I like my hair, but I don’t love it. No matter how many incredible, stylist-recommended, bank account-breaking conditioners, serums and anti-frizz sprays I apply to my long, sort-of wavy, but mostly straight hair, the only time I truly get rid of all frizz is after a hairdresser spends 20 minutes blowing it into place.
I don’t have the time or skill to recreate salon hair, so I’ve recently began considering whether I should enter into the world of expensive keratin treatments — from which I’m guessing there is no return.
In order to understand what keratin is, it’s important to know what it isn’t: The latest treatments share little or nothing in common with the dreaded Brazilian hair straightening treatments, otherwise known as Brazilian Keratin Treatments, Brazilian Blowouts, or holy crap, the Brazilian straightening treatment from hell that ruined my hair for life. A few years ago, the popular treatment, which has been banned in several countries (including Canada), utilized liquid keratin and formaldehyde to reduce curl and frizz in hair, but wound up altering the structure of hair and, in many cases, leading to brittle hair and even hair loss (and I won’t even get into health risks associated with the Brazilian straightening treatment).
Modern keratin treatments are supposed to be kinder and gentler to your hair, but there is still a great deal of information you should keep in mind prior to deciding whether it’s right for you. Matrix Celebrity Stylist George Papanikolas sets the record straight about one of the most sought-after treatments.
1. What is a keratin treatment?
Keratin is a smoothing process to control frizz. It cuts down your blow-dry time and makes unruly hair more manageable.
2. How is the treatment performed?
A stylist will typically use a clarifying shampoo first, then apply the keratin solution, blow-dry the hair and then flat iron it. Once it’s done you rinse it out.
3. How long does the treatment take?
The process can take one-and-a-half to three hours, depending on how much hair you have and the speed of the stylist.
4. How long does it last?
Results typically last about three months.
5. How should women care for their hair after keratin?
First of all, you can’t wash your hair for 72 hours after the treatment in order to ensure the keratin proteins bond to your hair. From then on, you need to use gentle shampoos. I recommend Matrix Biolage Cleansing Conditioner as it is sulfate free, super gentle and doesn’t strip away the keratin.
6. How does keratin differ from the dreaded Brazilian Hair Straightening treatment?
The Brazilian is more like a perm. The chemicals are similar and it changes the structure of your hair by breaking the bonds and then repositioning into the straight form. Keratin is more of a coating on the hair.
More: The five most annoying summer hair problems solved
7. Do keratin treatments remove body and volume?
Yes, the hair lays more flat and tames excess body and frizz.
8. Do they change the texture of your hair? How so?
They eliminate frizz and soften waves and curls. You still need to use heat when styling if you want it straight, but it makes it fast and easy.
9. Who is the ideal candidate for a keratin treatment?
People with coarse, frizzy and unruly hair. Especially if you like to wear it straight.
10. Is it totally safe?
I hope so. The companies say they are safe. There are a lot of safety concerns in the industry because the treatments produce a lot of fumes in the salon.
11. Are there any risks involved (particularly if you use a $20 Groupon and go to any old salon to get the treatment)?
As with any chemical service there are risks. The product should not be applied to the scalp and I recommend you see someone who has experience providing keratin treatments. The stylist should also be cautious if you are heavily highlighted, as that hair is very fragile and prone to damage.
12. In general, what are the costs?
Costs vary by salon.
(Note: After asking around in New York City, I found that most salons charged about $300. This price will differ depending on where in the country you live and the salon you visit.)
13. What are the different keratin “levels” and who benefits from each?
Each brand is different and the stylist should pick the right level for your texture.
14. What are your thoughts on alternative keratin treatments that don’t contain formaldehyde?
None of them should contain formaldehyde, otherwise they are poisoning the salon’s clients and staff and risking future cancer. If they are using formaldehyde you should be afraid.
At the end of the day, I decided to deal with my frizz issues using serums, sprays and shampoos and conditioners that are formulated to combat the problem. I know they don’t work as well as a keratin treatment, but I wasn’t willing to compromise volume — and the idea that a few drops of ocean or pool water could unravel the costly hard work of my stylist. It made me realize my heart isn’t ready for that kind of commitment.