All about Lye

A chemical straightening treatment commonly used to relax hair. The active ingredient is sodium hydroxide; there are many No Lye products also available. The pH level is higher in a lye relaxer than a no-lye relaxer (approximately 12-14 for lye, 9-11 for no-lye, whereas your hair should generally have a pH of around 4-5).

Both lye and no lye relaxers work to break down the hair’s bonds, but a lye relaxer will do this more quickly, which is good because you often experience more scalp irritation with this chemical; so the faster it works, the sooner you can rinse it out. Although lye relaxers are associated with bad press the reality is that they get the job done quickly and with a good neutralizing shampoo follow-up rinse out cleanly.

No-lye relaxers also have a much higher pH than what is recommended for your hair. The main, active ingredient in a no-lye based relaxer is calcium hydroxide or guanidine hydroxide. Although the pH level of a no-lye relaxer is typically lower than a lye-based one, no-lye relaxers are often associated with dryer hair due to potential calcium build-up. One of the major reasons someone may prefer a no-lye relaxer is if her/his scalp is sensitive, as the chemicals in this type of relaxer can be milder on the scalp. This doesn’t mean that it’s better to use on children or that the chemicals cannot burn you (they can).

Unfortunately, people sometimes make the mistake of leaving a no-lye relaxer on the hair for too long, leading to dry, dull hair due to over-processing. To remove calcium build-up, try a clarifying shampoo once a month or so to remove dull deposits. Since clarifying cleansers are often drying, a deep conditioning treatment should be a regular part of your hair care routine also.

The bottom line is that all relaxers contain chemicals that break down the hair’s natural bonds in order to straighten it and that one relaxer doesn’t fit everyone’s needs. It’s best to consult with a professional to determine what your particular needs are when it comes to relaxers.

And no, you cannot apply a lye relaxer over hair that’s been processed with a no-lye relaxer (and vice versa)! However, you can apply a different relaxer to new growth if your current straightener isn’t giving you the results you want. It’s not recommended to constantly switch relaxer types or brands. Once you find the relaxer that works for you, it’s best to stick with it until or unless it stops.

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