Is a keratin treatment good for your hair?

If you’ve ever dreamed of having smoother, frizz-free hair, chances are that you’ve heard of keratin hair treatments—or, at the very least, Brazilian blowouts. These smoothing hair treatments have been the secret magic recipes of salons for years and are known for their ability to make hair look straight, smooth, and shiny for up to six months. Sounds amazing, right? Well, there is a catch. The problem with some of these products is that they are loaded with chemicals. What kind of chemicals? Try formaldehyde (the same chemical used to embalm actual human remains!) and other strong alkalines that can do real long-term damage to your hair.

The good news is that there is a plethora of at-home smoothing treatments available on the market today, but are they safe and effective?  

We answer this question, and the many other commonly asked inquiries for those considering an at-home or salon keratin treatment.

Is a keratin treatment
good for your hair?

If you’ve ever dreamed of having smoother, frizz-free hair, chances are that you’ve heard of keratin hair treatments—or, at the very least, Brazilian blowouts. These smoothing hair treatments have been the secret magic recipes of salons for years and are known for their ability to make hair look straight, smooth, and shiny for up to six months. Sounds amazing, right? Well, there is a catch. The problem with some of these products is that they are loaded with chemicals. What kind of chemicals? Try formaldehyde (the same chemical used to embalm actual human remains!) and other strong alkalines that can do real long-term damage to your hair.

The good news is that there is a plethora of at-home smoothing treatments available on the market today, but are they safe and effective?

We answer this question, and the many other commonly asked inquiries for those considering an at-home or salon keratin treatment.

What is a keratin treatment?

Keratin is a protein that is found in our hair, skin, and nails. It is also often found in styling products to help strengthen hair. However, the term “Keratin Treatment” is a misnomer, as keratin treatments are actually semi-permanent hair straightening treatments that smooth hair, add shine, and reduce frizz.

Many salons will not perform these treatments because of the potential health problems they pose, but despite those potential dangers, many people still book in-salon Brazilian type “keratin” treatments because they love the smooth, straight results. If you elect to get this type of treatment, be sure to select a salon that has appropriate ventilation and professionally trained stylists.

How do these treatments work?

There are two primary technologies involved in keratin smoothing treatments:

  1. The Brazilian type keratin treatments coat the hair with a chemical that works like a lacquer to flatten the curl pattern. The hair is then pressed into shape with a flat iron to deliver straight hair that can stay that way for months. These are the most common “keratin” treatments found in salons, and generally use formaldehyde or similar chemicals to lacquer hair into place. While they deliver very straight, smooth, and shiny hair, salons generally charge between $150-$350 for these treatments, depending on region and hair type/length.
  2. The formaldehyde-free type treatments work more like a deep conditioner with frizz controlling components. These products generally penetrate the cuticle of the hair with conditioning agents that plump up the hair strand to make it softer and more manageable. These products use a wide variety of processes and nutrients to significantly reduce frizz and soften the curl, but most do not deliver the pin straight results like the Brazilian type treatments. These products are available at salons, and some are also available for use as an at-home treatment. Some of these treatments last for a few days before washing out, while some others last for months.

What are the key ingredients?

The Brazilian type treatments generally use formaldehyde or a similar chemical that has the same properties as formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is a colorless and strong-smelling gas that is commonly used in glue and embalming. Side effects of formaldehyde include nosebleeds, scratchy eyes, and sore throat. Another possible side effect of this type of treatment is hair breakage. This occurs because high temperatures from the flat iron can dry out the hair, which leads to future hair breakage.

Many salons will not perform these treatments because of the potential health problems they pose, but despite those potential dangers, many people still book in-salon Brazilian type “keratin” treatments because they love the smooth, straight results. If you elect to get this type of treatment, be sure to select a salon that has appropriate ventilation and professionally trained stylists.

The formaldehyde-free type treatments generally use a combination of carbocysteine, amino acids, and proteins, including hydrolyzed keratin. These treatments work completely differently than the Brazilian type, which flatten the hair by pressing it into place. In contrast, the formaldehyde-free treatments operate more like “super conditioners,” as they can reduce frizz and curl to deliver softer, more manageable hair. Their effects wash out over time--some after a few washes, and some after a few months.

These treatments are generally safe and effective, and they vary in efficacy and longevity. However, you should still always check the ingredient list and the instructions, as some contain strong alkalines (high pH).

What specific ingredients should you look for on the label that might be good or bad for you or your hair?

Ingredients to avoid:
Ingredients to look out for include: Formaldehyde, formaldehyde donors, guanidine carbonate, ammonium thioglycolate, sodium hydroxide, calcium hydroxide and strong alkalines, parabens and sodium lauryl sulfate. These ingredients can be effective in straightening your hair, but they can also have damaging side effects.

Ingredients that are generally safe and effective:
Ingredients that are generally good for your hair are: carbocysteines, hydrolyzed keratin, other proteins, vitamins, amino acids, and botanical extracts, as well as oils like argan, wheat germ, neem and jojoba.

Many salons will not perform these treatments because of the potential health problems they pose, but despite those potential dangers, many people still book in-salon Brazilian type “keratin” treatments because they love the smooth, straight results. If you elect to get this type of treatment, be sure to select a salon that has appropriate ventilation and professionally trained stylists.

How can you be certain that the treatment does not generate formaldehyde gas when heat is applied with a blow dryer or flat iron?

The definitive test for this is High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC). Manufactures will usually let you know if your treatments or products passed that test on their websites or in their literature. HPLC is the industry gold standard for detecting formaldehyde and is a more informative way to provide you with peace of mind than merely checking the ingredient list.

What do these treatments do if you have natural curls?

The Brazilian type treatments will flatten and virtually eliminate the curl until it gradually washes out over time. Most of the formaldehyde-free type smoothing treatments will soften the curl, reduce frizz, and add shine. The impact on the curl will last between a few days and a few months, depending on the type of treatment.

Can you safely do a keratin type treatment at home?

The short answer is YES for most formaldehyde free treatments and NO for most salon treatments that contain formaldehyde.

Summary

Keratin smoothing treatments can deliver smoother, softer more manageable results that can last for months. There is a broad range of salon and at-home products that offer different degrees of “straight” and longevity. If you are seeking pin straight hair that lasts for months and you are okay with the chemicals, the best choice will be visiting a salon that specializes in these treatments. If you are seeking safe and effective alternatives at a much lower price, there a wide range of at-home treatments that you may want to consider including keratinsalondirect.com.

Keratin Salon Direct offers professional salon treatments you can do at home for smoother, straighter, softer, frizz free hair that last for months. Save 75% on in-salon pricing.