Updated: May 5
In my 12 years of being a hairdresser, there is nothing that worries me more than seeing someone with a 'treatment' that went wrong. We constantly get requests for the newest Keratin treatment on the market that claims to be "safe" or the next best straightening product to hit the world that has "zero damage", but I do not let anyone convince me that these treatments should be offered to anyone. We have a rule at my salon that bothers many new clients with us for 8 years now: We do not offer such treatments at the salon and we do not perform hair color change for anyone with these treatments in their hair (at least not until it's grown out past the shoulders). I've answered this question many times in the salon, but there's nothing better than outlining all the reasons why I feel this is something to stay away from on our blog.
Marketing plays its part in informing us about many great new things, but it also does its job at fooling us really well. When I started my career as a hairdresser, I listened to what everyone said and offered what everyone else was offering. This included things that I didn't know much about, i.e. rebonding/relaxing.
The brands that sold these products in the market promised to teach me and my staff all there was to learn about these treatments. We watched and took notes and practiced – just like anyone would. But, when we got clients who wanted these treatments, I felt apprehensive about carrying them out.
Armed with just two years of experience in hairdressing and product knowledge that the brands provided me with, I felt I was not well-equipped to carry out such chemical services So, I did what most newbies would do – get someone more experienced to do the job. At the time, one of the stylists in my salon had 9 years worth of experience with perms/relaxing hair, so she felt confident doing this. I thought this would relieve me of the feeling of insufficiency I felt every time a client asked me to do a Keratin treatment or relaxing/rebonding, but, to my surprise, it didn't! In fact, I felt even more uneasy. Why was I feeling this way? After all, the stylist handling this service for me had nine years of experience with such chemicals and that should be more than enough, shouldn't it?
It wasn't. In fact, it wasn't about experience at all. There was something about the change it created that didn't resonate with me. The thought of 'permanently' or 'semi-permanently' altering the shape of someone's hair with the use of chemicals (and repetitive heat alongside the chemical application) just wasn't a digestible truth for me. It felt wrong, it smelt wrong, and the way the hair looked also seemed wrong. It would never look believable and, somehow, would not grab my attention.
After feeling lost and uneasy, I embarked on a journey of gaining chemical knowledge. It gave me an edge and also made me feel better about what I am using in the salon and on myself. On this journey, I found the answer to my perm/keratin uneasiness – it finally made sense! I instantly stopped offering any kind of service that altered texture permanently.
The process of changing the shape of the hair starts deep within the cortex of the hair. You are changing the bond structure of the hair, applying a concoction of chemicals to weaken the structure just enough to create a brand new shape. So, if you're constantly blowing the hair dry and applying a straightening iron on it after the chemical application, you end up with straight hair and if you're bending the hair with the use of rods/rollers, you create curls/waves. This is the basic process behind it all and, yes, there are many products on the market all claiming to do different things but it all funnels out into two things:
Chemical + Heat = Change in Texture
For this process to work smoothly, there are many factors at play, including but not limited to the following:
The condition of the hair prior to chemical application
Previous chemical services (color, bleach, other chemical smoothing/relaxing/perm treatments used)
The temperature of the hot tools being used on the hair during the heat phase of the treatment
The saturation of the chemical on different parts of the hair
Mineral content of the hair
Mechanical/heat damage on the hair
If even one of these factors plays out against you, the entire service can end up as a disaster. Let's just say you make it through the treatment and your hair is perfectly fine and healthy. You go in for a color change and that's where the damage could get you.
I know many people who have had both a chemical service and a color change on the same day and many others who have had these treatments done multiple times, always saying that their hair has never been damaged by it. Great! I love that it worked out, but I will never jump to the conclusion that it will never happen. Even if you have the same colorist, same routine, same products, hair, body, diet, water, heat damage, and hair content for the rest of your life, a chemical treatment can STILL end up severely damaging your hair at any point. That's just how volatile these chemicals are and that's just how damaging this process is!
A major celebrity example of this volatility is Jennifer Aniston. She's been a hair icon since her 'Friends' days and ended up having to chop off about 6 inches of her hair because it reacted badly to a keratin treatment in 2013. She's had the same stylist (Chris McMillan) since the start and still ended up with a disastrous result. Her stylist is, of course, highly qualified and a sought-after hairdresser in the industry. His hair knowledge is excellent and, being in the US, he does have the licensing and training required to carry out such a service. Nevertheless, the chemical failed him and resulted in Aniston having to cut her hair. And here we are, in Pakistan, relying on stylists who haven't had formal training in chemicals, no licensing, and no idea of what to do when things go south!
Even when things go right initially, the damage can catch up eventually. Here's a picture of a client who had come in to try and repair her hair after a year of a Keratin treatment going wrong (she didn't notice any damage until about 6 months of regrowth):
The hair regrowing on top is her natural texture, while mid-way through to the ends is the relaxed part. The hair started breaking off in the areas where the old relaxed hair and new growth meet (what I call the weakest link). Once this happens to the hair, it's pretty hard to make sure that all of it does't break off.
Other problems with relaxing/rebonding/keratin treatments/brazilian blowouts/hair botox or whatever new name they come up with (this stuff has had more names than Puff Daddy):
The regrowth almost always looks worse than what the person started out with
Any hair color that was already in the hair will shift, becoming brassy and worn out. Areas that were prelightened (or bleached) may also break off
Keratin/Brazilian blowouts always have formaldehyde (a known human carcinogen that is a gas released when heat is applied to the hair). Common "formaldehyde free" products often contain glutaraldehyde, biformal (also known as oxalaldehyde — note the "aldehyde" suffix) and ammonium thioglycolate (the chemical used in perms)
There is no 'safe' way of changing hair structure. It's like breaking and rearranging bones in your body
'Permanent' means that once the change has occurred, there's no going back. So if you're unhappy with your results, wait a few years for the hair to grow past your shoulders so you could cut it all off
Coloring hair will be a gamble after this: every color change you get after your chemical treatment will be a potential threat to the wellbeing of your hair. Since the hair has gone through the most extreme change that the world of hairdressing has to offer, you cannot complain if it decides to leave your head after you decide to also put it through a color process
No matter who the stylist was, which salon it was, or what country it was done in, the damage can be on anyone's hair at any point in their lives. I have yet to see a renowned stylist in the country who's client hadn't come crying to us for a fix. This is not to make you feel bad as a stylist, it's just to remind you that these are very volatile chemicals and the mechanism of change they use is way too dangerous.
What should I do if I am already facing the adverse effect of a chemical service?
First, don't put it through any more torture and step away from all heat styling tools. Second, try not to brush too much and don't tie or style it too tight. And, most importantly, third: Olaplex. This is the only treatment known to rebuild broken disulphide bonds in the hair (the stuff keeping your hair in tact) and will help stop breakage over the course of a few weeks/months, depending on how often you use it. An in-salon Olaplex treatment once a month followed by weekly overnight application of Olaplex No. 3 (click here to buy) will help the most. In fact, the entire Olaplex range will help repair damage over time. Make sure not to use very heavy/rich shampoos, conditioners, and products to ensure that the hair isn't weighed down.
What should I do if I don't like my natural hair?
That's a tough one to answer, but I believe that there's always a real, permanent solution. Finding the right products (shampoo, conditioner, leave-ins, weekly/monthly treatments), the right regimen, the right styling techniques, the right haircut, and the right tools will take you a very long way. Work with the weather – change the variables based on humidity and dryness levels in the air. Also, breaking the stereotypical "straight hair is the only beautiful hair type" notion is important – all hair is beautiful! We just have to learn to work with what we have and make it work for our unique selves.