My relaxer series went into detail about what relaxing actually is and what it’s doing to your hair. When you decide to relax your hair, you have to understand that you’re adding chemicals that are created to weaken the natural texture of your hair, allowing a new straighter texture. Your hair becomes weaker and dryer, therefore an ongoing hair care regime is paramount in ensuring that you don’t experience hair breakage. That’s a lot to commit to …

Today I’m going to expand your knowledge on relaxers. Everyone’s talking about lye relaxers versus no lye relaxers. Some say it doesn’t matter which one you use, others swear by either of the two. Let’s get into it.

Recap – what is a relaxer?
‘A relaxer is a type of cream generally used by people with afro textured hair, which makes hair less curly and also easier to straighten by chemically “relaxing” the natural curls. The active agent is usually a strong alkali, although some formulations are based on ammonium thioglycolate instead. The relaxer is applied to the roots of the hair and remains in place for a “cooking” interval, during which it alters the hair’s texture by a process of controlled damage to the protein structure.’ 

As a whole, relaxer formulations have pHs that range from 10-14. The higher the pH of the chemical the more damage the hair cuticle endures. As the strength of the relaxer formula increases, the pH increases.  Generally, coarse hair relaxers have a higher pH (therefore stronger chemicals) than fine hair relaxers. This is why it’s important to understand your hair type (thin, medium, thick) so that you can determine whether you use a relaxer for fine, normal or coarse hair.


Motions Lye Relaxer


What is a lye relaxer?
Lye relaxers have a higher PH content than no-lye and are the stronger of the two chemicals. They are ready to apply when bought. Because of their strength, most lye formulas are not available over the counter and are used in salons.


Soft n Beautiful No Lye Relaxer


What is a no-lye relaxer?
No-lye relaxers have a lower PH than lye relaxer. They include an activator step (where you mix a separate liquid into the relaxer) However, not every no-lye relaxer needs to be mixed. Lithium and potassium hydroxide relaxers are no-lye relaxers that are sold as “no mix” formulas.

No lye relaxer formulas are best for self-relaxers and can be bought over the counter as their formulation isn’t as harsh as lye relaxers.

Which one is better for your hair?

No-Lye relaxers are gentler on the scalp than lye relaxers (therefore if you have a sensitive scalp, it may be better to use a no-lye relaxer)

No-Lye relaxers are harsher on the hair than lye relaxers. No-lye gets your hair straighter than lye meaning that it damages the hair bonds even more, making it weaker and limper.

Lye relaxers still allow the hair to maintain more of its natural strength and elasticity as it doesn’t straighten the hair as much as no-lye

Lye relaxers process faster which may lead to chemical burning of the scalp (the higher pH makes them a more aggressive chemical). They must be applied carefully and quickly to avoid damaging hair and burning scalp

Both no lye and lye relaxers have downsides. One is easier on the scalp, yet can damage the hair and the other is easier on the hair and can damage the scalp. Relaxers by their very nature have been created to weaken your hair as the nature of it changes.

There are a lot of examples of women with relaxed hair that are doing it right and allowing their hair to grow in a healthy way. How … you ask? By following the following Relaxer Commandments:

  1. Follow all the steps written on the relaxer kit ALWAYS
  2. Before applying relaxer, base your scalp with a petroleum product. Also add conditioner or oil on the processed hair to curb over processing of the hair
  3. Always select a quality and trusted relaxer brand. If the one you’ve used for a long time has worked for you, continue using it and bump up your after retouch care
  4. Use a light / medium protein treatment a few days before you retouch your hair. And during the retouch, do another protein treatment after rinsing out the relaxer and before a neutralising shampoo is used.
Posted by:Aphro

I'm a hair consultant and blogger ... I exist to give my beautiful sisters strategies on attaining and maintaining the health of their hair.

15 replies on “Lye vs No-Lye Relaxers

  1. Thanks La! This I’ve experienced with both lye and no-lye relaxers. I like to relax my own hair at home but I still struggle to find one that I’m totally satisfied with. I use one brand for a few then I try something else. Is this constant change of relaxer brands safe for my hair?

    1. I’ve only ever used two, and the only reason I shifted was cause I couldn’t find the original brand. I’m now back to my original brand and I’m enjoying the results. There are some people who’s hair survives with changes in relaxers, but my aim is to get your hair to thrive. Would like you to do a hair assessment, determine how healthy it is and then check back with me – add your hair pic at

  2. I have used TCB lye relaxer and currently use the ORS lye relaxer. Both have worked pretty well for me. I don’t want to switch to the no-lye due to the mixes you have to do before application.

  3. Hi Phro, in your personal regimen, do u do the protein treatment between the relaxer and neutralizing shampoo? If yes, pliz share how u do it (how long it sits in your hair for, do u wear a plastic cap etc). Ta.

    1. Hi Grace,

      I will introduce this the next time I retouch my hair. I haven’t done that in the past – but makes sense to me. I usually do a treatment a few days before the retouch.

  4. Sorry but l do not understand how to do this in your n0. 4…. do another protein treatment after rinsing out the relaxer and before a neutralising shampoo is used.

    1. Hi Ruvimbo,

      Point 4 is saying the following:

      1. rinse off your relaxer
      2. add a protein conditioner in your hair for the allotted time
      3. rinse off the protein conditioner
      4. add your neutralising shampoo and continue the process as advised.

  5. I am a bit confused. You state that no lye isn’t as harsh as lye relaxer however, in your “which one is better…” number 2 states that no lye is harsher. This information is contradicting to what is first stated. I think it’s a mixed up? Just an observation, I am familiar with no lye vs. lye…good advice otherwise!

    1. Hi Marilee.

      Point two is highlighting the different effects relaxers have on your hair shaft vs your scalp. So that’s why I’m saying that no lye relaxers are harsher on your actual hair shaft vs lye relaxers. Lye relaxers are not as harsh on your hair, but are more likely to burn your scalp. I hope that’s clearer for you.

      Thanks for stopping by and your comment.

  6. Hi there. I haven’t had a perm since 2011 and in Feb 2012, I did the big chop and cut pretty much all of my hair off making me completely natural. Natural hair has become too much for me to maintain due to my busy schedule, and I am now planning on perming my hair over the weekend. #4 states that a light/protein treatment should be applied a few days before the retouch. Would this also apply to hair that has not been permed previously? And by protein treatment, are you referring to protein conditioners such as Aphogee?

    1. Hey Danita,

      I’ve just seen this comment – so sorry for missing it. I take it your hair is now permed. How are you going with maintaining its health?

  7. What type of protein treatment would u suggest prior to and during the relaxing process..btw great page n super informative

    1. Hey Omega,

      It’s really dependant on how weak your hair feels. I generally go for a light protein treatment – that would be cholesterol treatments.

      1. Wat qualifies as a sensitive scalp?I have dermatitis and my scalp itches when I put it too close to heat in a dryer, does that mean I qualify for lye relaxer?
        Secondly there is a belief that dirty or unwashed hair is better for relaxing coz the chemical takes longer to process the hair. Could you clarify on this please

      2. I would say you have a sensitive scalp because you suffer from dermatitis. But I would add to say that you have a ‘scalp condition’ which may not be the best for relaxer application. One of the rules with relaxers that I believe you need to follow is not to add any chemical when your skin is ‘broken’ or ‘infected’, so that could qualify dermatitis dependant on its severity.

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