7 Best Hair Relaxers for Your Budget

Best Hair Relaxers

Nothing reinvigorates thick and curly hair more than an expertly set perm. Neighborhood salons from Los Angeles to New York City can transform a woman or a man’s tangles into straight and shiny hair ready.

But these days the cost of a perm can exceed your electricity bill AND your phone bill, so you got to be clever with how you achieve those uncurled locks.

The obvious answer is to buy an at-home perm kit online. The problem is that perming your hair in the comfort of your living room can lead to disaster. I’ve spent years in the salon industry and have seen what a shoddy perm kit can do to a customer’s hair.

So I mustered my years of experience and spoke to my clients to find 2021‘s seven best hair relaxers. With these kits the chances of ruining your hair are minimal, and the results are fantastic. Check them out below.

Best Hair Relaxer Comparison Table

The Top 7 Hair Relaxer Reviews

1. SoftSheen-Carson Optimum Care No-lye Relaxer

SoftSheen-Carson leads the perm industry. Their product line spans over five brands, including Dark and Lovely, Alma, and their salon favorite, SoftSheen-Carson Professional.

SoftSheen-Carson Optimum Care No-lye Relaxer

This Optimum Care No-Lye Relaxer remains a salon favorite across the country. The conditioning found in this product brings unmatched protection to your hair. With strength-boosting ceramide, a waxy layer of protection guards you from the powerful chemicals at work in this product.

You can rest easy using this no-lye relaxer because it’s also packed with coconut oil, which replenishes the fatty molecules that most products strip and do not put back.

This kit includes everything you’ll need to achieve salon results at home in six easy steps. There’s enough product here for one full treatment or two retouches. You’ll find a protective pre-treatment, an activating relaxer cream and activator, a neutralizing shampoo to stop the treatment, a reconstructor cream, and finally, a leave-in moisturizer and strand booster.

SoftSheen-Carson boasts a whopping 90% less breakage than other leading no-lye relaxers. They’ve been in the business for over 110 years for a reason: they know what their clients need and they deliver, every time.

Get SoftSheen Carson at Amazon

Why I Like this Hair Relaxer

This made my top choice for perm products for one crucial reason: SoftSheen-Carson practically invented no-lye hair straightening. The box ships in a simple, retro package. There’s nothing gimmicky or excessive.

Some may eschew SoftSheen-Carson’s Optimum Care No-Lye Relaxer because it seems like it was shipped from 1985. But if you look beyond the packaging, the results will impress you. I know they impressed me.

The six-step booklet clearly labels and discusses each of the six products. The instructions don’t hold your hand, however, and newcomers may get lost in the process. A scary possibility once you’re midway through. Thankfully, there’re dozens of YouTube videos that go over the steps.

I recommend this product for anyone looking to jump into no-lye hair straightening. This is a great first product that you may never stray from.

What Could Be Better

For extra curly hair, jump up to their higher strength formula. But I’d try this one first regardless of your hair type, as it should work for most customers.

2. Avlon Affirm Fiberguard Sensitive Scalp Relaxer

This is another company with a stellar history in the hair relaxer market. Since 1984, Avlon has maintained a high-quality standard with their Affirm and Fibergaurd hair relaxers. They also sell MoisturColor and KeraCare shampoos and conditioners sold in Salons worldwide.

Avlon Affirm Fiberguard Sensitive Scalp Relaxer

You need more than just a bottle of relaxer to properly straighten your hair. With Avlon’s Fibergaurd Scalp Relaxer kit, you have most of what you’ll need to achieve the results you’ve been dreaming of. As a no-lye relaxer, it works best on sensitive skin and scalp.

Unlike the basic relaxer kits on the market, Avlon claims Fiberguard is the only one that adds to the health and strength of your hair rather than sap it with harsh chemicals. In this kit you get exactly what the professionals use, no consumer grade products.

You’ll need to buy a neutralizing shampoo and a chelating shampoo to stop the relaxer chemical reaction and to remove the calcium buildup. You can purchase them through Avlon or whatever brand you prefer. All neutralizing shampoos are compatible with Avlon.

Get Avlon Affirm at Amazon

Why I Like this Hair Relaxer

This is another kit that boasts easy-to-read instructions and all the accouterments needed to start your perm right away. You even receive a mixing bottle and gloves to blend the solutions without burning your hands.

I found Avlon’s Affirm Fiberguard Sensitive Scalp Relaxer’s smell to be pleasant. A semi-sweet creme that doesn’t sting the eyes or nostrils like many products I’ve used.

Most importantly, the results are fantastic. With this product you won’t burn your scalp. And the results will not deteriorate rapidly. That means in two months there’ll be no breakage or hair loss from the chemicals in this perm kit.

I recommend Avlon’s Fiverguard perm kit for those with sensitive skin or who are seeking a mild no-lye options for curly hair.

What Could Be Better

As mentioned in the product description, you’ll need to buy a neutralizing shampoo. Without one, the chemicals will throw off your hair’s pH balance, eroding your hair strands.

3. SoftSheen-Carson Dark and Lovely Healthy-Gloss No-Lye Relaxer

SoftSheen-Carson’s Dark and Lovely refreshes the Optimum line of relaxers with new products, catering to the hair types of women of color. The secret to this Healthy-Gloss No-Lye perm system is its dedication to the five signs of healthy hair: moisture, shine, strength, softness, and body.

SoftSheen-Carson Dark and Lovely Healthy-Gloss No-Lye Relaxer

The newest iteration of this package has three new bottles for the same low price. Inside you will receive the eponymous Healthy-Gloss 5 Moisture Conditioner, Hair Creme, and Silk Keratin Serum which bolsters your hairs softness and bounce post-treatment.

Every SoftSheen-Carson perm system contains everything you need to reach your hair styling goals. The box ships with six products, including the mild version of their creme activator. You also get a wooden spatula to apply the creme, a thorough instruction booklet, and plastic gloves.

The Healthy-Gloss No-Lye Relaxer system won’t just straighten your hair to your specifications. It’ll improve the natural luster and strength of your hair. And because it’s so sensitive, you won’t burn your scalp or damage your roots. Follow the instructions for best results!

Get SoftSheen Carson Dark at Amazon

Why I Like this Hair Relaxer

It’s probably no surprise to perm-addicts why I have over one SoftSheen-Carson product on my list. They’ve been around for over a century for a reason: their products work.

What I love about the Healthy-Gloss No-Lye Relaxer kit is the added bottles of keratin serum and moisture conditioner. After a perm, your hair has been through a lot of stress. Even no-lye cremes eat away at your strands. The keratin serum injects vitamins and minerals straight into the roots of your follicles, rejuvenating them before they degrade.

I recommend this kit for beginners and those looking for an all-in-one solution for sensitive skin. You won’t need to buy any extra products. Just ship this to your home and enjoy your new look within an hour.

What Could Be Better

There’re always a few bad reviews on SoftSheen-Carson’s products, lambasting their instructions. I’ve never had a problem. The included booklet clearly explains the steps with images. Read them fully and you won’t have any problems.

4. TCB Super Hair Relaxer

TCB Naturals hails from Kenya, and since 1975 they’ve been a leading supplier of haircare products for women and men of African heritage. Their hair relaxer has been shipped to countries all over the world. Now you can enjoy what millions of Africans have known for decades — that TCB’s Hair Relaxer straightens tight and curly hair better than any other brand.

TCB Super Hair Relaxer

This super creme relaxer contains natural oils to soften hair and protect it from the caustic effects of perming agents. The proteins derived from African plants enrich your roots and strands. And the petroleum jelly shields your scalp from the burning sensations that relaxers are infamous for.

As a no base and no mix relaxer, you don’t have to stir in chemicals in a little plastic jar. Instead, just open the tub and spread onto your pre-treated hair. Make sure to not comb the product into your hair. Just use the back of the comb to straighten your hair in sections. Then wait seven minutes and wash out with water.

You will need to purchase a neutralizing shampoo to eliminate the active compounds in this relaxer. TCB sells a line of neutralizing shampoos. Alternatively, you could use whatever product you’re comfortable with.

Why I Like this Hair Relaxer

As a leading global supplier of relaxers, TCB knows what they’re doing. And while this isn’t a perm kit, you need little more than what’s presented here for straight hair that lasts months.

I think those with some experience with relaxers would love this product, or anyone that’s willing to learn from online articles and apply it to their own hair. The product smells clean, without the noxious fumes of some US made relaxers.

I recommend TCB’s Super Hair Relaxer for those with thick and coarse hair. Make sure you have a neutralizing shampoo on hand post-treatment. Also, I wouldn’t use this product on wavy or thin hair because it’s the extra strength version.

What Could Be Better

I could not find any information that states whether this product is a lye or no-lye relaxer. I assume its extra strength denotation means that it is a lye product, so be careful!

5. PHYTO Specific Botanical No-Lye Relaxer

Before it was a brand PHYTO was first an idea in the mind of famous hairdresser Patrick Ales. He worked in the era when corrosive chemicals were the norm in hair salons in Paris. In his spare time, he turned to studying plants with healing properties because he believed if they can heal they must be able to restore hair. This obsession with the innate restorative power of nature found its way into his line of products.

PHYTO Specific Botanical No-Lye Relaxer

Patrick Ales became one of the first entrepreneurs to utilize plant ingredients in hair products. And that faith in plants still carries on to this day. Even in a relaxer, which is a chemically-rich product, Ales has found ways to limit the synthetics in his formula.

PHYTO’s Specific Botanical No-Lye Relaxer is the only relaxer for sale that’s made of 100% natural ingredients. The foundations of the products rely on eggs and soy. And because it does not contain any peroxides, this treatment is perfect for sensitive skin.

Finally, you can relax your curly hair without risking damage to your scalp and skin. The soybean extract holds the structure of your hair shafts, staving off any possibility of damage. And the wheat proteins repair the minimal damage caused by the all-natural hair relaxers.

Why I Like this Hair Relaxer

A downside to relaxers is that they’re brimming with chemicals. Until PHYTO, that’s been the norm. Thankfully, this Specific Botanical No-Lye Relaxer removes these chemicals and replaces them with natural compounds.

You’ll discover everything you need in the box for a full perm, including a neutralizing shampoo or emulsion. The instructions clearly present the steps and explain how long to leave each product in your hair.

As a no-lye all-natural relaxer, it won’t straighten super curly hair. But anyone with average or slightly above average curls will enjoy the results.

I recommend PHYTO’s Specific Botanical No-Lyre Relaxer for anyone with sensitive skin. You’ll still need to watch out for burns if you rub too much in your scalp, but this product is gentler than most brands.

What Could Be Better

One of the key botanical ingredients in this relaxer is wheat. That means it’s the only product on my list that isn’t gluten-free. If you have a bad gluten allergy, try another product on my list.

6. Avlon Affirm Sensitive Scalp Conditioning Relaxer

Avlon has spent a lot of resources towards research and development on their Affirm brand. Just this past year they finally released a new and improved Affirm, with a technologically advanced formula.

Avlon Affirm Sensitive Scalp Conditioning Relaxer

Avlon added more ceramide III to the mix which improves the waxy division between your scalp and the chemical activators.

Affirm replenishes the outer wall of your strands with proteins found in its keratin additive. This reduces the chance of breakage and upholds fiber elasticity by as much as 81%. What’s more, you’ll discover added moisture and sheen once you’re done with the perm.

To accomplish this, Avlon blended a host of naturally occurring oils, such as argan oil, babassu oil, pequi oil, and buriti oil.

Avlon’s Affirm Sensitive Scalp Relaxer somehow accomplishes all this and still uses lye. That’s right, this is a lye relaxer that heals your hairs and protects you scalp. The liquid crystalline technology stops activation from reacting too close to the skin.

This package contains nine pre-mixed treatment tubs and a full bottle of liquid activator.

Why I Like this Hair Relaxer

When I was on the lookout for products to add to my list, a friend told me about Avlon’s Affirm. It shocked me to find out she had used it for years without burning her scalp. I had stayed clear of lye relaxers in the past, especially from recommending them to clients.

Lye often activates too quickly for at-home use and has a higher potential of burning skin and decimating hair strands. But I took my friend’s advice and tried some for myself.

The product is rich and creamy. It doesn’t drip or run down your hair when applying. The added natural waxes condition the hairs and protect the skin.

I recommend this product for those that plan to treat their hair consistently and want a substantial supply. This product excels with very thick and coarse hair.

What Could Be Better

This is not a full kit. At the very least you will need a neutralizing shampoo. You’ll also need something with added keratin to nourish your strands, like a post-treatment rinse or serum.

7. Africa’s Best Dual Conditioning No-Lye Relaxer System

Hailing from sun-kissed Georgia, Africa’s Best has garnered the praise and admiration of thousands since their humble beginnings in Africa. Their products burst with a proprietary blend of oils and extracts straight from those ancient and bountiful veldts.

Africa’s Best Dual Conditioning No-Lye Relaxer System

This Dual Conditioning No-Lye Relaxer system provides everything you’ll need for a single perm treatment. The double conditioning power derives from the enriched formula. Every bottle of their creme relaxer contains an extra helping of nourishing olive oil and healing herbal extracts.

This kit includes an activation fluid, creme relaxer, neutralizing shampoo, deep conditioning serum, helpful instructional booklet, and an applicator stick.

Although normal strength, Africa’s Best Relaxer should work for most hair types. It was formulated for women of color but has been used by women and men of different ethnicities from the Pacific Rim to Russian continent for decades.

Make sure to let the product set for the recommended time. And do not get any relaxer on your skin, including your scalp and ears. No-lye hair straightening cremes can still burn your skin if left on too long.

Why I Like this Hair Relaxer

Africa’s Best is another one of those brands that has been around for decades. I had to include it as my last product out of respect for the company.

Stores around the country sell this product because it’s been trusted by women of color for generations. The Dual Conditioning No-Lye Relaxer is a great entry point to the brand. Since it’s a complete system, you’ll need nothing else but what’s in the package.

Because it’s so affordable, I think it’s the perfect option for women and men that want to try a hair relaxer for the first time yet don’t want to invest too much into a full set of products.

What Could Be Better

I was surprised at how fast acting this stuff was. If you have wavy hair, I’d leave the relaxer in for less time than the instructions recommend, or you may frizz the ends of your hair.

6 Tips on How to Choose the Perfect Hair Relaxer

If this is your first foray into hair relaxers, I know it can be daunting. But fear not. I’ve been in your shoes and understand exactly how you feel. Having tested many hair relaxers myself, I’ve come up with six tips that can help you narrow your search down to one or two of the products I’ve listed above.

  • Lye vs No-Lye

Relaxers come in two versions, with lye and without lye. Lye, or sodium hydroxide, is a strong, high pH chemical. It breaks down your hair strands and, in the process, straightens them. No-lye products ship with either guanidine hydroxide or ammonium thioglycolate.

Those with sensitive skin and scalp must choose a relaxer with no-lye. And if you plan to straighten your hair alone, a no-lye relaxer would be ideal. Lye burns skin and if it’s your first time, you can get this stuff on your scalp, hand, and arms. Conversely, lye relaxers work much faster, sometimes cutting the time in half.

  • Aim for Natural Ingredients

A perm kit worth your money will include a few natural ingredients to soothe your skin and improve your hair’s post-treatment luster.

Look out for ingredients like aloe vera and milkweed, which are good for your skin and your hair. If those don’t help, you can add a thin layer of petroleum jelly to your scalp pre-treatment to protect your scalp.

  • Avoid Maximum Strength Relaxers

Unless you’re a professional hair stylist or have a friend with plenty of experience at the ready, I’d stay away from maximum strength hair relaxers.

I know lots of online sources say that if you have African American hair you need use a strong product, but I disagree. Some newer no-lye hair relaxers work great on tight, curly hair. Besides, without the experience, you’ll most likely burn your hair and have to cut it off.

  • Less Is More

The products on my list come in various-sized containers and at a range of price points. But don’t get too caught up in the numbers. You’ll need a smidgen of product to straighten your hair. And since you only relax hair once every few months, this isn’t a product you’ll be whipping out every Friday night.

So instead, choose a product based on its ingredients, or one whose brand you identify with.

  • Have a Revitalizing Conditioner at the Ready

Regardless of what a hair relaxer says on the label, they all damage your hair. That’s because the key ingredient must break down your strands to straighten them.

Consider the days following your treatment vital to the health of your hair. Wash with an enriching shampoo and conditioner, something with revitalizing vitamins such as biotin and keratin.

  • Test the Product on Strands Prior to Use

No matter how much research you do and how many products you compare, you won’t know you’ve found the right product until you’ve tried it.

I recommend testing the hair relaxer you end up buying on a small patch of hair. Let it set and wash it off, then check to see if the strands have straightened. Also, check for split ends or frayed edges. Most of the products on my list offer a return policy, too.

My Verdict

Sometimes a change of hairstyle is all you need. Straightening out your curly locks can inspire you to try other new things too. While I believe confidence resonates from within, you can burnish it from the outside with a look that makes you smile and makes strangers turn their heads.

I know that you can pull off that new style with one of these top seven best hair relaxers. And if you need a little more help, I’ll let you in on my favorite product: SoftSheen-Carson’s Optimum Care No-Lye Relaxer. It’s by the most universal and easy-to-use product on the list. Plus, I love that it comes with everything you need, including a neutralizing shampoo.

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