Pull Off a Keratin Treatment at Home with These Products and Tips
For anyone who blow-dries or straightens their hair most days, a keratin treatment can be life-altering. The treatment, which lasts anywhere from a few weeks to six months, can alter hair's texture, making it smoother and less frizzy even upon air drying.
While most keratin devotees leave their hair to the pros, you might be comfortable with DIY beauty ventures and, thus, are wondering "can I do keratin at home?" The answer: "Yes, you can do an at-home version of a keratin treatment, but it just might not be quite as strong as those professional, salon-quality versions," says cosmetic chemist Vince Spinnato. "You shouldn't expect the same salon results from home keratin treatments. The keratin straightening procedure requires skillful and experienced hands to perform all the steps correctly."
Taking matters into your own hands is a give and take. "Salon keratin treatments are much more expensive — around $300 — but will last you months, where at-home use ones may only last weeks," says Spinnato. And while the specifics of each at-home keratin product might differ, in general, an at-home keratin kit typically involves following a similar process to that which a hairstylist would perform in a salon. You'll wash your hair, apply a treatment, wait around 20 minutes, and blow-dry and straighten your hair. (Related: These At-Home Styling Products Are Basically As Good As a Keratin Treatment)
Now, you might've heard that keratin treatments often contain formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, or formaldehyde releasers, ingredients that release formaldehyde as they decompose. They are included because they allow for a chemical reaction that attaches keratin to hair, says Nick Dindio, cosmetic chemist and director of R&D at SOS Beauty. When the ingredients bind keratin in the formula to hair, the cuticle — the outermost layer of hair — becomes temporarily sealed. Coating the cuticle in this way is what leads to smoother, shinier, less frizz-prone hair. "I believe there is currently some research into formaldehyde replacements, but from my understanding, nothing works as well [for this use] as formaldehyde," says Dindio. (The alternative replacements are often a form of glyoxylic acid, btw.) "The risk with formaldehyde is that it can cause irritation to the skin, eyes, nose, and throat, and it has been linked to certain types of cancers at higher levels." Although you're not applying the keratin products directly to those areas, when you heat your hair (which happens at the end of a keratin treatment), formaldehyde is released into the air as a gas, which you can potentially inhale if you're not in a properly-ventilated space, according to the Food and Drug Administration. And that's one reason experts, including Spinatto, recommend avoiding formaldehyde-containing at-home keratin products in general.
Simply scan a product's ingredient list to find out if it contains formaldehyde or formaldehyde releasers. Formaldehyde itself can be added to products, or it may be present in its liquid forms: formalin and methylene glycol. But "more often, it can be released from preservatives such as quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, polyoxymethylene urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, bromopol and glyoxal, which should be avoided if possible," says Spinnato. (Related: How (and Why) I Finally Broke Up Salon Keratin Treatments)
If you need a head start toward finding the best keratin treatment at home, here are several options that don't include any of these potentially harmful ingredients.