Keratin gets sleek straight-hair results

Some concerned about Brazilian smoothing-treatment's ingredients

In Miami, where she lived at the time, Yokel got the Marcia Teixeira Brazilian Keratin Treatment and decided it was a godsend. “[My hair] always feels very soft and it looks natural. It is not over-straight, and it still has body.”

Keratin smoothing treatments have been in Brazil for many years, but only arrived in Atlanta about two years ago, with about 40 percent of salons in the metro area now offering some version.

The process involves applying a liquid mixture of keratin and other ingredients to small sections of hair before blow-drying and flat ironing it into a sleek mane. After a three-day waiting period (no wetting the hair, no ponytails, no major manipulation), the hair will remain smooth and manageable for up to four months.

Among the benefits are reduced drying time, minimal frizz and hair that is not chemically altered. It takes about three hours to complete a single treatment, which can cost $300 to $500.

With Atlanta’s world-class humidity, requests for keratin treatments spike in the summer, according to local stylists. Atlantans with a variety of hair types are seeking it as the antidote to frizz or as a transition from traditional chemical relaxers.

Still, all isn’t glossy in the land of keratin-smoothed hair.

In October 2007, Allure magazine highlighted the toxicity of the treatments, which contain formaldehyde, a known irritant to humans with short-term exposure. The magazine tested samples and found that many of the treatments had formaldehyde levels ranging from 0.2 percent up to more than 7 percent.

Formaldehyde is very toxic, said John Garruto, founder and president of California-based Free Radical Technology, a cosmetics consulting firm. All countries regulate the amount of formaldehyde allowed in personal care products, he said, usually at 0.2 percent, although up to 5 percent is allowed in nail hardeners.

The top makers of keratin treatments do not divulge product ingredients on their Web sites. On one site, the only indication that there may be dangerous ingredients is a warning not to use the product on women who are pregnant or nursing. Some products on the market claim to use aldehydes instead of formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is an aldehyde, Garruto said, but not all aldehydes are as toxic as formaldehyde.

At Vivid Salon, owner Jennifer Barry recently switched to the Marcia Teixeira product. “I did a lot of research,” she said, noting that the Delray Beach, Fla.-based company was forthcoming with Occupational Safety and Health Administration reports.

Recently, Precia Carraway, 33, of Little Five Points sat patiently as stylist Jeffrey Diamond painted the white liquid onto her shoulder-length hair.

“I just want it to be controllable,” she said. Diamond applied the treatment to quarter-inch sections of hair, carefully avoiding the scalp. He smoothed it in, then combed it through each section.

After Carraway sat under a hood dryer, Diamond began blow-drying her hair. Then he touched a flat iron to the roots and ran it all the way to the ends eight times. This was the point at which a chemical smell rose into the air, leading the stylist at the next station to prop open the door for ventilation.

Unlike treatments that left Brazilians with runny eyes and wheezing coughs, only about one out of 10 clients will have some sort of reaction to the aldehydes in the Peter Coppola Keratin Complex Smoothing Therapy, said Brad Champion, president of Champion Beauty Supply, which distributes the product locally.

At Lux Salon in Grant Park, Adrienne Leak, a certified Coppola stylist, uses the product on about 20 percent of her clients who are shifting from relaxers to keratin treatments. Leak said the biggest problem clients have is when the treatment isn’t done properly.

But not everyone is convinced.

“I can’t tell you exactly what the ingredients are,” said Kim Etheridge, co-founder of Mixed Chicks, a product line for curly hair textures. “Remember Rio [a hair straightener from the 1990s discontinued after customer complaints]? It was the best thing coming until everyone’s hair started falling out. So time will tell.”

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