Starting locs from relaxed hair: pros & cons

Starting locs from relaxed hair is a controversial topic in the black hair community. I started my locs with a relaxer nearly two years ago, and I have not had any trouble since I’ve started. I hope my experiences can help find a middle ground between these heated opinions.

Disclaimer

I do not suggest starting locs with relaxed hair if the state of your hair is too brittle. Many people will argue that all relaxed hair is detrimentally unhealthy, which I personally disagree with. Relaxed hair has been subjected to damage by a chemical process, but the dangers of relaxing can be equated to the dangers of bleaching/coloring the hair in some regards. If having healthy bleached hair is possible, then having healthy relaxed hair is, too. It just takes a little bit of extra work and TLC.

Starting locs with brittle relaxed hair can lead to some of the disaster stories you’ve probably heard of. A loc can’t be strong unless the hairs that make it are strong, too. So if your hair is fried to a pulp, it really is just best to do a big chop and start from there.

My hair

My hair was quite healthy when I started. I had found a method of relaxing that was more on par with texturizing, and it worked for me. My hair was strong, resilient, and was able to grow long without breaking, even with bleach/color treatments as well. I had a relaxer 4 weeks before I started my locs.

Here are photos of my hair when it was long, then after I cut it shorter, which is how it was when I started my locs:

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Why keep relaxed hair?

There are some benefits to keeping your relaxed ends while starting locs. Here are just a few that I found true for me, personally:

  • Retains more length — Avoiding a big chop allows you to keep more length, so you don’t have to hait for longer locs.
  • It’s a part of who you are — For some people, relaxing has been a big part of their lives. My mother put a relaxer on my head when I was 4 years old. Some people like to keep relaxed hair on the ends of their locs when they make the commitment to go natural, just because it shows a journey of who you used to be and the new self image that you are growing into and becoming.
  • Job restrictions — some jobs are discriminatory toward females with short hair. Other jobs are discriminatory toward those with locs period, and having long hair to start it with opens up more opportunities for styling, which means more opportunities for disguising them.

Downsides to starting with relaxed hair

Of course, there are downsides to everything, so carefully consider these as well:

  • Damage and breakage — relaxed hair is not as healthy as natural hair. It can become brittle and dry, and the splitting/fraying of hairs cause by these conditions is a permanent form of damage. Having weak hair means having weak locs, and you can run the risk of having a loc fall off or break in half if you’re not careful!
  • Unmatched new growth — chemical relaxers are very harsh processes. They are often the one thing in the salon that is more heavy-duty and dangerous than hair bleach. This means you can get fairly straight hair, but the process is permanent, because it chemically alters the structure of your hair. You can’t put relaxers on locs after you’ve started them, so your new growth will be curly, unlike the hair below it. Your new growth will likely be thicker and different-looking than the relaxed ends of your locs. I personally have not had issues with this, but I only have type 3b natural hair, so the difference in texture isn’t as dramatic.
  • More difficult to lock — the straighter your hair is, the less advantage you have for quick knotting. The good news is that almost all relaxed hair is fairly coarse, so it tangles up easily. However, if you want quick locking with the twist method, your maturation rate will probably be a bit slower than others and may be reluctant to maintain retwists in the beginning.
  • “Who I am hates who I’ve been” — some people who go natural want nothing to do with their old life of relaxers! If that sounds like you, then obviously you wouldn’t want any bit of processed hair at the ends of your locs. Some just want the pride of saying, “This is all natural! No chemicals, no extensions!”
Starting

After weighing the pros and cons, if you still think your hair is up to the test, then you can start locs with a variety of methods. Since your hair is naturally curly, it can take well to starting methods catered to tightly coiled and kinky hair types. But since your hair is relaxed, it can also do well with other methods.

Methods
  • freeforming (neglect) — creates a  less manicured look, locs will often be of different thicknesses
  • twist method — good for locs of all sizes, other than microlocs
  • 2-strand twists / 3-strand twists — good for all sizes; may not work well on some relaxed hair types
  • interlocking — good for small locs
  • braidlocks — common for small locs, but can be done to start larger ones
  • crochet hooking — creates a very tight setup at first
  • backcombing — how I started my locs
  • twist and rip — tends to work best if your hair has less curl; it could almost be considered a method of “upside down” interlocking
Maintaining locs from relaxed hair

There are many ways to maintain locs from relaxed hair. I don’t do much, other than weaving in loose hairs with a needle and thread. However, you can retwist, freeform, interlock, or anything else that suits you.

However, since your hair is relaxed, it’s critical to take care of your hair and ensure it’s moisturized. for the first month or two of my locs, I washed with vinegar diluted in water. This is a low-pH solution, which helps seal the hair cuticles and retain moisture. I condition regularly, and I use oils on my hair for additional moisture, as well. When I don’t wash my hair, I leave my hair uncovered in the shower to expose it to steam. For more details about how to retain moisture in your locs to reduce breakage, check out these videos by Maya Goode: [1] [2].

Too unhealthy?

But what if your hair is unhealthy and isn’t quite up to the test? Well, there are two things you can do. You can start now with your relaxer. As your hair grows out, you can trim your relaxed ends over time. This is okay to do, so long as your hair isn’t 100% fried, since you’re slowly cutting it off over time. This is the best compromise between starting now and a big chop.

The other option, of course, is a big chop, which is cutting off all your relaxer and starting locs with 100% natural hair. This is the most reliable way to ensure healthy, strong locs.

The verdict

In sum, it is ultimately up to you and your hair health to determine whether you can start locs from a relaxer. Weigh the pros and cons and decide what’s best for you! I will warn you, though: Some professionals absolutely refuse to start locs on relaxed hair, no matter how healthy it is, so if you decide to start them professionally while you still have relaxed hair, prepare for potential rejection!

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