I Tried a Keratin Straightening Treatment and Honestly, Life Will Never Be the Same

Splitting Hairs is our monthlong exploration of hair based on a survey of women across America. It's like you brought a photo to the salon — we're giving you exactly what you want.

Sam Reed
Photo: David Urbanke

This is the story of how a keratin straightening treatment actually changed my life.

My journey began two months ago, when I volunteered as tribute to undergo Goldwell's Kerasilk Control Keratin Treatment, a hair straightening process that didn't contain formaldehyde, unlike so many other options out there. I won't lie: The idea of saying goodbye to my 3A curls for three to five months tugged at my heart, but the appeal of getting a long-term, lower maintenance hairstyle without the sketchy ingredients was too appealing to pass up.

In the past, the only time I straightened my curls was for long weekends or trips to particularly dry climates when I knew that it would be easier to manage than my voluminous waves. Also, I'll admit it: I've secretly wanted smooth, straight hair since I first witnessed the Anne Hathaway makeover montage in Princess Diaries back in 2001, and even Carrie Bradshaw wore her hair straight every now and again. Not to mention, my curls wouldn’t be gone forever. I was assured multiple times they would grow back.

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The treatment I received is the Kersailk Control Smoothing Service, which costs anywhere from $350 to $600 depending on hair length. (Disclaimer: My service was complementary for the purposes of this article). The process promises straight hair with minimal maintenance. All it involves is a solution being applied to twice-washed hair, which is then heat-sealed with a flat iron. Easy!

The "Thermal-activated KeraShape Technology" offers two options — one that eliminates curl completely (Smooth Intense), and one that keeps a bit of wave (Smooth Medium). Because I wanted a dramatic change to post on Instagram, I opted for the Smooth Intense.

But before I got started, I had some questions. Luckily, my stylist, Meri Kate O'Connor (bless her and her patience) was able to help me out.

How doeskeratin hair straightening work?

Essentially, the high concentrations of keratin seep into the hair and are sealed into the shaft by heat from a flat iron. "Keratin treatments fill in the porosity of your hair, as overly-porous hair causes tangles, frizz, and breakage," hairstylist Abraham Sprinkle explained to InStyle. "Your hair is made up of keratin, so the treatment is putting the protein back into the hair, which is often lost due to age and chemical services." The downside? This specific treatment is only available at Goldwell salons, so you'll have to do your research.

How long does a keratin treatment last?

O'Connor told me that the treatment would last for about three to five months. She added that most women who have the treatment year-round will have it done every six months.

But you don't have to completely eliminate the curl, right?

Right. There are two components to the treatment. The first eliminates the frizz (this is called the Shape Medium), and there are two options for the second component: You can either eliminate curl completely (Smooth Intense) or just tame the wave/curl (Smooth Medium).

Once you select the second option, it is mixed in equal parts with the Shape Medium and applied to the hair. If you want to keep a slight curl, you should opt for the Smooth Medium to keep at least some of your waves intact.

I received the Shape Medium/Smooth Intense treatment.

What if you don’t have curly hair?

The treatment will still eliminate the frizz/flyaways and stray cowlicks. Think of it as a constant blowout, but without the barrel curled ends or the complementary champagne.

Does the treatment work on color-treated hair? And on all hair textures and thicknesses?

The treatment has restorative properties, according to O'Connor, so it can actually improve the texture and condition of color treated hair to some extent. Virgin hair — like mine — works best, as it’s able to absorb more of the keratin. O'Connor added that the process might take a bit longer with fine hair because she has to go over the sections with a flat iron a few extra times.

What about formaldehyde?

Unlike a traditional Brazilian blowout, the Kerasilk Control treatment does not — repeat, not — use formaldehyde. That said, is this completely chemical free? No. The keratin formula does have other chemicals in it, though not the kind used to preserve dead animals.

How long does the process take?

That depends on how much hair you have. If you’re #blessed with the kind of heavy, thick mane that results in a ponytail tension headache after two hours in an updo, it will take hours. We’re talking three to four hours from start to finish. If, like me, you've got a lot of thick hair, I would recommend clearing your schedule and throwing an extra book and your phone charger in your bag.

Do I have to avoid water in the days following?

Nope! Following the treatment, O'Connor told me I could even go home and wash my hair if I wanted. Four shampoos in a day felt a bit much for me, but I did take a dip in a pool the following weekend. Not only did my hair not curl, but after driving across the Verrazano Bridge with all of the car windows down, my hair air dried perfectly straight, and I was able to finger comb out the tiny tangles. It’s the closest I’ve come to witnessing a miracle.

What’s the upkeep?

Nada. Zilch. Zero. I’ve continued to wash my hair with the prescribed Kerasilk Control Shampoo and Conditioner (about 3-4 times a week) and let it air dry. No styling products. No heat (which has been a Godsend this summer). I can go from shower to subway to work in an hour’s time, and in 2 hours my hair has completely air dried to the state pictured above. A bit of the curl has come through, it appears as a natural wave rather than a random curly coil.

Sam Curly Hair Before Embed
Savanna Ruedy
Sam Straight Hair After Embed
David Urbanke

Here's a detailed recap of what thekeratin hair straightening service is like:

As I mentioned, the treatment took a little over three hours from start to finish. The process begins with a double shampoo to completely strip away any dirt, oil, grime or products. Next, my hair was blown dry (the stylist used an assistant to speed the process up a bit — and I have to say I've never felt more pampered than having two women working in tandem with blow dryers).

After my hair was 80 percent dried, O'Connor sectioned my hair into three parts and began applying the treatment itself — a 1:1 ratio of Shape Medium (to control frizz) and the Smooth Intense (to straighten the curl). After painting the mixture onto my entire head, the solution was left to sit for 15 minutes.

And then, the fun part. O'Connor then blow-dried my hair while the solution (which felt like a leave-in conditioner) was still in it, using a wide, ventilated paddle brush to do so. Given the thick consistency of the product, it took quite a bit of time.

Afterwards, she used a flat iron at 450 degrees to flatten my curls into oblivion. Starting at the nape of the neck, she took sections about 2-3 inches wide and ironed them several times. This process — the aforementioned thermal-activation process — is the most important part of the entire service. An interesting side note: The flat-ironing resulted in big puffs of white steam, and my black cape was soon covered in white flakes of product, which I was assured was normal. The process was not otherwise uncomfortable (not even tingly).

After it was dried and straightened, I was shampooed once more to wash out the solution. Finally, O'Connor followed up with a sealant and another blow dry, but this one took just 15 minutes — a welcome change from my usual 45-minute blowouts. Having had curly hair since puberty, I have to admit it was shocking to watch her just use her fingers while shaking the blow dryer back and forth across my scalp rather than a round brush and a downward motion. Once the hair was completely dry, it hung straight from scalp with no need for touch ups. The texture was smooth and silky, and you bet I spent the entire evening running my hands through it like I was Selena Gomez in a Pantene commercial.

The bottom line:

I haven't touched a hairdryer in weeks. I haven't purchased any other hair products, and don't have to worry about a little sweat activating my any baby curls at my temples, the way I previously had to whenever I straightened my hair. I do miss my curls (these before photos are making me nostalgic!), and I'll probably return to them once the treatment grows out, but as far as a no-maintenance summer look is concerned, this one's hard to beat.

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