What is a Keratin Hair Treatment?

What is a Keratin Treatment?

One of the most frustrating things in the world for a woman is to have a bad hair day- believe me, I know (read the About me section to hear my story). Unfortunately for women whose hair is extremely curly or frizzy, those days seem to be in abundance. Many women who have frizzy or very curly hair long for a treatment for frizzy hair that will give them extended periods of time when their hair will be straight – or at least frizz-free and smooth. The good news is that a keratin treatmentalso called a brazilian keratin hair treatment— can offer those exact results.

Before and After Keratin Treatment Video

The best place to begin when explaining the keratin hair treatment process is to explain what keratin is. Keratin is a natural protein that is found in your hair, skin, nails and teeth.  In hair, if the keratin is damaged, hair will look dry and brittle.  Keratin hair treatments protect and smooth hair shafts by changing the structure of hair on the inside of the hair shaft and then bonding and forming a hard outer shell around the hair cuticle.  This shell helps the hair strands to hold their new shape.

keratin hair treatment

A keratin treatment uses keratin mixed with other chemicals to form a bond around the hair’s cortex.

The Keratin Treatment Process:Keratin Treatment | Keratin Hair Treatment with Flat Iron

1)      Your hair is thoroughly washed with a deep cleansing shampoo

2)      The keratin hair treatment formula is carefully applied to the hair (from scalp to the ends) and combed through

3)      Your hair is blow-dried straight

4)      The keratin treatment is sealed into your hair with a flat iron

5)      Keep your hair dry (and straight – no clips, pony tails, etc) for 48 hours.

The whole process (steps 1-4) takes about 2-3 hours depending on the length of your hair.  It is crucial that the keratin remains on the hair for 48 hours in order to properly set. Beyond not washing your hair, keep it as straight as possible (don’t even tuck it behind your ears) as it could set with a bend in it.  The final result is that your hair is straightened (see next section for more on this) and stays that way for an extended period of time- generally 3 to 5 months.

You can choose different levels of keratin hair straightening

Not all women desire stick-straight hair – many love their curls but are frustrated by how frizzy their hair can get depending on the weather.  Since most women assume that keratin equals straight hair, they don’t consider it to be a tool for them.  The truth is that keratin treatments can offer varying degrees of “straightness”.   The mildest formula seeks to eliminate frizz but maintain curl.  A more moderate formula limits curl but maintains wave, and the strongest formula is the one that is most commonly associated with keratin as it basically creates straight hair.   Given the current popularity of the “beach waves” look, many users of keratin are currently opting for a mid-level treatment rather than a formula strength that creates stick-straight hair.

Keratin Treatment side effects, risks, & safety

Since early 2011 there has been media coverage regarding the use of formaldehyde in keratin products to create their desired results.  Since at certain levels, formaldehyde is considered to be hazardous, it is important to evaluate the level of formaldehyde used prior to undergoing a treatment.  The levels of formaldehyde that are used can vary quite a bit from keratin treatment product to product. According to OSHA if a keratin treatment product contains more than 0.1% formaldehyde, the product’s manufacturer is required to list that the product has formaldehyde in it.  Testing on some brands indicated that they contained over 10% of the preservative.

In September 2011, a public warning was issued by the FDA regarding the Brazilian Blowout hair care company. The levels of formaldehyde that were being used in their treatments were ranging from 8.7 to 10.4%, a level the FDA considered to be dangerous. As a result, although the company argued that they did not consider these levels dangerous, they did start marketing a formula that contained 0% formaldehyde and was instead made from a plant derivative.   Many of the newer keratin products (by other companies) claim to not contain formaldehyde at all, although the chemical make-up of the products may still produce formaldehyde during the flat-ironing stage of the process.

Click here to read about specific formaldehyde free keratin treatments.

A factor which can help reduce the impact from exposure to these fumes is to ensure that you go to a well ventilated salon for your treatment.  You can also consider wearing some type of surgical mask if you would like to further protect yourself.   If you experience any skin irritation or breathing problems during or after your treatment, you should see your doctor.

While high levels of formaldehyde are a concern, the utmost care is taken by reputable salons to make certain that keratin treatments are as safe as possible for their customers, especially given that these treatments generally start at a price of $250 and go up from there. (The price is dependent on the length of the hair the stylist will be working with.)

Keratin Hair Treatment Maintenance

sample keratin hair treatment

When it comes to your hair’s upkeep after a Brazilian keratin treatment the most important thing to remember is to give your hair some downtime, this means waiting two days after the treatment before you wash your hair. By waiting for a length of time before you wash your hair after the treatment you are helping to give the solution the necessary time it needs to effectively do its job. Once you do begin washing your hair after the treatment, a sodium sulfate free shampoo is recommended to help avoid stripping the keratin treatment from your hair.

Click here to read more about shampoo for keratin treated hair.

While the idea of not washing your hair for 2 or 3 days may seem a bit frustrating, most women with frizzy or curly hair would consider it a small price to pay. Especially since daily hair care for curly hair can take a great deal of time. This time is  is significantly cut down after undergoing a keratin treatment. Where it might have taken a couple of hours to blow dry and style your hair before hand, now it may only take a few minutes.


Another question you might have is about the impact of coloring your hair. Many stylists recommend that if you’re going to color your hair that you do so before undergoing a keratin treatment. The keratin will help to seal in the color so that the color results will last much longer than they normally might. You should not color your hair within 2+ weeks of a keratin treatment, so be sure to keep that in mind before scheduling a treatment.

Comparison to alternative hair straightening treatments

While there are other methods, such as the Japanese straightening method, (sometimes called Yuko for the stylist who developed it), and there are those who would argue its merits, keratin has a great deal going for it. Consider the fact that keratin is a natural protein in the hair. The Yuko system, however, breaks down the chemical bonds in the hair to allow it to be reshaped; in essence you’re altering a component of the hair in order to reconstruct it  (which is why the process is also sometimes called “rebonding”). This breaking down of the hair’s chemical bonds is a major difference compared to the keratin hair treatment. Keratin is a natural protein in the hair and keratin treatments replace that protein for the purpose of repairing the already present element.

While there are certainly pros and cons to using treatments with keratin, many of those who have undergone the treatment do agree that, when done by those who know how, the benefits far outweigh any potential risks. Whatever cons there may be are also significantly minimized by having a professional stylist, who is familiar and has experience with these treatments, do the treatments for you. Many women who have struggled with their hair for years have described the Keratin Treatment as a life-changing event.

Click here to read specific Keratin Treatment Reviews.


2 Responses to What is a Keratin Hair Treatment?

  1. Jane March 27, 2012 at 6:27 pm #

    I got a keratin treatment done to my hair by my aunt who is a hair dresser back in December 2010. So yeah a while ago. It looked good until I was allowed to wash my hair like a week later or whatever. It turned my natural curls to waves and made a few spots straight. Still even over a year later my hair isn’t curly again and I thought keratin treatment only lasted a few months?? The top 6 inches are curly from the grow out but the rest of my hair is still wavyish straight. I want it all curly again! Any suggestions?

  2. Lara March 28, 2012 at 12:41 pm #

    Hi Jane-
    I recommend you find out what brand was used on your hair and call the company directly to ask for suggestions. They usually have tech support, and since it was your aunt she should be able to give you the company info.
    All treatments and brands tend to have different effects/ results. Most last 3-5 months when you use sulfate free shampoo. If you’re not already, I would suggest using a shampoo with sulfate– that will help to strip the remaining product out of your hair.
    I do know of someone who had something similar happen to her. She had what she thought was a Keratin Treatment from a stylist , but it was a product more similar to a Japanese straightener and she had to grow it out of her hair, it didn’t wear off and it had to be cut out of her hair.
    Good luck!

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