Relaxer burn – ouch!

This article will be dedicated to relaxer burn.  I was prompted to write about this after getting three emails last week from women complaining about the same problem – burnt scalps from relaxers.  There was a time that I believed that a relaxer wasn’t ‘done’ until it was tingling / burning!  How wrong I was!  I distinctly remember times when hairstylists would ask me to sit until I could bear it no longer.  Little wonder my hair broke so much back then.

Relaxer burn is a chemical burn that results when the relaxer crème burns your scalp.  This often leads to blisters or scabs where the scalp is burnt.  The hair often sticks to the scabs and breaks as you try to pry it away.

When relaxers are done correctly, your scalp should not tingle or burn.  A hairstylist should not have you sit and wait for the relaxer to tingle or start burning before rinsing and neutralising it.


So what causes relaxer burn?  The most common cause of relaxer burn is leaving the crème on the hair for too long.  This happens very often, even with women who get their hair relaxed at hair salons.  The crème should be washed off as soon as its work is done.  There is no need to wait longer because this just leads not only to burns, but to over processed hair as well.  Follow the time that the manufacturer suggests, do not exceed it.

If you find that when the manufacturer’s time is followed, your hair is still under processed – it may be a good idea to seek a stronger relaxer formulation.  If on the other hand the relaxer begins to burn, you should try the ‘mild’ version or the version formulated for sensitive scalps.  These relaxers normally have an oil added to the formulation to slow down the chemical relaxing process.

You need to avoid scratches to the scalp in the days leading up to your relaxer.  This is done by not washing your hair three or more days before your relaxer.   You also need to make sure you do not scratch your scalp.  While getting a relaxer make sure not to scratch the scalp with a comb.   This usually happens when smoothing the relaxer.  Nicks and scratches to the scalp can leave your skin exposed to the relaxer, causing burning.


So what can be done to eliminate scalp burn due to relaxers?

  • Base your scalp with oil or Vaseline before you get a relaxer.  Base your whole scalp including forehead, nape and ears.  If you are susceptible to burning, base your scalp the day before your relaxer and again just before you apply the relaxer.  If you go to a salon for your relaxers, insist the hairstylist bases the whole scalp.
  • While relaxing do not smooth the relaxer crème onto the hair with the teeth of your comb.  Use the back of the comb to make sure you do not scratch your scalp.
  • Stay away from vigorous exercise a few days before your relaxer because sweat will open the pores in your scalp which can lead to burning.
  • Follow the directions of the manufacturer on how long to keep the relaxer on the hair.  If your hair is under processed in this time consider using a stronger strength relaxer next time.  If you burn quickly consider using the ‘mild’ relaxer.
  • Make sure you apply the relaxer to only the new growth, not to hair that has previously been relaxed.
  • If your scalp has any sores or irritation, do not relax the hair.  Wait until these irritations have healed.
  • Gently detangle your hair before getting a relaxer.  This ensures that your hair is easy to part while applying relaxer.  It also makes it less painful for you, especially if you get a relaxer at a salon.


So you already have a relaxer burn (this article came too late!!), what do you do now?  If you begin to feel a tingle immediately rinse off the relaxer with cool water and proceed to wash with neutralising shampoo.  Rinsing with water and neutralising will minimise the burn.  The longer you sit and squirm, the worse the burns get!

Apply something that soothes burns onto the area.  Aloe vera gel has been used for burns since time immemorial and is great for scalp burns.  If you have any burn meds or antibacterial cream you can use that too.

Some scalps are just sensitive and react badly to relaxers no matter what precautions are taken.  In such cases it’s just better to not relax the hair at all.

Does your scalp burn when you relax your hair?



  1. says

    I used to get the worst burns! Because of stupid stylists that keep the relaxer on for ages, stating that it’s the only way my hair’s gonna “take” to the relaxer. Eish. After deciding to hell with them, and doing it myself (with the help of a friend), and switching brands, and stirring in a teaspoon of castor oil, I have no more burns, whilst still being able to take my time to properly smooth (in my mind under processing is actually caused MORE due to incompetent application). Now, my hair is fuller after relaxer, while still being straight and smooth and my scalp and hair thanks me, especially after I also started stretching. In 6 months I have actually truly retained 3-4 inches of growth, and I believe it’s because now I give a crap about what I do with my crown and how I do it, and stylists don’t come near me anymore.

      • says

        Thank you hon. It doesn’t look that long, but especially if I look at pics taken in Feb when I started my journey then I realise how much retention I have had. I did a length check post about a month ago where I compared the very beginning till that time with pics. I will only do another official check in maybe a month or so, trying to stretch to 16 weeks this time, sitting at 11 weeks post at the moment. Will ask my photographer friend to help out at that time so the pics can come out proper.

      • blair says

        hello i just relaxed my hair yesterday and i am experiencing some scalp sore in different places on my scalp and i am afraid and i dont know what to do, and i am afraid of useing just any shampoo to wash it again. can you please advise me ..thank you

        • Tendayi says

          It sounds like your scalp may have been burnt :( Check your scalp to see if this is not the case. You can shampoo your hair with no problem. Just make sure to treat the burns.

  2. says

    I started making the hairstylist wash my hair before it starts to burn, sometimes I even pretend its burning just to add to the urgency. I’ve used to base my scalp with oil in the past to slow down the period before the burn, but my hairstylist advised against it say it messes up the relaxer processing. I think I’m going to start doing it again!!!

    You have provided great tips (thank you!), which I do myself. These days its just wise to plan salon visit ahead of time…I wash my hair a week before, cut back on gym, staying out of the rain, making sure I avoid hairline (area most prone to scalp burns) when I shower etc. I also go to the salon during work hours when its less busy. My scalp burns when I’m left to sit while the hairstylist is busy with another head.

    But at least I’m educated now, but scalp burns is something I wish my daughter (no kids yet) will never experience, which is something I had to go through since I started relaxing

    • says

      Thanks for the extra tips. In my expeirence oil slows down the chemical process of a relaxer. Those with sensitive scalps or those who don’t want their hair relaxer bone straight can actually mix some oil into the relaxer creme. It makes it work slower.

  3. Hope says

    yes my scalp burns very quickly so l always tell my hairdresser to apply very quickly and wash it off as soon as she finishes the application process. Is it safe to change relaxers l have a friend who want to change from soft and free to dark and lovely but is scared it will damage her hair.

    • says

      It is safe to change relaxers but she must just remeber that the new relaxer may give different results to the old one so she may end up with 2 textures of relaxed hair. Thats the possible downside. As always the new relaxer should be applied to new growth only.

  4. thandeka says

    I also had my hair relaxed last week and got really burnt. I suspect the reason was because I relaxed my hair 2 days after baggying. My growth is still visible, how soon can I relax my hair again? I hope u will b able advise.

    • says

      Hi Thandeka
      It sometimes happens that you relax your hair but it comes out under processed or you are unhappy with the results. I would advise you wait the usual minimal of 6 weeks before doing a ‘corrective’ relaxer. This is when you relax and correct any mistakes from a previous relaxer. Let me write an article on it so as to explain fully.

  5. Lukundo says

    From the time I was a teen, I have applied powder to the scalp, forehead and ears to avoid burns. Just make sure the head is covered thoroughly. A trick I learned from my mum. Works everytime. No burns.

      • Memory says

        Hi Tendayi, you seem to know alot about hair, could you please be my hair adviser. My name is Memory Gatsi, i have been trying to get my hair to grow longer than my neck for over 7years now to no avail, my contacts are email: facebook:memory siabona: . I will really appreciate your advise, pleazzzzzzz!!

    • Edna says

      Lukundo, do you apply it before applying relaxer or the day before? Do I just sprinkle it through sections of parted hair. I am about to get relaxer and need a good understanding

  6. Lukundo says

    Am sorry I took it for granted that u knew what I was talkin about. Baby powder. I use johnsons baby powder

  7. Karabo tladi says

    I was using restore super when i relax,i started 2 burn..i used regular bt stil i stl burn and My hair becomes sore my scalp becomes very sore what should i do please help

      • sharina says

        You can also try relaxer for kids, i think they are less harsh that is what i started to use after i continued to get burned

        • Eunice says

          Its not really about using kid relaxer or not. I have developed a sensitive scalp over time and now the dermatologist says I do indeed have eczema. She advised me not to relax my hair.
          Kid relaxer or adult relaxer I still get burnt either way, because the its the same chemicals present.
          I say base, with powder; My childhood hairstylist would do that every time and it worked like a charm.
          Mix your relaxer with oil; I personally haven’t tried it, but I have a friend who is mixed race and it helped her straighten her hair without thinning it.

  8. Teekay says

    My 13yr old tried relaxing my 3yr old and she was burnt & she even lost her hair. The scalp is pink. I took her to the doctor & he washed her heAd with cold water & dettol then applied germolene. Will this help or is there something I need to do?

  9. kalima says

    I waws getting a perm and it was burning so i washed it out and the water still made it perm like any liquids made the burns worse and then i put grease on the parts that was burning and i dont know what to do now

    • says

      A perm / relaxer needs to be neutralised to stop the chemical process. Water alone will not do that. You need to use the neutralising shampoo to stop that chemical process. As for the actual burns, visit a pharmacy and get something to soothe the burn. You can also use aloe vera as mentioned in the post above.

  10. Kgomotsolet says

    My hair has started falling out and this was after I kept it natural and not plaited for two years. I have two patches on the left back part of my head. I have tried a number of hair grow products and they don’t seem to work. What can I do? I am 32 years old

  11. lynae says

    Thanks a bundle for this post. I’ve been perming my own hair for decades, and I do a better job at growing it verses going to the salon. To make sure my scalp wouldn’t burn, I would always perm it three days after washing it. This way I can avoid an itchy scalp. But, I found out today that I have a very important meeting to go to tomorrow, and my hair has a good 2inches of new growth. I knew it was going to burn, so I started reading the internet for solutions. Oh my, Alma by Optimum makes a pre-treatment pack, but I’ve never used it before. Never used any pre-treatment on my scalp before relaxing it. So, after reading your blog, I discovered that I need to learn how to read instructions. They use a petroleum base oil that you are supposed to use first. My scalp never burnt like it would have with my scalp being so dirty. Thanks for letting me know.

  12. Bethany says

    Wanted to know how can I get bouncy hair because after perm n after wrapping my hair my ends always stick straight up n have no life to them

    • tkunaka says

      This is because you relax your hair until it is bone straight. Try texlaxing it instead ie rinsing out and neutralising the hair before the relaxer cream has had a chance to make the hair bone straight. The hair is left with some texture and i find it keeps styles longer and has more bounce as well as being fuller.

  13. Moraa says

    Hi, how can I relax my own hair, I have been going to the salon and I’m not satisfied with their service. the difficult part is doing the back of my head. Any tutorial referral?

    • Tendayi says

      Hi Moraa

      I still go to the salon for relaxers. That said many women self relax. There are hundreds of videos that can help on youtube. I’d suggest you enlist the help of a friend the firt time (or few times) to help especially with the back of your head until you get the knack of it.

  14. Alrica says

    Hi, I got a perm a few weeks back and decided to wash my hair a couple weeks after the perm. Then I noticed at the sides of my head, their was little hair there and it stung a bit . Now, no where else on my head has any less hair , it’s only on the sides. Now, I’m so pissed and self conscious . Did I get a chemical burn ?

    • Tendayi says

      You would feel the burn on your scalp. That would be the burnt part. It might be that your hair was overprocessed and broke off. Overprocessing happens when relaxer is left on the hair for too long. So sorry this happened to you.

  15. Zinhle21 says

    Wow, i relaxed my hair yesterday and the relaxer burnt me now my hair looks sticky :( that damn hairstylist i think she thought i was playing when i told her i was burning! But with that said, i got my answers from reading everything here and i just wanna say Tendani i have so much respect for you sisi for always replying to people who post here every year, sister we thank you! Keep up the good job.

  16. Star says

    I left the relaxer on for too long and my baby hairs at the front of my head have now stuck to my head :( whenever I try to comb it out it PAINSSSS because those hairs are veryyy thin and fragile. Can the cure work for me too? Or is my burn on a different level?

    • Tendayi says

      It’s a burn Star. Don’t try and comb it because it will just break. Yes you can do what I refer to in the article.

  17. Wahab says

    Relaxed my hair 5 days ago lots of hair is falling I’ve tried some home remedies like mixing some eggs – vinager and olive oil but there no use ….
    What’s the best solution ?

    • Eunice says

      That’s the treatment that most hairdresser and parents suggest; use Vaseline on the burnt area. I understand why, Vaseline is neutral, it doesn’t have any chemicals that could further irritate your scalp and after a while the burnt bit flakes off and leaves fresh skin.
      I think If it’s not infected, Vaseline should help the burn heal.

  18. Maliyah says

    Ive just recently had a relaxer done and have a really bad burn on my scalp. There is also still some of the chemical left in my hair that my hair dresser never washed out. If i was my hair will it undo the relaxer all together?

    • Tendayi says

      Wash your hair with a neutralising shampoo asap @Maliyah. Any relaxer left on your hair will continue to work leading to further burns and breaking hair from overprocessing. A relaxer cannot be undone. You can wash your hair even as soon as you get home from the salon.

      I say don’t go back to that stylist though :(

  19. thaboe says

    I relaxed my hair about a week ago, I got burnt. my hairat the back still smells like the relaxer and a generous amount is stuck to my scalp and my neck! What do I do cos i fear my hair breaking. I was advised to do an oil treatment but i fear washing my head cos my burns are still sore.

    • Tendayi says

      You need to treat these burns like any other burn wounds Thaboe. It sounds like you got terrible burns :( That hair stuck to your scalp can break. It needs to be teased slowly maybe with the use of aloe vera gel. I’m so sorry you had to endure this.

  20. thaboe says

    Hie Tee. I relaxed my hair last week and i got burnt. I have parts of my hair sticking to my scalp like someone glued it there, and my hair is stuck together. I have been applying vaseline to the sticky patches and they are loosening. I realised parts of my hair were smelling like the relaxer, but the smell has since stopped. How safe is it to shampoo and do an oil treatment to wash off the extra chemical and nourish my hair and scalp.

    • Tendayi says

      You can shampoo and deep condition your hair any time after getting a relaxer. It is important though that you make sure the relaxer is properly neutralised because if it is left on the hair it continues to work and can cause serious burns.

  21. Theresa says

    Hi, i had a terrible scalp burn at my front hair. It left my scalp with a wound. What should i do now because my hair stylist did not take it seriously when i told her my hair was burning. She made me endure till she was done and this resulted in a scalp wound. Pls i need help urgently.

    • Tendayi says

      You need to have the burn wound treated Theresa. Your hairstylist should have listened to you :( You should not have had to endure it.

    • Tendayi says

      This would be products that are used to regrow hair after any kind of hair loss. Castor oil is up there among the most recommended. Massaged onto the scalp at least once a week, more if necessary.

  22. hakim says

    i would not like to encourage people do the relaxing themselves because its unprofessional but just encourage the hairdressers in your country to enroll in hairdressing courses or cosmetology for the betterness of building a professional beauty industry in your region just like what we have done in EAST-AFRICA

    85% scalp burns cases are caused by inappropriate use of chemical (relaxers) by un professional hairdressers hence not specifying which hair texture they are dealing with and jumping on a client’s head without performing a hair analysis first and knowing the condition of a scalp for good determination on which product to use.

    Its our time to build the a professional beauty industry in Africa……………………

    • Tendayi says

      A professional beauty industry would be so welcome Hakim. I do hope we get to see this in our parts soon.

  23. Linette Knight says

    Hello Tendayi, here’s my situation, I went to the salon to get my hair colored, no relaxer, just getting rid of the grey hair. The next day I woke up to the worse itching in my head and proceeded to wash my hair. Well, I guess I waited to late, because my scalp was already inflamed and exteremly red, but the scary part was the fact that my entire head and face had swollen up. I immediately went to the ER and was prescribed pain pills, benadryl and topical cream, but that didn’t help because later on that evening the swelling got worse, so I went back to the hospital and was admitted for over night observation. Needless to say I’m done with hair coloring.

    • Tendayi says


      Ive actually heard of many women being allergic to hair die (particularly a chemical called paraphenylenediamine or PPD). Apparenntly its found in many dyes. There are some natural options though. I’ve seen this one mentioned before too – Maybe you can check them out and others like them. They claim to be PPD free.

  24. Nombeko says

    I relaxed my hair with Organics at the salon, its so burnt and painful its even oozying what can I do at home to soothe this

    • Tendayi says

      Im so sorry Nombeko :( They are burns and you should treat them as such. You can get some burn meds at the pharmacy that you can apply. Alternatively you can use aloe vera if you have it.

      Do not go back to that stylist. Your hair burning during a relaxer should not be considered normal :(

  25. Gyeibie says

    Hi…I relaxed ma hair wif ORS olive oil relaxer yesterday nd I got serious burns that ma hair ws not fully relaxed dis is nah de first tym I ve changed relaxers 2…ma scalp is styl sore wah shld I du

    • Tendayi says

      You need to treat the burns Gyebie. They are burns like any other and need to be treated. Also do not try to do another relaxer for 6 to 8 weeks. Make sure your scalp has healed too.

  26. Taiwo says

    I went to a salon to relaxed my hair in November 9 my hair got burnt., to the extent that I can comb my hair up till now it has lead to a terrible wound on my head and the wound is bring out water.

  27. storm5 says

    Shielo is my new holy grail shampoo! It leaves my chemically treated hair very clean, very moisturized, fuller looking and softer feeling, no matter which conditioner I pair it with. I use the Shielo Hydrate Shampoo & Conditioner and I seem to get fuller and healthier looking hair with each and every use. It’s the best shampoo I have ever used. In addition, it’s sulfate free.

    • Tendayi says

      Is it the whole scalp? Are they not scalp burns? You could also be reacting to the relaxer. I think you should visit a doctor / dermatologist. Sorry you are going through that.

  28. says

    Hey tedayi I relaxed my hair somewhere last week I got serious burns n my hair is sticky the problem is I did a side cut when I brush the burned part it lives pink skin the hairstylist told me to come back after two weeks for treatment should I go or just leave it to heal more proper?

    • Tendayi says

      I suggest you attend to the burns first and let them heal. The treatment is for the hair but not for the burns. You should not be burning like that when you get a relaxer. Either the relaxer is too strong for your skin or it is not being applied properly.

  29. Josh says

    Hey whats up my name is Josh I recently relaxed my hair for the first time about a week ago this was the first time I put a relaxer in my hair I used the ors olive oil no lye relaxer. I based my hairline with hair oil but not so much on my hair and like 5 minutes in it started to burn I thought it was suppose to burn cause this was the first time. It burned for like a day or two but know its fine and like one week in my hair is starting to get frizzy again. I talked to some girls at my school cause they know about relaxers better than I do since my hair gets frizzy quickly how often should I relax they were telling me every two weeks to a month since my hair gets frizzy easily and should I be considering of shifting to a new relaxer thanks josh

    • Tendayi says

      You should relax your hair every 6 weeks or more as you run the risk of over processing your hair. 2 weeks is definitely too soon. I suggest you get someone to relax it for you. If you can, go to a salon with someone qualified to relax hair. You can try changing relaxers to something milder. Also depending on which strength or ORS you used, if you used super, try using the normal strength next time.

  30. ora says

    Hi, a relaxer burnt my cousin’s sculp to a point that hair no longer grows on the burnt part. It is a small portion on the head but it does bother her a lot. Do you have an idea of what treatment she can use to help that spot grow hair again?

  31. someone says

    My mom relaxed my hair with a different relaxer she did last month and my scalp started burning after doing the first part which was strange. She was not even finished and I started screaming from the pain and it was awful, my scalp kept burning as hell and I kept telling her to hurry. Apparently I used this relaxer before and it just had the regular scalp burn? (the one that burns a bit)… after applying some cream on my hair with vitamins (this had no mint, I know mint creams burn) and it still burned! What is the cause of it? I have no wounds or anything just a hurting scalp….
    What are tips to do the next time? what creams/oils do not burn??
    I really hate it when she changes creams because I notice immediately and she doesn’t pay attention to what relaxer she buys because some cause more scalp burns than the other. the last one I used did not cause any scalp burns but she ended up buying another…

    • Tendayi says

      You can apply oil on your scalp to give it some protection while the relaxer is applied. You can apply an oil like castor oil. Some relaxers also include a cream you can apply to the scalp as a scalp protector.

  32. Estelle says

    Hellooo :)

    My hair texture is weird, I think it’s because of me relaxing my hair :/ But I’ve been natural for a couple of months now and the roots of my hair (or half of my hair length) is really coarse while the end half is really thin :/ so my hair looks really crazy lol. Why does it looks like this?

    • Tendayi says

      Hi Estelle

      Did you cut off the relaxed ends of your hair. I suspect that’s the reason. Relaxed hair is permanently altered and you cannot change it back. You would need to cut the relaxed ends to get an even appearance to your hair.

  33. Evelia Torres says

    I’ve had a problem with my scalp for a few years!! I went to a hair stylist died my hair blonde and since then my scalp really itches!Iam pretty sure that its a chemical burn!!!

    • Tendayi says

      It could also be an allergic reaction to the dye. Many people are allergic to ingredients in hair dye. Sometimes the allergic reactions are quite severe.

  34. delois says

    I got my relaxer done at 1pm today and its 7pm my head is hurting and still burning. What can I do to stop thus burning?

  35. michael says

    mine pained me to the extent i could no longer feel the relaxer ,now i have burns and something like liquid come out and stick my hair and scrap very strong…what should i do

  36. Sakhie says

    Hie Tendai

    I want to change relaxers from soft n free to dark and lovely but im afraid of hair breakage, how long do you think i should wait before i start using dark n lovely??


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