A salon keratin treatment is supposed to combat hair frizz, making the hair fairly impervious to moisture, including humidity and rain. The results last for up to six months.
I had it done on a Friday afternoon, and I was at the salon for less than two hours. My hair was washed and I sat under a dryer for a while before the stylist finished it with a blow-dryer. She then applied the formaldehyde-free keratin in sections with a brush, much like when you apply hair color. I was totally absorbed in a book on my iPad, so I can’t remember the rest of the process exactly, but it had to sit for about 10 minutes, then it was dried and finally she flat-ironed it in small sections, about 7 or 8 strokes for each section. I was flabbergasted at how long my hair was when it was straightened so dramatically, and let me tell you, it was not a pretty sight. The most attractive part certainly had to be the flyaway strands in the front that stuck straight up, like when you rub a balloon against your head.
While I had been sitting there letting the keratin soak in, a friend noticed me and came over to say hello. When I told her what treatment I was having, she told me she’d done it a few times and had been thrilled. “You’re gonna LOVE it!” she enthused.
I was instructed not to wash my hair until Monday afternoon, and as part of the (not inexpensive) cost of the treatment, I was given a bottle each of special non-sulfate shampoo and conditioner. Sulfates apparently break down keratin. If my hair got wet or damp before Monday, I was to dry it, and I was allowed to use a flat-iron for styling. But no hats, no ponytails, no hair clips, no tucking it behind my ear—in short, nothing that could bend the hair during those three days.
Also, they don’t recommend coloring your hair for 10 days following the treatment. If I weren’t the completely natural blonde that I am (I’ll pause here for the laughter to die down), I might tell you that I had had my color/highlights done exactly one week before.
Um, okay, flat hair gets even flatter when you sleep on it. Limp, lifeless, straggly, and all I wanted to do was pull it into a ponytail. But the fear of the Hair God had been instilled in me, so I resisted. We were meeting friends from New Jersey for dinner in the city that night, and they emailed, asking if the restaurant was casual. I replied that it was indeed casual, and that I would be looking extra-scruffy since I had had a keratin treatment and couldn’t wash my hair. Ding! Got an email right back from my Jersey friend, saying she had just had the treatment on Thursday and she felt my pain! This was her second time to the keratin party, and she had adored the results last summer. She had been allowed to wash her hair within two days, so she showed up at Artisanal looking gorge. I, on the other hand, got up to pee during dinner and frightened the bejeezus out of myself when I caught a glimpse in the mirror.
Oh joy, Happy Mother’s Day. Instead of every other year that I’ve been a mother when we’ve done a grand total of nothing on Mother’s Day, this year David and the gang had made reservations for brunch at the Schoolhouse at Cannondale in Wilton. I was going to have to face the monumental challenge of doing a red-carpet-worthy makeup job to counteract the greasy, flat, dead rat I was sporting on my head. You know how they say that a big smile is your best beauty weapon? Horseshit. It just made me look a lobotomized, over-bronzed greaseball. There are some things even sparkly lipgloss and fabulous shoes can’t fix. I have raised me some very kind sons, however, and they all dutifully told me I looked beautiful, despite the obvious truth. Mama done trained them well. David referred to me as the blond Elvira. I kept apologizing profusely, as the poor guy had no choice but to look at me across the table in all my stunning glamour.
Yippee-ki-yay! In a burst of excitement formerly reserved for things like my wedding day and seeing Sir Paul McCartney perform as a surprise guest at Billy Joel’s concert at Shea Stadium, Hair Washing Day had arrived! Except technically I had to wait til the afternoon. And I had a nail appointment scheduled in the meantime. My blonde oil slick and I settled into the chair and my tiny, adorable manicurist sat down, looked at me and exclaimed, “You get new hairdo! Looks good! You look youngahhh!” Oy vey. I wasn’t exactly sure how to say “keratin” in Vietnamese, so I just smiled weakly, thanked her, and laughed inside. I believe the town had to send out an emergency clean-up crew to soak up the oil spill I left on Bulkley Avenue as I went straight home afterwards, out of courtesy to the general public. Errands would have to wait til another day. If adults saw me, I reasoned, they would flee en mass, trampling babies and the elderly in their path. Young children would have terrifying nightmares, and spend years in therapy, all because of the crazy blonde lady with greasy witch hair.
My darling husband had watched this follicular fiasco devolve all weekend, and although he did his best to be supportive, I know he was secretly wondering if he was going to have to request “the table in the dark corner, please” for the rest of our lives. As he left for work the morning of Hair Washing Day, he admitted, “It wasn’t quite so bad over the weekend, but today? Really awful, babe. Exactly how soon can you wash it?”
At the stroke of 1:15 pm, I broke out the bottle of shampoo, stuck my head in the sink, and everyone in the kingdom rejoiced. I hadn’t even gone that long without shampooing after my mastectomy. Vanity’s a bitch, man! I lovingly caressed my blow-dryer, elated to be reunited with my old friend. My hair took half the usual time to dry, and came out straight, shiny, smooth and silky-soft. Precisely the way it looks (always by complete fluke, by the way) on that one supreme hair day of the year—usually the day after I’ve gone to an important event looking like I accidentally jammed my finger into a live electrical outlet.
Yes, it’s initially got a touch less body than usual, but that doesn’t bother me, and I’m told that it’ll have a little more bounce within a few weeks. Every day I’ve styled it, my hair has felt and looked, if not like a million bucks, at least $38. That’s a good thing! I’m told that I will be able to step out into summer sauna weather or a driving rainstorm, and I’ll still look like at least $37.50. Pool chemicals are an enemy of keratin, so I’ll need to rinse after swimming, but that’s a pretty small price to pay for extended luster and sheen.
So that’s my story. I’ve been amazed at the outpouring of both encouragement (“I’ve done it twice and I ADORE it!”) and curious fascination (“I’ve been thinking about doing it…you’ve GOT to tell me how it is!”). It’s like a dirty little secret that no one talks about. For me, at least, so far, so good. But ask me again on a sweltering August afternoon when you can see the air hanging. That’ll be the true test.
UPDATE July 2013: Two years later, I have become a seasonal keratin devotee—what a difference it makes in the summer! I’ve had two additional treatments at a different salon, using the Lasio brand. With this product, you can wash your hair the very next day, and it’s silky, soft and smooth for about eight weeks, which carries me right through summer’s relentless humidity. While you have to use sulfate-free shampoo so you don’t strip the keratin, you are free to use any conditioner and styling product to give your hair body, volume or waves. I highly recommend getting a good haircut just before you get the treatment; split ends and uneven length are magnified when you have smooth, straight hair. For me, keratin is totally worth it!