The Truth About Keratin
When Jennifer Aniston attributed her chin-length cut to damage incurred by a Brazilian (aka keratin) straightening treatment, even more buzz around the somewhat controversial chemical process ensued. While companies and salons that promote the expensive and widely popular service say it's healthy and won't take a toll on strands, real life scenarios the likes of Aniston as well as what stylists are seeing firsthand may suggest otherwise.
Although it's easy to book the appointment and plop in a salon chair, what's actually happening to strands during a keratin straightening treatment is quite intense. "It's a semi-permanent hair smoothing system that targets the cuticle, or the outside layer, of the hair," says David Babaii, a celebrity hair stylist in Los Angeles who although he doesn't do Aniston's hair, A-listers such as Kate Hudson, Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow have him on speed dial. "It deposits a liquid version of the protein keratin that your hair is made up of along with a chemical preservative—this is then blown dried directly into the hair followed by flat ironing the strand into a straight position."
While Babaii admits that there are pros—for example, if you want to soften your curl but not permanently alter your hair texture, then it could be a good fit. However, there are alarming aspects about the treatment that could be far more concerning than how good your hair looks for photo ops. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the treatment is a potential health hazard—both for those getting and administering them. The biggest concern centers around formulas that contain formaldehyde as well as or only methylene glycol (a compound that can turn into the former if the right chemical reaction is set up in a formula, like that of some hair straightening treatments), both of which are known carcinogens. And the FDA also notes that even those that say they're natural, organic or formaldehyde-free may not stand up to these claims so truly knowing what ingredients they contain and how much is crucial—and if might require not simply taking what the label says at face value. "The other negative aspect to these treatments is the temperature at which you must heat the hair to accomplish the goal," explains Babaii. "Subjecting a fine or heavily highlighted head of hair to a 450 degree flat iron, too, may not leave your hair feeling as wonderful as these treatments tend to claim. However, if your stylist is a rock star and knows exactly what they are doing these treatments can leave the hair in amazing condition."
And Babaii says that it's also essential to know that keratin straightening and Japanese straightening are not the same—as the latter targets deeper down into the hair shaft and doesn't stick to the external layer like with Brazilian variations. "The traditional method of permanent straightening swells the hair cuticle using an ammoniated chemical set as well as another chemical to break down the internal bonds that hold your curls together," explains Babaii. "After those bonds have been broken down enough the hair is blown dry and flat ironed into its final position and treated with a hydrogen peroxide solution that reforms a portion of these bonds effectively making your hair permanently straightened and possibly in a damaged state as well."
The good news? If hair does get fried a la Aniston, a good old cut could be the simple cure all. "Also, remember that seeing a stylist that is an expert in these types of treatments can be an expensive endeavor but if you are sick of the curls and frizz, seek out a reputable stylist and expect to pay for the quality of work," says Babaii. "It really is about putting your hair in the hands of a true professional instead of opting for the best Groupon."
And the benefit of all the hazard and damaging hype, is a push to debut new, and gentler, innovations. But only time—and ample testing—will tell if they can deliver. In the mean time, if you're a diehard fan of your smoother albeit chemically straightened strands or still want to take the curl-free plunge, Babaii says that before you opt for a keratin treatment, you (and your stylist) need to do a healthy hair overview. "If your hair is damaged, traditional keratin treatments can still be OK, but remember that there is a level of damage that eliminates even these products as an option," he says. "Again, it is up to the stylist to be open and honest with you about these treatments and remember that this may only reduce your curl for a time and not completely straighten it." And regardless of whether you decide to keratin or not, healthy hair has universal appeal. Here, Babaii's simple tips that he dishes to all of his celebrity clientele:
Your hair is what you eat."It is key to have a balanced diet that includes plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables," says Babaii. Plus, load up on ample protein (which is what keratin is and the building block of hair) with foods such as eggs, poultry and Greek yogurt as well as iron, which are found in chia seeds and leafy greens like spinach.
Good hair starts in the shower."With my clients I preach the importance of daily cleansing with a hair care line that has high grade and levels of healthy hair ingredients," says Babaii. Look for hydrators as well as ingredients that help repair and shield from environmental aggressors such as antioxidants and protein.
Condition, every single day."Hydrate with a daily conditioner as well as styling products even if hair is oily it is so important because the ends still need TLC," says Babaii, who will soon be launching David Babaii Miracle Elixir Nourishing Oil Spray, , amazon.com. "The most important thing I stress is rinse, rinse and rinse.
Video: The Truth About Keratin Treatments
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