A Comprehensive Guide to Keratin Treatments, According to the Pros

·6 min read

Frizz and dryness have defined my hair for all my life, so when my mother suggested getting a keratin treatment this summer as a way to make my hair smoother and styling more manageable after a year-plus of not visiting salons, I was immediately on board. Keratin treatments promise to tame frizz, significantly cut down blow-drying time, and give unruly hair a long-lasting shine and silkiness. I'd also been seeing glossy hair all over social media—ICYMI, it's the slick “liquid” hair trend dominating your Explore feed (and the secret behind Kim Kardashian and Dua Lipa's ultra-smooth, glossy looks)—and the style felt like a welcome change from the usual beach-waves vibe I go for.

What is a keratin treatment?

A keratin treatment is a temporary smoothing treatment that infuses hair with keratin, a fibrous protein found in hair, skin, and fingernails. It's great for someone who wants to tone down their nature curl texture and make styling a seamless process, Lorean Cairns, founder of Fox & Jane, tells Glamour. A keratin treatment is probably not for you if you already have very thin or brittle hair, but it's pretty magical if you want to turn thick, wild, and uncooperative curl patterns into smoother, shinier hair that lasts for months at a time.

How does a keratin treatment work?

Essentially, it's a chemical treatment that's applied to wet hair and has to sit for about an hour and a half before being sealed in via blow-drying or flatironing. “It works by coating the pores, sealing the cuticle, adding shine, and eliminating frizz,” Nylza Yepez, hairstylist at Jenna Perry Hair Studio, tells Glamour. Once it's blow-dried in, you can't wash your hair for 72 hours—and you shouldn't tie it into a ponytail or bun either, since the scrunchie or claw clip might lock in a weird kink or curl pattern. After the first wash, you can resume a regular hair-care routine (with a few swaps, but more on that later).

There are two ways to achieve the glossy look: One is with an at-home keratin treatment you can probably find at the drugstore, while the other is at the salon. Hairstylists will always encourage you to visit a professional because experts will match the strength of the formula to your hair's needs and help you set expectations—unlike the one-size-fits-all formulas, which likely won't be as effective or long-lasting. “Keratin treatments have different chemical levels that range from mild to strong,” Cairns says. (FYI, the average cost for a full keratin treatment in a New York salon ranges from $300 to $400, and some studios offer partial treatments to smooth out frizz at the top for a reduced price.)

Keratin treatments have gotten a bad rep over the years since some of the O.G. formulas use formaldehyde, a possible carcinogen, to keep hair smooth and straight for extended periods of time, which was putting salon workers at major risk. However, hair-care brands have now created formaldehyde-free options (like the Cezanne Perfect Finish Keratin Smoothing Treatment) that are still effective but far less controversial.

How long does a keratin treatment last?

The average keratin treatment lasts about three to six months with standard maintenance, Cairns says, but she warns it can wash out sooner with overwashing or taking one too many dips into the ocean or pool. (Chlorine and sea salt aren't ~exactly~ friends here.) Cairns says regulars usually plan visits in the spring, or early in the summer season before it gets too humid out.

I'm about a month into my first-ever keratin treatment and it's been a total game changer (see the before-and-after below for proof!). For context, I had a hairstylist visit at home and she walked me through expectations: My thick hair would be on its best behavior the first few weeks, but I wouldn't have poker-straight hair with just a wash-and-go. Because of my natural hair texture, I'd still need to use the blow-dryer to smooth everything out. The good news? These days it takes me less than 15 minutes to style my hair as opposed to the usual 35 to 40 minutes.

My only “regret” from this experience is not getting a trim the same day as I got my keratin treatment. Not only does my hair fall differently, but “split ends and breakage are common after a keratin treatment because you're literally cooking the product with high heat using a blow-dryer or straightener,” Cairns says—and right now I'm due for a major chop because my ends are fried. (Salons typically offer a dry-cut option for an extra charge after the treatment, but since I did it at home, the hairstylist didn't have her whole kit on hand.)

These! Results!
These! Results!

Hair-care maintenance: Sulfate-free shampoos & conditioners

Keratin treatments are surprisingly low-maintenance—and you need only a few switch-ups for upkeep. “You can use a keratin-infused shampoo and conditioner provided by your salon,” Cairns says, or use delicate hair-care products that won't strip out the treatment (along with the natural oils in your hair). Experts recommend stocking up on sulfate-free shampoos and conditioners for this reason. These products may lather less, but they are so much gentler on hair, and will allow you to preserve the treatment for longer. Yepez is a fan of Davines's natural hair-care line—she likes the Love collection for thick textures—as well as R+Co's Deluxe reparative line. For budget-friendly alternatives, experts suggest Monday or Pureology.

Monday Smooth Shampoo

$7.00, Target

Monday Smooth Conditioner

$7.00, Target

Pureology Hydrate Shampoo

$31.00, Ulta

Pureology Hydrate Conditioner

$33.00, Ulta

R+Co Bleu De Luxe Reparative Shampoo

$59.00, B-Glowing

R+Co Bleu De Luxe Reparative Conditioner

$59.00, B-Glowing

Davines Love Smoothing Shampoo

$30.00, Amazon

Davines Love Smoothing Conditioner

$34.00, Amazon

Hair-care maintenance: Postshower styling

Your postshower routine is likely going to be a breeze with the keratin. If you have a medium-type hair texture, you can probably get away with a wash-and-go and still have it look super sleek, especially in the first few weeks. A microfiber towel, like the one below, is a hairstylist favorite for speeding up the drying process—and dry shampoo is a great way to extend wash day throughout the week. Hair oils and masks can help give your ends some extra love if you didn't get a trim, with silk scrunchies and turbans adding the perfect finishing touch to your postshower hair-care routine.

Olaplex No. 7 Bonding Oil

$28.00, Violet Grey

Ouai Thick Hair Treatment Masque

$38.00, Ulta

Klorane Dry Shampoo With Oat Milk

$20.00, B-Glowing

Aquis Rapid Dry Lisse Hair Wrap Towel

$30.00, Nordstrom

Silke London Mila Silk Hair Wrap

$65.00, Nordstrom

Slip Pure Silk Skinny Hair Ties (Three-Pack)

$20.00, Nordstrom

Originally Appeared on Glamour