Everything You Need to Know About Keratin Treatments
If you've ever wanted straighter, sleeker, and shinier hair, then you may at some point have considered investing in a keratin treatment. This popular hair treatment has been around for decades. The straightening process smooths out strands and gives hair an Instagram-worthy shine, and it's less abrasive than other salon treatments like perms and chemical relaxers.
Over the years, keratin treatments have gotten a bit of a bad rap because many formulas used to contain formaldehyde, a chemical compound that produces a colorless, flammable gas that is dangerous when ingested. But luckily there are formaldehyde-free options now.
To get the low-down on everything you need to know about keratin treatments, we tapped two top hairstylists to ask them our most pressing questions. Here’s what to know if you’re thinking about booking an appointment to get sleeker, straighter hair.
What is keratin?
Before we can talk about keratin treatments, it’s important to know that keratin itself is a protein that occurs naturally in hair and nails. It is a key building block in making our hair healthy and shiny; but as Omer Asaf, the chief hair designer for a line of at-home keratin products called Natural Formula, tells us, “Things like blow-drying, using a flat iron, and hair dye all damage our natural keratin.” Because of this, he says that using a product with keratin or receiving a keratin treatment may help give our hair an extra coating of the protein, filling in the cracks caused by damage and making the hair more elastic, strong, and smooth.
What is a keratin treatment?
“Keratin treatments work by infusing active keratin protein into the porous parts of dry, dehydrated hair,” explains New Jersey-based hairstylist Michelle Cleveland. You may be familiar with terms like “Brazilian blowout,” which refers to a specific type of keratin treatment that originated in Brazil and uses ingredients like açai berry to add strength and extra antioxidants to the hair.
Unlike a perm (which chemically curls naturally straight hair) or relaxer (which uses a chemical cream to "relax" naturally coily hair), keratin treatments do not change or restructure the hair’s bonds, so they’re a semi-permanent solution when it comes to changing your hair's natural texture.
Cleveland explains that, because a keratin treatment is usually finished off by sealing the hair cuticle, it creates a barrier between your hair and external factors, like heat and humidity. Because of this, keratin treatments work great for frizzy, coarse, or naturally textured hair. In addition, naturally textured ladies may find keratin treatments to be less damaging than traditional hair relaxers, which often leave the hair weak, brittle, and prone to breakage due to the concentration of sodium hydroxide (also known as lye). This common ingredient in hair relaxers is very effective at breaking down hair bonds but can be harsh on both the scalp and the hair's hydration.
What is the process of getting a keratin treatment?
Cleveland tells us that the process of receiving a keratin treatment can differ depending on your hair’s specific needs and the formula your hairstylist uses. However, a typical process will begin after your hair is washed with a clarifying shampoo to remove any natural oils or products. Next, the stylist will apply a keratin solution to your hair just like they would apply hair color. Finally, they’ll blow-dry the hair and seal in the treatment using a flat iron at high heat (typically around 450°, according to Cleveland). The whole process can take anywhere from two to four hours and cost anywhere from $150 to $350, depending on location, the strength of the product, and application time.
How long does a keratin treatment last?
This depends on your specific hair texture, hairstylist, and the keratin product itself. As keratin treatments have become more popular, there are different ranges of strength on the market. First, there's a keratin express, which typically takes about an hour to do, and the results last anywhere from four to six weeks. Then there's the full processing keratin treatment, which takes about two to four hours to complete and lasts between three to six months.
Are keratin treatments safe?
Some versions of keratin treatments do release low levels of the chemical compound formaldehyde when heated, and while most treatments on the market contain very little, Cleveland says that some products do contain higher traces. Formaldehyde is a carcinogen that can release harmful gases, so it’s better to seek out formaldehyde-free treatments as a safer option that will still deliver results. Additionally, while some formulas don't contain formaldehyde itself, they either contain a derivative of formaldehyde or create formaldehyde when heated due to a chemical reaction. Keep an eye out for the option known as Cezanne, which is one of the most well-known 100%-formaldehyde-free formulas.