To straighten and manage their hair, many women of African descent use hair relaxers or perms. Unlike other methods of hair straightening, hair relaxers permanently alter the structure of hair by breaking the sulfide bonds that give hair its curl, according to Nicole Elizabeth Smith's 2003 book, "Healthy Black Hair." Although relaxers are usually safe, there are important measures to take before, during and after perms.

Information about Relaxers

There are two types of permanents: curling perms and straightening perms. Straightening perms are also known as relaxers since they relax the tight curl pattern of afro-textured hair. Either sodium hydroxide (lye) or calcium hydroxide is the main ingredient in relaxers. Although most people who use relaxers are of African descent, anyone with coarse hair can use them. Once hair is relaxed, the only way to return to your original hair texture is by cutting off the relaxed hair and growing new hair.

Preventing Injury

Relaxers are made from harsh chemicals and can do serious damage to your hair, scalp and skin if not applied properly. The best way to prevent injury is by using basing oils and prerelaxer treatments, which most relaxer kits contain. Basing oil is an oily solution that protects the skin and scalp. The oil acts as a barrier between the scalp and skin and the caustic chemicals in the relaxer. Unlike basing oils, prerelaxer treatments protect and condition the hair.

Getting a Good Perm

To get the best results from a perm, first decide whether to use a lye or no-lye relaxer. Lye relaxers are gentler and less drying to the hair while no-lye relaxers are gentler on the scalp. Women who have sensitive scalps should use no-lye relaxers while women with normal scalps should consider lye relaxers. It is best to have a professional perm your hair, but if you plan to do it yourself, use a children's relaxer since those are less likely to burn off your hair.

Preventing Dryness

Coarse hair is naturally dry since such hair doesn't include much natural oil. Perms further dry coarse hair, which makes such hair prone to breakage and dryness. To prevent dryness while relaxing coarse hair, add 1 to 2 tbsp. of olive oil to the relaxer. After washing out the relaxer with a neutralizing shampoo, use a deep conditioner.

Maintaining Results

Once you have applied a relaxer to your hair, new hair will start to grow within weeks. The new growth will be in its natural texture, and you must straighten it to maintain your new look. You can apply relaxers to new growth every eight to 12 weeks, but be sure that the relaxer only touches the new growth. Perming it sooner than eight to 12 weeks will weaken the hair.

Alternatives to Relaxers

Perms are not the only way to straighten or manage coarse hair. Some popular alternatives include pressing hair with a hot comb or flat ironing hair. If you decide to press your hair, use an electronic hot comb instead of a conventional hot comb since it is easier to control the heat on electric hot combs.