How Keratin Treatment Helped Me Love My Hair

If my hair were a man, I would dump him. It constantly disappoints me, refuses to cooperate, and shows me no love. And though it's totally unnecessary for my physical health, it demands more attention than my heart, liver, and kidneys combined. I never spent hours crying over my stomach or wished that I had a different pancreas. But my crazy curls are a real heartbreaker. Sometimes they dry into perfect ringlets à la Whitney Houston circa 1996, but mostly they just frizz up with some curls, some inexplicably straight pieces and a lot of volume. I'm talking Harlem Globetrotter volume. And did I mention that the length has been known to change from day to day based on how vigorously I dry it or which products I use? Forget breaking up with my hair—I'd shave it all off if I could afford those really good wigs Tina Turner uses. (Article continued below...)

My attempts to come to terms with my mane have resulted in some really bad haircuts. My sophomore year in college: a really unfortunate Mohawk. My early 20s: a gold (gold!!) mullet. By my late 20s, I had relaxed my hair into a dry frizzy mess that only curled at the roots and the ends … not a good look. So, it's not a mystery that I spent most of my 30s wearing a bun or a ponytail. I had given up. Oh sure, sometimes I would pay a few dollars to get a blow dry or a deep condition, but I really had to stop thinking about it. My cousin used to tease me that if I only learned how to do my hair, I wouldn't have so many problems. Yeah, OK, whatever. I'm not that kind of girl. I cannot spend hours and hours in front of the mirror with a flat-iron. I don't have the patience, the dexterity or the desire. I just want to wash it, put some goop in it, and go. But, as I've come to realize, wash and go is the holy grail of black hair. Our hair tends to be curly or kinky, dry and brittle and prone to the frizz. This means three things:

1. If I were to simply wash my hair and let it dry, it would look like a combination of a pimp from a blaxploitation film and an old mop.

2. Any extreme measures I could take to change my hair completely—such as a relaxer or those Japanese straightening treatments—would result in breakage. And, that's very, very bad. I may joke about shaving my head, but baldness would put me in a mental hospital. Really.

3. Since most hair products are made for Caucasian hair, which tends toward the oily and straight side, when they're applied to my hair, they don't do anything. Except give me a less-extreme pimp-mop style.

So, I guess it was about two years ago when I was pregnant with my son that I decided to let my hair go natural. After 38 years of torture, I just stopped fighting. Sometimes it looked good, usually it looked weird. I stopped relaxing (though I did cover up my gray, which is a story for another day). I started taking care of it—using products from Carol's Daughter to moisturize, but that was it. I was so close to coming to some kind of détente with my hair. Until that is, I saw a sign in a beauty-salon window offering something called the Keratin Complex smoothing therapy by Peter Coppola. It promised an all-natural method to eliminate frizz and reduce curl—no formaldehyde, as in the Japanese treatment, and no lye or lye-substitutes as in relaxers. And just like that, my heart sang. This is what I'd been waiting for all my life! Finally, a treatment that would help me with the stubborn parts of my hair, but not make me look like a different person. I could have curls without frizz … I teared up just thinking about it.

But by the time we're pushing 40, most women are dubious of the claims made by "hair experts." So many promises are made, yet so few are actually kept. For every truly restorative product like Carol's Daughter or Kerastase or Morrocanoil, there are 14,578,954,354 more that cost a lot of money and don't do anything except make you cry and leave you too broke to drown your sorrows with a glass of pinot. So I hardened my heart against the Coppola treatment. That is, of course, until women all around me who had struggled with their hair as I had with mine, suddenly popped up with shiny, glossy, workable hair. First my mother, then my aunt and a half dozen co-workers—all of them singing the praises of keratin, which is an extremely strong protein that makes up most of the composition of our hair and nails. They all reported the same reaction: "It's a miracle. It's changed my life. I love my hair. Blah, blah, blah." Then they would each scrutinize my "style" and say, "you would really like it." So I actually did it, and we have the video to prove it (Check it out, it's an intense process that takes a little over three hours.)

I had the original process done by Gerardo at the Francky L'Official Salon. Here's how it works: First your hair is washed with a shampoo that takes all the styling product and residue out of it. Then the keratin smoothing complex is painstakingly applied. Now when I say painstaking, what I mean is that about 30 strands at a time are painted with the stuff. I didn't notice any fumes, but then again I was running my mouth nonstop so maybe I was distracted. After every single hair is coated thoroughly (that takes about an hour, give or take), you sit under a heat lamp for 20 minutes. Now pay attention, because here comes the crucial part: the complex is then dried onto your head with a blow-dryer and then sealed into the strands of your hair with a very, very hot flatiron. And once again, about 30 strands each are straightened to within an inch of their lives.

At the first straight lock that floated down to my shoulder, I was in love. Here was the hair I dreamed about. I had full, smooth, shiny supermodel hair. I think I passed out for a minute. When Geraldo was finished, God bless him, Francky snipped my ends, gave me a few layers, and I was transformed. Seriously, I looked like a hair model. My hair was glaringly shiny and for the first time in my life, I can honestly say; perfect. Call me shallow but I admit to being a little out of breath from excitement. If the state of your hair equaled your stature of life, I would have right then been the queen of the world.

But wait, there's more. In order to make sure that the keratin fuses with your hair (which is itself made of keratin) … you have to leave it alone for 72 hours. By alone I mean:

DO NOT GET IT WET EVER. If you do, apply a blow-dryer immediately. It takes heat and time to ensure the keratin gets into your hair.

LEAVE YOUR HAIR ALONE. Do not tuck it behind yours ear, put on a headband or in a ponytail … just to be sure that you don't get a bend in your hair.

SUFFER. My friends that have also gotten this treatment reported that their hair looked so oily and stringy three days later that they wanted to stay in bed. I didn't have that problem. I woke up every morning looking like I'd had a fresh blow-dry. Lucky me.

I can honestly say, "It's a miracle. It's changed my life. I love my hair." I don't want to sound like an infomercial, but I'm telling you this stuff actually works. But before you rush your nearest salon, let me just give you a few tips:

1. It won't make your hair pin-straight. It just takes out the frizz and makes the curls softer so it's the same style you've always had, just better. Which means that I no longer look like Johnny Depp in Sweeney Todd.

2. The must-do's of curly hair still apply: don't put too much goop on your locks or touch them before they're dry.

3. You still have to keep it healthy and moisturized. Keratin treatment is not a panacea.

4. Each treatment costs about $350 in the city—$250 in the suburbs. That's not cheap—but as my Mom once said: "I don't care."

It's difficult for me to talk about the underlying causation of my obsession with my hair. What's the point? I've never met another woman who actually liked her coif. Do I want "straighter" hair because it's the white-people standard of beauty? I don't know how to answer that since I don't really like my hair straight. And all my straight-haired friends want curly hair anyway. I just wanted a style that made me a bit more content with my curls. The anthropology of hair just confuses me and makes me feel a bit guilty—like eating pâté. But I'm as happy as I can be now … except that I need a better cut and a cooler hair color and maybe some bangs.

How Keratin Treatment Helped Me Love My Hair | Culture