What is Keratin? And How Does It Transform Hair?

Every other conditioner, hair mask and leave-in treatment that is available under the sun contains “keratin”. The word “keratin” sounds good (carrots anyone?). Is it going to give you a shiny, straight-haired, glossy mane like a Mr. Pantene?

What is it?

Keratin is a protein that can be found in hair and nails of vertebrates. Keratin is the basic building block of hair. Some people believe that supplementing with it through shampoos, serums and pills will result in stronger and healthier hair.

Here are the details before you fill your digital cart full of keratin-enriched goodies.

woman standing next to pink wall while scratching her head

The benefits

Keratin treatments can make your hair look better

  • Smoother
  • straighter
  • less frizzy
  • It is easier to manage

These factors will affect how effective these treatments and products are.

  • How healthy your hair is to start with
  • The hair’s texture and thickness

The award goes to…

Other chemicals in keratin treatments, such as sodium hydroxide and ammonium thioglycolate are real MVPs for healthier hair. Keratin is easy to pronounce and natural so people love to pay attention to it.

However, you will likely see results because the ingredients come in a set.

How do these treatments work? Do you want to DIY or become a professional? These are the details.

Salon treatments

This treatment is often called “Brazilian Keratin Treatment”. You will need to allocate a lot of time and cash to do this. It can take anywhere from 2 to 4 hours spread over two days. The average price range is $300-$800.

First, the stylist will apply a cream containing formaldehyde. Yeah, .that .formaldehyde — more on the potential risks in second.

Your hair will then be dried and straightened. Your hair will not be dry for several days until you return to the salon.

Your stylist will wash your hair and apply another treatment to secure your hair. You can expect your straighter, smoother hair to last for up to three weeks.

Selecting a salon

Pros should be able explain exactly what to expect as well as the risks associated with their services. You deserve to know what you are getting, since salon treatments often emit formaldehyde.

Also, ensure that the salon has good ventilation.

Sadly, there have been instances of falsely labeled “formaldehyde-free” products – so ask your stylist for the name of the treatment and scour the ingredients just in case.

Glyoxylic acid can be used to straighten hair but it only lasts for 2 months.

Pro tip:

By avoiding hair products containing sulfates, and by avoiding sodium chloride (salt), you can extend your results.

Here’s the scoop on shampoos, conditioners, and serums

Keratin .shampoos, serums, and conditioners don’t contain the same harsh chemicals as salon-grade treatments, but they also aren’t as effective.

When shopping for products, look for the ingredient keratin hydro lysates, which detangles and helps repair damaged hair. A 2013 study found that the active ingredient in keratin strengthened subjects’ hair.

Keratin supplements are everywhere and aren’t without risk. You could get too much of this stuff and have dangerous levels of protein in the system.

Before you jump on the supplement train, consult your doctor and ask about the best sources.

There are risks

Since formaldehyde is a gas, salon keratin treatments do not contain it. However, they do contain formalin, methylenegl, methanediol and methanol, which can release formaldehyde if heated or mixed with liquid – both of these things happen in the styling chair.

Stylists have reported respiratory problems, nosebleeds, and other health issues from inhaling these fumes over time, so it’s not something to take lightly.

A 2014 study found that these treatments emit fumes at levels five times higher than the recommended level, even for brands marked as formaldehyde free.

FDA approval is not required for salon treatments. This means that your safety and security are in your hands. Avoid it for pregnant women, people with formaldehyde sensitivity and people with respiratory problems.

A few side effects formaldehyde sensitivity can cause include:

  • Watery eyes
  • Burning sensation in the eyes, nose and throat
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Nausea
  • Skin irritation

Talk to your stylist if you are concerned about possible health consequences of having smoother hair.


  • Keratin treatments smoothen and strengthen hair.
  • Formaldehyde is a chemical that professional salons use to treat clients. This can lead to side effects.
  • Formaldehyde-free salon treatments with glyoxylic acids are now available. These are safer for pregnant women as well as anyone seeking an alternative to toxin-laden products.
  • Over-the-counter products are less expensive and have less dramatic results.

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