Keratin treatments for the hair promise to transform a wayward mane into something smooth and silky. And converts swear by the results, touting the benefits of glossy, easy-to-style tresses.
And, when hair has a mind of its own — it frizzes out, poufs up, and defies your attempts to manage it – it can feel like there just aren’t enough standard products on the market to tame it.
So, what exactly are keratin treatments? And more importantly — are they safe?
Keratin Treatments – Brazilian Blowout vs Smoothing
There are two different kinds of keratin treatments. One, commonly called a Brazilian blowout, permanently straightens your hair for about 3 months.
The other kind of keratin treatment is a smoothing treatment, which manages frizz and adds shine, without changing your hair’s texture. This treatment can last up to 4 to 6 months.
Both of these treatments can transform your tresses into fuller, healthier, and more youthful-looking hair.
Both include the keratin protein, but truthfully contain other chemicals that do the heavy lifting.
What is Keratin?
Keratin is responsible for giving your hair strength and elasticity — allowing it to be brushed, styled, and tied back without breakage. It’s a naturally occurring protein and one of the building blocks that make up each individual strand of hair.
When plenty of this protein is present in the hair, it tends to look healthy, full, and glossy. So applying this great protein to the hair can help boost strength and shine. Fantastic!
But here’s where things take a left turn. You see, keratin adds protein to the hair — but it doesn’t actually straighten the hair. So what does?
Keratin: The Secret Treatment Ingredients
As previously mentioned, there are two kinds of treatments that involve keratin. Both can help strengthen your strands and create a healthier head of hair, but which is right for you?
The key chemical that makes hair totally straight with a Brazilian blowout is a formaldehyde-releasing solution. Your strands are coated in this solution for about 20 minutes, basically like a coat of armor. You see, it’s the combination of the formaldehyde solution with the heat from the flat iron that gives hair its straight appearance.3
This treatment is far less intense, but also doesn’t give you straight, relaxed hair. However, it’s a great option for someone who wants to keep their natural texture and strengthen their hair.
Some smoothing treatments will say that they don’t contain formaldehyde. Well, yes, technically, no hair treatment contains formaldehyde because formaldehyde is a by-product of the process – it’s a gas that arrives during the process.
Even if a keratin treatment purports to be formaldehyde-free — and lists such ingredients as formalin, methanal, and methanediol – know that these ingredients actually release formaldehyde when heated or mixed with water.
Formaldehyde is a colorless gas with a strong smell. It’s naturally produced by the body in small amounts that aren’t dangerous.
But formaldehyde vapors — whether they’re in tobacco smoke, around unventilated gas stoves, or in a salon during a keratin treatment — can be quite bad for your health.
Exposure has the potential to cause serious, long-term health problems.4,5 In the short term, these vapors can cause a scratchy throat, a cough, watery eyes, and nosebleeds.6 It’s these health effects that led OSHA to issue a hazard alert concerning keratin treatments.7
Unfortunately, these chemicals can be reactivated at home too — every time you heat-style with a flat iron, blow-dryer, or curling iron.
Keratin Treatments for Thin Hair
Are keratin treatments a good idea for thin hair? That depends. A Brazilian blowout for thin hair? No. Best to avoid that, due to the high heat needed to straighten hair. In fact, long-term side effects of consistent treatments include breakage and brittle hair.
With that said, there are at-home keratin treatments that can strengthen hair. These treatments don’t penetrate within the individual hairs, but can wrap them in a protective coat of protein that eliminates frizz and defends against external, damaging forces.
Keratin Treatment Alternatives
If you’re worried about using chemicals in your hair, or the effects that formaldehyde have, there are some hair-smoothing treatments that contain fewer risky chemicals. The downside? They’re not quite as powerful at straightening hair.
So what are some other steps you can take to get smooth, silky hair?
1. Eat a diet rich in protein (eggs, meat, Greek yogurt) which will help your hair build keratin. And be sure to get plenty of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables that will boost hair health.
2. Use shampoos and conditioners that contain keratin and antioxidants. These will go a long way in helping maintain strong, healthy hair. And be sure to condition every time you shampoo to help hair retain moisture and resist damage.
It’s always important to weigh the cosmetic benefits of formulas against the risk of health costs. So if you’re considering a keratin hair treatment — keep in mind that there are potential health consequences. Remember — your hair and your health matter.
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