Keratin: The Last Hair Straightening Frontier


Ah keratin, most confusing and seductive of straightening treatments. There's a lot of marketing, a lot of conflicting information, and a lot of people with follicular/emotional scarring from the Great Brazilian Freakout of '09 (NEVER FORGET). Usually, we'd just run around screaming "Keratiiiiiin" like ersatz beauty-industry versions of Animal from The Muppets, but this is important, so instead we teamed up with Rudy Pena, the "Curl and DeFrizz Specialist" (great job title) at Julien Farel Salon—he does this all day, every day—for a handy straightening guide.

Here are 10 key facts about keratin (plus a Beyoncé hair gif, because welcome to the internet):

Fact the First: WTF Is Keratin Straightening? This TF Is Keratin Straightening
Your hair is made of keratin, so a keratin treatment pretty much consists of marinating yourself in even more of the stuff until it sticks (heat helps this process). It smooths out the surface of follicles and, depending on how much you use, releases curls, takes out waves, etc. It makes hair shinier and helps prevent breakage, too. It's not cheap—salons can charge anywhere from $200–$600—and it's tricky. So don't grab the first Groupon you see.

Fact 2: Keratin Treatments, Unlike Face Tattoos, Aren't Permanent
Keratin washes out eventually. Most treatments last about eight weeks, but it could be up to six months. Obviously, this is something you want to ask about beforehand unless you enjoy literally any kind of surprise, even like "Surprise! Your hair is straight for half a year!"

Fact 3: Keratin Straighteners Shouldn't Be Carcinogenic
If you're freaked out by the low level of formaldehyde that's produced during classic keratin treatments, be direct when you make your appointment and say you'll only accept formaldehyde-free services (there are a lot of new options). "Not only is it a more pleasant olfactory experience, it's also safer for your skin and eyes," Pena says.

Fact 4: You Can Use Keratin To Get Rid Of Frizz Without Straightening Your Curls
If all you want is slightly smoother texture, keratin can do that, too. Ask for a weaker formulation that won't release curls. Pena loves the Zero Frizz Quickie treatment in particular because "there's no downtime; you can wash your hair that night, and you're back to natural in six to eight weeks." Coincidentally, Pena also created Zero Frizz Quickie, but we won't hold that against him.

Fact 5: There Are Tons Of Different Keratin Treatments For Different Hair Types
It's not one-size-fits-all. In fact, you don't want a salon that only offers a single keratin treatment, because it's probably not the best one for your texture and thickness. "If you use the same formula on fine hair that you do on thick, it'll just be flat and stick to your scalp," Pena explains. And on the flip side, if the formula's not strong enough, it'll be like you just spent $400 on...absolutely nothing.

Fact 6: Keratin Works On Straight Hair, Too
Got coarse, thick, frizzy hair that's straight? Keratin could be your new favorite thing. A light treatment can make it shinier and smoother, so you only have bed head if you actually want it.

Fact 7: Keratin Straighteners Aren't Relaxers
Unlike keratin, relaxers are permanent. They change your texture, so you have to want stick-straight hair forever—or at least until your roots need touching up. They're also easier to do at home, whereas keratin treatments are usually in salons.

Fact 8: Keratin Straightening Isn't (Or At Least Shouldn't Be) A Super-Intensive Process
A stylist combs a bunch of it into your strands, leaves it on 'til your follicles are good and coated, then flat irons your hair to seal it in. Older formulas require you not to wash or style your hair for 72 hours, which is why you should find a place that uses newer no-wait straighteners if you can.

Fact 9: You Can, In Fact, Use Keratin Treatments On Dyed Or Bleached Hair
They can actually make bleached hair feel healthier. The same doesn't hold true for other straighteners, though. "If your hair's dyed, stay away from flat irons, relaxers, or Japanese straightening," Pena warns.

Fact 10: Maintenance Is The Key To Keratin Success
If you want your fancy new shininess to last, you might have to drop your regular shampoo and stop washing so much altogether. You can shampoo three times a week max, but there better not be actual suds involved. "Stay away from cleansers that bubble," Pena advises. "If your shampoo has a detergent ingredient like Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLS), which is literally found in laundry soap, it'll just strip your hair." (Good sulfate-free lines: Pureology Essential Repair and Living Proof No Frizz Shampoo and Conditioner.) Also no good? Salt water and chlorine. So surf spray's not an option, and make sure to coat your hair with a protective cream or oil before you make any literal waves.

If you have more questions, let us know about your keratin concerns in the comments and we'll try to get them answered by Mr. Pena himself!

Photographed by Emily Weiss.

Let’s Talk About It! JOIN IN
  • Miss Y.

    Great article, this answers more or less every question I had about Keratin. Will investigate at my hairdresser if he has the right treatment for me!

    • ITGLacey

      Thank you so much for reading!

  • D

    you should do one on perms. I'm in love with my perm

    • ITGLacey

      Well now I need to know what kind of perm you have! Do tell, please...

  • Camille

    I used to get Japanese Straight perms every 6 months. It makes your hair super slick, shiny, and soft. But it also makes your hair look very flat and each session takes around 6 hours. I switched to keratin treatment and I'm never going back! It's just like the perm but it retains your hair's volume and takes a shorter amount of time. Each treatment lasts for 6 months for me.

    • Pam B.

      Where do you go for keratin?

      And how curly is your hair naturally?


    • Aubrey Green

      Yes - do tell where you go!?

  • curlgirlnomore

    I'm a mixed race girl with CRAZY, curly, coarse hair, I have been debating doing a keratin treatment for awhile now but don't want to loose all my curls! (sometimes they cooperate with me and look great!) How would my hair fair with this treatment? and what salons in the nyc area would you recommend ?! thanks!

    • ITGLacey

      Hey! This actually sounds like a great option for you, because a stylist can apply a very light treatment that will make your strands a little smoother but not mess with your texture.

    • UncurlyDIYBrazilianKeratin

      You'd be a fantastic candidate. Keratin would deliver a looser version of your natural curls with the option also to wear it close to straight, and you could alter the amount of smoothing vs.curl by experimenting with various styling techniques post-treatment since keratin is heat activated. The curliest look would be accomplished by air drying.

      You can also give yourself a salon-quality keratin treatment lasting 3-5 months for $25-30 if you want to avoid spending several hundred.

  • Genevieve

    Maybe this is a silly question... But if you have curly / wavy hair & have keratin treatment will it naturally dry straight or will you still have to blow dry it straight...?

    • ITGLacey

      Hey! It depends. If you already have loose waves & the treatment is heavy enough, then it'll be straight both wet & dry. Most people, though, will retain their curl & need to blow dry if they want it completely straight.

      • Aubrey Green

        Would the blow drying then prevent you from having to use a flat iron?

        Someone really needs to come up with something that works out of the shower :).

  • ITGLacey

    Traditional perms basically reshape your hair structure depending on the diameter of the rollers the stylist puts in your hair, so theoretically... yes!

    It might be easier to use something like keratin to release your curl a little without taking it all the way out, though—depends on your thickness.

    • Aubrey Green

      Thank you. Can you guys test this theory out - which is better and why, etc?

      • ITGLacey

        Hmmmm... I'm gonna need a brave volunteer (or some perm solution and a bunch of hair extensions; whichever I can find first)

        • Aubrey Green

          :). Maybe asking a salon( a stylist that has done both treatments on someone ), at-least that's a start. If they say neither one is too damaging, etc I would totally volunteer - although I do live in California, so not sure if that's a problem.

          • Wendy

            Hi Aubrey. I have very curly fine hair and have had both over the years. I love the perm but it only lasts about a week or 2. The best option for me is what's called a cold keratin straightener (my stylist uses one by Rusk). This loosens my curls and gives me shine without the heat-which would probably break my hair. The Rusk product she uses comes in 3 levels. Level 2 works best for me. Level 1 didn't loosen it enough and level 3 caused breakage at the roots and honestly took too much curl out. I also use a small curling iron to make my curls like I want them. I have tried everything lol and I do finally like my hair. I get compliments on it all the time. Hope this helps! :)

          • Aubrey Green

            Thank you so much!!! That really does help! Do you also color your hair (I don't, but would be hesitant about the damage)?

  • ITGLacey

    I'll ask him!

    • Christina

      Hi! This is Christina from Julien Farel and Rudy definitely does house calls in the NY tri-state area. Please feel free to contact me at to set this up.

  • Pam B.

    Can you provide a list (to any extent) of who does what where in ny?

    I've had a couple keratin experiences, and in general the stylists seem to have given me answers I want to hear rather than an actual idea of the effect I'll get.

    For example, who in ny does a good keratin that will take curl out and last for a longer amount of time?

    Could you even just recommend a couple of salons that do a variety of types of keratin processes?

    Any insight would be greatly appreciated!!

  • Elisabeth

    Any LA salons that are trustworthy that you can recommend?

  • Makeup Reviews Hall

    Thank you so much for explaining almost to such an extent in detail.

  • Lexi

    This was a super helpful article. I've thought about it, but had been too freaked out to seriously consider it. Thanks ITG!

  • Peter

    So I'm a guy trying to grow my hair out a little—think not-quite shoulder length *surfer hair*, but once it gets to a certain point in the growing-out process, it just gets super poofy. It grows out, not down... Would keratin be the best way to sleek the poof? I feel like I read in Nick Axelrod's Top Shelf long ago that he's had this problem... Has he ever tried keratin?

    • ITGNick

      My hair is really curly but fine, and I've had a few keratin treatments. I was happy with the result--they didn't make my hair stick-straight, but just smoother and nicer/more manageable. Sounds like you would probably like it, but just know that it doesn't completely straighten your hair (as a relaxer would), and you'll get better results the second and third time you do it.

  • Francisca Magis

    can you please, please make a list of NYC salons to get great keratin treatments? trying to find the right place with the massive amounts of salons is so intimidating!

    • Alice Pizorri

      High Horse Salon in Williamsburg does a lovely job!!

    • Bhidepooj

      Hi! Were you able to get a list of salons in NYC that does good Keratin?

  • Anon

    Could this be done over hennaed hair?

  • Chrissy

    I have done keratins several times. The second time I did it, it did not work on my hair. My hairdresser redid it and it seemed better, but not as good as the first time. So I waited a year and just tried a new one. This one did NOTHING to my hair! I was so disappointed.
    My hair is very thick and course. I mean very! I do not want to use a straightner because it is too stick straight.
    Can you possibly recommend a keratin that might work? Or is a straightner my only option? Or am I doomed?!
    Thank you.

  • millerc

    I just did a at home keratin treatment and I love it.The clarifying shampoo was recommended before the application But dryad out my color treated hair. I want to apply the keratin treatment again when it wears off or in two months. Do I have to use a clarifying shampoo again before the second application? Thanks

  • monika

    Help! I didnt keratin and it turned my curly hair so wavy except my roots. They are still so curly. Can i touch up just the roots so my hair can all be one texture. What do i do?

  • josie

    Do you have a list of the newest Keratin Smoothing Treatments without formaldehyde?

  • chloesquirrel

    I have a question about hair realxers. Ive been using optimum pro and accidentally bought the super strength one, so i thought it'd be making my hair straighter and faster. which wasn't the case at all. it took a long time and even smoothen the hair didn't help much. I was wondering if this has to do with hair becoming resistant to relaxers or what? I need answers and quick ! this is so frustrating for me. Oh and my hair is caucasian but it's wavy/ curly unmanageable and can become a fro really quickly so I did the kerapro treatment like 3 years ago ( at 18) and the following year I believe... What should I do? I m planing to purchase Dr Miracle regular strength on ebay. is that a good option??

    Let me know >.<

  • Bree

    I would love to know if you ever got an answer to this? Exactly what I want :-)

  • suri

    I had really bad hair damage from too many keratin just cant use any shampoo / conditioner after your keratin treatment - you need a really specialized one - the one that works best for me is the Shielo Hydrate Shampoo and Conditioner - you MUST use that after every keratin hair treatment, or your hair will start falling out and get super damaged.

  • Kisha

    My keratin has been in my naturally curly hair 3c hair since April. I can see my curls coming back, but not nearly as tight as before. I want my curls back & I'm so sad that I think they won't be like they use to be! :(

  • Kisha

    I had a keratin treatment done on my 3c curly hair and it's been almost 9 months and my curls are still so afraid my curls won't come back to how they were. :( please help..any advice will help/encourage me . :)

  • fyoosha

    In my experience, though, Keratin HAS been permanent. It's been about four months of me washing with high sulfate shampoos like Head & Shoulders, and even rubbing salt into my hair, but the keratin won't come out! So now I've got three inches of frizzy, curly roots and the rest is stick-straight hair. It's awful! I wish I knew how to wash it out!

  • Sje

    I had my first keratin treatment the first week in December 2014.... It is now March 2015... I just had my second treatment.. I absolutely love love loved results the first hair was perfect,shiny and so easy, and just perfect....this time not so much..the shine is not there, nor is the body I received with the first one..I am using brazillian blowout acai products only and washing my hair only every three days...I just didn't get the same results this time..same salon, same stylist(her salon is one that is listed as a credentialed salons for this treatment). Why do you suppose this is????

  • Melissa Rodriguez

    I have bleached highlights on my super frizzy curly hair for years...I tried the keratin express (coppolla version) here in Vermont. It was stronger, shiner, and eliminated almost all frizz, leaving most curl. The next time the stylist used a different formula .. "stronger", leaving it limp, lifeless, super straight eliminating all curl. She said it would wash out with high sulfate shampoo..I've been using Prell and a mixture of saltwater for 2 months now and no change. I am hoping not to cut it off... any suggestions? I would appreciate it very much! -Melissa

  • UncurlyDIYBrazilianKeratin

    If there was an Olympic Gold Medal for best keratin article, this piece might well win because it's covered the life-changing benefits of bkts and debunked the incredibly bad "science" that erroneously vilified them. Thanks for a job well done.

    I'd like to add only that keratin is extremely easy to do yourself, as anyone who's sat through a salon treatment can observe. The chief obstacle has been getting professional grade keratin because the weak Organix-type offerings are ineffective and ultimately not worth the effort. We founded to make salon quality Brazilian keratin available to the DIY user for about $25-35 on average. We get a ton of love mail from clients who've found Uncurly to be not only as good as but better than what was formerly costing them $400. Our motto is "If you can was, dry, and iron, you're overqualified".

    As one with naturally coarse, ugly-curly hair (there IS pretty-curly and I don't have it!) that used to take more than an hour daily to style only to frizz and morph in humidity-laden air, I CAN'T SAY ENOUGH GOOD THINGS ABOUT KERATIN. After seven years of fantastic-looking frizz-free hair, I second the benefits underscored in this piece. Shelley Parker

  • Anita G

    I had a kerritin process done on thursdsy., I know I'm not suppose to shampoo for 72 hours and I haven't , but I did sweat alot today. Will that mess up the process?

  • Rivers

    Okay, can mixing two types of keratin complex destroy its effectiveness? (Like keratin complex blonde and a normal keratin complex).

  • Nina

    Where in NYC can you get Keratin treatment for straight hair that will last more than 2 months. Nina

  • Vanessa Lynn

    Magic Sleek is the way to go! I've gotten it done twice and loved the results both times. Before I got Magic Sleek, my hair dried frizzy and I would have to spend an hour to an hour and a half blow drying and using the flat iron, but after Magic Sleek I get the same results without the hours spent in front of the mirror doing it. The first time I did it was in March and it lasted until about November. It's a formaldehyde free treatment and leaves no smell of chemicals, unlike the keratin which I got when I was a teenager. I would recommend this treatment to everyone, especially those who want healthy and straight hair!

  • Cheric

    Can you straighten or curl your hair the day after a keratin treatment?

  • Valerie Sifflet

    Can I put cellophane hair color on keratin straightened hair?

  • Taw

    Hi 6 months ago I did the keratin treatment in my hair prior to that I had a relaxer having dons the treatment I prefer relaxers now that I've had the keratin in for 6 months can I go back to relaxers ?

  • Ailenne Smith

    I’d recommend Karmin ;)

  • Brittnie Love

    What keratin treatment should I use on my 4c hair? I didn't know there was different types.

  • ronda

    Karmin makes the best in my opinion :)

  • mais

    I used the keratin treatment Before 4 monthes but my hair is so dry now
    i want to repiet the treatment. can i do it again now or i have to wait??

  • Xiken

    I’ve heard that some keratin in shampoo is from human hair. Either from live people who sell their hair, Indian temples, or dead people. Do you know anything about this? Tnx!

  • TTHamilton

    I have to admit...I am still scarred by the California Smooth treatment my hairdresser used on my hair about 4 years ago now! My husband is like 'GET OVER IT' happened now move on. The treatment permanently changed my hair texture from a 4B to a 3B so I am learning how to manage my hair all over again, quite frustrating. I read here that all treatments are not good for all hair types. I wish that beautician new this...HELL I wish I knew this. Anyway, chemical is chemical...if you want to be natural be natural and don't put any chemical in your hair. Too risky.


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