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What Is a Keratin Treatment?

Maffew is a hairdresser, marketer, and dabbler in many things who enjoys sharing knowledge about the science of hair coloring and hair care.


Is your hair frizzy, curly, and difficult to manage? A keratin treatment is one of the best ways to smooth out and transform the texture of your hair, but it's not only effective as a straightening treatment.

Keratin treatments are versatile and have several advantages over the other kinds of long-lasting straightening available. This article will help you learn everything you need to know to decide if it's the right product for you, and even how to save significant amounts of money and time by applying the treatment at home.

How It Works

Your hair is composed of a protein called keratin that gives it structure, but it's the presence of bonds between each protein that gives your hair strength and shape. Hair that has a lot of bonds between cysteine amino acids—disulfide bonds—tends to be not only stronger but curlier.

Unfortunately, cysteine and the bonds it forms are very susceptible to damage from the oxidation of hair dyes, bleach, and other treatments, weakening your hair. This is why a keratin hair treatment is so useful though.

Keratin treatments create new bonds and repair the bonds that were previously broken by damage. This has two beneficial effects: setting your hair into a new texture, and repairing the damage.

After treatment, your hair will be smooth, straight, and left in better condition than before the application. This can last several months if performed properly



Keratin hair treatments have numerous benefits, and some of these benefits are unique to this kind of straightening. A keratin treatment can:

  • Straighten and smooth out frizzy hair
  • Add shine and a soft texture to your hair
  • Repair damage
  • Improve porosity and hair strength
  • Make your hair significantly easier to style

Unlike relaxers, keratin hair straightening can be used on damaged hair. In fact, it is the ideal method of straightening colored hair for this reason. While thermal conditioning is also usually safe to use on previously dyed hair, keratin straightening can be performed even on severely damaged hair.

It also has a more natural smoothing effect. Specific treatments designed for curly or wavy hair can help to reduce frizz significantly without removing too much of your natural curl. With either use, whether to straighten completely or just smooth curls, the treatment makes your hair easier to style. It also helps to equalize porosity by filling in gaps in the protein structure that would soak up too much dye when you color your hair.


Keratin treatments are time-consuming to apply, and this factors into the cost if you prefer to have them applied in a salon. Expect to pay at least $200, likely more depending on factors like how long and thick your hair is, the experience of the stylist performing it, and whether you need any other services performed at the same time.

The treatment can be applied at home relatively easily, however, and this can save you up to a few hundred dollars if you're confident in your ability to apply it. If in doubt, find a reputable salon that uses a quality brand like Goldwell Kerasilk.

Before and after a keratin treatment.

Before and after a keratin treatment.


Your stylist will assess your hair before the actual application to determine which treatment will best serve your needs depending on how smooth and straight you want your hair to be, and how coarse and thick your hair is in texture. Very coarse or curly hair can require a stronger formulation and longer application time.

Careful assessment is the best way to guarantee a great result and it should never be skipped.


Your hair needs to be thoroughly shampooed with clarifying shampoo before a keratin treatment is applied. This strips out oils, minerals, and hair product buildup to ensure the treatment will work properly. If your hair isn't fully cleaned like this, the results may be uneven or impaired.

Applying the Treatment

Once your hair has been shampooed and the right treatment has been selected, the application can begin and this is the start of a rather long process that can take 1–2 hours to complete entirely. Your stylist will start by lightly drying your hair and then apply the keratin treatment onto it quickly and evenly while it's still slightly damp.

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The treatment needs to sit for about 15–20 minutes to process, and this is when it will start to build new bonds in your hair.

Blow-Drying and Ironing

Heat is the most important catalyst in a keratin treatment, and your hair will need to be blow-dried and straightened with a flat iron after processing. Blow-drying needs to be done in the direction of the hair growth, using a concentrator nozzle to confine the area that the hot air flows and smooth your hair out flat.

For most products, your hair won't be rinsed before this step as that dilutes the strength of the treatment significantly. Some products for home use do get rinsed at this point, and treatments like this will be less effective on coarse or curly hair.

Final Steps

The keratin treatment will need to be left in your hair for at least 1–2 days, preferably up to 72 hours before you can rinse it from your hair. During this time, you will also need to keep your hair straight and avoid getting it wet. If it does get wet accidentally, this won't be harmful but it may affect the quality and durability of your results.

Keep a close eye on how your hair looks during this time and be sure to re-straighten any areas of your hair that aren't perfectly smooth at any point. See the video below for a great look at how the entire process will be performed in-salon.

How to Apply a Keratin Treatment at Home

Keratin hair treatments are easy enough to apply at home and this can save a substantial amount of money. If you'd prefer to go this route, you should still pay more for a quality product.

Treatment Safety

Only use products based on glyoxylic acid. If the treatment contains formaldehyde or methylene glycol like the old Brazilian blowout-styled products, avoid it completely. Most manufacturers don't use these variants of formaldehyde anymore, but you still need to be aware and check ingredients lists because this kind of treatment, while effective, releases noxious fumes.

However, even the newer, milder treatments release some fumes, so treat the product like you would dyes or bleach and always ensure that there is adequate ventilation where you use and apply the treatment. If you have asthma or other respiratory conditions, discuss with your doctor first before either home or salon use.

Application Steps

Now that the safety is out of the way, applying a keratin hair treatment is the same process whether at home or in a salon.

  1. Wash your hair with clarifying shampoo first.
  2. Towel dry and then lightly blow dry until just damp.
  3. Apply the treatment slightly away from the scalp and smooth it through your hair, keeping your hair flat and straight afterward.
  4. Blow-dry your hair meticulously in sections along the direction of hair growth.
  5. Straighten your hair in sections until it is perfectly smooth.
  6. Allow the product to finish setting into your hair over up to 72 hours, keeping it smooth and dry until that point, then shampoo it out.

Aftercare and Maintenance

Aftercare is important following any keratin treatment. How you care for your hair from this point on will determine how long the effects last, and the treatment requires you to do a few simple things to achieve this.

To maintain a keratin hair treatment:

  • Avoid salt water and products containing sodium lauryl sulfate whenever possible. These compounds decrease how long the treatment lasts by stripping it out of your hair quicker.
  • Use a keratin shampoo and conditioner. Products designed for your treated hair help to infuse a little more keratin back into the hair every time you wash it, prolonging the effects. They're also free of ingredients that could be detrimental to the treatment.
  • Don't dye your hair for 2 weeks after treatment, though it's fine to dye it immediately before the treatment is used. Using dye or bleach too soon afterward will decrease its durability.
  • Protect your hair from excessive sunlight exposure or pool water.

Other general hair care can also help to prolong the effects, including the use of leave-in conditioners and serums to keep your hair hydrated and protected from humidity and heat from styling tools if you use them.



While keratin treatments are highly effective and easy to use—albeit time-consuming—they are one of three different kinds of chemical straightening that can be used to get long-lasting results.

The other two options consist of thermal reconditioning and relaxers. These are permanent treatments but can cause damage to your hair and can't always be used on hair that has been previously dyed.

If you have extensively dyed or damaged hair, a keratin hair treatment is the better choice for you, while the other two options are better if you don't dye your hair as often and want permanent results that won't gradually wash out. They also both produce completely straight hair compared to the softer effects of keratin.

  • What is Japanese Hair Straightening?
    Want to know more about thermal reconditioning, also known as Japanese straightening? You can find it here and decide if it's the right choice for you.

Silky, luxurious hair is something widely sought after and you deserve to feel great about the way yours looks. With a little time and effort, you can use keratin straightening to eliminate frizz and get the hair you really long for.

Have a question about hair straightening or a favorite product to recommend? Leave a comment and share your insight with other readers.

© 2020 Maffew James

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