History of the Relaxer

Relaxer, perm, creamy crack, and the white stuff. These are all names used to refer to Relaxers. The relaxer was concocted by Garret A. Morgan, a child of former slaves in 1877 in Paris Kentucky(i).  Contrary to much belief Madam CJ Walker did NOT invent relaxers or perms(ii). This is not to say that she didn’t play an integral role in the beauty and cosmetic industry, but this misconception that she invented the relaxer is untrue. Relaxers were designed as a topical cream used to make African-American hair more “manageable” (their words, not mine) by smoothing out the hair follicle in a way to force the naturally curly textured hair straight (iii). Yup that just about sums it all up.

This isn’t high school and I’m not a kid, the term paper flow isn’t happening on this site. So instead of me giving you a term paper description of Relaxers since inception, I’m going to do something a bit different. Relaxers have seen many decades, many years and styles. This chemical has been celebrated for years. Below you will see the timeline of the Relaxers highs and lows.

–1913 Garret A. Morgan founds G.A Morgan Hair Refining Company: The Company’s premier product was the hair relaxer product. This was the forefront and face of G.A Morgan Hair Refining Company. This product was based with alkaline chemicals and soap that contained lye.

Photo provided by freestylehaircare.tumblr.com

–1970’s Lye Relaxers: Lye relaxer is officially produced into Relaxer mixture. Lye straightened the hair alright, did it so good it broke down the protein structure in the hair which resulted in thinning and early signs of alopecia.

–Late 1970’s-early 80’s Living in No-Lye Relaxers: Johnson Products Company, Inc. introduces the Gentle Treatment, the first no-lye relaxer. This relaxer was pushed to not only encourage all that  relaxers were good for your hair,  but they were now better due to them being No-Lye. This also spun up Herbal and Botanical hair relaxers from companies like Soft & Beautiful (i).

–Early-Mid 1990’s Don’t forget the Rio: I remember this one. I was probably no more than 8 when this infomercial came on boasting about all these benefits of this relaxer sweeping the nation called Rio Hair Naturlizer System. I remember thinking to myself “Wow, I sure wish I had hair like those women”. Thank God I didn’t get my wish. The relaxer industry took a BIG hit (however not big enough to get people to stop using relaxers) when this relaxer stood in the way of a Class Action Law suit against World Rio Corporation. After 53,000 filed cases arose from people using the product suffering from scalp burns, hair loss and green hair (iv); this relaxer was taken off of the market. When I think about this scare I always remember the running joke of “Sure hope that’s not a Rio” being stated when someone walked past a woman with unhealthy hair. Although this incident raised many questions about the safety of chemicals such as copper, ammonium and chloride salts being in relaxers, the industry still didn’t take a nose dive(v).  Go figure.

–2009 Good Hair movie by Chris Rock is released: This movie shined a little light on Relaxers and perms within the African-American community. During a segment of the movie Chris Rock visits a scientist and asks him if Relaxers are safe to be used on humans. He does an interesting test of soaking a soda can in the compounds that make up a relaxer. The most surprising result out of this little science experiment is that the last soda can out of 3 totally dissenergrated within the mixture. As shocking as this image was I still didn’t stop relaxing my hair, along with many other women.

Good Hair movie trailer

— 2010 Marks the 100 year anniversary of Hair Relaxers: How do we celebrate this chemical that has been around for as long as our great-grandparents? We go NATURAL. During this time the “Natural Hair Movement” as some will call it hit a SPIKE. Between the increase of YouTube channels and natural product entrepreneurs popping up every time you hit refresh; relaxers were finally being told to move over, there was a new Curly Sherriff in town. This collective group didn’t need to relax or be manageable in order to exist. There was another pivotal shift in Relaxers during the 100th year anniversary. Due to all of the buzz and key words being put in Google within the Natural Hair Community (NHC), Relaxers took a turn towards conscious care. More companies such as Soft & Beautiful, Dark and Lovely, and Soft Sheen Carson, began incorporating olive, argon, tea tree oil and a slew of other ingredients prominate in the Natural Hair Community into relaxers.

–2011 to Present Day: Relaxers are still incorporating the Natural key ingredients on the boxes of their products. Just goes to show what a little empowerment can do to an industry living off of you. As the percentages of naturals rise the decrease in sales of relaxers will continue to slide. This industry can stand for a good reevaluation if you ask me, but for now it seems to be implementing more conscious ways to maintain relevance. Take a look at the lovely slideshow below of all the new oil ingredients in the perms now. If at any point individuals in the Natural Hair Community questioned their influence, I dare you to stroll down that perm isle and see exactly how much of a difference you make. Perms with olive oil included boasting great health results is like telling a child to never look both ways while crossing the street and hopefully they’ll only get hit by a car and not a truck.

Relaxers have a major competitor, it’s the woman who wants another option outside of straight “manageable” hair. This woman is looking for something new and I don’t mean a new celebrity on the  relaxer box. No one knows the next stop for Relaxers. They have 100 years of being in business and to be honest that’s a lot of time to perfect this mixture and get it right. However, I would be remissed if I didn’t tell you I was waiting for the day when all African-American women decided another way for themselves. Relaxers have had a good run, but it doesn’t take much for you to notice your hair growth is being stunted, the health is questionable at times and the whole feel good impression in your hair leaves after 1 or 2 weeks.  We can’t determine where Relaxers will go into the future but I know based off of this timeline they have some competition ahead of them.No matter if you relax or rock your hair in its natural state we can’t ever lose sight of health first and everything else second. The history of relaxers is not over yet. I’m interested to see what’s next for the beauty industry and this chemical implanted as a tradition in our community.

History of Relaxer 2


(i)  History of Hair Relaxers. Retrieved Feb 2012: http://www.ehow.com/about_5098213_history-hair-relaxers.html

(ii) Madam CJ Walker. Retrieved Feb 2012: http://www.madamcjwalker.com/faqs/#10

(iii) Relaxer. Retrieved Feb 2012: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Relaxer

(iv) Ayana D. Byrd; Lori L. Tharps (30 November 2006). Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America. Diane Pub Co. p. 95.

(v)  Zook, Kristal Brent (January 7, 1996). “Get out of our hair: Untangling the politics on top of the black woman’s head“, The Washington Post, pp. C1.


Living in the Curl of it…

Diana (aka DRamZ84)

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I'm just a Butterfly with a #NoahAssignment to help you GET YOUR POWER BACK in Beauty. I'm dedicated to my purpose so that means I'm dedicated to you. I have a dipping sauce problem that I'm not getting help for and at any moment I'll break out into song and dance. #GetYourLight.

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  • Miko B.

    Well done! I’m glad to have found this site.

    • http://www.sisterswithbeauty.com/ SistersWithBeauty

      Thanks so much Butterfly..appreciate you reading the post and commenting..Happy you found the site too..:) now spread the word to all the naturals that you know..:) Butterflies UP!

  • Shantell

    I absolutely love this! So empowering! Happy I found you guys; keep it up! <3

    • http://www.sisterswithbeauty.com/ SistersWithBeauty

      Butterfly Shantell, thanks so much for reading and commenting on this post. We are just as excited to have you and only ask that you bring another Butterfly with you next time. Let’s keep SWB growing by telling everyone we are here..:) Butterflies UP!!!.

  • dd

    I wanted to know who invented the perm & this was very helpful. I just made the decision last night to go natural & I’ve been perming for about 15yrs & im only 22.. hope it goes well.

    • http://www.sisterswithbeauty.com/ SistersWithBeauty

      So happy you found us..:) and CONGRATS on your decision. Know that SWB is here for you. The site was designed to promote healthy hair first above all things. Your story is like man but know that you are the only one to dictate the ending. Don’t hesitate to contact SWB and be sure to follow us via all of our Social Networks (Facebook, Twitter(@SisWithBeauty), Instagram) Butterflies UP and welcome..:)

  • Angela

    I’m currently transitioning and am 4.5 months post relaxer. My decision couldn’t have been made at a better time. I’m completely excited and ready to embrace my natural hair. My only regret is not beginning my journey sooner. But hey.. this is definitely something one has to be 100% ready for.

    • http://www.sisterswithbeauty.com/ SistersWithBeauty

      Welcome to SistersWithBeauty and welcome to your own natural hair journey. Very excited for you Butterfly..:) Be sure to subscribe to the SWB Newsletter to receive all the good information, discounts, private videos, and curly conversation SWB has to offer all of our Butterflies..:)

  • Livvy’

    im doing a science fair project on Relaxers , and this helped me alot!! :))

    • http://www.sisterswithbeauty.com/ SistersWithBeauty

      Butterfly Livvy, that’s awesome. Thanks for reading..:) SWB

  • http://www.facebook.com/sophiaSoFree Sophia SoFree

    Great info..I love this I have been natural four years

    • http://www.sisterswithbeauty.com/ SistersWithBeauty

      Thanks so much for reading Butterfly..:) SWB

  • buhle

    sharplines is the best for me, it does not burn n it has coconut oil which leaves my hair silkier after relaxing

    • http://www.sisterswithbeauty.com/ SistersWithBeauty

      Thanks for reading Butterfly..:) and for leaving a comment.

  • nichole

    My husband and I were debating who invented relaxers and came across your blog and I have to say you gave us both so much insight about relaxers. .thank you great post!! I have been natural almost 2 yrs and couldn’t have been happier! I got a relaxer at age 7 because my waist length natural hair was too much for my grandmother to handle and slowly it got shorter and shorter but now I’m bra strap length and its amazingly healthy! Keep up the great work! Thank you again!

    • http://www.sisterswithbeauty.com/ SistersWithBeauty

      Thanks so much for reading…truly appreciate and your husband for reading the article. We are like twins..Both were relaxed by 7 yrs of age. Share the link on your social networking page, let’s see if others feel the same way. .thanks in advance. SWB

  • Smiles2013

    Hi I am currently doing a research to see whether there is an alternative using harmful chemical to get black hair straightens either temporally or permanently. This really helped me

    • http://www.sisterswithbeauty.com/ SistersWithBeauty

      Awesomeness. Happy SWB could be of service..:) SWB

  • Rasta empress

    I relaxed my hair at age 13 because of a boy I like. But every time I had to have it redone several spots on my scalp will burn intensively as a result. When I cried and complained the stylist will say “it pains to be beautiful” . Was I that ugly? cause that mess pained like hell! I stopped using all relaxes and embraced my natural beauty with no harmful pain, turn out it was the beginning of a journey that evolved into a profound relationship within myself, I have grown spiritual as well as mentally. Self love is a beautiful thing, I am now 33 years old and that boy I mention well he is now my husband and we shear two beautiful children. Love yourself. stopped hidden behind wigs, weave, relaxers and the like. much love

    • http://www.sisterswithbeauty.com/ SistersWithBeauty

      Thank you so much for reading and for sharing your story..:) You are so right, loving yourself will make a world of difference in how you view yourself…:) Now let’s go get some more Butterflies to help..:) Be sure to share the post and the site. Butterflies uP.

    • Lola

      Wow that is a beautiful and inspiring story!!! You need to write an article or create a blog or something with your story!!!!

      • http://www.sisterswithbeauty.com/ SistersWithBeauty

        SistersWithBeauty is the perfect platform for that…:) we’d love to have it if Butterfly Rasta Empress would like to do so.:) SWB


      using relaxers is stupid. just be yourself

      • http://www.sisterswithbeauty.com/ SistersWithBeauty

        we won’t disagree with you but everyone’s experience with them isn’t the same. Some don’t see the damage or some see it but don’t see returning back to their natural hair as a solution… Until then we shall blog about it and create a safe home for them…#FluffsPillows..:) thanks for reading.