May 17, 2018

The Pros and Cons of Keratin Treatments for Curly Hair

I'm a biracial girl with biracial hair. I grew up with a white mother who, despite being the best meaning, nicest, most supportive mom a girl could wish for, just didn't know what to do with my hair. That's not for want of trying! She was constantly reading books and articles about caring for Black hair, trying new at-home treatments on my unruly mane, and telling me that my hair was beautiful, no matter how much of a frizzy yield sign it became.

Caring for biracial daughters
Thanks, wind, for blowing my hair into a good 'fro. I'm, as always, the short one with the outsized enthusiasm.

Mom, you're the real VIP.

Still, my hair beat my mom every time and when I grew up and made enough to afford expensive hair treatments, I immediately gave them a go.

I do like my curls, so Japanese Straightening or any permanent, chemical straightening treatment stayed off limits. I didn't want to damage my hair like that and I was worried I'd end up with dry, brittle hair that would make me miss what I'd had with my natural hair.

Fierce beauties like Danai Gurira made me consider shaving it all off, but at the end of the day that just isn't the aesthetic that feels most like me, at least at this point in my life. I can't say I'll never shave my head, but for now I like medium-long. Or medium-wide, since my hair doesn't always fall straight down?
Black Hair Tips

When I started getting keratin treatments on my hair about ten years ago, it was still pre-DevaCurl popularity, so keratin seemed like the clear winner. I still use keratin, though I may eventually switch over to DevaCurl, so it's more or less working out for me. If you're considering getting keratin treatments yourself, here's what I find the biggest pros and cons of the treatment to be!

Benefits of Keratin Treatments:

1. Reduced daily upkeep.

Pre-keratin, it took me ages to comb my hair. I'd only wash it twice per week, because each time I did I'd have to commit to an hour or so of combing through terrible knots, and getting it reasonably well combed each morning was its own 20 minute commitment each time. 

Black Hair Care Tips

Post-keratin, I can comb my whole head of hair in under ten minutes most days, including post-shower. 

How to take care of mixed girl hair

Styling also took forever, but now I can really just wash and go.

2. Reduced frizz.

Pre-keratin, I had curls - under at least a solid inch of frizz.

How to care for Black hair

It's night and day.

3. Increased shine.

Chemical relaxers make your hair straight, but they also make it dry and visibly damaged. It's hard to get really good shine with chemically relaxed hair. Whether or not keratin damages your hair (the jury is still out on that) it doesn't make your hair look damaged. You can achieve not only as good shine as your natural state hair, but better shine.

4. Reduced blowdry times and improved results.

That formerly hour-long blowout now takes an easy 15-20 minutes and you can get smooth, silky, salon-straight results yourself, at home, as opposed to that bushy mess you (at least, I) struggled with when trying to blowout my hair myself.

Keratin treatment for Black hair

5. Soft hair.

Keratin makes my hair so soft. Like 'I'd just sit there petting my hair if that wasn't super weird' levels of soft. It's touchably beautiful hair.

Drawbacks of Keratin Treatments:

1. Smaller biceps.

Combing through my thicket of curls used to be quite the arm workout and, because I'm more of a cardio bunny when it comes to actually hitting the gym, I'm pretty sure I've lost muscle definition in my arms since beginning keratin treatments. 

Benefits of Keratin treatments

I'll gladly be #teamspaghettiarms if it means less hair-doing pain.

2. It takes f%*$!?/ forever and you have to do it 2-3 times per year.

Each treatment takes at least around two hours (but I've legitimately been in the chair for almost five hours once before) and you have to do it two or three times per year, since it's not permanent. If you follow salon instructions, you actually have to get it done three or four (!) times per year, but who has time for that?

Not happening. I trying to make my treatments last about 4-5 months by using sulfate-free shampoo and conditioners, as well as a heavy dose of denial when that kinky new growth starts coming in, but by the time I schlep myself back to the salon to lose another few hours of my life to hair maintenance, it is very clear that I'm overdue.

3. It's expensive and easy to screw up.

Depending on where you live and where you go, as well as the length, texture, and density of your hair, a single keratin treatment will run you $200-$450. Say you do that three times a year and that adds $600-$1,300 to your annual beauty budget - in a lifetime of caring for your hair, assuming you start at age 20 and stop at 80, that's $36,000-$78,000. 

Keratin is many things, but cheap isn't one of them.

On top of that, many things can strip all that expensive keratin out of your hair - products with sulfate in them, salt water, chlorinated water, looking at it funny, etc. 

Cons of Keratin

After all that time and money, you don't want to have it totally destroyed prematurely, so be careful!

4. Potential health risk.

Increasingly many salons are now offering formaldehyde-free treatments, but the original keratin (which is still used at a lot of salons, especially if you go to a Brazilian or Dominican spa) contains formaldehyde, which may raise your risk for cancer.

Even with the formaldehyde-free formulas, there are a lot of fumes involved. From the way those fumes make my eyes red, throat itch, nose burn, skin crawl, and head woozy, I doubt they're fully safe. 

Do I worry enough to give up easy management of my curls? Girl, I'm lazy about my morning routine, so clearly the answer is no. But I wouldn't suggest giving a five year old a keratin treatment. 

5. No more rocking a glorious 'fro.

While keratin leaves some of the curl in your hair and allows you the optionality to wear your hair curly whenever you want, unlike chemical relaxers, it strips volume and kink out.

Tips for moms of mixed children
Big eyes, big hair.
Good luck convincing your hair to rock a 'fro!

Clearly, keratin is just hanging on by a thread for me. I'm totally open to other suggestions from curly hair girls!

How do you take care of your curls?

Have you tried keratin?

Have you tried DevaCurl? 


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