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For just a few hours in the salon, keratin hair treatments offer the promise of straighter, smoother, frizz-free locks for months on end. Silky locks treated with keratin bring added benefits, including drastically decreased styling time and hair that defies humidity. To get the best and longest-lasting results from a keratin treatment, you need to understand the process and know the key to properly maintaining your sleek new mane.

About Keratin Treatments

Keratin hair treatments, also known as keratin smoothing treatments and Brazilian hair treatments, are semi-permanent professional chemical treatments performed in a salon and designed to soften curls and waves to make hair smoother, straighter and shinier. Although different brands use different formulations, these treatments typically contain keratin -- the protein found naturally in hair -- and chemicals such as formaldehyde or other aldehydes, which give the treatment its staying power, along with conditioners. Depending on the treatment and post-treatment maintenance, results may last several weeks or up to six months.

Keratin Treatment Process

There are two main types of keratin treatments that both begin the same way. A stylist will wash your hair with a clarifying shampoo and blow it dry. The liquid keratin solution is then applied in sections with a brush and combed through the hair. The treatment is left on the head for a varying amount of time before your hair is blow dried again. Then small sections of hair are flat ironed at high heat to seal in the treatment. For some treatments, this is the final step, and you'll have to refrain from washing your hair, getting it wet or styling it for 72 hours. With the other type of treatment, the keratin is rinsed out after the hair is flat ironed and blow-dried a third time, but there is no wait time for washing or styling after you leave the salon. Keratin treatments typically take take between two and four hours.

Keratin Results and Concerns

Keratin will give you the best results if you're looking to reduce frizz, smooth curls or add shine. Keratin treatments reduce volume and soften waves and curls but don't completely straighten hair. These smoothing treatments work well on many types of hair, including curly hair, fine hair, coarse hair, African American hair types and color-treated or previously chemically-treated hair. Avoid keratin treatments if you have severely damaged hair or hair that can't withstand the high heat of the flat iron that can reach 450 degrees. Although the levels of formaldehyde found in these treatments are safe according to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) you should avoid keratin treatments if you are pregnant or have an allergy to formaldehyde or aldehydes.

Keratin Care and Maintenance

If you left the salon with the treatment still in your hair, you must wait 72 hours before washing your hair, getting it wet, putting it behind your ears, or using bands or clips that can cause dents in the hair. It is recommended that you use only sodium chloride and sulfate-free shampoos and conditioners. Using these types of shampoos and conditioners will give you the longest lasting results as sodium works to dissolve keratin, and sulfates are harsh lathering agents that may strip the hair of the treatment prematurely. Try to avoid washing hair daily, which some stylists say help prolong the effects of keratin.