Keratin describes a family of fibrous structural proteins that are most notable for making up the outer layers of the skin, especially in humans, but also in other mammals, reptiles and birds and amphibians. Similarly, keratin is the primary component in hair and nail structures, especially in humans.
Additionally, within the human body, keratin provides a dual function: protection and regrowth. While keratin provides the backbone to strengthening hair and skin structures, keratin can also help to restore injured or damaged cells.
Keratin is also what makes the skin waterproof, and protects overly pressured skin by forming tough calluses underneath. Biologically speaking, the only other material that comes close to measure up to keratin in toughness is chitin, a glucose derivative polymer found in plant cells and the exoskeleton of crustaceans.
Blisters that form in the hands or feet, or anywhere else within the body are keratinized skin cells, meaning they’ve been made tougher through the use of keratin in order to withstand any additional pressure these areas of the body are facing. This is especially true of musicians who play stringed instruments, or those who work extensively or exclusively with other parts of their bodies where pressure may build up.
Hair in humans is composed of 95% keratin, meaning that, in order for hair products to be even slightly effective, they must also contain an abundant amount of keratin. With this in mind, any treatment to the hair must then also contain keratin in high doses. One such hair care treatment is the Brazilian keratin treatment.
A Brazilian keratin treatment (also known as a keratin cure, a Brazilian hair straightening, or a keratin straightening) is a method of temporarily straightening hair by sealing liquid keratin and a preservative solution into the hair by use of a hot hair iron. Many countries have banned the process, such as Canada and countries within the EU, because the treatment uses a high volume of regulated chemicals.
The treatment lasts about three plus months on average and is used to eliminate frizz, soften and improve hair without changing the internal hair structure. While pricing varies depending on the length of hair, their pricing ranges from between $150 to about $600. These treatments, unlike perms, can be used on all types of chemically treated hair, as well as hair that hasn’t been chemically altered at all.
As mentioned, the process is used to eliminate frizz, but can also be used to reduce or alter the depth of waves and curls, although the effectiveness of the process depends almost entirely on the original texture of the hair, but also on whether or not the process was performed thoroughly and correctly. Similarly, after the treatment is performed, there are sometimes time restrictions in relation to when normal activities that may make use of the hair. In these instances, it’s encouraged not to touch the hair, such as tucking it behind the ear during exercise, or to pull the hair into a ponytail holder or pin the hair up with clips or barrettes. Doing so may compromise the effectiveness of the treatment.
Like perms and other hair treatment processes, a Brazilian keratin treatment must be performed regularly ( in order to maintain the overall appearance. With time, new hair grows in, hair that wasn’t treated with the keratin process. In order to maintain a uniform appearance to hair, this new growth must be treated in the same way as previous hair was treated.
Deciding to stop receiving these treatments, while possible, requires additional work. To stop without preparing the hair would result in damaged or dry hair with a brittle appearance. In order to return to the natural look of one’s hair, it’s necessary to cut off a significant portion of the keratin treated hair.
Before deciding to get a keratin hair treatment, it’s important to know the related risks and hazards, in order to take the proper precautions when handling. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), there are certain brands of keratin hair treatments that my expose you to formaldehyde, a highly toxic organic compound that’s lethal to carbon-based lifeforms no matter the method of exposure. While many of these brands either didn’t list formaldehyde as an ingredient in their materials list, or specifically labeled their product as formaldehyde free, this was later found to be untrue by an OSHA investigation into hair salons and the use of keratin hair treatment products.
As a restorative measure, keratin is a good product to apply to damaged or brittle hair. The keratin works to restore the damaged shafts and follicles of hair, restoring strength and adding additional layers of resilience to outside influences and environmental forces, such as wind.
As hair is primarily composed of keratin, many hair products that boast rejuvenating hair, or restoring its shine and brilliance, are keratin-based products. Typically, these are commercials that speak about eliminating frizz, or strengthening hair. Specifically, there are entire product lines that are dedicated to the restoration and strengthening of hair, such as TRESemmé’s line of Keratin Smooth, a hair product that serves to attain smooth and sleek hair, for 48 hours after use.
After the huge OSHA investigation, many of the hazardous materials were removed, with warning labels and proper material lists placed on canisters and containers. Now, removing frizz and restoring elasticity to one’s hair has never been easier, and doesn’t even require a trip to the salon. However, not all hairstylists agree.
“If you’ve had a keratin treatment in the salon, keratin-protecting shampoos are essential—normal shampoos will quickly wash away that expensive treatment,” says Avi Elkayam, hairdresser and CEO of Runway Tools. “I’m not totally convinced that keratin shampoos by themselves really do anything.”
Others argue that the effectiveness of keratin-based shampoos isn’t as explosively or immediately noticeable, but works more as a measure of building up the strength and resilience of hair. According to Amanda Shackleton, a celebrity hair stylist, results might not be immediate but “keratin shampoo works like a domino effect—by using the product consistently, it builds up protein levels on the hair, making it stronger and sleeker.”