The Dangerous Truth About Keratin Hair Treatments & Their Side Effects

Keratin hair straightening sounds like a dream. The treatment takes two to four hours, and you’re left with shiny, frizz-free hair for almost three months. That is, if everything goes according to plan. The process is an easy way to get sleek, straight hair without daily blowouts, but it can have some pretty nasty side effects. Read on for the dangers of keratin hair straightening.

Keratin straightening, which sometimes goes by the brand name “Brazillian Blowout,” uses a mixture of keratin (a protein naturally found in hair), conditioners, and an active chemical (often formaldelyde–yep, you read that correctly). The mixture is combed through the hair, blown dry, and painstakingly sealed section-by-section with a flat iron.

Sounds easy enough, but the process has been known to cause health problems ranging from hair loss to nausea; less than ideal side effects for a beauty treatment. Most health risks stem from the formaldehyde that is often inhaled during the application.

According to OSHA, the government’s Occupational Safety & Health Adminstration, formaldehyde is a known cancer-causing substance. 

Exposure to formaldehyde can also cause:

• Eye irritation and damage, including blindness.
• Nose irritation, including bloody noses.
• Skin sensitivity, rashes, and itching.
• Breathing difficulties, such as coughing and wheezing.

While these problems are likely caused by the type of longterm exposure experienced by salon workers, even limited exposure to formaldehyde can have a detrimental effect.

A letter released by the Food and Drug Administration also clarified that even products labeled as “formaldehyde free” can result in formaldehyde exposure. Some chemicals used in place of the formaldehyde, typically formalin or methylene glycol, actually become formaldehyde when heated to high temperatures. Yikes.

That being said, there are some true formaldehyde-free services, so consult with a trusted stylist if you are interested in getting the treatment done.