Before and After: How a Keratin Treatment Changes Your Hair

Keratin

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In our new series, The Science of Beauty, we're going to do a bit more research into the making of a great beauty product. While we've talked about the textures, scents, and efficacy of our favorite formulas in our Reviewed series, this one is meant to feed the other side of the brain—the side we perhaps haven't tapped into since chemistry class. We'll talk about science, experiments, and the ingredients that make each product work with experts in each specific field. Then, we'll check back in with our favorite hair and makeup artists to get a breakdown of how to best use the products once they're out of the lab and back in our bathrooms.

We dove deep into the technology behind volumizing hair products, learned about the history and chemistry behind antiperspirants, and read up on Accutane. Now, we're talking keratin treatments. The hours-long, in-salon remedy works to de-frizz and de-puff, but how does it work? What exactly can keratin do for the hair? And is it suitable for all hair types? Needless to say, we have some lingering questions. To get some answers, we talked to the team at Keratin Complex along with pros in the hair industry.

Meet the Expert

Keep scrolling to learn everything you need to know about getting a keratin hair treatment.

What is a Keratin Treatment?

Woman wears sleek, straight bob hairstyle after keratin treatment

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Keratin is a fibrous protein found naturally in the hair that acts as a protective shield against humidity (the primary cause of frizz). Over time, the hair loses keratin from exposure to the sun, environment, styling, and chemical services—causing porous spots to develop (much like potholes in a road). "Keratin in and of itself works with the porosity of the hair. Most frizz, damage, and tangled hair is due to overly porous hair," says Abraham Sprinkle, a Keratin Complex International creative team member. "Keratin treatments fill in the gaps where keratin has been depleted, so humidity is combated and hair is left with a healthier appearance. Think of it in the same way spackle deals with nail holes in sheetrock: The surface is left smooth."

There are a variety of keratin treatments to choose from, Brazilian blowout (where the hair texture is straightened out) being the most popular. "A keratin treatment is more for smoothing and frizz control compared to a straightening treatment, which is to straighten the hair," explains Lordet. "While the keratin treatment may straighten hair a little bit, it keeps more body in the hair than a straightening treatment." Sprinkle agrees, adding that "Unlike straightening treatments (which can break protein bonds to reform hair structure into a permanently straight shape), the Keratin Complex treatments specifically won't break the bonds of your hair—instead, they reduce frizz and restore health to provide the straightening, smoothing effect without permanently changing the structure. This allows versatility to style wavy or straight as desired."

Performed in-salon by a professional stylist, this powerful treatment replenishes the hair with high concentrations of keratin that penetrate throughout the hair structure and are sealed within the cortex to repair the damage. "This locks out humidity, repairs damage and breakage, and rebuilds strength to make smoother, shinier and healthier-looking hair, improving manageability and significantly reducing styling time," Sprinkle explains.

Depending on where you go to get a keratin hair treatment, it can cost anywhere from $300 to $600 per treatment. (For reference: at Pierre Michel Salon, it costs $450 for a single treatment).

Pros + Cons

Pros

  • Can cut blow-drying time in half
  • Hair doesn't tangle as easily

Cons

  • Can permanently damage curl pattern
  • An expensive fix if directions aren't followed post-treatment
  • Can contribute to hair loss and shedding if not cared for with the right products

Benefits of a Keratin Treatment

Woman wears long, smooth blowout after a keratin treatment

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Keratin treatments carry a host of benefits for strands.

  • Prevent frizz in humidity: According to Taylor, a keratin hair treatment is great for those with frizzy hair and is a healthier option than other straightening treatments (such as relaxers). "Because keratin treatments fill in the porous gaps in your hair strands, it completely smooths out your hair and will keep it free from frizz," she says.
  • Smooths out the hair cuticle: "Also, one of the key benefits of a keratin treatment is how it smooths out your curl pattern. If you're pressing out your hair regularly, this will save you a lot of time," adds Taylor.
  • Imparts a lustrous shine: In terms of shine-factor, those with naturally curly hair typically don't see shine in their hair (curls reflect light less than straight hair)–with a keratin treatment, your hair will appear loads shinier.

Types of Keratin Treatments

At his salon, Lordet uses several different types of keratin treatments on clients based on their hair texture and health.

  • Cezanne: The most natural and formaldehyde-conscious, a Cezanne treatment stays on for about 30 minutes and, according to Lordet, is great for all hair types and textures. "This treatment eliminates frizz while still protecting the integrity of the curl of the hair. It softens and lightens the color and maintains a shine for up to six months."
  • Peter Coppola: This treatment stays on for 20 minutes and is the best choice for dry and over-processed hair. "It is similar to the Cezanne treatment for reducing frizz and loosening the curl but not making the hair too straight," says Lordet, adding that a Peter Coppola treatment can last up to three months.
  • Lasio: The strongest treatment offered by the salon, a Lassio treatment stays on for 10 to 15 minutes and is great for thick curly hair. Not only does it make hair more straight, it also helps to repair strands.

How to Prepare for a Keratin Treatment

Naturally curly hair before and after a straightening keratin treatment

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As with all chemical processes for the hair, a keratin hair treatment should be done by a professional, and you should always discuss any required preparation with them. That said, Lordet advises to lay off coloring your locks pre-treatment, as the chemical can strip out the color and alter it. Finally, you should make sure you're not sensitive to formaldehyde, as Taylor notes that it can cause reactions such as stinging, itching and burning eyes, nose and throat irritation, and a runny nose in those with sensitivities. (As a side note, keratin treatments are not recommended for women who are currently pregnant).

If you have fine and very straight hair, Lordet advises against doing keratin treatments, as they can make the hair appear flat and bodiless.

What to Expect During a Keratin Treatment

Woman with sleek, straight hair after a keratin treatment

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"A technician will shampoo your hair twice with clarifying shampoo to ensure the hair is really clean, free of any buildup or residue, and ready to absorb all the product," explains Lordet. "Then, the keratin solution is applied to the wet hair and combed through. (Note: the solution may feel a little itchy on the scalp)." The length of time for a keratin treatment depends on the formula being used, as well as your hair texture and how much hair you have—Taylor notes that it typically takes two to four hours. As the final step, the hair shape is further adjusted with the assistance of heat—first with a blow-dryer and finally with a flat iron, sealing in the treatment to create a humidity-resistant finish and smooth, silky strands.

Side Effects

Though keratin treatments do not damage the hair, a flat iron at a very high temperature can. Always use a professional titanium flat iron and professional judgment when selecting the temperature—start at the lowest recommended temperature and increase only if necessary. "Keratin treatments can last up to six months, but you may find that it impacts your curl pattern permanently," says Taylor. "To maintain your results, you must use sodium chloride-free hair products. Wrap your hair in a silk or satin scarf (or pillowcase) to keep the moisture locked in your hair, as the treatment can cause your hair to dry out faster."

Lordet adds that you can help its longevity by not shampooing too often (over time, this can wash the keratin out). "I recommend using a natural dry shampoo between washes—the Cleo & Coco Dry Shampoo + Body Powder ($16) is great for adding body and keeping the hair refreshed," he says.

Aftercare

Woman smiles with sleek, straightened hair after keratin treatment

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"After doing the treatment, avoid washing hair right away and using any hair products to allow for the keratin product to sit in," says Lordet, who recommends waiting at least three days before you wash with a sulfate-free shampoo. "You'll also have to avoid touching it or putting it up for three days post-treatment to avoid denting."

Taylor adds, "If you don't take care of the treatment after, it will do more harm to your hair than good. Keratin treatments contribute to hair thinning and excess hair shedding if not cared for properly due to the high heat and chemicals involved."

Before and After

Naturally curly hair before and after a straightening keratin treatment

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Naturally wavy hair before and after a straightening keratin treatment

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The Final Takeaway

Keratin is great for those who want long-term straight, smooth hair. If you are looking to bounce between your natural curls and straight hair, this may not be the solution for you.

FAQ
  • What happens if you wash out keratin treatment early?

    Shampooing too soon can remove the treatment from your hair if it has not had enough time to sit. You should also avoid touching it for up to three days post-treatment to avoid denting.

  • Will a keratin treatment ruin curls?

    Getting a keratin treatment can permanently damage your curls, however, if they do come back, it will take a very long time to grow out the parts of your hair that were relaxed. To help combat permanent curl loss, use the right products and establish a good haircare routine early on post-treatment.

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. Basit A, Asghar F, Sadaf S, Akhtar MW. Health improvement of human hair and their reshaping using recombinant keratin K31. Biotechnol Rep (Amst). 2018 Oct 24;20:e00288.

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