still want great results. Thank you so much!

    • mbusley profile image

      Mekia Busley 4 years ago from Bay Area

      It is best to relax your hair about every 6 to 8 weeks depending on your growth. If you stretch it out to far, you'll risk damaging your hair when trying to style it; you will be trying to comb/brush through different textures of hair. I have found that when it's close to when my hair needs a relaxer, my hair doesn't behave and gets a lot dryer.

      I usually moisturize at night before putting my hair up with rollers. This way the oil can do it's job while you're sleeping and you'll wake up with moisturized hair that's not too saturated.

      Under the "Wash n' Go Bun" section of my article, I mention a Leave-In Conditioner called Healthy Sexy Tri Wheat. This works great as a detangler. There's also Ecoly Supernatural Tri-Wheat Leave-In, but I can't seem to find it anywhere anymore. These are good to use after shampooing and conditioning. If so much hair is coming out, you may need to play around with some different conditioners or deep condition directly after your shampoo and then apply a detangler after you rinse.

      I really hope that helps. Having African American/mixed hair can be a challenge, especially when none of us seem to have the exact same grade of hair.

    • profile image

      NDesdunes 4 years ago

      Great! Thanks so much for answering so quickly!

      Three last questions, sorry! (I've been looking everywhere for good regimens for relaxed hair, and you seem to be doing pretty well with yours!)

      Do you recommend to get relaxers regularly, or to stretch a few months between them? And do you recommend moisturizing your hair everyday or just when it seems to need it?

      Do you detangle your hair during shampooing, conditioning, or after? I always end up with fist sized ball of hair no matter when I try to detangle it -.-

    • mbusley profile image

      Mekia Busley 4 years ago from Bay Area

      You're welcome, ND. Glad you liked my article. I find it's best to use a variety of shampoos and conditioners so that the hair does not get used to one shampoo and stop "reacting" positively after each wash. I like the Organix line (Vanilla, Coconut Milk, Argan Oil, Awapuhi Ginger are all good ones), Queen Helene Royal Curl, ShiKai Everyday Shampoo, and Vidal Sassoon Restore and Repair shampoos and conditioners. Light oils like Moroccan Argan Oil, Coconut Oil and Awapuhi oil work well on my scalp and hair as a moisturizer. I also light Doo Gro Stimulating Growth Oil which comes in an easy-to-use funnel tip bottle for applying to the scalp. When you run out, you can save the bottle and add different oils to it.

    • profile image

      ND 4 years ago

      Hi! Thanks for all the info!

      What shampoo do you use to wash your hair on a regular basis? And how do you keep your hair and scalp moisturized in between washes?

    • profile image

      EA 4 years ago

      Thanks for all this info- so much I hadn't considered!

    • profile image

      S.Williams 4 years ago

      Good info! Thanks!