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Keratin hair treatments

WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Smooth and shiny tresses are top of many a hair wish list. In real life for many of us it's more about fighting the frizz and constantly trying to tame our unruly manes!

If you're not blessed with a curtain of straight and silky hair it takes a lot of time and effort to do battle with the hair-straighteners every day.

There is an alternative. Many salons offer keratin treatments which are a semi-permanent way of smoothing and straightening your hair.

They're sometimes called Brazilian blowouts, keratin straightening or permanent blow dry.

What is keratin?

Keratin is a protein that's found naturally in our hair. The treatment works by penetrating the hair strands with extra keratin to recondition your locks.

It's not a chemical that breaks the structure of the hair. It replenishes the hair and makes it silkier and straighter.

What happens?

Your hair is washed and roughly dried. The treatment's applied for about half an hour, depending on your hair type. It's then dried into your hair with straightening irons.

The treatment takes about an hour and a half to 2 hours depending on how long your hair is.

Then when you wash it at home it looks as though you've had a professional salon blow dry. The effect lasts between 6 weeks and 2 months.

If you usually blow dry and style your hair straight it could save you half the time. Leading hair consultant Scott Cornwall says: "For those people who have unruly hair that take an age to dry, it can cut blow-drying time down to a mere matter of minutes."

Your hair won't frizz, even in light rain.

Scott says, "Previously curly or unruly hair can be rough dried and it suddenly starts to smooth out and sit much straighter following the treatment, without the need for round brushes or straightening irons."

It won't make the hair dead straight but will eliminate most of the frizz and curl leaving it more shiny and softer.

After the treatment don't use shampoo containing sodium sulphates, to help maintain the treatment.

As the treatment is conditioning it can give better results on coloured and damaged hair as it puts more protein goodness back into the hair shaft.

Beware of formaldehyde

You may have heard about formaldehyde in some salon keratin products. This applies to treatments of a few years ago, not the modern updated versions seen in UK salons today.

Formaldehyde has been linked to health problems, especially for people who regularly work with it.

"Several years ago when the trend began, a formula was used that included keratin protein and formaldehyde," says Scott. "Very high heat straightening irons were then used on the hair, when the heat hit the keratin formula the formaldehyde would form a gas which attached the keratin protein effectively embalming the hair."

This original keratin treatment lasted for around 4 months but on the negative side many of the formulas were imported and unregulated so the EU banned many of these formulations and most manufacturers had to re-create the system.
Scott says: "With the lack of formaldehyde in the treatment, the keratin is now less able to permanently affix inside the hair so results are not so long, lasting around 6 weeks."

Marilyn Sherlock, Chairman of the Institute of Trichologists, experts in hair and scalp, has a word of warning: "Your treatment may say no formaldehyde but it may contain certain chemicals which are formaldehyde by another name, so always check with the salon."

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