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Smooth Moves: Keratin Hair Treatments Stomp. Frizz. The Heck. Out.

list of keratin treatments on Health Canada's do-not-use advisory
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For women who put frizz on their top-five list of life challenges, a relatively new salon service may help. "If you spend more than 20 minutes on your hair in the morning, blowdrying, styling, getting it straight, you're an ideal candidate for a keratin smoothing treatment," says Tim McLean, a senior stylist at Oskar on Scollard salon in Toronto's Yorkville area.

The Mechanics
Designed to subdue mutinous frizz, boost shine and make hair easier to style, keratin treatments, such as the Coppola Keratin Complex or Bioionic Kerasmooth, involve the application of a protein-rich mixture on clean, dry hair, and flat-ironing it into the hair section by section. The finish then "cures" over the next 72 hours, during which the client has to ensure hair stays entirely dry and straight -- no hooking hair behind ears! A follow-up salon appointment comes next to check on the results; special sodium-choloride free shampoo and conditioner maintains the finish.

The Benefits
Deborah McGrath, founder of Do My Hair salon in Toronto, says the process dramatically improves the condition of hair and significantly reduces blowdrying time. For some women with difficult natural textures, it also allows style elements they weren't able to have before, such as bangs. "Clients report being able to wear their hair straight through hot temperatures for the first time in their lives," she adds.

"Hair is made up of keratin, and loses it slowly as a result of heat styling, environmental aggressors and aging," explains McLean. A smoothing treatment like this helps to rejuvenate hair by forcing keratin back into the shaft. Grey hair really benefits from the process, he says, because it restores its flexibility and manageability.

The Results
"I've had it done twice and it's changed my life," says Katherine Bower, my PR pal (who has no salon affiliations). "My hair was like a frizz ball. It took me so long to manage, and I never felt polished. Now, after the treatment, I wash my hair, spend five minutes drying it, and it looks amazing."

According to John Donato of Donato Salon + Spa in Mississauga and Toronto, "The keratin complex can be repeated over and over. It leaves hair soft, smooth, silky and shiny, and can also repair prior damage in most cases." He cautions, however, that the heat from the flat ironing can cause damage if it isn't used properly.

Keratin smoothing treatments range in cost from $250 to $450 and can last between three and five months, sometimes longer.

UPDATE: The formulas mentioned here are not the same as the "Brazilian Blowout," which Health Canada formally advised against on October 7, 2010. No investigation into other formulas has been announced. Yet.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Hoo boy. In April 2011, Health Canada released a new list of keratin treatments that exceed safe levels of formaldehyde. The Coppola Keratin Complex landed on that advisory list. Click here to see the rest of the brands Health Canada tested and is warning against.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Perhaps it's best to consider alternative means of long-term triumph over frizz and difficult hair. This salon treatment uses a better-known chemistry as its base and contains no surprise formaldehyde.

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