Keratin Treatment: Everything You Need to Know

Do you dread taking showers because you know you will inevitably have to spend hours blow drying and styling your hair afterwards so you don’t look like a Chia pet?  

Many girls have solved this problem by opting for keratin hair treatment, also known as Brazilian straightening: an expensive but surefire way to temporarily smooth and straighten your stubborn curly hair. So what do you need to know about this alleged miracle treatment before giving it a try?

What is Keratin Treatment – and is it Safe?

Keratin is the natural protein that is found in our hair and fingernails. Salons use a keratin solution that is essentially like “liquid hair” and paints it onto your locks. The mixture smoothes both the inside of each strand and the outside texture. In fact, the keratin treatment actually works better the more damaged your hair is, since it latches onto damage and simultaneously repairs any breakage caused from styling, coloring, UV rays, or smoke. For about three months your hair will dry naturally straight without any blow drying and styling, and won’t get frizzy throughout the day or when you work out.

However, not all the buzz surrounding keratin treatment is positive. In 2007, Allure published a controversial article “Scared Straight,” revealing that keratin solution contains formaldehyde, a known human carcinogen. Small amounts are in some household products like cleaners and synthetic fabric, and when it comes in contact with skin it causes irritation reminiscent of an allergic reaction. However, Allure points out that the real danger is when the hair is being flat-ironed: as the steam rises off your hair it carries formaldehyde gas, which is known to cause nasal and brain cancer in high amounts.

The article recommends drastic measures like wearing a $150 gas mask while getting the treatment, and even includes a lab report of various brands on the market with formaldehyde levels ranging from 3.4 – 5.4 percent, well over the FDA’s recommended .2 percent limit. While the FDA actively restricts levels of formaldehyde in products like household cleaners, there are currently no restrictions regulating levels in cosmetics.

Three years later, it is dubious whether or not these brands have lowered their formaldehyde levels, according to a recent article in the Huffington Post. Some salons are open about the risks and currently offer basic safety procedures like wearing dust masks, latex gloves, and flat ironing near an open window. Just this past November the leading keratin solution brand Brazilian Blowout was sued by California’s attorney general’s office for falsely advertising their product as “safe” and “formaldehyde free.”