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What is Chemically Induced Alopecia?

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This is a type of hair loss that is caused by the use of hair relaxers. Many women straighten their hair to manage it better or because they like the aesthetic. Relaxers straighten hair by breaking apart the protein bonds in the cortex. The broken bonds then rearrange themselves such that hair appears straighter. This weakens the hair. You can test tensile strength by stretching a hair strand. A stronger, more elastic strand will stretch well before snapping, while a damaged hair strand will snap very quickly. The relaxer also causes the cuticle layers to lift and also wears out the cuticle layers with multiple applications.

Lifted cuticle layers are more porous which means the hair absorbs and loses moisture very easily. Gloves are needed when handling relaxers to protect the skin from chemical burns. Relaxer has to be washed out quickly because if left too long, it starts chemically burning the scalp. When applied on little children’s hair, the experience can be traumatic on a physical, psychological and emotional level.

Two commonly used hair relaxer agents are: sodium hydroxide or guanidine hydroxide. They measure high (10-14) on the pH scale which is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of a substance. Note that the pH scale runs from 0-14, with the measure 7 being neutral and everything above 7 being alkaline and below it being acidic. Not surprisingly, there have been reports of injury linked to the use of these agents including scalp burns and hair loss.

Although many studies have been done on this subject, I’d like to highlight a study that was done in Nakuru some years back. It was carried out to demonstrate the effect of hair relaxers on women. In summary, Two hundred and fourty two women who had opted to put relaxers in their hair were enrolled in the study. The reason they relaxed hair was because it made it easier to manage and it looked beautiful. 67% had problems with the relaxer, most of whom stopped but after a period of time resorted back to relaxing their hair. The problems encountered included hair loss, burns to the scalp, and color changes.

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