Keratin Hair Treatment – Is it worth the risk?

by Farah AlAyyoubi on February 20, 2014


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What is Keratin hair treatment?

Have you ever wanted to permanently straighten your hair? With our society’s increased modernization and advancing technology, this is now possible! New techniques have been developed to allow for more effective hair styling procedures. A recent discovery is the usage of keratin hair treatment. Keratin hair treatment is a process that is widely being used among many beauty salons to effectively straighten and maintain straight hair for long periods of time. Keratin is a naturally occurring protein that is found in our hair. The hair treatment involves the addition of a chemically lethal product “formaldehyde” to the hair and sealing the mixture in place with a straightening iron.

How does the treatment work?

Our hair contains a lot of protein molecules containing sulfur atoms bonded together forming disulfide bonds. These disulfide bonds keep the hair strands curled in place. In order to break these bonds, an alkali is usually used.  Following the addition of an alkali, an acid is usually used in order to neutralize the basicity of the alkali in our hair. When formaldehyde is added to our hair, it acts as the base breaking down many of the disulfide bonds that are keeping our hair strands curled. Formaldehyde is usually used because it maintains the broken down composition of the disulfide bonds for longer allowing the treatment to be effective for several months.

Benefits of the treatment

Keratin hair treatment is a quick and easy method to get effective results that last several months. Not only does the treatment maintain straight hair for a long time, it also prevents frizz and damage to hair. Considering the keratin hair treatment is effective for many months, the process is only performed about 3 or 4 times a year.

Health risks

Formaldehyde is known to be a toxic chemical that has been linked to several health issues. It is known to cause allergic reactions and irritation of the skin, eyes, nose and lungs. Formaldehyde can also make people very light-headed and dizzy. Although there has not been any evidence to the correlation of formaldehyde and cancer, there have been several cases where people with cancer have been connected to formaldehyde. “I would not recommend use of any product containing formaldehyde. All products containing it should be banned” says Martyn Smith, PhD, a toxicologist at the University of California at Berkeley.  The International Agency for Research on Cancer considers formaldehyde a human carcinogen because of recent studies linking it to leukemia and other related health issues.

Healthier alternative?

Many companies have introduced healthier alternatives to using keratin health treatments. An example would be the use of formaldehyde-free products. These products are also sprayed directly onto hair and sealed with a hair straightener. However, this method is thought to be less toxic to our health. The major downside to this alternative would be that although the formaldehyde is not directly added to the scalp, the products in the mixture eventually turn into formaldehyde when heated with the flat iron. This leads to the same risky output of potentially being diagnosed with cancer.

Tying it all together

In conclusion we have established that there has been no full proof link between the use of keratin hair treatment and the incidence of cancer. We do know that formaldehyde is a major irritant and a known carcinogen. All we can say now is that the keratin hair treatment does pose several health risks. Bottom line is, should women continue to use this treatment in spite of the health risks that come with it?



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