African American

Daily Life: 縮毛矯正 Japanese Hair Straightening

11:51 PM

(Warning! There's a lot of face ahead :P)

I don't know if you guys know, but I have an addiction. I have to get my fix every two months, and it costs almost 100+ bucks, depending on how much I want done. I've had this addiction for many years, and I don't think I'll stop anytime soon.
I'm addicted to the "creamy crack" a.k.a. a relaxer, but in Japan, it's known as 縮毛矯正 shukumoukyousei, hair straightening.

When I first came to Japan, I came with my box of relaxer in tow, because I didn't know what would happen with my hair. Japanese hair is obviously not like African American hair, so how could they possibly know what to do with it?? I already had it in my mind, before I moved to Japan, that all Japanese salons would be against me, and I would be alone in the battle against my roots (all the other image issues that implies).

Little did I know how similar we would end up being.


Circa 2009
As you can see from this photo, my hair was/is relaxed. It had also been bleached and colored (at that time, it had been a calm shade of turquoise), so it wasn't very healthy. But it did what I wanted it to :]. By the time I had come to Japan (2010), most of the bleach was gone, and I had gone through two really bad relaxers, which only fueled my distaste for salons back home. After having my scaled burned and mauled on those occassions, I decided to rely on myself (and some help from friends :P) to relax my own hair.


Apr 2010 or so

This photo is taken not too long after my arrival in Japan. All the bleached hair is gone, and all that's left is the newly relaxed hair in my natural color. It looks pretty healthy right..? (The only photoshop is my scribbling...) So I figured to keep doing the home kit and tucked it into my case of things I brought to Japan.

But my mother-in-law had other plans for me. Shota's entire family has been going to the same salon for years (like 10+), and they had consulted with the stylists there about my hair. After a little research by the stylists, they concluded it was totally fine for me to get my hair straightened in their salon, with the same products they use on the other customers at that.

Needless to say, I didn't believe them. I had already convinced myself it wouldn't work, so why the word of a trained and practiced stylist change anything. Yes, I'm very, very stubborn. But I also aim to please, so I told my mother-in-law I'd go (and that I wouldn't like it the whole time >:-[ ).

The process is basically the same, it's only the product used that is different. Relaxer's used on African American hair burn like hell. I remember being brought to tears by the phrase "Just five minutes more." The burning is part of the chemical process that breaks down the protein structure of the hair and makes it easier to straighten. It's actually pretty dangerous if not used correctly, and can result in breakage of the hair or baldness. Relaxers have a strong chemical smell, and can only be left on their hair for a short period of time before the chemical starts to burn through the skin.

Sounds horrible doesn't it?? But, as my grandmother (who gave me my first relaxer) always says "Beauty bears pain." Isn't that a little crazy??? And I don't think they were referring to chemical burns :P.

In Japan, there are quite a few ways to go about straightening the hair. The main two are ストレートパーマ (straight perm) and 縮毛矯正 (shukumoukyousei). The former is a temporary form of straightening, where the hair will eventually return to it's original state. The latter is a semi-permamnent form of straightening. I tried to look up some info on 縮毛矯正, but it's only available in Japanese, so I was only able to breakdown a little. I think this process of straightening has to do with molecular bonding and the application of heat to maintain the straight hair.

So the short version:
American relaxer: controlled damage to the protein structure of the hair is used to straighten.
Japanese relaxer: through the use of heat and change of the molecular bonds of the hair, hair is straighten. At least that what I go from the article, any other interpretations are welcome! There article is here.

Both processes involve some damage to the hair, but from my experience, the American one is a lot more damaging with frustrating results.

So, I go to the salon, they start of examining my hair. It's at this point I see the bit of doubt in their eyes. The curls in my hair aren't so strong, but my hair is thicker than they imagined. But the stylist gives me a hearty "Ganbarimasu! (I'll do my best!)" anyway and gets started.

The entire process is about 3 hours and involves the application of the chemical, washing, drying and flat ironing, the application of another cream, another wash, then drying and you're done.

From my first go round, I was not impressed. My roots were straight, but the rest of my hair was still frizzy. I couldn't understand why because whenever I get my hair done back home, the process ends with ironing, which gives the hair the straight look. They didn't iron my hair at the end, so instead of looking straight, it was more of a frizzy look. I wanted to go home and iron it right away, but they told me not to iron it too much, and to rely on blow drying my hair to straighten it.

I thought it was pure madness. Black hair isn't straightened from a blow dry, everyone knows that. You need to blow dry and iron if you want to be straight. AND she wanted me to wash my hair everyday. That's another African American no-no. Hair is usually washed once a week, and then it usually takes 2 hours plus to get it done. Now I had to go through that everyday?? With my mouth, I said "Okay," but in my head I was thinking "Not a chance."


I got my first 縮毛矯正 in June 2010, and this photo was taken in late 2010. Up to this point, I had been getting my hair straightened every month for almost half a year, and I was finally starting to see results. It took 6 months to get results..!!! But I'll tell you why.

The American relaxer, which is reapplied anywhere from every 2 weeks, to every month (or longer, depending on the hair), the hair still needs to be straightened with an iron in order to look straight. I feel like relaxers only takes the natural curls down to a more manageable level instead of actually straightening them. The Japanese straightening style is maintained by daily wash and blow dry of the hair. This process keeps the hair straight, without the use of irons afterwards. In the photo above, you can see the frizzier parts of the hair, from the old relaxer, and the shorter straight hair from the Japanese process. Or maybe you can't, the photo isn't too good. But I think it's a good half-way point to show that even after 6 months, you probably won't see the results of 縮毛矯正.

I had also chopped off about hair of my hair because I was sick of the texture dichotomy that was being displayed on my head.



Let's fast forward another 6 months.
At this point, June 2011, I've been getting 縮毛矯正 a complete year. After I chopped my hair, I stopped getting the treatment monthly, and went to a once-every-two-months arrangement. This is my hair after washing and blow drying, no flat ironing. I had also switched to a damage control shampoo/conditioner set, and also started a conditioning routine after washing my hair. That included a heat protection cream for blow drying and curling.

I think all those factors in conjunction with 縮毛矯正, is how this hair treatment works. It takes a bit more work at home than what I used to do, but I'm pretty satisfied now. I don't have to worry about humidity or getting my hair we because it's basic form doesn't change anymore (getting caught in the rain was a nightmare back in the day..!). Instead of using a lot of oil and moisturizers or wrapping it up at night in a silk scarf to keep my hair healthy looking, my hair stays moisturized from the daily washing and conditioning, with out any oil or wrapping.

The process sounds like a lot of work, but in the end I worry less about my hair and more about other things in life. :)

Here's what my hair looked like when I went to the salon last month. The stylist that used to do my hair quit so she could start a family (props to her), but now I'm stuck with some new girls who seems afraid to really touch my hair =/. She's not trying to "put her foot" up in it, and I think it's weakening the whole process. Or in my mind, that's how it is. If I wasn't so loyal to the owner for working on my hair from the beginning, I would have started at a new salon from last month, but alas, I can't bring myself to leave. Not yet at least. Probably after next month..

Anyway, as you can see from the photos, my hair is shiny and growing. There still about a half an inch of old relaxed hair on the ends, but all the hair in the back (where the mullet is..! D: ), is new and healthy.

Well, I hope this little post about my experience with Japanese hair straightening techniques helps any other African American girls out there curious about Japan, but not sure what to do with their hair. Hair comes in all types, textures, and thicknesses so what I've had may not work for everyone else, but may work for some. Also, I'm almost certain this technique would not blend well with relaxers done in America, so if you're only planning on being in Japan for a short stay (a year or two), I wouldn't recommend it. Three or four years plus would probably worth it though. Also, there are various types of 縮毛矯正 available such as the "perfect straight" or ones for damaged hair. They also range in prices from 80 bucks to almost 200, depending on the type (and salon).

Always consult with the stylist when possible, and if you're not feeling comfortable with the hands on your hair, then don't do it ;)

And lastly, some words of wisdom about HAIR:

If you have any questions or concerns, please let me know and I'll be happy to answer them if I can.

You Might Also Like

No comments: