Japanese Hair Straightening: The Pros and Cons

Should you go pin straight?

Japanese hair straightening
Wild Horse Photography for Getty

Japanese hair straightening is a popular method of straightening curly or wavy hair. Many women with curly hair swear by it and it can create a shiny, sleek style.

This method does come with controversy, though, because it can wreak havoc on hair if it's done incorrectly or by an inexperienced stylist. For that reason, it's important to understand all the benefits and drawbacks while you consider if it's right for you.

Japanese Hair Straightening in the U.S.

Japanese hair straightening treatments are also called thermal reconditioning. They were all the rage in New York City in the early 2000s.

For women with curly hair who have long envied silky straight tresses, it seemed like a miracle procedure. You walk into the salon with curly hair, drop $150 to $800 for hours of chemical treatment and flat-ironing, and walk out with super sleek, straight hair that stays straight until it grows out.

The treatment was so popular that it jumped coasts and became a hit on the West Coast and then in big cities across the country. It wasn't long after that when Brazilian hair straightening hit the coasts. Soon, Brazilian hair straightening, which uses keratin and formaldehyde, became "the hair straightening treatment of the moment" and the popularity of the Japanese method waned.

A couple years after keratin treatments became popular, reports emerged about how much formaldehyde (a known carcinogen) was used in the Brazilian treatments and the popularity of the treatments decreased.

Since then, Japanese hair straightening has enjoyed a minor surge in popularity due to the bad media coverage the Brazilian technique received.

You can get Japanese hair straightening treatments anywhere in the country, with your best bets in larger cities. In New York City, for instance, they're mainly offered in trendy little Japanese and Korean salons sprinkled throughout downtown and in Queens.

The big hitter salons, such as Eva Scrivo, Ted Gibson, Mark Garrison and Charles Worthington no longer offer Japanese treatments, according to an article in NY Magazine. Why? For some, the damage inflicted on women's hair wasn't worth it.

How It Works

Japanese hair straightening relies on a special solution that's applied to hair. This solution breaks down the hair's bond that gives it shape, allowing it to become pin-straight with the help of a flat-iron.

The hair is saturated with the solution, rinsed, dried with a blowdryer, and then flat-ironed with a ceramic iron in small 1/8-inch sections. A neutralizer is then applied which locks the style in place.

The entire process is labor and time-intensive. Depending on the length of your hair and its thickness, you can expect to be in the salon for a few hours.

How Long It Lasts

This particular straightening treatment will last about six months. That's twice as long as the Brazilian straightening method.

While both treatments are referred to as "permanent straightening," it's just like a perm that gives you curly hair. It is only permanent in the sense that it's not reversible and you will have to wait for it to grow out.

This is one of the downsides because it doesn't necessarily look great when the top of your hair has waves while your ends are still pin-straight.

In that way, it's opposite of a perm, which many women can deal with as their hair grows after they decide they no longer want the curls. With straightening, you either have to be patient and get creative with your style, get it retreated, or go for a drastic cut.

The Cost

The costs for this treatment vary depending on where you live. In cities where prices are competitive, you will pay less. For example, as of 2017, you could get a treatment done in the Queens borough of New York City for $150, while the more upscale spots in downtown Manhattan charge $400 and up.

Post-Treatment Care

You have to be very careful with your new pin-straight hair after treatment. You can't wash it or pull it up into a ponytail for at least three days while it sets.

The Potential Damage

If you have this treatment done by someone who doesn't know what they are doing, you can be left with disastrous results.

It can fry your hair and some women have experienced significant hair loss. This is a primary reason why this process has stirred up controversy.

If your hair has been colored or received other chemical treatments, you risk damaging your hair. An experienced stylist should know if your hair is a good candidate for treatment. Be honest and if your hair has been processed in any way, speak up about it.

To avoid problems, it is very important that you select a stylist who is experienced in Japanese hair straightening. Ask questions like how many treatments they've done and how many years they've been doing them.

You can also forget about getting a perm or anything involving chemicals to restore your hair's natural waves. Any additional chemicals will only add to the damage, so you have to be prepared for the commitment to let it grow out.

Hair texture plays a big role in the success, particularly for African American women. Depending on your hair, you might be better off with chemical relaxers.

Before you schedule an appointment, think long and hard about whether this is a good move for you. It certainly can be a beautiful look, but you need to fully understand the risks involved.