Japanese Hair Straightening: The Pros and Cons

Japanese hair straightening
Wild Horse Photography for Getty

Japanese hair straightening is a popular method of straightening curly or wavy hair. While many women with curly hair swear by it, this method is controversial because it can wreak havoc on hair if done incorrectly or by an inexperienced stylist.

Find out how Japanese hair straightening compares to keratin hair treatments (also known as Brazilian hair straightening). Plus, find out if the treatment is dangerous and does it work.

 But first, a little history lesson. 

The History of Japanese Hair Straightening in the US

Japanese hair straightening treatments (also called thermal reconditioning) were all the rage in New York City in the early aughts. For women with curly hair who wanted straight hair, it seemed a miracle procedure. You walk into the salon with curly hair, drop $150-$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 treatments were so popular they jumped coasts and became popular on the West Coast and then in big cities across the country. And then 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 of how much formaldehyde (a known carcinogen) was used in the Brazilian treatments and the popularity of the treatments decreased.

Now Japanese hair straightening has enjoyed a minor surge in popularity due to the bad media coverage Brazilian treatments have received.

You can get Japanese hair straightening treatments in New York City, but mainly in trendy little Japanese and Korean salons sprinkled throughout downtown and in Queens, NY.

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 hair wasn't worth it.

How Japanese Hair Straightening 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 its shape allowing it to become pin-straight with the help of a flat-iron.

The hair is saturated with this solution, rinsed, dried with a blowdryer and then flat-ironed with a ceramic iron in small 1/8th 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 Does it Last & How Much Does it Cost?

Treatments will last about six months -- twice as long as the Brazilian straightening method. The costs range 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 NY for $150, while the more upscale spots in downtown Manhattan charge $400 and up.

How to Take Care of Your Hair Post-Treatment

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 3 days while it sets.

Is This Treatment Bad for Your Hair?

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

If your hair has been colored or if you've had other chemical treatments, you risk damaging your hair. An experienced stylist should know if your hair is a good candidate for treatment. Be honest, if you've had your hair colored or highlighted, speak up about it.

To avoid problems, select a stylist experienced in Japanese hair straightening. Ask questions including approximately how many treatments they've done and how many years they've been doing them.

You can also consult Yelp for online reviews of salons. 

Keep in mind Japanese hair straightening is permanent. You can't reverse the treatment once it's done and forget about getting a perm or anything involving chemicals to restore your hair's natural waves.