Japanese Straightening: A healthier alternative to relaxers?

I'm super excited about today's guest post.  Last year I had an encounter when I ran into a girl who had the most incredible head of hair I've ever had the pleasure of laying my eyes on.  She told me that her hair was chemically straightened using a Japanese straightening process that left her hair "healthier" than when she relaxed.  I was very intrigued after meeting her but I never took the time to thoroughly research Japanese straightening.  Lucky for us, a young lady by the name of Yahya over at Pocahontas_Secrets,  has come to save the day.  Although she is not a professional, she seems to have a lot info + personal experience with Japanese straightening.  She volunteered to teach us everything she knows.

So let us all learn from her and marvel at her amazing hair.  Oh, I should mention that this will be a two part series because I'm dying to know her full regimen.

Tell us about the Japanese straightening process. What is it?

Japanese straightening has many names: thermal reconditioning, thio relaxing, etc. The process is very long, ranging from 3-6 hours. In my experience doing touch ups, it took 3 hours when I went to a pretty renown salon (Hairs Talent from Connecticut) and 6 hours when I tried straightening my hair with a home kit. The process can slightly vary depending on the stylist, but here is a basic outline. Your hair has to start off clean, so the process begins with a wash, usually a clarifying shampoo. The hair is then detangled, the straightening solution is applied on your virgin roots and a protection cream might be applied to your previously chemically treated hair. Usually there will be four hands applying the solution, you need four if your hair is thick. A protection cream is a must if your hair is colored.  The virgin hair is stretched and smoothed with a solution, processing time ranges from 20-50 minutes.  

 The hair is than thoroughly rinsed for about 5-10 minutes. Some stylists will do a deep conditioning after the rinsing, others won't because it can make the hair revert a little. Now here is where it becomes very different from a traditional relaxer. The hair has to be blow dried 80% and than flat ironed in a 90 degree angle. A neutralizing solution saturates the hair and should sit for about 15 minutes. The hair must again be rinsed for about 10 minutes . Again, you can use a conditioner but using it can hinder the results. It really depends on whether you want the promised wash n go, dead straight results, or you just want a texturizer. after drying, the hair is usually lightly flat ironed again. at this point your hair is still absorbing oxygen, so you have to avoid water and humid environments for three days. you also have to keep your hair down and be careful how you sleep. unlike a traditional relaxer, this can revert.  If something does happen, you can lightly flat iron the misshapen area. There are several videos on Youtube previewing the process being done on afro textured hair by Hairs Talent. 

What are the major differences between this method and relaxing?

Despite the constant flat ironing of Japanese straightening, the chemical process is healthier on your hair. the reasons being because it uses a milder chemical and doesn't permanently break the disulfide bonds. traditional relaxers use sodium hydroxide or calcium hydroxide, which have a ph of 14 and 11. Japanese straightening uses ammonium thioglycolate, the same chemical used in curly perms, which has a ph of 8-9. When using ammonium thioglycolate, whether in a curly perm or Japanese straightening, the disulfide bonds are temporarily broken and than reattached. With traditional relaxers the disulfide bonds are turned into lanthionine bonds, stripping a part of the inner structure of the hair. This is why natural hair has a health advantage when compared to relaxed hair. I write more about the inner structure with a visual chart here. Also unlike lye and no-lye relaxers, there is no frizz.  The curl is literally straightened rather than relaxed.  If you straightened your hair bone straight, you'll never have to use a flat iron on your treated hair again.  Lastly, there's less "fixing."  Fully Japanese straightened hair requires less maintenance and treatment than natural and relaxed hair. 

 Can you select various levels of straightening (like choosing between mild, normal, super strength relaxers)?

Yes, just like traditional relaxers there are different strengths. When choosing a strength, your hair curl, cuticle size, and density should be considered. The more or larger these factors are, the stronger the straightening solution will have to be. Most brands came with a mild, regular, or extra strength choice. On top of that, some brands are stronger than others, the best thing to do some online research to find the one best for you.  here is a list of recommendable Japanese straightening kits, which I tried to list from weakest brand to strongest: One n Only, Matrix Opti-Smooth, Bio Ionic Retex, Loreal X-Tenso, and Yuko or Liscio (the two originals that most salons use). Note, a solution that is better at straightening doesn't necessarily mean it's more damaging to the hair.

 How do you care for your hair between treatments?
My hair is about 25 inches long but only 6 inches of my hair is Japanese straightened. I'm transitioning from relaxed to Japanese straightened, so I still take care of my hair like a relaxed head. The parts of my hair that is Japanese straightened requires less product though. When my hair is fully Japanese straightened, deep conditioning is probably going to be extended to once a month.

 Can it be done at home? Where can we find it?
Yes, there are home kits you can get. Some can be found at Sally's Beauty Supply, like One n Only Thermal Ionic Straightening Solution and Quantum Thermal Straightener. You can also buy Matrix Opt-Smooth, Bio Ionic Retex, and Loreal X-Tenso online on Amazon. All of these are home kits. Japanese straightening at home takes good technique and understanding the process. If you're not use to self relaxing don't expect perfect results the first time if you're looking for dead straight results. The curlier your hair is, the better your technique has to be. Japanese straightening 4c hair and getting bone straight results is possible though.   

What are the long term effects on the hair?
Japanese straightening is permanent. The hair will tend to be it's smoothest the first month and than soften a little after. Just like lye and no lye relaxers, you will need to touch up your roots. With Japanese straightening however, it's advised to have at least 3 inches of growth before re-touching. There are really no other long term affects. This solution is also much easier on your scalp, well, skin in general. It does not have the burning of sodium hydroxide relaxers or even no lye relaxers and can be applied without gloves.
  Why did you choose to transition to this method vs. relaxing?
The main reason was because it's a much healthier process than relaxing. The second reason was because I wanted less volume in my hair. My hair is thick and medium-coarse, with it getting longer detangling time was increasing. I'm very hair lazy when it comes to taking to detangling, I hate combing for long periods of time. I like to have my hair combed in less than 5 minutes. Any longer should be on wash days. Like mentioned before, Japanese straightening gives smoother results. The last reason I choose Japanese straightening is because, when done properly, there is a stronger line of demarcation. I didn't start getting breakage from stretching until I had an inch and a half of new growth, and then it was still minimal.

What is the average cost of this type of treatment?
Japanese straightening is usually very expensive at salons, especially if your straightening natural hair for the first time. The cost ranges from $300-500, and you'll usually do it once to three times a year since you need 3 inches of growth. I found a salon in NY called Organics Hair IB that has a standard price of $170 though, and like Hairs Talent they work on afro textured and relaxed hair. I plan on going to them next time to touch up my roots. Home kits are radically cheaper, they tend to cost around $30.
Can you wear successfully textured styles once the hair has been straigthened (like braidouts, bantu knots, etc) or does the hair have a hard time holding in curl patterns once straightened?

If you straighten your hair bone straight you will have a harder time holding a curl. It will be harder than doing a braid out on relaxed hair, because remember, relaxing is like relaxing the curl where the hair still has the personality of curly hair. This  on the other hand, is like having the personality of permanently flat-ironed hair. If you want to do a successful braid out you'll have to use styling products and do it while your hair is damp. If you use Japanese straightening just to loosen your curl, that's a different story and you won't have problems with curling your hair. Another thing I should mention is that if you ever get sick of having pin straight hair, you can do a curly perm over your Japanese straightened hair since they both shape the hair in the same way and use the same chemical.

Would you recommend someone interested in this technique start with a salon treatment or can newbie start their first treatment at home?

It depends. If you're natural and you've never self relaxed before and want specific results, like you want it pin straight, you should go to a salon. If you're natural and you've never self relaxed before but don't mind if you end up with waves or a loose curl, you just want to loosen your curl, than I say go for it. If you've successfully self relaxed before, you'll more likely get the results you're looking for. But then the kinkier your hair is, the harder it is to get straighter results. If you want pin straight hair you'll need a strong brand and very good technique. Just remember, do a patch test your first time.  If your relaxed you HAVE to go to a salon that knows what they're doing first. When it's time for a touch up you can try home kits if your cautious and done your research. Remember to buy a strong protection cream and to lift your relaxed length while rinsing out the straightening solution so there's no overlapping. So again, it really all depends on many factors.

Are there any risks associates with this method?
 If your Japanese straightening your whole head and have a lot of split ends, it may make your ends look fried. It's best to be prepared to trim an inch your first time Japanese straightening. This does not happen with touch ups though. There are no other known risks that I came across of in my research of the process. If you use lye or no lye relaxers, Japanese straightening is definitely safer. Japanese straightening is often not recommended on afro textured hair, this is a misconception however. The reason doing this on afro textured hair is not recommended is because the creators of the straightening system (the creators of Yuko and Liscio) were concerned that kinkier hair textures will not get the dead straight results. Japanese straightening creator's held the promise of dead straight, wash and go hair. As mentioned before, the kinkier your hair is, the more likely your hair will not come out perfectly straight. You have to have very good technique. 

Another reason is because stretching your hair until you have 3 inches is harder with kinkier hair and does not look as cosmetically pleasing. It's not wash and go if you have to stretch you new growth. This is why the advised not doing it on afro textured hair. I find this so stupid though! Did they not realize that sodium hydroxide relaxers is the only permanent solution given to women with afro textured hair and Japanese straightening is a great improvement? Even if Japanese straightening can only act as a texturizer on afro textured hair, it's still a healthier alternate. The creators were Japanese, so I guess not. People always make this claim that it can't be done on afro hair but don't know why, they could have doubled their money if they didn't make this restriction.

Would you recommend others to try this method? Why?

Yes! I would definitely recommend it, especially to natural girls that want to go back to relaxing. I would not, however, recommend this to girls that are already relaxed. This is because they are different processes that break the hair's disulfide bonds in different ways. Overlapping the two can be deadly. I would only recommend it if you go to an expert hair salon like Hairs Talent. The reason I home Japanesed straightened was because I had 3 inches to my roots from separate the sodium relaxed hair.  I also bought a heavy duty protection cream meant for bleached hair. This method was created around 1993 ad I'm surprised that it hasn't been put out there, it really needs to be spread around as it's a real healthier alternate to relaxers. I guess it's because it took a while for it to come here and now it's recommended to not do it on afro textured hair for no good reason.

Stay tuned for part II of this series where Yahya shares with us the full regimen that created her perfect tresses. 


  1. Intruiging post! This is the first time I've heard of japanese straigtening. I look forward to more info about it being spread into the Afro-hair care community.

  2. It's nice to see an alternative to relaxing that's just as effective. Just a shame I'm already relaxed! Gorgeous head of hair x

  3. If it can't be done over relaxed hair how did this blogger achieve it with still relaxed hair

  4. So purty! If I had really thick hair I'd probably look into it. I have fine hair and have been texlaxing and love how that makes my hair seem that much thicker.

  5. Ok, I am really learning so much. I know that natural hair is the new hype...just didn't understand the hair battle! It seems like you have a great comprimise here though.

  6. You should do a post on keratin treatments. They achieve the same results as Japanese straightening but you can do it over relaxed hair---actually it's helps to make the relaxer healthy by putting back the protein lost during the relaxer process. Keratin treatments can also be used alone depending on the strength you want. My stylist is in the process of transitioning me to keratin from relaxers.

    Keratin treatments also last between 3 to 6 months. So they are not permanent like the Japanese straightening method, which is more popular with white women who want to keep their hair bone straight.

    The keratin treatment that my stylist uses on me is GK global keratin. I think keratin treatments are more effective for your readers.

  7. thank you for the feedback everyone. and thank you Nadege for helping spread the news of Japanese straightening!
    @anomynous, I mentioned in the post that relaxed heads can transition to this, but they should go to a stylist that knows what they're doing. it can't be done 'over' relaxed hair, but it can be done 'next' to relaxed hair.
    @kbruingirl, I agree that BKT and relaxing work better together, but comparing BKT and Japanese straightening is like comparing apples and oranges. and sorry but I just feel I have to correct, they do not achieve the same results, the kinkier your hair the less time the BKT lasts so usually it's 2-4 months, you have to deal with inhaling formaldehyde, and if you become fully BKT you'll have to learn/know how to manage a full head of your natural hair in between treatments. so again, completely different process with different pros and cons.

  8. Hi Yahya!

    Thanks so much for this info, in fact i decided to get my natural hair japanese straightened at hairs talent after reading your blog. Question--have you tried the Organics Hair IB salon in NYC yet? Was hoping that they were good so that way I don't have to trek out to Connecticut 3x a year to get this done. LMK!

    Thanks girly :)

  9. After getting this done, how do sleep at night without messing up your hair for the first 3 days? Can you wrap it?


  10. sorry I took so long to reply! I just happened to be reviewing this again when I saw the new topics. if you want to contact me, it's best to do it from my site:


    @jade, I actually plan to try hair ib wednesday, what a coincidence! I hope you japanese straightened is everything you expected! I'd also love to hear your experiences, there isn't many of us out there

    @anomynous, instead of sleeping on a side, I fall asleep facing up. it feels strange, but not uncomfortable. I don't really twist and turn sleeping.

    I'm not sure about wrapping. It might work if you don't sure any clips, only maybe a loose scarf, and you wrap using the criss cross method. but don't take me word for it!

  11. Thanks for sharing..!! I love your post .. I am looking more post like this one on this blog .. this post proves really helpful for me.FUE hair Transplantation in India |Best Hair Transplant in Bangalore|Hair Transplantation cost in Bangalore

  12. Thank you for giving this info. This is really a very helpful and informative blog article. Your information will definitely help the readers who have the problem regarding this.

    Japanese products | Japanese makeup | Japanese skin care

  13. Thank for your guide, you probably put a lot of time and effort for this post.
    I wonder which type of hair straightener do you use.

  14. Hello, you recommended a protection cream on color treated( in my case black) hair, what should I use? What brand? Do you happen to have a link.?. THANKS SO MUCH, great post ❤️❤️

  15. thank you! i am wondering about the comment you made about getting a curly perm - is that safe/effective? i have got the straightening done but i don't think it suits me and i miss my watery hair so i want some advice:)

  16. I'm getting a Japanese straightener done over my whole head AND my hair has been relaxed. I went to a credible stylist who talked with me about it and went ahead and approved my hair for the straightening. I'm not too concerned about it, but should I be?

  17. Hi Anon! Please keep us posted on your results. I'm curious to see how this method works on previously relaxed hair.

  18. i am a hairstylist and i'm using japanese straightening since 2011, works very good especially on natrural hair but ofc we can use it on colored hair. it depends . you can choose the type of cream you will aplly depending the condition of your hair. at work i'm doing 2-3 treatments per day. the results are just amazing if you use it corectly. we use products from innosys, iStraight. i totally recommend them! can find them at www.istraighteurope.com

  19. I had relaxed hair (around BSL, two inches of new growth, four or so inches at the bottom bleached for an ombre effect) and decided to Japanese straighten in January 2015. First I did a strand test on both the new growth and the previously relaxed hair. Waited a few days and the relaxed hair didn't melt or anything, and the Japanese straightened bit felt great, so I went ahead and did my whole head. I followed the tutorial here: http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-do-a-Thermal-Reconditioning-Treatment-at-ho/

    The new growth and most of the relaxed hair turned out fine, but the four or so inches of bleached hair were fried. It took trimming two inches and a lot of deep conditioning to get them to feel even close to decent again. So speaking from experience I'd say it works fine on relaxed hair (it doesn't really make it any sleeker or straighter, but it doesn't melt it or anything either), but avoid Japanese-straightening double-processed hair.

    I've continued to Japanese straighten since then and would highly recommend it instead of a relaxer.

  20. It is an awesome method of straightening hair but in my saloon we use Hair Straightening Brush.
    So +1 for hair straightening brush.

  21. So glad to see it as one of the Best hair Straightening brush of 2018 .Looking forward to more posts from you, Nadege.

    Cheers and Happy New year

  22. all this information on hair is awesome and nice method too.
    Hair doctor in Bangalore


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