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My Journey of Breaking Free from Salon Keratin Treatments: The How and Why

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  • Post last modified:September 26, 2023

Growing up with unruly hair was not exactly a gift. I disliked my wave patterns and lamented the warm weather for ruining my less-than-perfect blowouts that I did at home or even the ones I got at the salon after a haircut. That is until I discovered the world of keratin treatments.

“Keratin treatments are a process for smoothing hair that involves coating the hair with a protein and film-forming formula that seals the hair cuticle when heated,” explains Rhonda M. Davis, a cosmetic chemist at Alquemie Product Development Group. The end result? Hair is “easier to manage, visibly straighter, softer, shinier, and able to withstand humidity and frizz,” Davis adds.

This is all thanks to the chemical composition of these treatments, which differs between brands but revolves around similar ingredients. They usually contain a film-forming agent such as pvp, polyurethane, polysilicones, hydroxyethylcellulose, copolymers, as well as keratin and other extracts. Together, they strengthen the hair shaft, adding to the hair’s natural protein content to enhance hair strength and flexibility, ultimately reducing hair breakage, explains Davis.

However, keratin treatments are not all about softness and shine. Some have been deemed unhealthy due to the presence of formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. Furthermore, says Davis, “even if some products claim to be free of formaldehyde, they may contain ingredients that release formaldehyde when exposed to heat.” This, in turn, releases fumes and vapors into the air, which can potentially be inhaled by the stylist or client.

What’s crucial, adds Davis, is to examine the ingredient list of the treatment to check for carcinogens. “Look out for words such as methylene glycol, methandiol, aldehyde, morbicid acid, formalin, methylene oxide, paraform, formic aldehyde, methanal, oxomethane, and oxymethylene,” she advises.

But if you are like me and understandably hesitant to use anything potentially cancer-causing on your hair, there are alternatives that can help you achieve the desired look at home without the same level of commitment, cost, and absence of carcinogens.

The Best Alternatives for Keratin Treatments

I began searching for a substitute for my beloved keratin treatments when I was first attempting to conceive. Both my hair colorist and stylist, Ashley Ferret and Liana Zingarino, recommended Color Wow Dreamcoat (Buy It, $28,

What makes the product so effective as a keratin treatment alternative for home use is the inclusion of polysilicone-29, a conditioning substance. “It helps repair damaged hair, while also smoothing and straightening hair even in high humidity,” notes Davis. She adds that Keratin treatments often contain polysilicones as well, although the specific ingredients may vary from one formulation to another.

Using Dreamcoat was an incredibly impressive experience. Sprinkling water on my blow-dried strands felt like sprinkling water on a duck’s feathers. The droplets practically slid off. My hair remained sleek, glossy, and touchable for several washes, and the more product I applied, the more volume my blowout had.

Another product that captivated me is IGK Good Behavior Spirulina Protein Smoothing Spray (Buy It, $32, Despite its quirky packaging and clever name, this formula delivered the most remarkable results for at-home use. Davis explains that this is thanks to the multitude of beneficial ingredients. “Hydrofluorocarbon 152a provides excellent hold and resistance to humidity, pvm/ma copolymer, a film-forming substance, prevents moisture damage, and hydrolyzed keratin reduces harm and enhances tensile strength (meaning it resists breakage).”

While the IGK spray left my damp hair feeling slightly sticky upon application, the resulting blowout was sleek — almost too sleek, in fact, for someone like me who craves volume and bounce in their blowout to feel their best. I would recommend this option for individuals with extremely tight curls that don’t respond well to most other straightening treatments — and if you don’t mind the texture of your hair after styling.

The latest addition to my cart, however, has been the Garnier Fructis Sleek In-Shot Shower Styler (Buy It, $7, I was drawn to it because of its simplicity. Just mix a small amount with your shampoo, run it through your hair, and rinse it out. That’s all. It promised to reduce styling time by an impressive 50 percent — and even though it only takes me about seven minutes to blow dry my hair, having it styled in three-and-a-half minutes seemed too good to pass up.

Perhaps it was too good to be true, as I would argue that the Garnier shower styler didn’t actually cut my styling time in half, but it did make the blow-drying process easier and left my hair smoother. The blend of ingredients is like a shot of wheatgrass for the hair, providing a wealth of benefits in a small amount. “The use of hydrogenated starch hydrolysate protects damaged hair by enhancing shine and repairing the hair cuticle,” Davis explains. “Polyurethane 34, a water-resistant film-forming agent, offers strong hold against humidity and frizz while also acting as a potent conditioner, detangler, and shine enhancer, and it improves hair strength to prevent breakage.”

In conclusion, there is no longer a need to spend years getting my hair straightened at a salon with the help of these three products — all of which are worth trying depending on the desired results.

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