If you are thinking about relaxing your hair, you’ve probably come across the terms lye and no-lye relaxers when shopping for the right relaxer to use.
What’s the difference between them and which one should you buy?
Both types of relaxers have their good and bad aspects which I’ll explain in this article. The best choice will depend on your hair type and whether you are styling at home or at the salon.
1. Lye relaxers
Lye refers to a strong alkaline solution containing a metal hydroxide. It is usually used to refer to sodium hydroxide, which is the active ingredient in lye relaxers.
Because of this, lye relaxers tend to have a much higher pH level (12-14) compared to no-lye relaxers (9-11).
The high alkalinity is what causes the uncomfortable burning sensation when you apply a lye relaxer.
It’s also why lye relaxers work faster to relax your hair. Sodium hydroxide breaks down the bonds in your hair more quickly.
This is a good thing because you need to rinse out the relaxer quickly to avoid severe discomfort and scalp/hair damage.
Pros of lye relaxers
- They work quicker than no-lye relaxers thanks to the highly alkaline sodium hydroxide. In addition, lye relaxers tend to produce better results especially when applied in a salon by a pro.
- Once you rinse the relaxer out of your hair, it does not leave any mineral deposits behind that can dry out your hair.
Cons of lye relaxers
- They are very uncomfortable to use. The high alkalinity causes a burning sensation on your scalp. It’s going to be worse if you have a sensitive scalp.
- Because of the burning sensation and reduced application time, it’s more difficult to apply a lye relaxer at home. It’s best if you get it applied at a salon.
- Lye relaxers are not only more difficult to apply at home, they also pose a higher safety risk. You could cause chemical burns on your scalp or seriously damage your hair if you don’t do it properly.
2. No-lye relaxers
No-lye relaxer have a lower pH of around 9-11 because they don’t contain sodium hydroxide. Instead, they use calcium hydroxide or guanidine hydroxide as the main ingredient.
The result is a less-irritating relaxer that you can easily apply at home and is easier on sensitive scalps.
But note that no-lye relaxers still cause a burning sensation. Their pH is fairly high. So you should still be very careful when using it on a sensitive scalp. Follow all the manufacturer instructions to avoid hair/scalp damage.
The main downside with no-lye relaxers is that they don’t completely rinse out. They leave calcium deposits behind which tend to dry out your hair. This mostly affects the hair ends where you’ll notice more splitting and frizz than usual.
If you use a no-lye relaxer, follow it up with a clarifying shampoo to remove the mineral build-up. Then use a deep condition to moisturise your hair.
Pros of no-lye relaxers
- They are gentler on your hair and scalp thanks to their relatively lower pH. This makes them a good choice for home use and for people with sensitive scalps or hair.
- They are easier and safer to apply at home. You have more time to properly apply the relaxer on your hair and the risk of chemical burns is reduced.
Cons of no-lye relaxers
- They leave mineral deposits in your hair even after rinsing. This is why they are associated with a drying effect. You’ll have to use a clarifying shampoo and deep moisturising conditioner to keep your hair from getting dry and frizzy.
Lye or No Lye relaxers – Which one should you use?
Use a lye relaxer if:
- You are planning to get your hair relaxed at the salon. When dealing with a lye relaxer, it is best to let a professional handle it. Otherwise you might not get the results you are looking for and you could damage your scalp and hair.
- You have no scalp sensitivity issues at all and you are sure your hair can take the high alkalinity.
- You have struggled with dryness issues before after using a no-lye relaxer.
Use a no-lye relaxer if:
- You are planning to apply the treatment yourself at home. It’s safer and easier to apply compared to a lye relaxer.
- You have a sensitive scalp.
- You have fine or damaged hair.