What You Need to Know About Brazilian Keratin Treatment on Black Hair

Is a keratin treatment the answer to your hair-straightening woes?

A sleek look like this can be achieved with a keratin treatment.
Frederic Charpentier/Moment/Getty Images

You enjoy straight hair, but you're looking for alternatives to pressing, ironing, and relaxing to get that glossy mane you want. One process that you might want to consider is keratin treatment. It has become one of the most popular straightening processes and it works rather well on black hair.

The process is known by several different names, including Brazilian keratin treatment (BKT for short) and Brazilian straightening treatment.

There are also various brand names. No matter what you call it, it is one way to get silky straight hair or more manageable curls.

Keratin Treatment and Black Hair

Brazilian keratin treatments don't have the tried-and-true chemicals you'll find in typical black hair relaxers, such as sodium hydroxide or calcium hydroxide. They also don't contain the chemicals you'll find in curling perms like ammonium thioglycolate.

Instead, your hair is straightened with the active ingredient keratin, a protein very much like one of the components of human hair. Keratin works to "naturally" straighten the hair. 

Since black hair can naturally be quite dry, the keratin can actually be quite beneficial. Many women swear that this process strengthens their hair and leaves it the healthiest its been. Much of that has to do with the protein boost.

Previously Processed Hair

Anyone who relaxes her hair knows that some coloring processes are especially harsh to already processed hair.

You also can't apply a relaxer to previously relaxed hair without the worry of overprocessing.

However, a keratin treatment works well on colored, highlighted, or previously processed hair. As long as you used a nonacidic relaxer, this treatment should work just fine. This may also be a good option if you want to transition from relaxed to natural hair, offering a little grace period until the relaxers grow out.

If you're looking for a new hair color as well, it's often recommended to get that service two weeks before or after a keratin treatment. Some stylists may be able to do it the same day, though.

No matter what you previously used, it's smart to check with your stylist first. Let her know every process your hair has undergone in the past and she'll be able to tell you if you're a good candidate. It can also help her choose the right product that will work for your hair.

Time and Cost

Expect a keratin treatment to take at least a couple of hours to complete, from beginning to end. A stylist applies a keratin solution to your hair, much as she would hair color. The hair is blown dry and then sealed with extreme temperatures up to 450 F. The hot iron is required to seal the formula into the hair's cuticle.

It's not a cheap process. Depending on where you live, you may find a wide range in price, but expect to pay anywhere between $150 and $350. 

How Long it Lasts

Unlike relaxers and curly perms which permanently change the structure of hair cuticles and need to be grown out, keratin treatments gradually wash away. You'll notice your hair's natural curl return over time, anywhere from six weeks to a few months.

To get the longest lasting results, use shampoos that have a neutral pH and are free of sulfates and sodium. Good shampoos to try include:

Aftercare

There are a number of different keratin treatments available. Each will have different aftercare requirements. For the best results, make sure you understand your stylist's aftercare instructions before leaving the salon and follow them when you get home.

While some newer keratin treatments may allow you to shampoo right away, many do not. For the first several days after these more traditional treatments, you won't be able to wash your hair or get it wet. A secure hair cover while in the shower or bath is essential.

During this time period, you also won't be able to exercise because sweating is out, as is putting any kind of product on your hair. In addition, you should avoid putting your hair into a ponytail, pinning it up, or even tucking it behind your ears. Any of these seemingly harmless things can lead to kinks that will stick in your hair.

Immediately following the treatment, your hair may be so straight that it lacks body. The volume will return over time.

The Results

As with all hair products or treatments, everyone won't get the same results. While a great degree of the outcome depends on the competence of your stylist, much also depends on your hair texture.

Some women will get super sleek hair that has no wave to it until the treatment begins to wear off. Other women will see a lessening of frizz with no real straightening unless they use a flat iron when styling.

If you're seeking bone straight locks, you may be disappointed. On the other hand, if you're looking for an easier way to manage your hair without worrying about how straight it turns out, a keratin treatment may be right for you.

Your stylist may also have options when it comes to the strength of the treatment. Depending on the product she uses, she may be able to customize it to reach your desired results on your particular hair texture. Again, there are no guarantees, but advancements in the process have given skilled stylists more control over the results.

Precautions

One of the biggest concerns with keratin treatments is that some brands contain formaldehyde, the same solution used to embalm dead bodies. Some of these formaldehyde-containing formulas aren't approved by the FDA. Others may tell you that they're formaldehyde-free, but they actually contain trace amounts (minimal enough to legally claim them formaldehyde-free). 

Formaldehyde is most dangerous when it is airborne and inhaled. When choosing a salon, it is very important that this treatment is done in an area that has good ventilation. Most experts say that the real harm from the chemical is not to those who get the treatment, but to the professionals who are exposed to it regularly.

Also, 450 F is extreme heat to place on the hair. This is especially true since the flat iron has to make several passes to thoroughly seal in the treatment. 

If you're pregnant or nursing, you should not have a keratin treatment.

Before You Commit

If you're considering the treatment, ask around before making an appointment anywhere. It is vital that you have this treatment done at a reputable salon by a professional who is very experienced in it.

Get recommendations and check on each salon yourself. Even if your most trusted friend says that she got the best BKT ever from her stylist, go in for a consultation armed with questions.

If a stylist doesn't want to answer your questions, is abrupt, or catches an attitude because you dare to question him, leave and look for another salon for your keratin treatment. This is your precious hair and if you're not concerned about its health, why should anyone else be?