Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Hair Hazards!! The Risks Involved with Hair Straightening Techniques

I'm stuck at home with the kids today. Who told teachers and daycare providers that they could have breaks?? I kid I kid!! (Shouts out to my beautiful teacher-friends!) Anyhooo, I was able to catch the homey Dr. Oz today. I loooooove me some Dr. Oz. Oh yes I do. Not only is he a gorgeous old Turkish stud (I'm weird, I know it) but this cardiovascular surgeon and media sensation (offspring of the Oprah family of experts) is also extremely knowledgeable on many health topics. He offers so much insight into health in such a hands-on, graspable way, giving the average Joe the knowledge to take an easy step in the right direction.
The amazing Dr. Mehmet Oz
Every time I happen to catch his show I find his topics to be super informative and relatable. I was not surprised when I flipped right in time to see the topic "The Dangers of Hair Straightening". Along with Cheryl Kramer Kaye, Beauty Director at Redbook Magazine, Dr. Oz examined the harmful ingredients and risks associated with three of the biggest mainstream techniques in hair straightening. Discussed were the controversial "Brazilian Blowout", flat ironing, and of course our dear creamy crack, relaxers.

Brazilian Blowout
Now I have heard of these trendy blowouts and I have heard of Keratin treatments. But I had no clue that they were one and the same! I hadn't done much research on the matter because I've never considered getting one done, but when I hear the word Keratin, I think protein. So here I am thinking that Keratin treatments are just costly protein treatments that salons offer clients to strengthen their hair (protein=strong, no biggie right?). But these treatments, which are super popular with people of all cultures, work by breaking down the hair bonds thus allowing the hair chemistry to be manipulated. And exactly how it works this magic has caused a storm of recent controversy due to laboratory testing that concluded to have found MORE than trace amounts of Formaldehyde as an ingredient (yes...embalming fluid). Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen and allergen and the amounts found were said to surpass the allowable amount regulated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Supposedly there are different formulas including a formaldehyde-free version. But of course the more poison, the longer the straightening last. The people at Brazilian Blowout (which I also had no idea was an actual brand name, not just a technique) have denied that their products contain ANY formaldehyde whatsoever. Hmmm...
Brazilian Blowout Before and After
Mehh...nothing a flat iron couldn't do IMHO
Well apparently customers have not been moved by this allegation. They love the results and vow to keep doing it over and over. Not surprising considering I myself have been willing to hold out a few seconds longer as my scalp boiled over just to get that silky look (during my relaxed days of course). One beauty salon owner noted on the Dr. Oz segment that he even ventilates his shop and makes stylists AND clients wear gas masks (yes, gas masks) during the questionable procedure. Ha!! and Wow...

I know this little girl feels Fiiierce with her blowout, but is it worth it?
Flat Irons
It's pretty much common sense that too much heat is bad for your hair. Dr. Oz addresses this issue with Kaye by not advising against it, but by basically giving some pointers for preventing your hair from being fried to death by this great piece of hair technology. Kaye insists that flat iron plates should be ceramic coated, which is pretty much the norm amongst the flat iron options. Your flat iron should also have a dial that allows you to regulate the temperature. I think this is probably most important since those without dials tend to keep getting hotter and hotter, scorching your hair (and the flat iron eventually burns out ~ much quicker than those that allow for temperature control).

I have never been quite sure exactly how hot my flat iron should be for my hair type and texture when I do choose to straighten (especially as a natural). I definitely want it hot enough to get my hair silky straight, but not too hot so that it leaves my hair a crispy fried mess. Kaye offers a useful guideline for this problem. If your hair is fine, you should only go up to about 300 degrees. If your hair is "normal" you can go for about 350 degrees. Now I'm not sure what her "normal" is, but for my dense kinks and curls, I think I'll stick to the 350-400 degree range the next time I opt for flat ironing.

My newfound blogger friend in my head, The Moptop Maven, even suggests that the old school straightening comb is better for your hair than the flat iron. Huh what?? I never in a million years would have thought that this was true. But as I have discovered from perusing her blog, it's ALL about the technique. I had never heard of such things as tempering your comb, using extremely minimal products, choosing the right comb for your texture/thickness. I may actually have to consider this option as I'm considering straightening my hair for New Year's Eve/my 3 year anniversary *cheese*. For super useful tips for straightening your hair with thermal tools check out her posts here and here. Loves her!!


And last but not least, Dr. Oz visited our community's century old trusty pal/nemesis, the relaxer. On display, he featured many of the popular drugstore brands of relaxer focusing especially on "kiddie perms" such as Just for Me (the jingle is forever etched in my head). Many hair product companies promote these kiddie perms and other relaxers toting the marketing cliches such as "moisturizing", "natural", or "organic" (ha!) Yet, most hair-relaxing ladies know that this oh so familiar potion (in any form) probably isn't the healthiest thing to slather on your hair. Professional or lye relaxers typically contain sodium hydroxide (lye) a chemical that, like formaldehyde (but without the media concern, but thats a different post...), cuts the internal hair bonds and relaxes the curl. The variety usually found at drugstores, or no-lye, does not contain sodium hydroxide but does contain other chemicals that work in a similar fashion and are just as caustic and harmful to the hair.

But for that sleek, smooth, manageable hair, many are willing to suffer through the chemical burns, the costs, the preparation, and in many cases, the damage. And yes I was guilty of this back in the day. I almost always did my own relaxers at home as I've never been a frequent beauty shop girl. After years of self-relaxing, I got super relaxed (pun intended) with the precautionary measures necessary to perform this chemical procedure. I began to perm without using gloves, slathering on the creamy crack with my bare hands. I started lazily applying the base on my scalp and exposed skin, using barely any at all at times. I kept the relaxer on my head until I was near tears (and don't let it be a special occasion honey, "2 more minutes...30 more seconds"). I even relaxed one time and didn't have neutralizing shampoo to wash it out (which stops the chemical process in its tracks by returning the hair to its normal pH level ), only regular shampoo. Yikes!!

Me relaxed about 5 years ago
Although I never faced any real consequences from my negligence (besides damage from generally not taking great care of my relaxed hair anyway), it's super scary to think of the poisonous chemicals that I exposed myself to so carelessly. Even though it seems no harm was done, I dread the day when some scientist says "oh yeah, that stuff will cause ~insert terminal illness here~". 

Dr. Oz demonstrated oh so clearly the dangerous capabilities of these chemicals. See for yourself...

The Dangers of Hair Straighteners, Pt. 2
Kaye suggests some of the tricks that ladies who have ever relaxed their hair probably already know. This includes such things as using a protective base on the scalp and surrounding areas (petroleum, shea butter, etc.), not shampooing several days before relaxing so that the scalp can build up a surface of oil, and avoiding touch-ups for at least 8 weeks.

As long as there are us women, and as long as us women want to be beautiful, there will be pain associated with achieving that "beauty". What I think, as a woman who has definitely put herself through some things (can you say waxing, high heels, cornrows, girdles, exercise...kidding) to achieve a standard of beauty, is that you should always be informed. Do your research, do what you can to prevent or lessen the damage associated with your treatment of choice and of course, do as many beautifying "treatments" on the inside as you do the outside :-)

Much Love and Swirls,

P.S. Think you know what you're doing when it comes to possible beauty hazards??
Take Dr. Oz's Cosmetic Dangers Quiz  I got 69% Hmmm...

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