Taming natural hair to achieve straight locks isn’t always straightforward. Home relaxer kits have been a go-to option for many women. But, relaxers get a bad rap for damaging the hair and scalp.
Don’t get me wrong. You absolutely must exercise maximum caution when using DIY relaxers.
But, if you’re careful and do your due diligence, you can achieve the pin-straight hair you desire with no damage to your hair or scalp. Don’t know where to begin? We’ve created this guide to help you pick the best home relaxer kit for your specific straightening needs.
How to Find the Best Relaxer for Natural Hair
There is no such thing as the best relaxer. There is only the best option for your hair type. As such, picking the best product is a personal journey. Here’s what to consider when looking for the best relaxer for your natural hair:
Your Hair Texture
The first step to picking the best relaxer for your hair is figuring out your hair texture. The specific texture will help determine the appropriate strength formula for your hair.
For example, you’ll need a mild formula for thin, smooth hair with fine texture and gentle waves. Conversely, you’ll need a more potent formula for thick, coarse hair. There are also medium-strength relaxers if your hair falls between smooth and coarse.
Hair texture, in this case, refers to the texture of individual strands of hair. So, your hair type may not be the best reference point. Your hair type refers to the hair’s curl pattern, not texture. For instance, you may have Type 2 hair, which means you have wavy hair. But, the texture can range anywhere on the fine-to-coarse spectrum.
To determine your hair texture, take a piece of thread and compare it to a strand for your hair:
- If the two are equal in thickness, then you have medium texture hair
- If your hair is thicker than the tread, then you have thick or coarse hair
- If your hair is thinner than the piece of thread, then you have fine-textured hair
Acid vs. Alkaline-Based Relaxers
The main difference between acid and alkaline relaxers is the active ingredient. Acid relaxers use glyceryl monothyioglycylate as the active ingredient. On the other hand, alkaline perms contain ammonium thioglycolate as the active ingredient.
There is also a significant pH difference between acid and alkaline perms. Acid perms, as the name suggests, are more acidic. Their pH ranges between 4.5 and 7.0. The pH levels of alkaline perms range between 9.0 and 9.6.
The effect? Acid perms require additional heat to achieve the same result as alkaline perms, which don’t need additional heat application.
The chemistry class aside, these active ingredients have practical implications for your hair. For example, alkaline perms are harsher, but better for resistant hair types such as coarse, thick, or strong natural hair. Acidic relaxers are gentler, and therefore more appropriate for smoother, thinner hair. But acid relaxers take longer to set, create looser waves than the alkaline alternatives, and the results don’t last as long.
Alkaline relaxers are also much more common but may be more likely to damage fragile or already damaged hair. Acid relaxers are a better choice for fragile hair, regardless of its texture.
Lye vs. No Lye Relaxers
To piggyback on the previous point, alkaline relaxers come in two varieties. These include lye and no-lye relaxers. Again, there is a chemical difference between the two options. Lye products contain sodium hydroxide, while no-lye relaxers use guanidine hydroxide or calcium hydroxide.
Again, there are practical consequences for choosing either option. Lye relaxers are more potent and result in straighter hair than their no-lye alternatives. But, lye relaxers can burn the scalp if you do not use adequate protection.
While no-lye relaxers are milder on your hair and scalp, they can leave deposits in your hair. These deposits prevent moisture from penetrating. Consider using a clarifying shampoo after using these products to get rid of the buildup.
It is also better to start with no-lye relaxers if you’re just getting started with DIY. Lye relaxers can damage your hair if left too long. Also, please follow the instructions to a T regardless of the option you choose.
Besides the active ingredients we’ve already mentioned, there are a few extra ingredients to look out for. Some of the best ingredients in a hair relaxer include:
- Coconut Milk – Coconut milk is sometimes substituted with coconut oil. Either way, this ingredient helps to promote a healthy scalp and hair. In addition, it contains essential vitamins and minerals.
- Activator Gel – This ingredient is effective for straightening the hair shaft. It is beneficial when straightening heavy curls.
- Cocoa Butter – This ingredient helps to moisturize hair strands and helps reduce loose and tangled curls.
- Argan Oil – This ingredient is loaded with vitamin E and fatty acids. It is particularly effective for remedying frizzy and dry hair.
- Rosemary – This ingredient helps to stimulate hair growth.
The actual relaxer is only one part of safely and successfully straightening your hair. You’ll definitely need additional products, including an activator, a neutralizer shampoo, and a conditioner.
So, it’s often cheaper to go for a relaxer kit rather than a stand-alone product. The manufacturer will also have the right combination of products, reducing guesswork on your part.
The Best Relaxers for Natural Hair
Here’s a quick rundown of the seven best relaxers for natural hair:
- Best No-Lye Relaxer – SoftSheen-Carson Defy Breakage No-Lye Relaxer
- Best Hydroxide-Free Relaxer – PHYTO PARIS Index 1
- Best No-Lye Relaxer for Coarse Hair – ORS Olive Oil Hair Relaxer
- Best Relaxer for Sensitive Scalps – Avlon Affirm Sensitive Scalp Relaxer 9
- Best No-Base Relaxer – Hawaiian Silky No Base Relaxer
- Best for African-American Hair – TCB Hair Relaxer with Protein and DNA
- Best Premium Hair Relaxer – Design Essentials Conditioning Relaxer Regular
Best No-Lye Relaxer – SoftSheen-Carson Defy Breakage No-Lye Relaxer
- Gentle on the scalp
- No-lye relaxer
- Relaxer kit helps with post and pre-treatment
- May cause brittle hair to fall out
Many women are choosing to forgo sodium hydroxide, also known as lye, for good reasons. It has a pungent smell and can burn the scalp and damage hair. If you fall in this category, this SoftSheen-Carson is a great no-lye option for straightening your hair.
This product is also a relaxer kit, so you’ll be getting a bag of goodies with your purchase. The kit includes six products for all the steps, including pre-treatment, relaxer cream, neutralizing shampoo, and reconstructor treatment.
This product is excellent for fine to medium hair textures. The mild formulation also won’t burn your scalp. Finally, the relaxer contains a good mix of ingredients to promote healthy hair, including coconut oil and ceramide.
On the downside, this SoftSheen-Carson can cause brittle hair to fall out. As with all relaxers featured in this review, you’d first want to do a strand test. Also, this formulation may be too mild for coarse hair.
Best Hydroxide-Free Relaxer – PHYTO PARIS Index 1
- All-natural ingredients
- Great for fine and delicate hair
- Good for sensitive scalps
- Results can be hit-or-miss for medium to coarse hair
If you’re over with the lye vs. no-lye debate and are looking for a natural relaxer, definitely try this PHYTO PARIS Index 1. This relaxer comes with all-natural ingredients, perfect for delicate and fine hair. The formulation is also easy on sensitive scalps.
This relaxer also has a nice mix of natural ingredients. These include Cinchona extract, Mallow extract, and Botanical Keratin to moisturize, stimulate hair growth, and repair damaged hair. In addition, its egg and soy-based formulation provide the straightening effect you need in a good relaxer.
PHYTO Paris Index 1 is also a complete hair kit. You don’t need to worry about purchasing pre and post-treatment products separately. If you’re going to use a relaxer at home, this is probably one of your best options.
But, PHYTO Paris Index 1 is far from perfect. This relaxer is mild-strength. That means it’s not as effective for medium to coarse hair. The results can be a hit or miss for these hair types. Also, the product is a little pricey. Overall, I highly recommend this relaxer for fine and delicate hair for the best effect.
Best No-Lye Relaxer for Coarse Hair – ORS Olive Oil Hair Relaxer
- Terrific value for money
- Complete hair relaxer kit
- Effectively straightens coarse hair
- It can cause scalp irritation if you’re not careful
Women with coarse hair often have to take significant risks when using relaxers. On the one hand, you need a super-strength product to manage suborn curls. On the other hand, these types of products are notorious for damaging your hair.
But, ORS Olive Oil Hair Relaxer is a terrific choice if you’re hoping to strike a balance between effectiveness and safety. This no-lye product works surprisingly well for kinky hair. Its secret lies in its mix of ingredients, including Mediterranean oil, Brazilian Pequi oil, and Shea oil.
This is also a complete kit. It comes with your basic relaxer and activator. Additionally, you get a shampoo, conditioner, and moisturizing lotion for a full salon treatment. This relaxer is also easy on the scalp.
On the downside, this relaxer may irritate you if you don’t follow the directions to the letter. This ORS hair relaxer can be unforgiving in an amateur’s hands.
Best Relaxer for Sensitive Scalps – Avlon Affirm Sensitive Scalp Relaxer 9
- Terrific formula for people with sensitive scalps
- Works for all hair textures
- The kit doesn’t include chelating shampoo
People with super-sensitive scalps almost always have to choose mild relaxers. Of course, this isn’t a problem if you have fine hair. But, finding a gentle product that works for coarse or kinky hair can be an almost impossible task.
This Avlon Affirm Relaxer 9 promises to solve this dilemma once and for all. Again, this is a full relaxer kit, complete with nine applications and a liquid activator. You also get a measuring cup to determine the relaxer strength you need for your hair. Then, simply fill up the activator to the marked lines for mild, normal, and resistant.
The only complaint is that the kit doesn’t include a chelating shampoo. After all, this is a no-lye relaxer that may leave mineral deposits in your hair. You’ll need to buy the chelating shampoo separately to get rid of the buildup. Otherwise, this is one of the best relaxers for people with sensitive scalps, regardless of your hair texture.
Best No-Base Relaxer – Hawaiian Silky No Base Relaxer
- Easy to use
- No need to apply a protective base
- Works for medium to coarse hair textures
- Not a complete hair relaxer kit
Relaxing your hair can be a lengthy routine. You’ll need to apply a base or protective cream before the relaxer to protect your scalp. This Hawaiian Silky No-Base Relaxer can help to shorten your hair-care routine.
The product releases a protective cream onto the scalp based on your body temperature. So, you’ll be able to relax your hair with little pre-treatment required.
You can also save even more time with this relaxer. Hawaiian Silky contains lithium hydroxide and essential oils to prevent mineral buildup. To complete your hair straightening routine, you won’t need to hunt for chelating shampoo or other special shampoos.
This product also has a fantastic mix of ingredients. It contains a blend of mink oil to improve hair texture and jojoba oil to prevent hair loss. The relaxer also helps to moisturize hair. Hawaiian Silky No-Base Relaxer is particularly effective for medium to coarse hair.
It’s also easy on your scalp despite its excellent straightening capabilities. On the downside, this isn’t a complete relaxer kit. That’s hardly surprising given its low price tag.
But, purchasing shampoo and conditioner separately can add up. Otherwise, this is an excellent choice if you’re looking for an effective but uncomplicated and time-saving relaxer.
Best for African-American Hair – TCB Hair Relaxer with Protein and DNA
- Specifically formulated for natural hair
- Easy to use
- Suitable for men and women
- It doesn’t include gloves and neutralizing shampoo
- It may be harsh on sensitive scalps
TCB is a household name in natural hair circles. Many of the products featured in this review work for most ethnicities. But, if you’re looking for a sure-bet, TCB makes its relaxers specifically for the African American market.
This relaxer will also help to cut your hair-straightening routine. There’s no pre-relaxer prep or mixing involved. Instead, simply apply the product directly to your hair. TCB Protein and DNA contains petroleum jelly and mineral oil to protect your scalp.
The simple application process makes this relaxer an excellent option for novices. You also get a nice mix of ingredients to help protect your hair from damage. For example, DNA, protein, and natural oils help to preserve and even strengthen your hair.
This relaxer is also suitable for men and women. However, this TCB Hair Relaxer has its drawbacks. First, you don’t get much other than the relaxer. Second, you’ll need to purchase neutralizing shampoo and gloves separately.
Additionally, this product may be a little harsh for people with sensitive scalps. Overall, I highly recommend this product for all African-American hair types. Just be sure to follow the instructions carefully.
Best Premium Hair Relaxer – Design Essentials Conditioning Relaxer Regular
- It contains premium ingredients for strong, healthy hair
- Easy to use
- Premium product solves most common natural hair problems
- It doesn’t come with neutralizing shampoo
Some women will spare no cost to give their hair the best treatment available. If you’re in the market for a premium, high-end relaxer, this Design Essentials Conditioning Relaxer Regular is an ideal choice.
This no-lye relaxer straightens even the kinkiest hair with no damage to report. It contains premium ingredients to promote strong and healthy hair, including protein complex, HydraStrength Vitamin, olive oil, and Shea butter.
Also, this Design Essentials relaxer takes care of all the common natural hair issues, including frizz, heat damage, dryness, split-ends, and tangling.
The only downside is that this product doesn’t come with neutralizing shampoo. It would be an excellent addition, considering its price tag. Still, this is a perfect relaxer for most hair types. Again, just be sure to follow the instructions carefully.
Tips for Using At-Home Hair Relaxers
We’ll start with a bit of a disclaimer. I highly recommend getting your hair relaxed by a professional. These chemicals can damage your hair and irritate your scalp, regardless of how mild.
But, I know it’s not always possible or even affordable. So, if you must use a relaxer at home, here are a few great tips to help avoid any mishaps:
- Always do a strand test. Test the relaxer on a small, inconspicuous section before applying it to the rest of the hair.
- Avoid shampooing your hair for at least one week before applying the relaxer. Washing your hair just before using the relaxer can irritate your scalp.
- Always use gloves when handling relaxers. The chemicals can make your nails fragile. The gloves that come with relaxers are usually too big for most people. In this case, use fitted latex gloves that fit your hands snuggly.
- Consider parting your hair into smaller sections if you have voluminous hair. This tip will ensure you don’t miss any spots or new growth.
- Ensure you have all the supplies you need on hand before you apply the relaxer.
- Use petroleum jelly or a protectant that comes with your relaxer kit to protect your neck, ears, scalp, and hairline.
- Detangle your hair the day before relaxing it. This will give your scalp time to rest. Detangling the hair just before relaxing can cause scalp irritation. Also, remember to be gentle.
- Smooth the relaxer through your hair rather than combing it. Combing the relaxer through will stretch your hair and may damage it. Instead, use your fingers or the back of the comb to smooth the relaxer through your hair.
- Follow the directions to the letter. The maximum processing time is not a suggestion. Please stick to it and use a timer to keep track.
- Rinse the relaxer out for at least a few minutes before using a neutralizing shampoo. This step ensures you get as much of the chemicals out as possible, allowing the neutralizer to work on the rest. This way, you can avoid over-processing your hair.
- Get help from a friend when possible. They’ll be able to help with hard-to-reach areas.
- Relax your hair at least every 8-10 weeks. Regular touch-ups will help reduce damage and keep your hairstyle uniform.