5 Key Differences Between The STS EXPRESS Smoothing System & Relaxers

One of the most common questions often asked about the new and improved Design Essentials STS EXPRESS Smoothing System is…How is the STS EXPRESS different than relaxers?

A very valid question for anyone interested in smoothing options yet has concerns about altering their natural hair texture (whether it be temporarily or permanently). And we totally understand your concerns – prompting us to lay out 5 distinct differences between the STS EXPRESS Smoothing System and a chemical relaxer.

But before we jump into what differentiates the two products, let’s first explore Design Essentials STS EXPRESS Smoothing System – a simple and easy amino-acid infused smoothing and thermal therapy system that temporarily straightens and smooths frizzy, naturally curly, multi-textured, transitioning, and chemically treated hair, for up to 12 weeks.

Benefits include a professional 3-step smoothing application that provides maximum manageability, smoothness, and shine to all hair textures, while helping to strengthen and repair damage.

The STS EXPRESS Smoothing System is highly recommended for curlies looking to temporarily loosen their hair texture in order to achieve smooth thermal styles or gain manageability of their natural curl pattern, since the STS EXPRESS Smoothing System cuts detangling and styling time in half.

Okay, now let’s jump into the differences between the STS EXPRESS Smoothing System and a relaxer: 

Difference #1: Changes To The Hair Structure (Permanent vs. Temporary)

Relaxers are designed to straighten extremely curly, coiled, or tightly coiled hair by breaking disulfide bonds found within the cortex layer of the hair. During the chemical process the curl pattern is loosened or relaxed. The cortex is elongated, stretching the original curl pattern, therefore making this a permanent change – meaning the hair will remain straight and will not revert to its natural state (unless you big chop or transition from the relaxer,).

The STS EXPRESS Smoothing System is designed to use heat activated amino acids to penetrate the cortex layer of the hair, but they don’t break or alter the disulfide bonds like a chemical relaxer would. The STS only stretches and/or elongates the bonds temporarily, so it isn’t a permanent change. Therefore, giving you the versatility of wearing your hair straight or curly while having the treatment.


Difference #2: The Application Process 

During a chemical relaxer service the cream-based product is applied to the hair and scalp, smoothed, rinsed thoroughly, then styled – the entire process takes approximately 120 minutes (we highly suggest visiting a professional for chemical relaxer services).

In contrast, the STS EXPRESS Smoothing System is a 90 minute salon service only offered by licensed professionals in 3 easy steps: CLEANSETREAT, SEAL & STYLE. Here’s a better understanding of each step:

Step 1: CLEANSE – Hair is shampooed with STS EXPRESS Cleansing Sulfate-Free Shampoo.

Step 2: TREAT – Hair is parted into 1/2 inch partings and treated with 1-2 pumps of STS EXPRESS Smoothing Mousse (Max Smooth or Gentle Smooth) at the roots and combed through.


Step 3: SEAL & STYLE – STS EXPRESS Thermal Therapy Leave-In Sealant is sprayed throughout the hair to remove any residue and seal in treatment. Then hair is blow-dried from roots to ends with a paddle brush until completely dry.


After blow-drying is complete, the hair is flat ironed in 1/8 partings from roots to ends at 340 – 400 degrees. However, if you prefer curly styling, Do not flat iron. Simply re-wet the hair to activate the curl pattern and style as desired.


Watch the full step-by-step video of our Global Education Manager, Alicia Bailey, as she easily applies the STS EXPRESS Smoothing System on textured hair.

Difference #3:  STS EXPRESS Benefits ALL Hair Types (Relaxers not so much)

To avoid over-processing and hair breakage, relaxers are best suited for healthy, conditioned hair. While the STS EXPRESS Smoothing Treatment is recommended on all hair textures including relaxed, damaged, or brittle hair.

So, if your hair type falls into any of these categories, you will definitely benefit from the STS EXPRESS Smoothing System:

  • If you are Transitioning from a Relaxer or Keratin Treatment but prefer to wear your hair smooth and have difficulty managing the two different textures – using STS will help you better blend and strengthen the hair at the line of demarcation where the relaxed and curly textures meet; reducing chances of severe breakage and easing your transitioning phase.
  • You have Natural or Multi-Textured Hair and would love more control and manageability when detangling, blow-drying, and styling your hair. You also like the versatility of wearing your hair in curly styles; and the STS will allow for this due to a looser/elongated curl pattern.
  • Relaxed Hair – Although the STS EXPRESS Smoothing System isn’t necessarily suggested for clients with chemically processed hair, it can be used between touch-ups, but only as an STS EXPRESS Strengthening Treatment. Therefore, instead of using the Smoothing Mousse, use the Damage Recovery Anti-Breakage Treatment in its place to strengthen the hair and prevent over-processing.
  • Damaged or Brittle Hair – For STS EXPRESS Strengthening,your stylist can replace Step 2 with the STS EXPRESS Damage Recovery Anti-Breakage Treatment. This treatment is designed to strengthen, treat, and repair hair that is weak, thinning, brittle, extremely dry, heat damaged, over-processed, color-treated, and/or relaxed.


Difference #4: Product Longevity  

Although a chemical relaxer permanently straightens the hair, it must be re-touched every 6-8 weeks to avoid breakage at the line of demarcation – where the curly and straight textures meet. 

On the other hand, when applied correctly, the STS EXPRESS Smoothing System will last up to 12 weeks in the hair, but that varies by lifestyle and aftercare maintenance commitment. For example, if you swim or sweat often, it’s imperative to know that the treatment will revert when exposed to any type of moisture (rain, humidity, steam, perspiration, water, etc.). 

However, if you do experience reversion, you’ll still have the benefits of looser and softer curls, therefore your strands will be less resistant to thermal styling; if you choose to do so.

Another factor that determines how long the STS EXPRESS Smoothing System lasts depends heavily on the shampoo used after the service (and how often you shampoo).

To prevent removing the treatment and to better maintain results, we recommend always using Design Essentials STS EXPRESS Cleansing Sulfate-Free Shampoo.

However, you may use other sulfate-free shampoos to achieve similar results, like Design Essentials Natural Almond & Avocado Sulfate-Free Detangling Shampoo or Design Essentials Natural Coconut & Monoi Coconut Milk Nourishing Shampoo.

Last, it’s important to note that if you shampoo frequently (once or more a week) you’ll experience only a fraction of the longevity that the STS Express Smoothing System offers. So if possible, schedule to visit your stylist every 2 weeks for STS in-salon maintenance.


Difference #5: Hair Styling Versatility

Chemically speaking, relaxers remove about 80% of the curl pattern from the hair. Therefore, if you choose to wear a relaxer, you’ll most likely be restricted to straight styles like blow-outs and silk presses. Not saying curly styles are completely out of the question…Because, yes, you can still rock rod-sets, twists-sets, etc., but these styles will require manipulation to create volume and texture.

With the STS EXPRESS Smoothing System, you have the versatility of wearing your strands thermally straightened (without compromising your hair texture) or you can show off your texture with wash and go’s, twist-sets, or rod-setting. It’s literally a win-win! 

For more information about the STS EXPRESS Smoothing System, click here.


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