One woman's quest to find the fastest, most effective and least toxic way to keep frizzy hair at bay.
Summer is rapidly approaching, which might mean no more frigid nights, but it also means humidity.
That's right, the dreaded eight-letter word that sees those of us with curly hair give up our sexy, Victoria's Secret-style waves for a look that seems inspired by Bozo the Clown. I should know. I live in Miami where humidity comes with the territory which is why, as I write this, I am comfortably perched in a salon as my stylist works her magic with the Brazilian Keratin Hair Treatment on my frizzy, mangled locks.
I wasn't always this calm about it.
As a Brazilian Keratin Hair Treatment devotee for the past three years, I have experienced the good the bad and the downright ugly. I was extremely skeptical when my stylist first suggested I try it. All the other "straightening" treatments I had previously done had sucked the money out of my pocket and left my hair with kinky roots and straight ends or hat hair and bed head combined. She insisted that the Brazilian Keratin Hair Treatment was different and so I embarked on the journey that has ultimately changed the life of my hair.
First, my hair was washed with a clarifying shampoo to open up the pores to allow the product to deeply penetrate every strand. After two shampoos it felt and looked like a birds nest. Somehow the stylist managed to maneuver a brush through it as she blow dried my hair. Next, she applied the Keratin mixture. After every strand was carefully coated I was left to sit for twenty minutes. I used the time to fantasize about the luscious locks I was about to leave the salon with. The buzzer disturbed me from my reverie, announcing that I was one step closer to having the hair I always dreamed of, but there was more to come. I was escorted back to the styling chair, where the stylist began to blow dry sections of my hair once again to seal the treatment in. Next, she straightened every strand with an iron. The whole process took about 3 hours. It felt like days.
Finally it was over and, as I shook out my smooth, straight hair, the stylist explained everything I would now need to do in order to keep it that way. Use a specific type of shampoo that does not contain sodium. No problem. Keep my hair absolutely straight until I wash it, meaning no ponytails, no headbands, no clips, no sunglasses, and no shoving it behind my ears to avoid kinks. I guess that is manageable. Don't get hair wet for at least four days which means no exercise to avoid sweat, and no showers. What! The pitfalls had kicked in.
I looked out the window of the salon to see the rain starting. My umbrella was lodged under a seat in my car. Fabulous. The salon put a plastic bag over my head so I could swiftly get to my vehicle. But my boyfriend thought I looked like a million bucks which, in turn, made me feel absolutely gorgeous. Sure, I paid about $300 for the compliment, but this was certainly worth it. Later that evening I took my contact lenses out and went to grab my glasses. The stylists voice purred in my ears: "Do not wear glasses as it will kink the hair." I stumbled to bed instead, stubbing my toe in the process.
On day two, I went out to dinner with friends and one of them suggested sitting on the outdoor patio despite it feeling like ninety degrees. No problem. I reached into my purse to grab a hair clip to get my long mane off my neck before I started sweating. As I started to twist my hair, I remembered another golden rule: No ponytails. Awesome. I cannot pull my hair back, but I also cannot sweat because that too will ruin my hair. Before the waitress started escorting us outdoors, I blurted out: "Need to be inside. Can't ruin my hair." She looked at me strangely, but I didn't care.
By day three I had turned a corner. My hair was plastered to my head and so flat that I refused to leave the house. My boyfriend sat on the opposite side of the couch when we watched a movie that night. At least my dog still sat on my lap.
Day four: My hair was officially greasy. All I could think was that my stylist was a lunatic. No exercising and no showering? I was a mess. My boyfriend was now MIA. I went to pick up my dog and even he ran under the bed.
I tossed and turned all night, impatiently waiting for my alarm to sound so I could bolt to the shower. Finally, the song "Whiskey Girl" blared on my phone, letting me know it was officially time to get up. I knocked my dog off the bed and practically tore the shower curtain down as I flung my body inside. After standing under the warm water for close to forty minutes, I was eager to start drying my hair to see the results. Like my stylist had suggested, I did not use a brush or any products. I just used a blow dryer. Instead of spending the typical forty minutes to get my hair straight, in merely ten minutes my hair looked like I had just got it done at a salon. I was officially hooked.
Three or four blissful months later, my hair began to react to the humidity once more so I knew it was time for me to get the process done again. This time, my stylist told me that the treatment was supposedly formaldehyde free because many salons had shifted away from formulas containing formaldehyde when the media blasted out information stating that some of these formulas are not FDA approved and can lead to cancer. I was relieved to hear that my hair's saving grace was now non-toxic.
This time I was prepared for the five day lock down in my apartment. Just like the previous time, I bolted to the shower on day five the minute "Whiskey Girl" blasted from my phone, only this time when I dried my hair it turned into a giant ball of frizz. I had to hold on to my bathroom counter. Did I seriously drop $300 and lock myself in my apartment for five days for no reason? I drove to the salon to show them the result. They surveyed my head and said there had been other complaints about the new formula not working. They offered to re-do it and I went through another five days of torture, but still no luck. Finally they gave me my money back.
I left the salon, utterly dejected. I had read in an article that Dee Adames, winner of Shear Genius, had opened a salon in Miami. So I called and Laila Tahari, her former partner at D&L Hair Studio (Adames left to open her own salon, Dee&Co Hair Studio, in South Beach last fall), told me about their Keratin treatment, emphasizing that it took a mere 24 hours to take. She described the treatment they use as "formulated specifically for damaged, chemically treated and dry hair to eliminate frizz and out of control curls."
I took a deep breath and settled in for a third attempt, but it was done differently than at my previous salon. This time, when the Keratin was applied, the stylist put a mask over both her nose and mouth and mine as a precaution so we would not breathe in any chemicals that might exist even though their formula contains very little if any formaldehyde. "Better to be safe than sorry," she smiled. She told me that there are specific rules the manufacturer of the product requires the stylists to follow in order to protect their clients 100%. Not only was I safe, but I did not have to deal with the no shower rule for five days in order to have my Victoria's Secret hair.
Now, you probably have some questions about formaldehyde like, are we risking our lives for vanity? Is it FDA approved? M&M International, Inc. (also known as Marcia Teixeira), manufacturer of the only product actually named "Brazilian Keratin Treatment," has stated that, "While the FDA has a published list of forbidden ingredients, formaldehyde is not included on this list and, in fact, has been deemed safe to the great majority of consumers." At the same time they indicate the importance of going to a trained, licensed hair-care professional who knows how to properly use the product and makes sure the product does not come in contact with the skin. On their web site, the company goes on to explain: "In 1984, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel (CIR) issued a report addressing the 'skin sensitivity' of certain individuals to formaldehyde and deemed as safe a concentration of .2% formaldehyde for those cosmetic and personal care products that are applied or come into contact with the skin. Contrary to the representations found in the media, the recommendation of the CIR does not extend or relate in any manner to the Brazilian Keratin Treatment, which uses derivatives of formaldehyde formulas to be safer."
Like Marcia Teixeira, Peter Coppola Salon also uses derivatives of formaldehyde in their Keratin Complex for safer straightening treatments. A few companies that opt for formaldehyde-free keratin treatments include Simply Smooth Keratin Treatment, Global Keratin, and probably the most well known, Brazilian Blowout. These formaldehyde-free formulas actually works, and allow you to wash your hair immediately after the process while still obtaining the desired results. The only downfall? It does not last quite as long as the other two treatments, although it still will give you the desired luscious look for about 10-12 weeks. Whether it is formaldehyde-free or not, all of these products still contain some chemicals just like soaps, shampoos, nail polish, detergents, cleaning agents, hair dye and other products so always read the labels and take precautions. Pregnant women should take the same precautions with the Keratin treatments as they would with any other products containing chemicals during their pregnancy.
If you have questions about the amount of formaldehyde or chemicals in the products a salon is using, ask to see the labels. You can never be too safe, and want to make sure that a salon is not using a "black market" product that is hazardous to your health.
But the pros far outweigh the pitfalls, especially if you can find a salon where it takes only 24 hours for the formula to sink in. In my opinion, it's like finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Kelsey Karp contributed to StyleList using Seed.com. Go to www.seed.com to learn how you can contribute too.