I have a secret, that I'm now going to share with you. Despite its appearance, my hair is not naturally soft and manageable. In fact, in its natural state, my hair is ridiculously thick, wavy, and coarse. So how come I'm not chopping it all off in frustration? Because I've been able to "relax" it. In fact, I've been using relaxers for many, many years. What's a relaxer? Well, it's just like a "permanent". It literally changes the bonds in your hair. But instead of applying a solution and curling your hair, you apply a solution and straighten your hair.
Recommend this product?
The brand I use is from SoftSheen-Carson, and the product is called Optimum Anti-Breakage Relaxer. I use the "regular" strength version, although they also make a "mild" and a "super" strength version.
Now the first thing I will mention is that the pictures on the box look nothing like me. That's because these products, like all products SoftSheen-Carson makes, are marketed towards African-American women. However, nothing in their literature says that these products can ONLY be used on one type of hair. I admit to being nervous the first time I tried this product, wondering what it would do to my light-colored hair. Yet, my worries were for naught; this product works great on my hair.
So what is this product, exactly?
This is a kit. The box contains all of the ingredients you need to relax your hair, to neutralize the product afterwards, and to condition your hair post-treatment. All of the products come in their own separate containers, and all are clearly labeled and numbered. The instructions refer to the products by their names and their numbers, to make it easier to keep the products separated. You also get rubber gloves to protect your hands, a wooden stirrer, and a very long (somewhat intimidating) instruction manual. You'll have to supply your own clock or timer, petroleum jelly to protect the skin around your hairline and a very wide-toothed non-metal comb.
Is this product "dangerous"?
Well, yes, it can be. Even though these products no longer contain lye, they still contain some VERY harsh chemicals. Although I will briefly describe how to use this product in this review, you must read and follow the directions carefully. If the relaxer comes in contact with your skin, you WILL get a burn. The burns are painful and last a few days. Trust me on this fact.
Although this product works great on me, results are certainly not guaranteed. You might want to speak to a trusted hair stylist before deciding to give this product (or any product containing harsh chemicals) a try.
How do you use it?
I will describe the process in very simple terms. If you decide to try this product, please do not go by my instructions alone. Read and follow all of the manufacturer's instructions, including their safety warnings.
The first step is to put the rubber gloves on. Then you have to open the plastic container with the relaxer cream, and add a chemical "activator". This sounds fancy, but it's nothing more than adding a small bottle of liquid to the cream in the container, then stirring together for a minute. They even provide the stirrer.
Now you're almost ready to apply the product to your hair. But first - protect the skin around your hairline by putting a layer of petroleum jelly on the skin. Burn yourself a time or two, as I have, and you won't forget this step again!
Also, check the clock or set your timer. You want to make sure the cream is not in your hair any longer than necessary.
Application of the product is pretty easy. Since you're wearing gloves, just use your hands to scoop some up, and place it on your hair. Unless you're doing a re-treatment, where you only want to apply the product to new growth, go ahead and slather it all over your hair. There's plenty of product. Even with my long, thick hair, I don't use all of the product, so use it generously. But don't rub it into your hair like shampoo, just place it on your hair.
Now smooth your hair. The object is to get your hair as straight and smooth as possible, while causing the least amount of damage. The instructions say to use the back of the comb to smooth the hair. I tend to use my fingers to do the initial smoothing. Then I will comb through my hair to achieve smoothness, even though the directions clearly say not to do this. They don't want you combing your hair, because there's a real risk of damage (breakage). I do it anyway, but bear in mind, I'm using a VERY wide toothed comb. I wouldn't dare attempt to use a "regular" comb or a brush. And, I try to only comb each section one time, to get the hair smooth. As soon as each section is covered with the cream, and smoothed, I put the comb down. At this point, you just want your hair to hang straight down, without any bending. So sit or stand still, for the remaining amount of time.
How long? That depends on the strength of the product, and the coarseness of your hair. There's a chart in the instructions to help you determine how long to leave the product in. They also recommend doing a single-strand test to determine the best timing for your type of hair. But, expect to be finished in 15-25 minutes. My hair is quite coarse, but I want to minimize damage, so I go for 20 minutes.
Once the time is up, jump into the shower and start rinsing. And rinsing, and rinsing. This cream is THICK and a bit stubborn to rinse out. Then you want to use their shampoo which also acts as a neutralizing agent. With my thick hair, I shampoo several times, using the entire 2 oz. bottle. And still, not all of the chemical will be out of my hair. How do I know? Because they designed some very clever products. If the shampoo comes in contact with any relaxer, the lather will turn pink. So as you're shampooing and rinsing, the lather starts out bright pink, and then starts fading, and then it's supposed to turn white, when there's no more chemical left. To be honest, I use the entire bottle of shampoo, and my lather is always still a pale pink at the end. Having used this product many, many times over the years, and always ending up with pink lather, I don't worry about it. I just accept the fact that the stuff doesn't rinse completely out of my hair, no matter how many iterations of shampoo and rinsing I do. I don't know why this should be the case, but it is. My sister has used this product, and her lather turned white pretty quickly, so it's just something weird about my hair, I guess.
After rinsing, there are two more steps. Because the kit contains both a conditioner and a leave-in strengthener. So condition for five minutes, then rinse, then use the leave-in product. You are done!
I used this product this afternoon, and I timed the entire process from start to finish. Including the 20 minutes I left the cream in, I was completely finished in less than an hour.
But what about results?
I absolutely love the results. My hair looks and feels completely different post-treatment. Why? Because relaxers, with their very high pH, actually break the bonds inside the hair, that keep your hair wavy, or curly. Thus I have actually changed the structure of my hair. Where I used to have waves, it's now fairly smooth. Is it completely smooth? No. But that's probably because when the cream was on my hair, I wasn't able to pull it completely smooth. So there's still a bit of a wave left. I'm sure if I had someone helping me, I could achieve even straighter results, but on my own, I just do the best I can. It's still MUCH smoother than those tight waves used to be.
It's also much less frizzy, and it feels much thinner. In fact, it feels like a completely different head of hair. Smooth and soft, instead of coarse and frizzy. What a pleasure!
What about damage? Well, there is definitely a cost to be paid for this nice, soft hair. Using the "regular" strength, for 20 minutes, I know I'll end up with some split ends. I usually plan to get my hair trimmed shortly after relaxing. However, in the past, I've tried the stronger products, and suffered some major breakage as a result. The best advice I can give you is to talk to your stylist, and then do a single-strand test before using this product on your whole head.
So, how long will the results last? Well, here's where I'm a bit confused. This is supposed to be "permanent". Meaning that relaxed hair has been physically altered, and is supposed to stay that way forever. Theoretically, only new growth would ever have to be treated. I don't find this to be the case. My hair is very long. I know that the entire length hasn't grown out, by the time I'm ready to relax it again. In my case, the hair seems to revert back to its natural shape in about four months. Don't ask me how or why, I can't explain it, but that's the way it is for me. Of course, since this product only costs about $5, it's really no big deal to use it a few times a year.
So, do I recommend this product? Absolutely! It's worth it for me to spend an hour every few months, and even risk some damage, if it means I can have soft, manageable hair. Having used this brand for many years, and getting consistently great results, I would recommend this product for anyone who wants to transform their coarse, difficult hair into soft, manageable locks.
Softsheen-Carson Optimum Oil Therapy
See www.softsheen-carson.com for more information.
2010 update: Similar product, different brand:
Gentle Treatment Hair Relaxer
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