Hair Straightening: My Lifelong Personal Beauty Odyssey

Plus: How salons are trying to make the process easier and safer.
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Alyssa Vingan Klein
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Plus: How salons are trying to make the process easier and safer.
I woke up like this. (Literally, this is how straight my hair dries now.)

I woke up like this. (Literally, this is how straight my hair dries now.)

My relationship with my hair has been a tumultuous one for my entire life. I’ve been told over and over again how lucky I am to have a head full of thick, curly hair that others would kill for — although I’ve probably spent the equivalent of weeks (maybe even months) fighting against it. The grass is always greener, right?

The first traumatic hair-related incident I faced was relatively early in life, when an elementary school classmate started calling me “marshmallow head” on account of my frizzy curls. In middle school, I’d dedicate over an hour a couple of times a week locked in my bathroom blow drying (and subsequently flat ironing) my hair to calm it down. Even though it was technically “straight” afterwards, it was still quite puffy — evidence of this can be seen plastered around the walls of my parents’ home in the form of my super-embarrassing Bat Mitzvah portraits.

Baby me in all of my curly-haired glory.

Baby me in all of my curly-haired glory.

Around this age, I started chemically relaxing my hair. I don’t remember too much about the first couple of experiences besides the following: The process required me to sit in the salon for upwards of four hours, the solution smelled horrible and it left my strands feeling straw-like for a significant period of time.

I voluntarily put myself through this torture for the next few years until keratin treatments and Brazilian Blowouts came along, and while they seemed like a miracle sent from the heavens (my hair felt so soft, and it would cut my drying time in half!) there were still a few red flags: The first, and most terrifying, being formaldehyde. While I wouldn’t have to spend as many hours in the salon for these treatments, they burned the hell out of my eyes, and I would prefer not to know what kind of crap I was breathing in as a byproduct.

Despite all of the pitfalls — and the fact that this is a very expensive habit — I can’t imagine not relaxing my hair in some way or another. Without this chemical assistance, hours of my day are wasted trying to control my frizz, and I would likely avoid being in public fairly often during the humid summer months. I learned this the hard way in 2009: After losing all of my hair after chemotherapy treatments, I immediately started growing an afro-like tuft of curls. My hair was barely two inches long before I started getting keratin treatments again.

So, being that I am semi-dependent on these hair treatments, I am always on the lookout for the next, new thing. I've been hearing about the recent shift to formaldehyde-free keratin treatments, and figured that I should give one of those a try, seeing as they seem to be popping up all over the market. I was invited to Butterfly Studio Salon in Flatiron, where they have started recommending Cezanne Perfect Finish Keratin Straightening Treatment to customers like me. The application process is similar to other methods that I’ve tried — apply the solution, sit under a dryer, flat iron and voilà — but I was in the salon for less than two hours (a personal record!), there were no tears and only minimal funky odors. Also a first. 

I’ve been frizz free in the days since I tried the treatment, and not only is my hair prepped for the muggy summer that we've been promised, it feels incredibly soft, thanks to the enriching keratin infusion. I'm happy to report that salons and beauty brands seem to be streamlining the process to reduce application time and (hopefully) relying less on dangerous chemicals like formaldehyde, but I still can't help but hope for the next big innovation. I may be a long way from finding my "forever" fix — where are you, at-home solutions? — but this recent breakthrough is a great start.

If you face similar hair woes as I do, read on for some products that I've learned to swear by.

Keratin Complex shampoo and conditioner, from $21, available at keratincomplex.com.

Paul Mitchell Super Skinny Serum, $17.18, available at Amazon.com.

Moroccan Oil treatment, from $14.80, available at Nordstrom

Bumble and bumble Hairdresser's Invisible Oil Sulfate Free Shampoo, $30, available at Bloomingdales