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Your hair crowns your face and greatly impacts your overall appearance. Some people are born with soft and smooth tresses that can be easily styled, whereas others struggle with dry and frizzy hair that is hard to manage.
The problem of frizzy hair can be especially infuriating since it is often brought on by things that are beyond your control, such as humidity, pollution, heat, and genetics.
There are many ways you can improve the texture of your hair, but nothing will give you quick results as a hair smoothening salon treatment. Although this is an easy solution, it has some drawbacks.
The following article will discuss this cosmetic hair procedure with all its merits and demerits.
What Is Hair Smoothening?
Keratin is a type of protein that is the main component of your hair. Like any other protein, keratin is made up of several amino acids, but cysteine is the most abundant of them.
Disulfide bonds connect one cysteine atom to another and hold the entire keratin structure together. The way these keratin filaments are arranged with respect to each other and the number of disulfide bonds within them give your hair its basic structure and texture.
There are mainly three hair types: wavy, curly, and straight.
Hair smoothening treatment is a cosmetic treatment that reduces the frizz and dryness of the hair for a sleek, shiny finish. It does so by restoring keratin to unruly hair, enhancing its basic structure and appearance. This treatment costs around 350 US dollars and takes around 3 hours to complete.
Hair Smoothening Is Different From Hair Straightening
Hair smoothening treatments are done to make your hair strands smoother, silkier, and shinier, which is true for hair straightening procedures as well.
But the chemicals used for the hair straightening are different from and much stronger than those used for hair smoothening. As a result, the effect of chemical hair straightening lasts longer than that of hair smoothening.
Bear in mind that hair straightening can be temporary or permanent depending upon the procedure you undergo. If a straightening tool is used, the effect will be temporary, whereas if chemical solutions called relaxers are used, the effect will be permanent.
Relaxers can be alkaline or nonalkaline. The alkaline relaxers break the disulfide bonds that hold the keratin filaments together and give your hair its basic shape. Then, when your hair is straightened with a flat iron, heat is released, which reshapes or rearranges the keratin filaments. (1)(2) The nonalkaline relaxers selectively weaken the hair’s cysteine bonds instead of disrupting the entire keratin fiber.
The hair smoothening procedure involves the following:
- The hair is drenched in a chemical solution or chemical relaxer that contains formaldehyde-releasing compounds (FRCs).
- The hair is washed. The water sets the keratin fibers straight with respect to each other.
- The FRC-containing chemical relaxer is applied all over the hair strands without touching the scalp.
- The hair is straightened using a flat iron. When subjected to the heat, FRCs release formaldehyde, which cross-links the keratin fibers in a way that makes the hair straighter. The hair shines when light strikes these newly arranged keratin fibers. (1)
Hair straightening can completely flatten extremely curly or wavy hair such that they become pin straight with pointy ends, but hair smoothening can only make the strands somewhat manageable and softer without any pointy ends. Thus, it is safe to say that hair smoothening gives your hair a more natural finish than hair straightening.
Hair smoothening is also less damaging to your hair than hair straightening. Moreover, hair conditioning substances are often added to the relaxers to give your hair a better finish and to minimize hair damage.
The effects of hair smoothening are temporary but can last for several months with proper hair care post-treatment. In chemical hair straightening, the treated hair strands will remain pin straight, but you will gradually grow them out.
Types of Hair Smoothing Treatments
Any hair treatment or procedure that targets the keratin protein for hair manipulation is termed as keratin hair treatment. There are many different types of hair smoothening procedures that aim to rearrange the keratin fibers to enhance the texture of hair.
All of these procedures use the same strategy of applying a chemical relaxer to break the disulfide bonds in the hair and then straightening the hair with a flat iron for a sleek finish.
However, there are different kinds of chemical relaxers, each with its own side effects. Some relaxers are stronger than others and thus provide more long-lasting results than their weaker counterparts.
Here are some of the commonly used hair smoothening procedures:
1. Brazilian blowout
Brazilian blowout treatment, (3) also referred to as albumin hair treatment or hair Botox, involves the use of chemical solutions consisting of methyl glycol or formalin, which releases formaldehyde vapors in the air when subjected to the heating effects of the flat iron.
The key advantage of this treatment is that it can be used on bleached hair that is otherwise incompatible with other chemical relaxers used for hair smoothening.
2. Thermal hair conditioning
Thermal hair conditioning or Japanese straightening technique employs a chemical solution whose main active ingredient is a glycolic acid derivative called thioglycolate. This chemical solution causes much less protein loss than other alkaline hair relaxers.
3. Non-formaldehyde hair smoothening treatments
Goldwell Kerasilk and Cezanne treatments are hair smoothening procedures that use chemical relaxers that do not release formaldehydes. The relaxers consist of glycolic acid (4) and sericin, which is a protein found in silk.
The absence of formaldehyde means these treatments won’t make your hair as smooth and straight as traditional formaldehyde-based treatments. But on the upside, they do make your hair softer and silkier with the least side effects.
Caution: Some hair smoothening procedures are advertised to be free of formaldehyde, but research has shown that these procedures do release this chemical but in small amounts. (5) Make sure you discuss the treatment with your stylist thoroughly before making a final choice.
Note: There are formaldehyde-based relaxers that can be bought and used at home for hair smoothening, but many users of these products are not aware of the deleterious side effects of formaldehyde on their health. Educate yourself about the pros and cons of the product and the correct technique of the treatment before trying it yourself. The most recommended option is to get it done by a hair professional to avoid any undue side effects and to get the best results. (6)
The Hair Smoothening Procedure
The hair smoothening treatment is done in the following manner:
- The hair is shampooed and washed, followed by proper hair conditioning.
- A chemical relaxer cream or solution will be carefully applied all over the hair strands without getting any on the scalp.
- The relaxer is left on the hair for about 20–30 minutes before being rinsed off.
- The damp hair is blow-dried.
- The stylist uses a flat iron to straighten the hair strands.
- A cream is applied to the hair to seal the straightening effect.
- The cream is allowed to sit on the hair for no more than 10–15 minutes before a final wash.
Here are some important tips to bear in mind regarding hair smoothening.
1. Before the hair smoothening treatment
- Do proper research on the salon that you are considering for your treatment to make sure they have trained staff, proper safety precautions, the right products, and an overall good track record.
- Discuss the suitable treatment for your hair type with your stylist.
- If you want to avoid formaldehyde, inform your stylist before the treatment so a non-formaldehyde relaxer will be used.
- Let your stylist know if you have had hair smoothening before and inquire about the possible side effects of getting it redone.
2. After the hair smoothening treatment
- For the first three days after treatment, you must not expose your hair to any water.
- Once this waiting period is over, you can wash your treated hair with the stylist-recommended shampoo and lukewarm or cold water. Never use hot water for rinsing your hair as it can make it dry and frizzy.
- You must apply a conditioner after the hair wash, and leave it in for longer than usual.
- Always dab your hair dry and avoid using a blow-dryer.
- Do not use a hairbrush to comb your hair, which can cause a lot of friction between hair strands and cause breakage. Use a wide-toothed hair comb instead to gently detangle and groom your hair.
- Your smoothened hair is extremely pliable during the first 3–4 days after the treatment and sets in the shape that they are compressed. So, tying your hair will leave a lasting impression on it and make it crinkly. You must wear your hair loose for the first 2–3 days after the treatment, keeping it as straight as possible so that it sets in that shape. Your hair is also quite brittle in this period and can easily break under pressure. So, it’s best to avoid tight hairstyles.
- For the same reason as above, you must sleep in a position that does not press or bend your hair for at least 3–4 days after the treatment.
- Hair oiling is a strict no-no for at least 10–12 days after hair smoothening, but it is highly recommended after that to undo the damaging effects of the chemical treatment. (7)
- Avoid using hair products that contain sulfates, parabens, or alcohol.
- Every time you get hair smoothening done, the chemicals used in the treatment render your hair increasingly brittle. So, don’t go for it more than 2–3 times a year.
- Minimize the use of hairstyling tools as much as possible because they release extreme heat, which can dehydrate, burn, and irreparably damage your hair over time. When you do use them, always apply a heat protectant to your hair first.
Some Disadvantages of Hair Smoothening
Nonformaldehyde chemical relaxers that only contain hydroxides and thioglycolate do not damage the DNA structure of cells to induce cancer, so long as they are not directly applied to the scalp. (1)
But the ones that contain FRCs can have some serious disadvantages. As discussed earlier, these chemical relaxers release formaldehyde gas into the environment upon heating.
Inhaling formaldehyde can trigger the following side effects in the person undergoing the treatment and the hairstylist performing it:
For this reason, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Working Group (EWG) have declared the following hair smoothening treatments as potentially dangerous:
- Brazilian blowout
- Keratin complex smoothing therapy
- Marcia Teixeira
- Brasil Cacau Cadiveu
- Keratin Express
Measures to Minimize the Harmful Effects
The stylist at the salon should take all the possible measures as suggested by OSHA to minimize the risks and side effects of hair smoothening. (10)
Some safety measures include the following:
- Your hairline is the most sensitive area of the scalp and can get irritated if the chemical relaxer stays on it for too long. For this reason, the relaxer is applied to the hairline right at the very end after all your hair has been covered.
- Scalp irritation can be avoided by using scalp barriers.
- Eye irritation due to the fumes of the chemicals such as formaldehyde can be avoided by using protective eye shields.
- As discussed earlier, the chemical relaxers release toxic fumes in the environment when exposed to the heat of the flat iron. So, it is very important for the salon to be adequately ventilated to allow proper airflow and to drive out the fumes.
- The flat iron and blow drier used during the procedure should be kept at a low heat setting.
- Use a Consumer Sampling and Analysis Kit to keep a tab on the formaldehyde levels within the salon throughout the procedure.
- The salon staff should be given personal protective equipment that they must use while performing the smoothening treatment. This includes aprons, gloves, and eyewash stations.
- The stylists should go through proper training every year to learn how to safely handle these toxic chemicals.
Who Should Avoid Hair Smoothening?
Hair smoothening is not recommended in the following cases:
- Fine or sparse hair: The chemicals used in smoothening treatments can weaken the hair and make it prone to breakage or shedding. This can be especially problematic for people who already have fine hair or less volume, which is why they are advised against using this treatment.
- Thick or curly hair: Hair smoothening is capable of improving the texture of wavy and frizzy hair, but it is largely ineffective on thick and curly hair.
- Pregnancy or breastfeeding period: There is a legitimate concern that the chemicals used during this procedure can get absorbed in the body of a pregnant or lactating woman and can then be passed on to the baby through the blood or breastmilk. There isn’t enough evidence to either confirm or dispel these doubts, but it’s best to err on the side of caution and avoid chemical hair smoothening until the pregnancy and lactation period is over.
Alternatives to Hair Smoothening
Many natural ingredients can help smoothen and soften the hair without causing any of the adverse side effects associated with chemical hair treatments.
Even though the results of the nonchemical alternatives are not quite as quick or long lasting as those of chemical hair smoothening, the structural integrity of your hair will be preserved and the texture will be improved, which is not something that you can expect from chemical hair smoothening.
Besides being completely chemical-free, these natural hair remedies cost next to nothing, which is another bonus.
Here are a few tried-and-tested ingredients that you can apply on your hair like a mask to banish frizz:
- Egg plus mayonnaise
- Freshly extracted aloe vera gel
- Mashed banana
Hair smoothening procedures have taken over the world, but popular as they may be, it is very important to educate yourself about the pros and the cons of these treatments beforehand rather than regretting the decision later. This is because once you get it done, there’s no going back.
The treatment permanently alters the structure of your hair for a visibly smoother, silkier finish, and these effects cannot be undone. The only way to go back to your natural hair form is to wait for the treated hair to grow out.
There are many natural alternatives that you can try before going for chemical smoothening. But if you do decide on chemical hair smoothening, discuss all the available procedures with your stylist to find out which one suits your hair the most.
It is important to educate yourself about all the risks and precautions of hair smoothening to make an informed decision. It is also vital that you adhere to the post-treatment hair care guidelines to prolong the positive results.