I Tried a Keratin Straightening Treatment and My Life Is Forever Changed

Your ticket to silky-smooth hair sans formaldehyde.

Side view of a person with long, straight, dark hair
Photo: David Urbanke

This is the story of how a keratin hair 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 doesn'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 that 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, just because I would undergo a chemical process to straighten my curls didn't mean they would be gone forever. I was assured multiple times they would (eventually) grow back post-treatment. 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.

Keep scrolling to learn all about what it's like to get a keratin hair straightening treatment.

What Is a Keratin Treatment?

The treatment I received is the Kersailk Control Smoothing Service. Essentially, it involves applying a solution with high concentrations of keratin to twice-washed hair. The keratin seeps down into hair's pores and is then heat-sealed with a flat iron, leaving you with smooth, straight tresses. The downside? This specific treatment is only available at Goldwell salons, so you'll have to do your research.

Benefits of a Keratin Treatment

The process promises straight hair with minimal maintenance, but the benefits don't stop there:

  • Works on all hair types: 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 complimentary champagne.
  • Has restorative properties: According to O'Connor, the Kerasailk Control Smoothing Service 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.
  • Formaldehyde-free: 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.

What to Know Beforehand

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). Because I wanted a dramatic change to post on Instagram, I opted for the Smooth Intense.

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.

The Keratin Treatment Process

The treatment took a little over three hours from start to finish. However, keep in mind that this will vary depending on your hair type and how much of it you have. If you have the kind of heavy, thick mane that results in a ponytail tension headache after two hours in an updo (guilty), it will take hours. I would recommend clearing your schedule and throwing an extra book and your phone charger in your bag. O'Connor adds that the process might take a bit longer with fine hair because it requires going over the sections with a flat iron a few extra times. Here's a complete breakdown of the steps:

  1. Double shampoo and blow-dry: 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).
  2. Apply treatment and wait: 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.
  3. Blow-dry (again): 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.
  4. Flat iron: Afterward, she used a flat iron at 450°F to flatten my curls into oblivion. Starting at the nape of the neck, she took sections about two to three 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).
  5. Shampoo, seal, and (yes) blow-dry: 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 the 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.

Before and After

Sam Reed Curly Hair Before Keratin Straightening Treatment
Savanna Ruedy
Sam Reed Straight Hair After Keratin Straightening Treatment
David Urbanke

The Cost

This treatment runs anywhere from $350 to $600 depending on hair length. (Disclaimer: My service was complimentary for the purposes of this article).


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.

As for upkeep? Nada. Zilch. Zero. I’ve continued to wash my hair with the prescribed Kerasilk Control Shampoo and Conditioner (about three to four times a week) and let it air-dry. No styling products. No heat. I can go from shower to subway to work in an hour’s time, and in two hours my hair has completely air-dried to reveal silky-smooth tresses. And although a bit of the curl has come through, it appears as a natural wave rather than a random curly coil.

According to O'Connor, 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.

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 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 hairstyle is concerned, this one's hard to beat.

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