Things You Didn’t Know About Hair-Smoothing Treatments
In the pursuit of silky, swingy, frizz-free hair, there are a dizzying number of tempting in-salon services to choose from. We grilled chemists and stylists on what works (and what’s safe). Here are some things you—and your hair—need to know before you commit.
Keratin doesn’t defrizz your hair.“Keratin treatment” has become the term of choice for hair-smoothing processes that leave your hair frizz-free for weeks (even months). But forget about the word keratin. “It’s just a marketing buzzword—it’s not doing anything to smooth the hair,” says cosmetic chemist Randy Schueller.
There are, however, several ingredients thatcan smooth your hair or help it stay smooth for weeks on end.
First, a quick chemistry lesson: Think of straight hair as a ladder and curly hair as a spiral staircase. The steps on both are the hair’s bonds. If you break those bonds, you can rebuild the spiral staircase as ladder—so curly hair becomes straight. Ammonium thioglycolate and sodium hydroxide permanently break the bonds—that’s how traditional relaxers and “Japanese straightening” treatments transform the texture of the hair. “These treatments last until your hair grows out, but they can be damaging,” says Schueller. (And they will subject you to a very awkward growing-out phase.) Some “keratin treatments” (and the popular Brazilian Blowout Original Solution) saturate the hair with a formaldehyde solution before it’s dried and flatironed; the formaldehyde (yes, it’s a suspected carcinogen for humans) locks the hair into that straighter position so it stays smooth beyond your next shampoo. Your natural texture then gradually returns over two to five months.
Just because a stylist or hair-care company says a hair-smoothing treatment is “formaldehyde-free” doesn’t mean it is.
No hair treatment will technically contain formaldehyde (because—a little more chemistry for you—it’s a gas). What they can contain are methylene glycol, formalin, methanal, and methanediol—ingredients that release formaldehyde when heated or mixed with water. Because salon treatments don’t require FDA approval,you need to do your own due diligence if you want a formaldehyde-free service. Ask your stylist if the treatment contains formaldehyde (or a formaldehyde-releasing ingredients). If she says no, then ask her what exactly willbe smoothing your hair. Remember: “Keratin” (or “peptides” or “silk proteins”) is not an acceptable answer. If a treatment is going to defrizz your hair for any length of time, it needs to contain an ingredient that releases thef word or a chemical that permanently breaks the bonds in the hair (see number two). Or it could contain the new smoothing ingredient on the scene.
I decided to switch to an esthetician with more experience, and the difference was incredible. My lashes were perfect, and I even was able to have the thickness and length catered to my liking and lifestyle. Gone were the days of uncomfortable, unsightly stray lashes- I had found my perfect lash match.
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