Keratin Treatment: Risks, Alternatives and FAQs

Keratin Treatment

Remember looking at a hair shampoo ad and seeing that smooth, shiny, glossy hair and wondering whether it was a wig or not? Or was it that celebrity blow out that made you wonder why your hair never looks that good? It turns out your real hair can look both ways thanks to keratin treatment. But can you afford it? How realistic is the process in terms of longevity? Let’s begin to answer these questions by exploring the roots:

All You Need to Know About Keratin Treatment

What Is Keratin?

The root of every structural protein, Keratin is found in our hair, skin, and nails. It’s also commonly found in styling products to help strengthen hair. Keratin treatment, however, uses very little keratin and mostly other ingredients as it doesn’t change the biology of the hair completely.

What Is A Keratin Treatment?

Keratin treatments are a semi-permanent hair straightening treatment that defrizzes hair. To make hair smoother and straighter, a solution containing a formaldehyde derivative or (the much safer) glyoxylic acid is worked through the hair to break the bonds and reseal them in a straighter position.

Expect to be treated for anywhere between two to four hours. When you arrive, your hairstylist will first wash your hair. Then, the hairstylist will either apply the keratin treatment to your wet hair and let the formula saturate each strand for about half an hour, or the hairstylist will blow-dry your hair first and then apply the treatment — again, it all depends on your hairstylist and your hair needs.

Lastly, your stylist should go over any coarse strands with a flat iron on low to medium heat depending on where the treatment needs to be sealed in.

Should You Only Get A Keratin Treatment?

Keratin treatments can go by different names: Brazilian Blowout or Cezanne or Goldwell Kerasilk. You can ask your hairstylist to customize a blend of the formula to suit your needs.

Some versions of the treatment release formaldehyde when heated but many newer versions are formaldehyde-free. No matter the formaldehyde content, on a basic level, keratin treatments dive into the hair follicle and inject porous areas with keratin, therefore making hair appear healthier because it actually is.

The time it takes to do a keratin treatment depends on the formula the stylist is using, as well as your hair texture, and how much hair you have. So a keratin treatment might not even be the right option because according to your hair’s particular texture, a different treatment, such as a chemical relaxer, might make more sense for you.

What Is A Chemical Relaxer?

While keratin treatments are temporary and wash out after a few months, straightening chemical relaxers are permanent. The two treatments also use different ingredients that produce different results.

Using the main ingredient of sodium hydroxide, lithium hydroxide, potassium hydroxide, or guanidine hydroxide, chemical relaxers will tear to restructure the bonds in curly hair. It intentionally weakens it to become straight.

Whereas instead of altering the chemical composition of your hair, keratin treatments actually inject the porous parts of your hair with protein, so that it feels smoother. After a few months, this washes out. Some treatments may contain a solution that releases formaldehyde when exposed to heat (there are also many new formaldehyde-free options).

How Long Do Keratin Treatments Last?

The treatments work well on most hair types and are recommended for anyone who wants to cut out blow-drying or straightening their hair on a regular basis, reduce frizz, or boost shine. The results can last anywhere from three to a maximum of six months.

Who Should Avoid A Keratin Treatment?

Keratin treatments are not recommended for women who are pregnant.

In addition to that, any treatment that requires high-heat to lock your hair into place isn’t recommended for those with super-fine or damaged hair.

How Much Does Keratin Treatment Cost?

Keratin treatment can begin around $200 and can go up to $450.

How To Maintain Keratin Treatments?

The unbreakable rule of keratin treatments is to stay away from water and ponytails for at least three days. You don’t want to risk creating a bend in your newly-straightened hair. You should also use a sulfate-free shampoo on the days you wash your hair.

For those with natural curls, don’t wet your hair for three days.

Use sodium chloride-free hair products and to wrap your hair in a silk or satin scarf (or pillowcase) to keep the moisture locked in your hair as the treatment can cause your hair to dry out faster.

Can I do this at home?

Technically yes, but don’t expect salon-results. You’ll first need to buy the right products. Many treatments contain the word “keratin”, but that doesn’t automatically make them “keratin treatments”. All hair is made up of “keratin proteins”, so keratin-named products aren’t rare. To get the best experience at home, look at the product’s ingredient list.

A lot of smoothing treatments are actually intense silicone and conditioning treatments. After that, look at the instructions. Do they provide extensive instructions on how to wash, dry, and straighten your hair? If not, you probably have a standard conditioning product, and not a keratin treatment. And even if you buy an actual keratin treatment, your results won’t last as long as the salon version. Where a salon treatment can last for several months, at-home versions tend to wash out after a few weeks.

Is it safe?

Keratin treatments aren’t just the boss of gloss. It’s also the boss of chemical ingredients found in most traditional salon formulas. Most commonly: formaldehyde.

Formaldehyde is a carcinogen, and although the amount of formaldehyde released in a keratin treatment is small, you should avoid it. It’s much better to seek formaldehyde-free treatments. They are not as brilliantly effective and long-lasting as the formaldehyde formulas, but they are much safer. In keratin treatments, formaldehyde is responsible for locking the hair into that new straight and smooth position for months. But these treatments don’t actually contain formaldehyde, because, well, it’s a known carcinogen. What they contain instead is ingredients like methylene glycol, formalin, methanal, and methanediol, that release the carcinogenic compound when mixed with water during the treatment. So while the formula might technically be formaldehyde-free, it’s not once mixed with water.

This poses a potential risk not only to you—but also to the salon technicians who perform the treatments over and over again in enclosed spaces.

The chemical makeup of these treatments, which varies brand to brand, all center around similar ingredients. Not to sound super technical but there is something called a film former like PVP, polyurethane, polysilicones, hydroxyethylcellulose, copolymers, as well as keratin and other extracts which add to the healthy glossiness of hair. This film former works itself into the hair’s natural protein to increase hair strength and elasticity to ultimately reduce hair breakage.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines formaldehyde as a colorless, strong-smelling gas that is usually used to make building materials, household products like glue and fiberboard, and used as a preservative when dissolved in water. The CDC lists common side effects of formaldehyde exposure to include sore throat, nose bleeds, and scratchy eyes.

In 1987, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classified it as a substance that could potentially cause cancer if exposed for a long period of time. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also warns about potential health hazards for those exposed to it and notes that formulas and products that claim they’re natural, organic, or formaldehyde-free may not be entirely true. The FDA encourages people to always read the label, ask hair professionals for an ingredient list, and to report any and all bad reactions.

What type of “treatment” causes harm to your hair over time? Well, if you’re looking for a less-damaging, truly formaldehyde-free treatment, ask your salon if they use a treatment containing glyoxylic acid instead. They don’t straighten hair as dramatically (they’re more for boosting shine and fighting frizz), but they’re also a lot safer.

However, take this with a pinch of salt as even if some products claim to be formaldehyde-free, they may contain ingredients that release formaldehyde when exposed to heat. In return, it releases the fumes and vapors into the air, with the potential to be inhaled by the stylist or client.

Look out for words that are underlying carcinogens such as methylene glycol, methandiol, aldehyde, morbicid acid, formalin, methylene oxide, paraform, formic aldehyde, methanal, oxomethane, and oxymethylene.

Can I Still Get A Keratin Treatment with Coloured Hair?

Yes, you can. Unlike chemical-straightening relaxers, you can dye hair and do a keratin treatment without the risk of damage. Use sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner for maintenance and shampoo hair once or twice a week, only when necessary. Do not use salt-based sprays for beachy, textured hair.

Alternatives For A Keratin Treatment:

If you are understandably scared off from the idea of putting anything potentially cancerous in your hair, there are options (sans carcinogens) that can help you get the look at home for a fraction of the commitment and cost!

Color Wow Dreamcoat:

Keratin treatments also often contain polysilicones, though the exact ingredients in a given formulation vary from one to another. This is a substitute for formerly beloved keratin treatments that women who are pregnant (or trying to get impregnated) add to their carts for amazing hair. What makes the product so efficacious at replicating a keratin treatment from the confines of home, is the use of polysilicone-29, a conditioning agent.

Color Wow Dreamcoat helps restore damaged hair, but also smooths and straightens hair even in the muggiest humid heat (which is music to the ears of women/men with curly frizzy hair)

Here’s a review from one user:

“Using Dreamcoat was a pretty remarkable experience—splashing water on my blow-dried strands was like adding water on a duck’s feathers—the droplets seemed to roll off. My hair was smooth, shiny even after several washes, and the more product I put in, the bouncier my blowout got.”

IGK Good Behavior Spirulina Protein Smoothing Spray:

Another product that is not only packaged well but is also a good substitute is the GK Good Behavior Spirulina Protein Smoothing Spray. If you want the most dramatic at-home results to date, get your hair goal fix from the good-for-your-hair ingredients in this spray.

Hydrofluorocarbon 152a provides excellent hold and humidity resistance, pvm/ma copolymer—a film former—provides moisture resistance and hydrolyzed keratin minimizes damage and increases tensile strength (aka resistance to breakage).

One user said that even if the IGK spray made her damp hair feel a bit sticky upon application, the resulting blowout was straight:

“It was almost too straight, in fact, for someone like me who requires some volume and bounce in a blowout to feel my best. I’d recommend this option for those with extremely tight curls that don’t respond well to most other straightening treatments—and those who don’t mind the resulting feel of their strands after styling.”

Garnier Fructis Sleek In-Shot Shower Styler:

Garnier Fructis Sleek In-Shot Shower Styler is not only a cost effective option but many love the ease of use. All you have to do is mix a dollop of it with your shampoo, run through hair, and wash the product out. That’s it.

The packaging promised to cut styling time by an impressive 50 percent, and many can attest to this. The ingredient mix is like a wheatgrass shot for hair aka a punch in a small dose.

Hair gurus who know the ingredients know that with the use of hydrogenated starch hydrolysate, this product protects damaged hair by improving shine and repairing the hair cuticle. Another hydrophobic film former (Polyurethane 34) is another active ingredient which helps to withstand humidity and frizz but is also a strong conditioner, detangler, and shine booster, and improves hair strength to limit breakage.

While no one can guarantee to cut your styling time down by 50 percent ( it’s therapeutic and worth it), this will make your blow-dry easier and the resulting strands smoother.

We hope this helps you decide on what steps to take next.

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