Does a Keratin Treatment Damage Hair? Everything You Need to Know

keratin treatment damage hair


If you’ve ever struggled with frizz, your stylist has probably recommended getting a keratin treatment done. It’s long been considered the miracle pill for women desiring smooth, shiny, perfectly behaved locks after just a single appointment. However, keratin treatments – also called Brazilian blowouts – aren’t really the wonder treatment that they might seem. Rather, there exists mounting evidence that a keratin treatment can damage your hair.

If you’re thinking about getting a keratin treatment to tackle that frizz once and for all, make sure you’re making an educated decision. Here’s everything you need to know about the legendary Brazilian blowout to help you make up your mind. 

What Is Keratin?

Keratin is a family of proteins that make up hair, nails, feathers, horns, and the outer layer of skin. It’s a strong, protective protein that coats more fragile cells. In your hair, it’s largely responsible for preventing breakage, frizz, and heat damage.

Since keratin plays such a critical role in many structures of the body, you’re constantly producing it. Its production is controlled by cells called keratinocytes, and this constant production of the protein is the reason why we shed.

Keratin production can’t be altered or controlled because its expression is genetic. (In other words, there are no diets or pills you can take to produce more or less of it.) However, the protective keratin in your hair can become damaged or depleted if you’re prone to overstyling your hair, or constantly applying heat or chemicals to it. In this situation, your protective keratin is being broken down faster than the body can replace it. This creates overly porous hair – and frizz.

To offset this damage, some stylists recommend a keratin treatment. Let’s explore what that means.

What Does a Keratin Treatment Do?

There are two different types of keratin treatments out there. The first doesn’t actually use keratin at all, but more closely resembles a traditional hair straightening procedure. These were the first type of “keratin treatments” to hit the market and are extremely problematic in terms of physical and hair health.

The original keratin treatments used a derivative of formaldehyde. The hair was soaked in it, and then a flat iron helped break the hair proteins and restructure it into a permanently straight shape. This keratin treatment can damage hair very easily. Fortunately, formaldehyde-based keratin treatments are decreasing in popularity. It’s now possible to find keratin treatments using glyoxylic acid instead, which is safer.

The second type of keratin treatment applies keratin directly to the hair. Instead of breaking the protein bonds and reforming them, the treatment delivers a high dose of keratin directly to the hair alongside many chemicals designed to help it seal to the filaments. The result is essentially the same as a chemical keratin treatment – smoother, shinier hair.

While gentler on the hair, hair damage can occur with this keratin treatment. Notably, your hair needs to be left alone for several days to strengthen after a treatment. Combing it, tying it back, or even sleeping on it wrong can result in kinks or dents to your hair.

Three Things to Be Aware of Before Getting a Keratin Treatment

On its own, a keratin treatment won’t always damage your hair. However, there are a few things to be aware of when you look around for a stylist to do one for you. Keep in mind that: 

1. Formaldehyde Is Carcinogenic, But Alternatives Exist

There’s a lot of research showing that formaldehyde-based keratin treatments are neither safe nor healthy. For example, one from 2014 analyzed the formaldehyde levels in seven different commercial keratin treatments. Six were found to have five times the formaldehyde considered safe for human exposure, while five different brands advertised themselves as “formaldehyde-free.”

Likewise, it has been known since 1989 that formaldehyde is linked to cancer. As a result, alternatives to formaldehyde keratin treatments now exist. Ask your stylist about these to avoid exposure to a dangerous chemical.

2. Not All Treatments Are Equal

There’s quite a bit of misinformation out there about what a keratin treatment is and is not. Therefore, it’s quite common to find a number of procedures or products lumped under the umbrella term keratin treatment. Do your homework before agreeing to a treatment at a salon or purchasing a product from the store. Check ingredients and understand what you’re getting into before you do it.

3. It’s Not a Bulletproof Method

While a keratin treatment is advertised as the ultimate cure to frizz for three to six months, the reality is that it might not always work quite the way you expect. The success of your keratin treatment has as much to do with the type of treatment you get as it does with your hair type and how well you handle your hair in the hours and days following your treatment. There’s plenty that can still go wrong – and it will take three to six months before it reverses.

Alternatives to a Keratin Treatment for Frizz

The dangers of formaldehyde and the other chemicals sometimes found in keratin treatments have sent a lot of people in search of natural alternatives to frizz or hair straightening treatments. If you’re looking for something gentler than a keratin treatment, consider:

  • Argan protein treatments. Argan oil functions similarly to a keratin treatment, helping fortify your hair, reduce frizz, and increase shine. It will have a mild straightening quality to it, however.
  • Formaldehyde-free keratin shampoos. You can find some shampoos available that will deliver a dose of keratin to your hair. However, be sure to read the ingredients carefully.
  • Moisturizing hair straightening mask. Consider a mask of agave nectar, olive oil, and coconut oil to moisturize, de-frizz, and gently straighten your hair.

Don’t Risk Hair Damage With a Keratin Treatment

A keratin treatment may seem like a miracle cure to the endless battle against frizz, but it can come at a steep price. A keratin treatment can damage your hair, resulting in an even frizzier, messier mane. With all the misinformation out there, be extra cautious before you choose this route. Your natural hair is already gorgeous, and we want to help you keep it that way.

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