Keratin Treatment Vs. Relaxer: The Difference Explained

by Ramona Sinha

Natural hair is versatile and beautiful. However, sometimes managing kinky and coily hair can be a real struggle. This is one reason most women with Afro-textured hair opt for a keratin treatment or relaxers.

While both treatments help keep the hair smooth, straight, and frizz-free, there is a difference between keratin treatment and relaxers. If you are considering smoothening and are confused between the two, this article is for you. Scroll down to understand the difference between keratin treatment and relaxers.

What Is Keratin Treatment?

Keratin treatment is often known as Brazilian keratin treatment or Brazilian treatment. It is a semi-permanent process that focuses on hair strengthening without disrupting its texture.

Keratin is a protein essential for your hair’s structural strength. Keratin-rich products contain L-Cys or cysteine, a non-essential amino acid that supports keratin and slows down hair loss and breakage (1).

This professional hair straightening treatment infuses the hair strands with keratin to de-frizz your hair and make it smooth, shiny, and strong. It works on all hair types. However, if you have damaged hair, consult a professional hair expert before undergoing the treatment.

In the following sections, find out how the process works and what to expect.

How Does It Work?

Keratin hair treatment products contain hydrolyzed keratin proteins mixed in a formaldehyde-releasing solution. During the treatment, the hydrolyzed keratin adheres to the hair cuticles. As a result, the sub-cuticle section of the hair strands relaxes, giving you flat, smooth, glossy, and shiny hair.

Different Types Of Keratin Treatments

Some of the common types of keratin treatments include:

  • Brazilian blowout
  • Japanese hair straightening
  • Japzilian keratin
  • Soft keratin

Procedure

Keratin hair treatment is usually done in a salon. It involves the following steps:

  1. The hair expert will shampoo your hair and blow-dry it (80% dry).
  2. The semi-dry hair is saturated with the keratin protein solution.
  3. The solution is left undisturbed for 30 minutes.
  4. The saturated hair is blow dried, followed by flat ironing to ensure proper absorption of the solution.
  5. You may be asked to leave the hair as it is for about a day or two.
  6. After the stipulated time, the solution is washed out of the hair, followed by blow drying.

Time Required

Keratin treatment requires 3 to 4 hours, depending on your hair length, volume, and condition.

After-Care

  • Do not wash, style, or tie your hair for at least 72 hours after the treatment.
  • Use sulfate-free hair products to wash and condition your keratin-treated hair.
  • Avoid excess UV and chlorinated or salt water exposure to prevent any damage.
  • Switch to keratin, zinc, and biotin-rich hair products for maintaining keratin-treated hair.

Note: Consult a hairstylist for product recommendations.

How Long Does It Last?

Keratin is semi-permanent and may last on natural hair for 3-6 months, depending on your hair care habits.

Risks And Side Effects

Keratin-based hair products contain formaldehyde in large concentrations. The FDA recognizes formaldehyde as a human carcinogen, as prolonged exposure to this chemical may cause certain types of cancers (2). The procedure often releases a strong-smelling gas that may trigger (3):

  • Respiratory distress
  • Itchy and watery eyes
  • Sore throat
  • Burning sensation in the eyes
  • Coughing and wheezing
  • Nausea
  • Skin irritation

Cost

Professional keratin treatments cost anywhere between USD 200 to USD 800.

Now that you know all about keratin hair treatment, let’s check out everything about hair relaxers or chemical relaxers.

What Are Hair Relaxers?

Hair relaxers are chemical-based products specifically formulated to relax and smoothen curly or kinky hair. Some formulations can also condition and moisturize the hair, reduce frizz, and improve hair texture. However, hair relaxers will not make your hair poker straight.

In the following sections, find out more details about how hair relaxers.

How Does It Work?

Hair or chemical relaxers disrupt the disulfide bonds between the protein structures in the shafts (4). This alters the natural hair structure and texture.

Different Types Of Hair Relaxers

You can opt for different types of hair relaxers like:

  • Lye relaxers or sodium hydroxide relaxers (suitable for wavy, coily, and curly hair)
  • No-lye relaxers or calcium hydroxide relaxers (suit all hair types)
  • Ammonium thioglycolate relaxers (suit fine, wavy, and curly hair)

The difference lies in the strength of the chemicals used in these relaxers. Always consult a hair expert to understand which may suit your hair type.

Procedure

Unlike keratin treatment, hair relaxers can be used at home. Here is how to use them:

  1. Coat your hair with petroleum jelly to prevent scalp and hair damage.
  2. Apply the relaxer (cream or lotion) to the hair ends and work your way up the strands.
  3. Leave the relaxer on for 15 minutes and rinse it out with warm water.
  4. Wash your hair with a neutralizing shampoo and condition it to balance the pH levels of the scalp.
  5. Apply a hair moisturizer.

For touch-ups, follow the same process. However, do not apply the product to the hair ends.

Time Required

The hair relaxing process takes about 30-60 minutes.

After-Care

  • Use a gentle, sulfate-free, reconstructing shampoo.
  • Avoid frequent shampooing.
  • Apply leave-in conditioners or deep conditioners to maintain moisture balance.
  • Use hydrating and protein masks.
  • Avoid heat styling.
  • Trim the dry and brittle hair ends.
  • Never relax color-treated hair.

How Long Does It Last?

Hair relaxers are semi-permanent, and the effect may wear out after 6-8 weeks.

Risks And Side Effects

Hair relaxers have a pH between 9-12 and are incredibly harsh on your skin. They may (4):

  • Make the hair dry and brittle
  • Increase frizziness
  • Cause chemical burns and injuries
  • Cause dandruff, hair loss, and thinning

A study also indicated a close link between hair relaxers and uterine leiomyomata (cancer) (5). However, further studies are required to confirm this hypothesis.

Cost

A hair relaxing treatment at the salon can cost about USD 200, while an at-home treatment costs about USD 20.

The Takeaway

Both keratin treatment and hair relaxers can alter the hair texture in different ways. They contain chemicals and are not at all risk-free. They may damage the skin and hair and affect your overall health. Both involve heat treatment, and the result may differ as per the hair texture and strength of chemicals. Before going for any of these treatments, it is best to consult an experienced professional, check your hair type, quality, and texture, and then opt for one.

Expert’s Answers For Readers’ Questions

Can I color my hair after the relaxer treatment?

No, coloring your hair after the relaxer treatment may damage the strands.

Are there any natural hair relaxers?

No. Natural hair relaxers are not completely chemical-free.

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Ramona Sinha

Ramona is a journalist-turned-content writer. She holds a Master’s degree in English Literature and has been writing for the digital world for over five years. She specializes in writing for Skin Care. She has done a certificate course titled ‘Dermatology: Trip To The Skin’, offered by Novosibirsk State University. She believes that beauty begins with a good skin care regimen and is on a mission to eliminate all toxins from her routine. She helps and guides readers in selecting products and ingredients specific to their skin type/issue. When Ramona is not working, her books and passion for music, good food, and traveling keep her busy.
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