What is Keratin and How Does It Work?

What is keratin?

Keratin is the protein that makes up our hair and nails.


What happens during the treatment?

In the treatment done in salons, a keratin solution is basically welded onto and underneath the outer layer of the hair with an extra-hot flatiron or blow dryer. This conditions the hair and reduces frizz, with the side effect of relaxing curl. Piet, the stylist at Vartali Salon in New York who did my treatment, uses Keratin Complex Smoothing Therapy by Coppola, but there are a multitude of keratin brands, including Brazilian Keratin Treatment, Nano-Keratin Relaxer, Brazilian Blowout.

I was in and out in two hours. My hair was first washed with a clarifying shampoo (to get rid of previous styling gunk) and then "rough dried" (meaning that it looked like crud). Piet glopped a keratin solution from a bowl onto my hair, combed through every single strand and then popped me under a cap for 20 minutes. The smell wasn't bad; Piet said clients compared it to coconut. I wasn't exactly swaying in tropical breezes, but my eyes only got a tiny bit watery and my scalp didn't tingle at all.

He then re-dried my hair with a round brush, and painstakingly flat-ironed every single chunk. The iron, he says, was much hotter than it would be for normal styling (some 450 degrees). He told me not to worry if I saw smoke; it's actually steam. He went over small strands of hair with a fine-tooth comb, zeroing in on the baby curls around my hairline. I emerged with stick-straight Barbie hair that didn't feel like it had stuff in it. Piet warned me: No washing it or wearing so much as a scrunchie for 72 hours. Why? Keratin-permeated hair is more brittle and fragile, and the downtime allows the keratin to set. If I sweat or get caught in the rain, I was supposed to blow dry the damp section to ensure future straightness.


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