I haven’t gotten a keratin in over two years, but there was a time when the treatments transformed my relationship with my hair, serving as an important half-step between obsessively straightening it and letting it run wild. Keratin treatments helped me learn to love and care for my natural wave and texture. Although I have no plans to get another one, I’m asked for keratin tips all the time. I’m resurfacing this story, originally published in March 2017, for anyone looking into it as a means to changing their relationship with their hair. -Haley
I spent my senior year of college dying my hair dark brown because Newton’s fourth law demands every blonde person do this to tragic effect at least once. The photos still haunt. When I decided to go back to my natural color, I underwent a series of orangey transformations that left my hair fried and dignity tarnished. There were rearview mirror tears shed in salon parking lots and refunds I deserved but was too ashamed to ask for. Once I arrived at a vaguely palatable shade of yellow, I looked into getting a keratin treatment.
At $300, it was more money than I’d ever spent in a single go, but I was desperate to fix the witch’s broom that had become of my head (witches weren’t trending yet). I’d also been straightening it for years and was getting really sick of it. I could have learned Mandarin in all the time I spent running a hot iron down my stupid head from age 14 to 21!
This is the part where you realize it’s 2 a.m. and you’re actually watching an informercial, because keratin treatments ended up changing my relationship with my hair forever. Damage repair is what sent me there, but the incredible reduction in hair maintenance swept me right off my pink paws. You know how much time I’ve spent on my hair since? Almost zero time! You know how much Mandarin I know now? Also zero, but not the point.
My hair is frizzy, wavy, thick and coarse — a perfectly okay combination that irritates me deeply. In its natural state, wearing it down and tying it up were always equally distracting and uncomfortable. I would straighten it to abate those irritations and then put a wave back into it, because I didn’t like it straight. I don’t know. I’m sweating just thinking about it.
Now, I’m a full keratin loyalist. My hair is still thick but feels less so, the waves are more subtle, it’s only coarse-ish and it dries more beachy than frizzy. I wash it, let it dry and go. It’s still a little messy, but I like it. I’ve gotten around 10 treatments in the six years since BleachGate. But! They weren’t all equally effective. I’ve taken a lot of bad advice from which I’d now like to save you.
First, a quick word on wtf a keratin treatment is: It’s a combination of chemicals that break down your hair’s natural structure, which is then rebuilt with a very hot flat iron, making it straighter — but not dead straight and not permanently. “Keratin” is a protein in your hair but, as associated with the treatment, it’s just a marketing buzzword.
Don’t be f👀led.
Here’s what else your stylist won’t tell you:
1. “Permanent crease” fears are unwarranted.
After my first keratin, I was instructed to not even put my hair behind my ears (let alone up) for five days lest I cause a permanent indentation. I let my dead straight hair hang around my face in curtains all week; I was scared to touch it and looked unhinged. This is silly and totally unnecessary unless you’re after a 2003 Avril Lavigne look. Hair-tucking and ponytails don’t do a damn thing, just don’t be too aggressive about it. No Kim K ponies.
2. Do not get it wet for as long as humanly possible after the treatment.
I’ve noticed the don’t-wash-for-48-hours rules getting increasingly lax, with some salons going so far as to say you can get it wet right away but just not shampoo it. FAKE NEWS! In my experience, this severely weakens and shortens the treatment. I don’t get my hair wet for a whole week if I can manage it. (Which I totally can, hashtag That Wet Look, copyright Claire Carusillo.)
3. The newer, more “natural” solutions don’t work as well.
Time for bad news. Most keratin solutions, when heated, release a carcinogenic gas called formaldehyde. According to David Andrews, Ph.D., a senior scientist at Environmental Working Group, exposure (like a few times a year) puts you at minimal risk, but I v much understand if that scares you. There are more natural options out there (like Cezanne Perfect Finish) but, in my experience, they don’t work nearly as well despite the stylist insisting they do. Sad.
4. A good one can last more than six months.
If you did the math on my 10 treatments in 6+ years, I do not abide by re-upping every few months as many salons suggest. In my experience, with good care, they last far longer. In fact, I’ve gone over a year before re-upping and never felt like my hair really went back. Maybe my hair just holds on to it. But I also don’t apply heat, I wash it as seldom as I can (about once a week) and when I do, I clean it with non-shampoo New Wash and skip conditioner.
5. Prioritizing reviews over deals is a good idea.
This is just logic, but with an expensive treatment like this, it’s really hard to not get caught up on cost and jump on a Groupon the second you see it. Believe me when I say all keratin treatments are not the same. I’ve gotten bad ones; read reviews closely before booking (and look for actual brand names since most salons carry multiple — my favorite is Cadiveu but it’s hard to find). Even better: Get a recommendation from a friend that includes salon, solution brand and stylist to be extra safe. And if you have one for New York, give it to me too, please?
Photos by Louisiana Mei Gelpi and Krista Anna Lewis