Brazilian keratin hair straightening treatment – the lowdown

Smoother, straighter, healthier looking hair – sounds good eh? It’s the holy grail for so many of us, and Brazilian keratin treatments claim to deliver just that. Such promises are mighty hard to resist … gorgeously silky hair without harsh chemical processing? Yes please, where do I sign? But how exactly does Brazilian keratin treatment work, and is it really as fantastic as it sounds?

Keratin treatment – how it works

Brazilian keratin treatment is a protein based treatment that claims to temporarily leave your hair smoother and straighter without those nasty chemicals used in permanent straightening. There are actually a variety of treatments out there, but they tend to work using the same basic principle: your hair is coated with a keratin solution which is then bonded to the hair temporarily using other chemicals and heat, forming a protective layer.

If you head to the salon for a Brazilian keratin treatment, you’ll first have your hair washed thoroughly to remove any residue. After a thorough blow dry, the keratin solution is applied to your dry hair and then left on for a while to do its thing. Next up, your hair is blow dried and straightened using very hot straighteners, with the keratin lotion still coating your hair .. once that’s done you’re good to go!

straightened hair
© Subbotina Anna –

These treatments are described as safe to use on damaged or chemically treated hair, in fact its said that the rougher, open cuticle of processed hair allows the keratin solution to bond particularly well with the hair.

You’re usually advised to avoid washing your hair for around three days after having the treatment, and also not to put your hair up or do anything that might distort its newly straightened shape in this time. Sodium shampoos are a no-no too, probably as this ingredient can break down the keratin coating that’s (hopefully!) left your hair beautifully smooth. Brazilian keratin treatments are a semi-permanent process, so remember that you will need to keep going back to the salon every few months or so to top up and re-tame your hair.

A look in more detail …

So how exactly does this Brazilian keratin hair straightening treatment work? Chemically speaking, it’s thought that ‘aldehydes’ can react with amino acids found in keratin and cause cross linking between the proteins. In other words, ingredients like formaldehyde can cause the keratin within the treatment’s formula to bond with the keratin found in your hair, creating a semi-permanent coating that leaves your hair looking and feeling smoother, as well as reducing any curl in your hair.
Take note that the presence of formaldehyde is a potential health concern, but more about that further down the page.

Keratin treatment vs Brazilian Blowout

You may have been left a bit baffled by the array of Brazilian keratin treatments out there – bear in mind that they’re not all exactly the same, and the trademarked Brazilian Blowout uses a particular method that does vary from other keratin treatments.

Generally the Blowout is a cheaper, faster treatment, that doesn’t claim to loosen curls as drastically as other keratin treatments but does promise to banish frizz. The keratin solution is applied to towel dried hair, which is then blow dried and straightened using hot irons. Unlike standard keratin treatments, instead of leaving the lotion on, the hair is then washed and blow dried into shape again.

So the plus side is that you can generally start styling and washing your hair straight away once the keratin treatment is complete, and it’s a much quicker process that uses a less smelly lotion!

One thing you do need to be aware of is that while you’ll find many a claim that the Brazilian Blowout is formaldehyde-free, this isn’t strictly true, as it does still contain ingredients that create formaldehyde gas when heated. According to this press release, the company are no longer allowed to describe it as formaldehyde-free and need to go further to outline the risks and promote careful use.

Risks and side effects – what’s wrong with formaldehyde?

So I’ve already mentioned the presence of formaldehyde in these Brazilian keratin treatment formulations, and it’s probably one of the biggest concerns linked to the process. Formaldehyde is known to be carcinogenic and, when inhaled, it can pose a serious health risk. Within keratin treatment lotions it’s often been found in far higher concentrations that the recommended safe limit, so you do need to be very careful if you do fancy trying keratin straightening. Adequate ventilation is an absolute must to reduce the potential risks, though you might be wise to give it a miss altogether. Also look out for methylene glycol on the ingredients list, as this releases formaldehyde when heated.

Dangerous fumes aside, the super high heat applied to the hair during the process can cause damage of its own. Although Brazilian keratin smoothing treatments can claim to repair and improve the texture of your hair, there’s no real evidence that it can actually act to improve your hair’s structure rather than just giving it a shiny coating.

Brazilian keratin treatment and black hair

Yes, you can carry out these Brazilian keratin treatments on black hair – the process can loosen curls and is gaining popularity as a gentler alternative to traditional chemical relaxers. That said, although the chemicals used in keratin hair treatments aren’t as harsh as those found in relaxers, the process as a whole – with its harsh tugging and super hot irons – isn’t exactly the kindest option for your hair. Black hair tends to be fairly delicate, so think carefully before booking yourself in for a keratin treatment.

So overall, is it worth experimenting with a Brazilian keratin hair treatment to tame your frizz? Well, there’s no doubt that there are plenty of happy customers out there who can’t believe how they managed to put up with their frazzled locks pre-treatment.

But – do beware of bold claims before hitting the salon. There’s no evidence that keratin hair treatments actually improve the health of the hair, though they may well give its appearance a helping hand. OK, they won’t subject your hair to the same chemical thrashing as permanent straightening treatments, but the potential heat damage and very real risk of exposure to formaldehyde fumes makes it worth thinking twice before taking the plunge.

Have you tried a Brazilian keratin treatment? How did you find the results? Drop me a comment to let me know!

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