Lye vs No-Lye Relaxer

Ask A Stylist

Stylist explains chemical makeup of each type of relaxer 

By Sophia Emmanuel, Stylist

Q. What is the real difference between no-lye relaxers and lye relaxers?

A. Lye relaxers are made up of sodium hydroxide. No-lye relaxers are made up of guanidine, lithium, or potassium hydroxide. These are the chemical compounds formulated in relaxers to straighten hair.


One of the biggest ways to tell the difference between a no-lye and a lye relaxer is the physical preparation.

(No-lye relaxer pictured)


No-lye relaxers

A no-lye relaxer that is made up of guanidine hydroxide includes two steps:

Step 1 – It uses the crème called calcium hydroxide.

Step 2 – It uses the liquid activator called guanidine.


When mixed, these two formulas form guanidine hydroxide. These relaxers are sold in beauty supplies and local drug stores, and are the most popular no-lye relaxers on the market. No-lye relaxers also come in another formula known as a “no-mix relaxer,” and are made up of lithium and potassium hydroxide instead.


The active ingredient in a no-lye relaxer tends to be less irritating on the scalp, and formulated for people with sensitive scalps. Although no-lye relaxers are less irritating than lye relaxers on the scalp, they can cause serious damage to your hair when used improperly by yourself or an untrained stylist.


No-lye relaxers tend to leave calcium deposits up on the hair shaft. Calcium deposits make it difficult for moisture to penetrate into your hair. When your hair doesn’t receive proper moisture, it will appear dry, brittle and break off very easily.

You or your stylist must take extra steps when using a no-lye relaxer formula to prevent these mineral deposits from being left on the hair shaft. One way to do so is to use a chelator. Not only do they help remove calcium build up, but they also allow the hair to receive moisture. You can also try using Kera Care Demineralizing Treatment. It is formulated to remove calcium, and other mineral deposits from the hair, and should be used after a no-lye relaxer is completed.

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Photo credit: Styles by Sophia

Because no-lye relaxers are formulated different from lye relaxers, they take longer to process and don’t break the hair down as straight as a lye relaxer. Many stylists and people who do their relaxers at home tend to leave the no-lye relaxer on the hair too long. This can cause your hair to be over processed, dry and lifeless. If you use a no-lye relaxer and find that your hair doesn’t straighten as well as it should, you may want to change the strength. Use a no-lye relaxer formulated with different strengths, so you don’t have to leave the relaxer on longer than it should stay on the hair.


No-lye relaxers work better for your hair when it’s used right after mixing the two steps. Never use a no-lye relaxer after it has been mixed and left to sit. Always follow manufacture’s instructions. And, throw away any unused mixed no-lye relaxer.


Taking these steps will allow you to have fewer problems with your hair when using a no-lye relaxer.

  • Use a chelator or KeraCare Demineralizing wipes to remove calcium deposits.
  • Keep your hair extremely moisturized.
  • Always protect previous relaxed hair by applying either oil or conditioner to the hair shaft. Doing so creates a barrier and protects the hair.

Lye relaxers

Lye relaxers are chemically formulated with sodium hydroxide, and tend to be more irritating on the scalp. Lye relaxers never have to be mixed. They come in two types, “no base” formula, and base formulas.

Because lye relaxers break down the hair straighter, silky, softer hair will result after completion. Lye relaxers don’t leave calcium build up on the hair, and allow your hair to receive moisture easier than a no-lye relaxer.


As a professional hairstylist, I prefer to use lye relaxers. Unlike what was shown in the Pepsi can scene in the movie, “Good Hair,” today’s relaxers don’t use nearly as much sodium hydroxide as they had in the past. Today’s relaxers have other ingredients and botanicals meant to soften and condition the hair. Some of these ingredients include shea butter, mineral oil, cocoa butter, honey and aloe vera. When used correctly relaxers actually soften the hair and allow the hair to readily receive conditioners and moisturizers.

An off-the-scalp technique should always be used during application to avoid any burning. Any discomfort felt should be minimal. Use a no-base relaxer formula, which will straighten your hair without interfering with its integrity. This process also is less irritating on your scalp. Your hair will have body, shine and be very easy to manage.


Ask your stylist to use a relaxer that puts conditioners into your hair. Affirm Fiber Guard, and Mizani Classic are great relaxers because they condition as they straighten. They have a conditioning step that has to take place after the relaxer is completely rinsed out, and before neutralizing to put back any moisture that was lost from the relaxer process.

Usually this conditioner sits on the hair for 5 to 10 minutes. The best time to apply these moisture conditioners are right after the relaxer is rinsed out because the hair cuticle is open. An open hair cuticle receives moisture easily. After the conditioner is rinsed, the hair should be neutralized. The neutralizer helps the cuticle to close and locks in moisture from the conditioner.
Sophia Emmanuel, who has been a licensed cosmetologist for twelve years, is a stylist a salon in New York, N.Y. Her business is Crown Worthy Inc, formerly Signature Styles by Sophia

Other Great Lye Relaxers Are:

  • Design Essentials Honey Nectar Time Release Relaxer is also an great choice for lye relaxers.
  • Affirm Creme Relaxer Control Formula


Copyright 2009 © My Salon Scoop, LLC

This article has been updated since its original release in 2009.


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