When it comes to hair – and plenty of other things in life too – we want what we don’t have.
I was born with pin straight hair and haven spent the better part of my life experimenting with curling irons, hot rollers, texturizing sprays, and anything else that might add some curl and wave to my locks. On the other hand, my best friend Sara was born with thick, curly tresses and has an army of flat irons, smoothing serums, and other tools designed to help her get sleek, straight hair.
But while my quest for curly, wavy hair is based mostly on my desire for something different, Sara’s got a more practical reason for wishing for straight hair – it’s just too easy for her curls to become frizzy and unruly when the weather’s warm or humid. And that can happen pretty often, so taking an hour each day to flat iron your hair can definitely start to become a hassle. That’s why Sara started looking into more permanent options for straightening her hair – and there were several to choose from, which made it tough for her to choose.
If you’re like Sara and want a longer-lasting way to straighten your hair but are confused over the various options, here’s an overview of some of the more common straightening treatments so you can decide which might be the best fit for you.
Chemical relaxers have been around for a long time, and are usually the option that first comes to mind when you mention permanent straightening treatments. While they are very effective, particularly on coarse hair, chemical relaxers can be seriously harsh on your locks. That’s because the chemicals in the treatment actually break down the bonds that help form curls in the hair so they can’t reform chemically. Some of the most common chemicals used in today’s relaxers include calcium hydroxide and ammonium thioglycolate, which are gentler than previous versions but can still be tough on your hair.
Because the chemicals can be so harsh, a chemical relaxer treatment isn’t the best option for fine or thin curly hair. Instead, it should be used on thick, frizzy hair that doesn’t respond to other treatments. The results of chemical relaxer treatments typically last between six to eight weeks, and prices for the treatments usually range from $50 to $200.
If you’re looking for the longest-lasting straightening option, you may want to consider Japanese straightening. Also known as thermal reconditioning, the treatment uses chemicals to break down the bonds in the hair that leave it curly. After the chemicals are applied, though, the hair is rinsed, blow dried, and flat ironed in small sections for super straight locks. A neutralizer is applied next to lock the straightening results in place until your hair grows out – which means your hair can stay straight for anywhere between four months to year, depending on how fast your hair grows.
While Japanese straightening may sound pretty good, it’s not the best option for everyone. It’s most effective on loose to medium curls that haven’t been treated chemically previously. The other thing to consider with thermal reconditioning is that once your hair has been treated, you won’t be able to curl it at all because the locks will no longer hold any wave. It’s also a pretty expensive treatment, ranging anywhere from $500 to $1500 per treatment.
If you want a longer lasting straightening treatment that allows you the option to curl your hair on occasion, a Brazilian straightening treatment may be just what you’re looking for. Unlike chemical relaxers and Japanese straightening treatments, a Brazilian treatment doesn’t break down the bonds in the hair – it smoothes the surface of the locks instead. That means that your hair’s natural texture eventually returns over time. Usually, the results last between two and four months. After the treatment is applied, the hair is blow dried and flat ironed, so the treatment solution actually stays on your hair for three to four days until you’re finally able to wash it out.
Because they smooth the hair surface, Brazilian straightening treatments work especially well on frizzy, damaged, colored or previously treated hair. They are surrounded by some controversy, though. Many of the Brazilian treatments contain formaldehyde, which means you may be exposed to the chemical during the process and experience health issues, such as watery eyes, nausea, and burning sensations in the nose and throat. There is also some evidence linking formaldehyde exposure to cancer, so be sure to research the ingredients in the Brazilian treatment that you’re considering before committing. Price wise, these treatments come in right in the middle, with costs ranging from $200 to $600 per treatment.