Nothing like skin friendly hair relaxer: dermatologist

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Renowned dermatologist, Prof Nonhlanhla Khumalo (L) and Clinical Researcher at L'Oral Poonam Sewraj (R) at the department of science and technology's round-table discussion on the use skin lighteners and hair straighteners in Pretoria.

PRETORIA - Skin lighteners and hair relaxers took centre stage at the department of science and technology’s Women’s Month round-table discussion by experts, celebrities and academics in Pretoria on Monday.

“There is no skin friendly [hair] relaxer, it doesn’t exist. Even if it is done properly. Even if you neutralise and do everything. It is just not skin friendly,” dermatologist, Prof Nonhlanhla Khumalo told the gathering.

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“One must remember that your skin contains the same protein that is in the hair. That is why the very technology of the hair relaxer is a problem. Some of you do not know that to remove your hair, you use products that are very similar to sodium hydroxide. So why on earth would use something that removes hair, to straighten your hair?”

She said if kept on the hair long enough, the effects of the hair relaxers would be to remove the hair. It was concerning that many infants were already suffering from alopecia areata – also known as spot baldness.

Khumalo said part of South Africa’s problem was the lack of institutions to train people who make the cosmetics.

“I used to feel that as dermatologists we are waiting for our people to fall off the cliff and it seemed as if there is nothing we are doing. So I went about looking for programmes where in South Africa are people taught to make cosmetics so that we can contribute. I was shocked to discover that there was not one single programme in South Africa which trains people to make cosmetics.

“There is one programme offered by the Cosmetic Society of South Africa. It’s a post matric diploma but there is nothing at university level.”

Clinical Researcher at L’Oral, Poonam Sewraj said African hair is very precious yet fragile.

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“Today, African women have a dream of long hair and a healthy scalp. According to our research, 75 percent of women in South Africa choose to relax their hair, mainly because relaxed hair is easier to maintain than natural hair,” said Sewraj.

“Indeed, natural hair combing is painful and it provokes hair breakage. Relaxed hair is also easier to style but because of the misuse of relaxers, it can provoke scalp irritations.”

Minister in the Presidency responsible for Women Susan Shabangu urged scientists to intensify research and communicate the effects of the skin lighteners and hair straighteners which are extensively used in South Africa.

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“We need to do it for ourselves. For the police to be there to do something, we need to alert them. I can tell you about an era when skin lighteners were banned. It was women back then who stood up and decided to stop it. We now have to build an all-time consciousness and work on awareness,” said Shabangu.

“The people who are bring these things [products], they will always be there. Our people are not aware, our researchers don’t tell us that this is wrong. The pressures of being light and beautiful is felt more in the cities.

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