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Keratin treatments are a one-way ticket to humidity-proof hair

Everything to know about the frizz-busting keratin treatments.
By Angela Law

WHEN DOLLY PARTON said, “the higher the hair, the closer to God”, I’m pretty sure she wasn’t talking about me arriving at the office with rain-ravaged hair during the third La Niña weather system to hit Australia in as many years. And yet, here we are. 

I don’t need to tell you that the humidity goes sky-high during the warmer months, or that with the damp air also comes unmanageable hair for anyone who spends their mornings taming unruly, frizzy hair. It can be extremely frustrating to find yourself looking like a fluff-ball within minutes of stepping outside your front door, and I imagine that’s exactly why the likes of Jennifer Aniston and Meghan Markle are both big fans of the keratin treatment. It’s certainly why I am.

Keratin treatments promise to give you frizz-free hair for months at a time, and personally, they make existing through the months of October and March in Sydney more bearable. So, is the keratin treatment everything it promises to be? Read on to find out everything you need to know about this celebrity-approved beauty treatment.

What is a keratin treatment?

A keratin treatment is a temporary in-salon hair treatment that lasts anywhere from six weeks to four months. “The treatment is intended to smooth and straighten hair, plus increase shine and decrease frizz,” says Ross Macdougald, a cosmetic chemist and founder of Biologi. “The way it works is by putting protein back into the hair while also working on rebuilding damaged areas and ‘smoothing’ the cuticle. The hair cuticle is the outside layer of your hair, and the idea is that when it is ‘smoothed’, it will lie flat,” he says, adding that it’s this smooth appearance that also makes the hair appear shinier. 

There are a few reasons you may consider getting a keratin hair treatment, but it mainly comes down to manageability. For me, having hair that takes less time to dry and style, and isn’t thrown into chaos the moment I even dare to look at a rain cloud, is a huge win. 

Jennifer Aniston uses keratin treatments | GETTY IMAGES
Who is suited to getting a keratin treatment?

The beauty of a keratin treatment is that it will work for most hair types, though people with extremely fine or straight hair risk making their strands sit too flat against the head. “People with wavy and curly hair that is also frizzy will see great results from a keratin treatment,” says Jana Baramilis, hairstylist and owner of Marli Rose salon and Livani Haircare. She adds that keratin treatments won’t straighten curly hair but will just remove all the frizz and bulk, resulting in hair that’s far more manageable. 

One other consideration when choosing the salon to visit for a keratin treatment is the formula they use, as some may contain formaldehyde, though this is becoming rarer. “Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen and can also cause hair loss, allergic reactions, and other serious health problems,” cautions Macdougald. “Most Keratin treatments these days shouldn’t contain formaldehyde, but be wary of any that do.” He recommends looking out for treatments that use glyoxylic acid instead or a more natural form of keratin. Baramilis favours a more natural formulation at Marli Rose and assures me that these types of keratin treatments won’t cause damage to the hair — in fact, a true keratin treatment (one with a formaldehyde-free solution) could make your hair feel healthier.

Keratin treatments can help with frizz-free hair, a la Naomi Campbell | DOMINIQUE CHARRIAU / GETTY IMAGES
What is it like getting a keratin treatment?

I’ve been getting keratin hair treatments at Marli Rose salon in Sydney’s Inner West for years, and it’s a twice-yearly appointment I’ll never miss. True keratin treatments are performed in-salon only and are best not attempted at home — and while the process can feel lengthy, it’s worth it if the daily humidity-induced frizz is getting you down.

The process begins with a double wash at the basin with a clarifying shampoo that leaves your hair feeling squeaky clean. This step is important, as it removes any oils and impurities from the hair to ensure there’s nothing in the way of the keratin penetrating the strands. Back in the chair, the stylist applies the keratin solution to your damp hair and combs it through, before leaving to process (this time will vary depending on the treatment your salon prefers).

Once the treatment has processed, the stylist will lightly rinse the hair to remove any excess product before blowdrying and straightening it to be pin-straight. The entire treatment will take between three and four hours to complete, and you can expect to pay between $200 and $500, depending on the salon and the length of your hair.

How do you maintain a keratin treatment?

Immediately after leaving the salon, your hair will be extremely straight, and it’s important to keep it as flat as possible for 48 hours. That means no tucking your hair behind your ears, no tying it into a ponytail, and absolutely no washing. If you notice a kink form or find you wake up with your hair a bit mussed, Baramilis assures us that it’s no reason to panic and recommends running your hair straightener over the area to flatten it out again and prevent any bends in the final result.

The good news is, maintaining a keratin treatment is pretty lowkey. The most important rule to follow is avoiding hair products that contain sulfates and parabens, according to Baramilis. “Doing a weekly treatment will help maintain the keratin, too, as the healthier the hair, the better your keratin will last,” she adds. Macdougald seconds this, adding that “sulfate as an ingredient typically doesn’t work well with keratin and will essentially wash it out of treated hair”, thus reducing the longevity of the treatment.

If maintained properly, you can expect to see results from the keratin for four months. “The keratin is at its strongest for the first two to three months,” says Baramilis, adding that you can notice it slowly fading out of the hair until it’s all gone (usually at the four-month mark). “I recommend clients come in for a keratin treatment every four or five months.”

Meghan Markle is a fan of the keratin treatment | GETTY IMAGES
Can you colour your hair with a keratin treatment?

Whether you can colour your hair after having a keratin treatment will largely depend on whether you dye your hair darker, or bleach it lighter. With the former, it’s recommended that you wait two weeks after having a treatment before colouring your hair, though Macdougald recommends checking with your hair stylist to be sure. “The keratin needs roughly two weeks to bind and penetrate the hair follicle,” he says, adding that if you colour your hair too soon, it can also result in a patchy or dull result since the fresh keratin can hinder the colour’s pigment from penetrating the strands evenly. After this, you’re in the clear and can tone or colour your hair darker as needed. 

With bleach, though, it’s a different story. “Bleach can directly damage the hair’s protein structure as it swells the cuticles of your hair, leaving them more vulnerable to chemical damage,” Macdougald explains. “Bleach can also destroy keratin which means you’re diminishing the effects of the treatment.” For this reason, it’s recommended that you get any bleaching done ahead of your keratin appointment, ideally leaving four weeks between appointment to give your hair a rest.

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