If you've got curly hair, you may daydream about having smooth, straight locks. There are several options for taming curls, and each has pros and cons.
Many women swear by this salon treatment, which smoothes and straightens hair by coating it with chemicals. Stylists say it provides a glossy, frizz-free finish and makes hair much easier to care for. To keep that finish, you need to reapply keratin treatments about every 12 weeks. Treatments can cost $200 or more.
Keratin treatments don't work well on tightly kinked hair. And they can make your hair brittle, so you'll need to use conditioner generously when you shampoo.
Or you may want to skip keratin treatments altogether. There have been safety questions about the treatments, particularly for stylists who work with them. Some brands may contain or release unsafe levels of formaldehyde, a chemical that has been linked to health problems, including cancer.
Salon and home chemical relaxers last longer than keratin. The treated hair stays straight permanently. If you have it done in a salon it's about half the price of a keratin treatment. But the roots grow back curly. That two-textured look bothers some women, says Anthony Cress, a hair stylist in Newport Beach, CA.
Salon stylists usually use relaxers with lye because they work faster. They can be more irritating to your scalp than those without lye and are best done in salons, says Paradi Mirmirani, MD, a dermatologist with Kaiser Permanente in Vallejo, CA. If you straighten your hair at home, use a no-lye relaxer, which is less likely to irritate your scalp, and don't leave it on longer than directed.
All chemical relaxers can make your hair dry and brittle and harm your scalp. And the damage can build up. For touch-ups, though, you only need to apply the relaxer to your roots, not all over.
Victoria Barbosa, MD, MPH, a dermatologist in Chicago, says she advises her patients not to use a chemical relaxer if their scalp is unhealthy or they have serious problems with hair breakage or hair loss.
To protect your hair, don't use a relaxer more than every 8 weeks, and use moisturizers generously on your hair.