The Safest Way to Chemically Straighten Hair

by Lisa Sefcik paralegal

Some might say that there is no safe way to chemically straighten hair, and this might have been true back in the days of relaxers that used harsh chemicals, such as lye, to reduce unwanted curls. However, hair salons of the 21st century use more advanced forms of chemical straightening designed to give clients desired results without the resultant hair damage.

The Thermal Reconditioning Craze

Around 2003, a method of hair straightening became popular in the U.S. called Japanese hair straightening--also known as thermal reconditioning or the Japanese "straight perm." This is a salon procedure that takes a lot of time--and money. The cost of one treatment ranges from $300 to $1,000 as of 2009, and touch-ups are required for new hair growth. Thermal reconditioning works by chemically opening and restructuring the hair cuticle. It leaves hair pin straight and easy to care for; some women might not even need to blow-dry or style their hair for it to be shiny and silky.

However, this treatment has proved inappropriate for certain hair types: Women with bleached, dyed or previously relaxed hair make for poor candidates. Some "TR" treatments have resulted in women losing their hair at the hands of inexperienced stylists. Also, thermal reconditioning is a permanent straightening technique, leaving very limited options for women who decide they wanted more curl or wave in their hair. As a trend, Japanese hair straightening is on the decline, being replaced by a new, milder method of straightening using keratin.

Possibly the Best: Brazilian Keratin Straightening

The year 2007 ushered in a better option for women who wished to banish waves, curls and frizz: the Brazilian keratin treatment. Unlike with thermal reconditioning, the hair cuticle itself is not restructured by way of harsh chemicals. Instead, a protein called keratin is applied to the hair to "coat" it and seal in straightness and shine.

There are numerous advantages to this method of straightening over thermal reconditioning: It can safely be applied to bleached and dyed hair, and even to hair that's been damaged from copious hot-tool use and other styling processes. Brazilian keratin treatment does not permanently straighten the hair. Hair gradually returns to its wavy or curly state in two to three months, depending on how frequently it's shampooed. This allows women who regret their decision to straighten to regain their curly locks.

Brazilian keratin treatment is less costly than thermal reconditioning. However, it's definitely no steal, with the cost of one treatment ranging from $150 to $600 as of 2009, depending on the length and texture of the hair. Treatments are reapplied to the entire head of hair, so sticking with this treatment means that finances allotted to personal-care expenditures remain firmly in the black.

The winning factor of the Brazilian method is its safety factor. While some earlier forms of Brazilian keratin treatments used formaldehyde, this harsh chemical has been phased out of newer keratin treatments. It also appears to be the safest way to straighten hair that's been damaged due to excess coloring, blow-drying and flat-ironing.

Is There a DIY?

One popular product commandeering topics in beauty forums and review sites is a home-straightening treatment called Liquid Keratin. This product is essentially a Brazilian keratin treatment "lite." However, the straightening effects of this treatment last only about a month, rather than two to three months, during which time the hair gradually returns to its former state of wave. The product itself costs $69 as of 2009, which isn't as breathtakingly expensive as salon straightening treatments; however, considering that Liquid Keratin only lasts one month and that frequent repurchase is required, someone who uses this at-home product could easily end up spending as much as she would for a salon keratin treatment.

Reviews of Liquid Keratin are mixed, and because this is a product rather than a procedure, its efficacy is almost strictly anecdotal. Many women who reviewed this product report excellent results. However, some express discontent that the product didn't straighten their hair as thoroughly as a salon treatment they experienced in the past, and some reported that Liquid Keratin faded their hair color or turned bleached hair brassy.

If you prefer to do your hair at home or want to see if keratin straightening works for you, this product might be appropriate for your hair type. But performing a hair strand test is always advised before applying the product to your entire head.

About the Author

Lisa Sefcik has been writing professionally since 1987. Her subject matter includes pet care, travel, consumer reviews, classical music and entertainment. She's worked as a policy analyst, news reporter and freelance writer/columnist for Cox Publications and numerous national print publications. Sefcik holds a paralegal certification as well as degrees in journalism and piano performance from the University of Texas at Austin.