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Risks of Keratin Hair Treatment

by
author image Kay Ireland
Kay Ireland specializes in health, fitness and lifestyle topics. She is a support worker in the neonatal intensive care and antepartum units of her local hospital and recently became a certified group fitness instructor.
Risks of Keratin Hair Treatment
Actress Kristen Bell goes straight and sleek on the Red Carpet. Photo Credit: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Smooth, silky tresses are often lusted after by those carrying around a coarse, unruly head of frizz. No matter how many at-home smoothing products are applied while washing, before blow drying and during straightening, you can still end up with an unmanageable mane. The good news is you can stop waking up to a hairy situation by simply visiting a trusted hairstylist for a keratin hair straightening treatment. The results are smooth, frizz-free strands that shave hours off your beauty routine. The process is relatively risk free, but let's get one thing straight: many of the keratin straightening systems feature formaldehyde, which can be harmful when inhaled.

What Keratin Does

The keratin treatment, otherwise known as the Brazilian straightening treatment, uses keratin to temporarily straighten out hair strands. How this differs from the Japanese straightening system is that it doesn't permanently break the hair bonds. This means your hair returns to its natural state in about four months, and isn't completely flattened: Frizz is controlled, but you will still have volume and texture, unlike with the Japanese system, which makes hair stick straight. The risk here is that you must be completely educated as to what your results will be. Disappointment is likely to happen if you're seeking flat-ironed hair that doesn't need to be blow-dried after a shower.

How It Is Applied

One of the advantages to a keratin treatment is that it can be applied to almost anyone's hair -- it can handle previously bleached, permed or color-treated hair. A stylist applies the product with her hands and then blow-dries your hair with a brush. When dry, she uses a flat iron to smooth out the frizz section by section around your entire head. The treatment stays in your hair until three days later when it is safe to shampoo the solution out. (References 2) The risk here is the formaldehyde that seeps into the air during the application process. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), formaldehyde is a strong, harmful gas that when breathed in or having touched skin can cause cancer, and lead to breathing difficulties and skin sensitivities. (References 3)

Formaldehyde-Free Versions

Many salons carry keratin treatments that say "formaldehyde-free" or "no formaldehyde" on the package. According to OSHA, some companies violate regulation and won't list the true ingredients. Another risk is that the formaldehyde might not be present just from the application alone but, when a flat iron or a blow dryer comes into play to straighten the strands, the heat releases the formaldehyde into the air. (References 3) This is risky not only for the unsuspecting client, but for the entire salon as the formaldehyde permeates the air during and after the process.

How to Stay Safe

If salon owners decide to use products that release formaldehyde, then they must follow the requirements in OSHA's formaldehyde standards. This means testing salon air during treatments to determine formaldehyde levels, providing adequate ventilation and the necessary protective gear for stylists. (References 3) But this has little to do with the client and what she breathes. To combat health risks while you're getting a keratin treatment, slip on a facial mask. Don't be fooled by products that say "aldehyde-free" or contains "natural" ingredients like keratin and acai berry. The way this straightening system works best is by heating up formaldehyde, so it's probably in there somewhere. (References 1, Slide 11)

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