Relaxer burn – ouch!

7 Aug

This article will be dedicated to relaxer burn.  I was prompted to write about this after getting three emails last week from women complaining about the same problem – burnt scalps from relaxers.  There was a time that I believed that a relaxer wasn’t ‘done’ until it was tingling / burning!  How wrong I was!  I distinctly remember times when hairstylists would ask me to sit until I could bear it no longer.  Little wonder my hair broke so much back then.

Relaxer burn is a chemical burn that results when the relaxer crème burns your scalp.  This often leads to blisters or scabs where the scalp is burnt.  The hair often sticks to the scabs and breaks as you try to pry it away.

When relaxers are done correctly, your scalp should not tingle or burn.  A hairstylist should not have you sit and wait for the relaxer to tingle or start burning before rinsing and neutralising it.


So what causes relaxer burn?  The most common cause of relaxer burn is leaving the crème on the hair for too long.  This happens very often, even with women who get their hair relaxed at hair salons.  The crème should be washed off as soon as its work is done.  There is no need to wait longer because this just leads not only to burns, but to over processed hair as well.  Follow the time that the manufacturer suggests, do not exceed it.

If you find that when the manufacturer’s time is followed, your hair is still under processed – it may be a good idea to seek a stronger relaxer formulation.  If on the other hand the relaxer begins to burn, you should try the ‘mild’ version or the version formulated for sensitive scalps.  These relaxers normally have an oil added to the formulation to slow down the chemical relaxing process.

You need to avoid scratches to the scalp in the days leading up to your relaxer.  This is done by not washing your hair three or more days before your relaxer.   You also need to make sure you do not scratch your scalp.  While getting a relaxer make sure not to scratch the scalp with a comb.   This usually happens when smoothing the relaxer.  Nicks and scratches to the scalp can leave your skin exposed to the relaxer, causing burning.


So what can be done to eliminate scalp burn due to relaxers?

  • Base your scalp with oil or Vaseline before you get a relaxer.  Base your whole scalp including forehead, nape and ears.  If you are susceptible to burning, base your scalp the day before your relaxer and again just before you apply the relaxer.  If you go to a salon for your relaxers, insist the hairstylist bases the whole scalp.
  • While relaxing do not smooth the relaxer crème onto the hair with the teeth of your comb.  Use the back of the comb to make sure you do not scratch your scalp.
  • Stay away from vigorous exercise a few days before your relaxer because sweat will open the pores in your scalp which can lead to burning.
  • Follow the directions of the manufacturer on how long to keep the relaxer on the hair.  If your hair is under processed in this time consider using a stronger strength relaxer next time.  If you burn quickly consider using the ‘mild’ relaxer.
  • Make sure you apply the relaxer to only the new growth, not to hair that has previously been relaxed.
  • If your scalp has any sores or irritation, do not relax the hair.  Wait until these irritations have healed.
  • Gently detangle your hair before getting a relaxer.  This ensures that your hair is easy to part while applying relaxer.  It also makes it less painful for you, especially if you get a relaxer at a salon.


So you already have a relaxer burn (this article came too late!!), what do you do now?  If you begin to feel a tingle immediately rinse off the relaxer with cool water and proceed to wash with neutralising shampoo.  Rinsing with water and neutralising will minimise the burn.  The longer you sit and squirm, the worse the burns get!

Apply something that soothes burns onto the area.  Aloe vera gel has been used for burns since time immemorial and is great for scalp burns.  If you have any burn meds or antibacterial cream you can use that too.

Some scalps are just sensitive and react badly to relaxers no matter what precautions are taken.  In such cases it’s just better to not relax the hair at all.

Does your scalp burn when you relax your hair?



30 Responses to “Relaxer burn – ouch!”

  1. Robyn 07 August, 2012 at 1:04 pm #

    I used to get the worst burns! Because of stupid stylists that keep the relaxer on for ages, stating that it’s the only way my hair’s gonna “take” to the relaxer. Eish. After deciding to hell with them, and doing it myself (with the help of a friend), and switching brands, and stirring in a teaspoon of castor oil, I have no more burns, whilst still being able to take my time to properly smooth (in my mind under processing is actually caused MORE due to incompetent application). Now, my hair is fuller after relaxer, while still being straight and smooth and my scalp and hair thanks me, especially after I also started stretching. In 6 months I have actually truly retained 3-4 inches of growth, and I believe it’s because now I give a crap about what I do with my crown and how I do it, and stylists don’t come near me anymore.

    • Tendayi 07 August, 2012 at 4:08 pm #

      That is a lot of growth Robyn – well done! Please post some pics on your blog.

      • Robyn 07 August, 2012 at 4:19 pm #

        Thank you hon. It doesn’t look that long, but especially if I look at pics taken in Feb when I started my journey then I realise how much retention I have had. I did a length check post about a month ago where I compared the very beginning till that time with pics. I will only do another official check in maybe a month or so, trying to stretch to 16 weeks this time, sitting at 11 weeks post at the moment. Will ask my photographer friend to help out at that time so the pics can come out proper.

      • Tendayi 07 August, 2012 at 4:36 pm #

        Let me go and look for the post with the pics. I missed it. Best wished with the stretch.

  2. youreadyb 07 August, 2012 at 1:12 pm #

    I started making the hairstylist wash my hair before it starts to burn, sometimes I even pretend its burning just to add to the urgency. I’ve used to base my scalp with oil in the past to slow down the period before the burn, but my hairstylist advised against it say it messes up the relaxer processing. I think I’m going to start doing it again!!!

    You have provided great tips (thank you!), which I do myself. These days its just wise to plan salon visit ahead of time…I wash my hair a week before, cut back on gym, staying out of the rain, making sure I avoid hairline (area most prone to scalp burns) when I shower etc. I also go to the salon during work hours when its less busy. My scalp burns when I’m left to sit while the hairstylist is busy with another head.

    But at least I’m educated now, but scalp burns is something I wish my daughter (no kids yet) will never experience, which is something I had to go through since I started relaxing

    • Tendayi 07 August, 2012 at 4:07 pm #

      Thanks for the extra tips. In my expeirence oil slows down the chemical process of a relaxer. Those with sensitive scalps or those who don’t want their hair relaxer bone straight can actually mix some oil into the relaxer creme. It makes it work slower.

  3. Pumi 07 August, 2012 at 1:17 pm #

    Olive Oil mixed with castor oil is very good for soothing the burns. It works really fast I have used it before.

    • Tendayi 07 August, 2012 at 4:05 pm #

      Thanks for the tip Pumi!

  4. Hope 07 August, 2012 at 3:26 pm #

    yes my scalp burns very quickly so l always tell my hairdresser to apply very quickly and wash it off as soon as she finishes the application process. Is it safe to change relaxers l have a friend who want to change from soft and free to dark and lovely but is scared it will damage her hair.

    • Tendayi 07 August, 2012 at 4:03 pm #

      It is safe to change relaxers but she must just remeber that the new relaxer may give different results to the old one so she may end up with 2 textures of relaxed hair. Thats the possible downside. As always the new relaxer should be applied to new growth only.

  5. thandeka 08 August, 2012 at 7:12 pm #

    I also had my hair relaxed last week and got really burnt. I suspect the reason was because I relaxed my hair 2 days after baggying. My growth is still visible, how soon can I relax my hair again? I hope u will b able advise.

    • Tendayi 10 August, 2012 at 11:24 am #

      Hi Thandeka
      It sometimes happens that you relax your hair but it comes out under processed or you are unhappy with the results. I would advise you wait the usual minimal of 6 weeks before doing a ‘corrective’ relaxer. This is when you relax and correct any mistakes from a previous relaxer. Let me write an article on it so as to explain fully.

  6. Lukundo 13 August, 2012 at 12:31 am #

    From the time I was a teen, I have applied powder to the scalp, forehead and ears to avoid burns. Just make sure the head is covered thoroughly. A trick I learned from my mum. Works everytime. No burns.

    • Tendayi 13 August, 2012 at 11:03 am #

      What type of powder is this Lukundo?

      • Memory 19 September, 2012 at 3:29 pm #

        Hi Tendayi, you seem to know alot about hair, could you please be my hair adviser. My name is Memory Gatsi, i have been trying to get my hair to grow longer than my neck for over 7years now to no avail, my contacts are email: facebook:memory siabona: . I will really appreciate your advise, pleazzzzzzz!!

      • Tendayi 20 September, 2012 at 11:06 am #

        Hi Memory

        Please email me on africanhairblog” and I can assist you as best i can

  7. Lukundo 13 August, 2012 at 12:34 am #

    Plus appying some vaseline generously On the burns helps. At least it has for people I know.

  8. Lukundo 13 August, 2012 at 5:19 pm #

    Am sorry I took it for granted that u knew what I was talkin about. Baby powder. I use johnsons baby powder

  9. Karabo tladi 31 August, 2013 at 4:34 pm #

    I was using restore super when i relax,i started 2 burn..i used regular bt stil i stl burn and My hair becomes sore my scalp becomes very sore what should i do please help

  10. Natasha Sibanda 30 September, 2013 at 12:18 pm #

    Hi tendai
    My hair is two years old. I release with dark and lovely. It is now starting to break and my hairline is gone. Please advise and recommend something

  11. Teekay 20 November, 2013 at 1:53 am #

    My 13yr old tried relaxing my 3yr old and she was burnt & she even lost her hair. The scalp is pink. I took her to the doctor & he washed her heAd with cold water & dettol then applied germolene. Will this help or is there something I need to do?

    • Tendayi 20 November, 2013 at 4:37 pm #

      I think in this case a docs advice would be the best. It’s a burn like any other and needs to be treated as such.

  12. kalima 03 January, 2014 at 10:37 am #

    I waws getting a perm and it was burning so i washed it out and the water still made it perm like any liquids made the burns worse and then i put grease on the parts that was burning and i dont know what to do now

    • Tendayi 12 January, 2014 at 12:18 am #

      A perm / relaxer needs to be neutralised to stop the chemical process. Water alone will not do that. You need to use the neutralising shampoo to stop that chemical process. As for the actual burns, visit a pharmacy and get something to soothe the burn. You can also use aloe vera as mentioned in the post above.

  13. Kgomotsolet 13 January, 2014 at 4:44 pm #

    My hair has started falling out and this was after I kept it natural and not plaited for two years. I have two patches on the left back part of my head. I have tried a number of hair grow products and they don’t seem to work. What can I do? I am 32 years old

  14. lynae 03 February, 2014 at 5:32 am #

    Thanks a bundle for this post. I’ve been perming my own hair for decades, and I do a better job at growing it verses going to the salon. To make sure my scalp wouldn’t burn, I would always perm it three days after washing it. This way I can avoid an itchy scalp. But, I found out today that I have a very important meeting to go to tomorrow, and my hair has a good 2inches of new growth. I knew it was going to burn, so I started reading the internet for solutions. Oh my, Alma by Optimum makes a pre-treatment pack, but I’ve never used it before. Never used any pre-treatment on my scalp before relaxing it. So, after reading your blog, I discovered that I need to learn how to read instructions. They use a petroleum base oil that you are supposed to use first. My scalp never burnt like it would have with my scalp being so dirty. Thanks for letting me know.

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