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5 Things I’ve Learned From Years of Keratin Treatments

Don’t Groupon this one.

03.21.17
keratin treatment man repeller--2

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.

Haley-Keratin-hair-treatment-man-repeller

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

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  • Erica H

    Anyway you could post a before and after?

    • Haley Nahman

      I just looked as far back as my facebook goes (2007!) and not a single photo of my natural hair. I told you I was hot to trot on that straightener!! I’m sorry 🙁 It’s basically just a wavier, frizzier version of what’s happening in my red shirt photo.

      • Erica H

        Ha no worries. Thanks for trying!

  • Hayley Clark

    What does a “bad” keratin treatment leave you with and is $300 the median price you’ve paid?

  • Hayls

    It’s definitely a law of nature – I also have natural blonde hair, and dyed it dark brown during college. I’m pretty sure my mom actually cried… and I definitely cried while going through the painful period of bleaching to get rid of leftover orange tint to get it back to blonde. My hair was fried and I had a strawberry blonde tint for a year… I learned my lesson.

    • Allison

      Same! Mom also cried. It is truly a rite of passage for blondes

    • KK

      I also did this! It looked terrible with my skin tone. I swear when it finally faded/grew out, my blonde was never the same *womp womp* 🙁

  • the trumpisms are brilliant :’D

  • Imaiya Ravichandran

    feel u on the groupon point. another groupon no-no: brazillian waxes

    • oh god seconding this
      just don’t

      it’s been a year and I’m still terrified to get one.

  • Good to know, it’s so easy to just do the cheap one that you find but it makes such a difference and it’s not worth the risk!!

    http://thedianaedition.com

  • Aly

    Natural blonde here. I went through this phase in my younger days when pretty much any guy I dated/associated with felt the need to tell me I’d look better as a brunette. I started by getting lowlights, but the stylist was so heavy-handed that I looked like a skunk, which led me to all-over brown. Brown looks beautiful on brunettes. We can’t all be Emma Stone.

  • Ally Pelle

    Go see Shevfon at Keratin lounge on 38th between 5th and 6th. Been going to her for years and never been happier with my Keratin 🙂

    • ThePetiteBrunette

      Any recommendations for shampoo/conditioner for aftercare?

      • Ally Pelle

        Depends on the type of treatment you get and what kind of hair you have. I get Lasio Keratin treatments but I find their products a. expensive and b. oily/heavy. I have really fine, color treated hair. Basically anything without sulfates should work for you. I use Loreal Expertise Everpure and while it’s a little more expensive than drugstore shampoo it’s much less than salon brands. Your best bet is just wash as little as possible, heat style as little as possible and always use sulfate free products and you’ll be good to go 🙂

      • Ally Pelle

        L’Oreal Sulfate free

  • ThePetiteBrunette

    This is exactly how I felt about my hair!! I just did Keratin for the first time 2 weeks ago and cannot believe I didn’t try it sooner!

    Do you have any other recommendations for shampoo/conditioner? I can’t go more than 3 days without washing because it does get oily.

  • I’m so keen to get a keratin treatment but with insanely thick and frizzy hair I just felt it wouldn’t work on me.
    I had one a couple of years ago which did absolutely nothing. But in fairness it was a pretty inexperienced hairdresser and I’m not sure how good the keratin was!
    You’ve tempted me to try it again with this post!
    Kirsty x | kirstyeelizabeth.com

  • Dani Heifetz

    Any suggestions for someone who wants keratin but am advised not to because I don’t want to lose my ‘beautiful curls?’

    • Louise Tattersall

      Olaplex treatments! They revive the hair beautifully and also doesnt change the natural curl

    • hairbytran

      K Gloss or Nano Keratin Treatments. They’re the weakest keratin treatments out on the market. They are not meant completely straighten your hair nor do they advertise to. They merely take out the frizz and cuts down the drying and styling time. It doesn’t straighten your curls at all.

  • I’ve been considering more permanent keratin treatments because I’m so bored of having to straighten my hair, still not sure if I’m ready to take the leap yet though!

    – Natalie
    http://www.workovereasy.com

  • chouette

    Keep in mind the person performing the treatment who’s breathing in formaldehyde all day… you might only be subject to it a few times a year, but it’s their day-to-day. Feels bad, man. I hated my curly hair for most of my childhood, til I finally accepted it and got a good cut FOR my curly hair, instead of the blunt cuts I’d gotten for years thinking they’d magically lay straight.

    • Louise Tattersall

      YES! The amount of years I spent getting terrible cuts that never helped my curls reach their full potential until this year i cut it a short choppy bob and my hair thrived <3 I always wanted long hair but have accepted that this is the second best option

  • Allison

    Tell me more about New Wash, it sounds like we have similar hair types, has it helped tremendously with over-oily scalp? Do you also use a dry shampoo? if so, which? Thanks GURL

    • Emily Michaelis

      I got new wash last month… it is def worth the hype.

    • Nicole

      More! 👏 Info! 👏 Please! 👏 @haley_nahman:disqus @emily_michaelis:disqus

  • Mari

    Any recommendations for a good place to get Keratin treatment in Los Angeles?

  • lily

    My hair is red and I dyed it brown my senior year! Why is this a thing??? Also keratin recs for Chicago anyone?

  • Meg Bowie

    Ohhhh I am SO thinking about this *however* I have curly but thin and fine hair that I blow dry and straighten allll the time. Is it the worst idea for someone like me? Because of how fine it is I’m prone to breakage from straightening and it just looks blah and flat unless it’s freshly cut. I don’t want it to be flatter but I feel like just needing a quick blow dry (or even air dry??) means way less flatness and breakage..

    • Theresa Marie

      Hey Meg – I also have fine curly hair & thinking about getting the treatment. Did you end up getting it? How did it work out?

      • Meg Bowie

        No not yet! But I’m still thinking about it for after I get a bonus in a couple weeks!

        • Sara

          I have fine curly hair and have gotten it twice so far. It does get a little bit flatter but I still love it. Used to spend approximately 1.5 hours blow drying and flat ironing my hair on a weekly basis. I stll need to flat iron it a little bit but it just takes 15 min now.

      • Meg Bowie

        I still haven’t! Still deciding if I’m going to fork over the cash for a good place. YOU??

  • b.e.g.

    I have (well, actually, had) thick curly hair, medium coarseness. I’ve had 3 keratins over the last 5+ years. My treatments also last a long time because I wash my hair once a week, unless I’m in chlorine. I didn’t know that using the iron on it ruins the keratin. I mean my stylist said the whole point was to make straightening it easier, and no frizz. Without passing the iron over the keratin I had blah curls. Not curly, not straight. The in between blah curls didn’t do it for me because the ends were always stick straight. Sometimes (rarely) I could get it to look like Alexa Chung curls. Now I’ve been trying to “grow” out the keratin, but it seems like even my new hair is Keratinized. I’m expecting my old hair to grow out. But nope.

  • Allie

    can you recommend a place in NYC where you’ve had a good keratin experience?

    • Ally Pelle

      Keratin Lounge 38th between 5th and 6th

  • Eleni Toubanos

    Hey! I just moved to San Francisco and I want to appear California cool (read: I don’t want to look like I spent an hour straightening my hair). Does anyone have any keratin treatment recommendations for the foggy, windy city?

    • jenay

      Sara @ Patrick Evan Salon, they use Cadiveu – it’s expensive (~$375) but worth it.

  • Michelle

    Haley – can you PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE share where do you go in NYC for your keratin needs, and what products do you use for styling it afterwards? I’ve gone only to Julien Farel but as you can imagine it’s getting ex-pen-sive AF

  • liv

    Oh I love a keratin treatment! I’m black and I’ve gotten them a couple of times before. They are life changing! I heard a lot of bad stuff about them from others warning me against getting them, but I absolutely love the results. Also, like you, I don’t have the need to touch it up as often as recommended. I find that mine just sticks, which is nice on the wallet because they are not cheap!

  • Gina Fuchs

    I’ve gotten 3 keratin treatments in the past two years, and after each one I’ve found I get a bit of a dandruff issue afterward (this is not a problem I’ve ever had before, and it usually goes away after a little bit)…has anyone had a similar situation? any tips on this?

    • Jennifer Kessler

      i get it for a few quick days about 2 weeks after. but then it stops. it’s worth putting up with for a few days IMO 🙂

  • Liv

    Try GK-Hair treatment – it’s not chemical

    http://www.thelivin.com

  • Sidney

    $300 for a hair treatment and a comparison saying you could’ve learned mandarin all in one paragraph. Learning mandarin (a seemingly “exotic” and “random” language) as a joke is a bit low. All while talking about a $300 hair treatment (meaning a loooot of people can’t afford to do so). You’re very funny and awesome, but please be careful with what you’re writing Haley.

  • Emily

    Is a Brazilian Keratin the same kind of keratin we’re talking about here? Or is that one of the more “natural” options that doesn’t work as well?

    • Jennifer Kessler

      Brazilian Blowout is not the same as Keratin Treatment from my understanding, but is similar

  • jeff cardarella

    Keratin Hair Smoothing Salon Ventilation
    Written by Jeff Cardarella, President
    Aerovex Systems, Inc.
    https://aerovexsystems.com/images/uploads/files/Keratin%20Hair%20Smoothing%20Salon%20Ventilation%20REV%2012_22_15.pdf

  • How to Improve Indoor Air Quality for Hair Salons – Keratin Smoothing Treatments
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KubEhP07gcQ&t=1s

  • I have been using Keratin Complex for years now and nothing repairs my hair quite like it. I have a full time job and apply heat to my hair almost everyday which leave my hair damaged, dry and lifeless. The Keratin treatment brings my hair back to life. Keratin Complex has many Keratin hair products, check it out!
    Hope this helps someone,
    Claire

  • Katie

    Can anyone recommend a good keratin hair treatment you can do yourself?

  • Stacey

    Thank you for writing such an informative piece! As the first salon to offer only and specialize in smoothing treatments we are always looking for more information to help educate our clients and this is perfect! As for the chemical fumes I wish more salons would model after The Smoothbar, https://www.thesmoothbar.com/ and have exhaust systems installed abouve each chair to protect the stylist and clients.

  • Danielle

    Questionnnn: if you get a keratin treatment, will you hair eventually go back to it’s regular texture? don’t hate my curls but want to try something new and my gf’s keratin treatment looked amazing! just don’t want it to have permanent effects.

    • Robin

      Yes, it will. After 3.5 months, my natural curls were back. My treatment was to last for 3 months. I wear my natural curls during the summer, June-Sept. Oct-May, I go with the Keratin. Living in Dallas..with the heat, flat ironing natural curls…as soon as I hit the air….Puff…AFRO!

  • Hitendra Patel

    Keratin oil repair hair spray small amounts rub it into scalp use comb rather than brush use baby shampoo hair will be softer and stay flat don’t wash hair spray water and dab dry then spray keratin comb let it dry and comb after half hour don’t use hair dryer see the difference

  • peg

    Forget everything you have done and go back to curly frizzy hair and use morocan oil creme for intense curls. Let it air dry and then fluff with your fingers. I used to iron my hair in the 60’s and 70’s to straighten it. I now embrace the curls since Moroccan Oil company started. Expensive but worth it. https://www.moroccanoil.com/us_en/

  • Lilly Lamoureux Lovell

    10 years doing Brazilian Blowout at home. BB doesn’t have the 3-day no water rule. I wash my hair every other day with cleansing conditioner, $5 for 8oz. BB lasts 2-3 months. It costs about $20 for the product. I’ve had BB and regular Keratin treatments done professionally, and I’m much gentler and careful when I do it myself. Let me know if you want to know the products and tips I’ve learned. leelovellvogt@hotmail.com Peace 🙂