Brazilian blowout, Japanese or DIY? The straight scoop on hair straightening treatments

Jessica Simpson at a salonAmericans take hair care very seriously, spending some $10 billion on everything from shampoos to visits to the salon, according to global market research firm Euromonitor International. A chunk of that, about $204.7 million, is devoted in part to taming curly, frizzy and unruly hair.

Before you settle in that salon chair and ring up a bill that could top $1,000, here's what you need to know about today's most requested hair straightening treatments:

Japanese straightening or thermal straightening
This treatment took off nearly a decade ago when word got out that heavily frizzy, coarse hair could remain straight as a pin for more than six months. Hair is washed in a high pH solution and then meticulously flat ironed on very high heat so the process "actually breaks down the hydrogen bonds in the hair's cortex so it restructures the hair," Haironthebrain blogger Valerie Anderson told WalletPop. "It grows out instead of fading so there will be a line of demarcation as the hair grows out."

Anderson recommends that you don't do anything with your hair for 48 hours after the treatment. So no washing, no ponytails, nothing.

Its popularity has dimmed a bit as some women have noticed that while the results were long lasting, the combination of chemicals and heat damaged their hair, made hair too limp, or destroyed the hair's ability to curl. It is also not recommended for color-treated and African American hair. The four-hour long process could run you as high as $1,500.

"Personally, I like to use a technique that combines the Japanese chemical straightening and the Brazilian keratin treatment when serving the needs of an individual's hair texture," Young Keol Lee, owner of Young Lee Hair Salon in Los Angeles, told WalletPop. "Hair texture can vary on head so one type of treatment may not be appropriate."

Brazilian "blowout" or keratin treatment
In the past couple of years, this technique has overtaken the Japanese straightening treatment in part because results are more natural. Hair remains wavy but not frizzy, and returns to its normal state in about three months with no defined outgrowth.

A keratin-rich solution is put onto clean hair. Rather than breaking down the hair's texture, keratin -- a protein in hair -- "smooths out the roughness of the hair's cuticle while sealing in moisture," explained Kerry Joly, master stylist at Manhattan's Rueben's. "It's known to repair damaged hair caused by water and heat." Another plus: It works on all hair types.

Not all Brazilian keratin treatments, however, are the same. Some contain high levels of formaldehyde, a carcinogen, so be sure to ask which kind the salon uses. Some stylists prefer the Brazilian Blowout, which does not contain formaldehyde and allows hair to be washed right away. A visit, which can range from two to five hours, can cost you up to $600.


For many, this remains the tried and true, where stylists straighten curly hair with the aid of a hairbrush, a blow dryer and good old elbow grease. Depending on your hair's thickness, it can take about one hour at about $70 per visit. While the results last only as long as your next shower, it does give you the choice of having curly hair one minute and straight the next.

Brian Magallones -- who styles the heads of Keri Russell, Sophia Vergara and Maggie Gyllenhaal -- likes it because of its effect on the wallet. "I often tell clients that they don't need to go to an expensive salon for a blowout," he emailed WalletPop. "Often, you can get a good blowout at your neighborhood salon for under $25. This is a technique that can be used on any and all hair types."

At home remedies
Another inexpensive alternative is an over the counter chemical relaxer, which retails for about $6. At-home keratin straightening treatments have also hit the market. But Anderson cautions consumers against experimenting without first talking to their stylist, as some keratin straightening products contain formaldehyde.

Ceramic flat irons
Flat irons are the tool of choice for those wary of chemicals in all hair relaxers. You can also save yourself a hefty salon bill by doing it yourself. A flat iron at the local drugstore starts at $20. Another plus: This method "is temporary, ideal if you are looking just to try out a new style," according to, an Internet-based hairstyles and hair care magazine.
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