The Worst Hair Treatments: What to Avoid at the Salon

Worst Hair Treatments
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The Worst Hair Treatments: What to Avoid at the Salon

What it is: The keratin treatment is adding a solution with keratin to your hair, then sealing it with a flatiron for 90 minutes or more (depending on the length of your hair).  You hair is made up of keratin, so this should be a simple procedure, right?

Its benefits: The goal is for this treatment is to straighten your hair, for up to 2-3 months if done correctly.

The risks: While Keratin itself isn't bad for your hair, flatirons are.  If the stylist leaves it on your hair for too long, or turns the temperature up too high, you could get scorched and broken hair.  But that's not the worst of it.

The risks: Many of these keratin treatments have formaldehyde in them, a known human carcinogen.  Some contain "formalin" but when heated to 450 degrees, this will turn back into formaldehyde.  Formaldehyde seeping into the air can make your eyes watery and irritate your throat, so the key is proper ventilation.  Salon professionals are most at risk for the dangers of this process, so it's imperative that salons are vigilant about safety.

What it is: A relaxing hair treatment uses sodium hydroxide, lithium hydroxide or guanidine hydroxide to break bonds in your hair.  These chemicals are generally safe -- when handled correctly -- though there are other worrisome ingredients in these treatments as well.

The benefits: Overly curly and coarse tight curls will be softened and more manageable. 

The risks: If the process goes wrong, the treatment can cause quite a few ailments.  Scalp irritation is common during the procedure, but should go away as soon as the chemicals are washed out.  Hair damage can occur when the treatment is done often and without enough time in between sessions.  This will result in the hair being dry, frizzy and dull.  Improper application can also cause breakage and hair loss.

The risks: Even worse, if the treatment is left on your scalp for too long, it could result in chemical burns ranging from mild to severe.  This is the biggest concern with the formula, because skin is the most susceptible place for chemicals to enter your blood stream, primarily your scalp.  Some relaxing products have placental extracts, benzophenones and parabens in them, all of which are known to increase your cancer risks.  So not only are these chemicals on the most porous skin of your body, but should your stylist accidentally burn your scalp, you're at even more of a risk.

What it is: Bleaching and dying hair is so common these days that you may think it's impossible that it has dangers.  But the chemicals used in these products both to strip your hair of color and to keep the color in can put you in danger.

The benefits: You can change your look at the drop of a hat, and some stylists have mastered taking your hair from dark brunette to blonde.

The risks: When bleaching your hair, the chemicals open the cuticles of your hair, causing it to be more porous.  This can result in dry, brittle, fragile strands.  But aside from weaker hair, there are quite a few scary chemicals found in dyes and bleach.

The risks: Hydrogen peroxide is a very common ingredient in hair bleach. It's something you know well, but you'd never drink it, right? That's because it's toxic to many of your organs and systems, which it easily reaches through your skin.  It can also damage your DNA, which increases your risk of getting cancer. Aside from this, dyes and bleach contain persulfates, which are known to irritate skin at 17% concentration.  Scarily enough, most dyes have persulfates at as high as 60% concentration.  This can cause skin problems, asthma and lung damage.

Finally, about 75% dyes and bleach products have phenylendiamine (PPD), a chemical that increases one's chance of bladder cancer, is toxic and can cause serious allergic reactions.


Wouldn't it be nice if you could cut your morning routine in half? Some women swear by their regular visits to the salon to receive a keratin straightening treatment or relaxation. Others can't go a few weeks without getting a bleached root touch-up.

But did you know that these three seemingly basic procedures can pose a high risk for bad allergic reactions and skin irritation? Even worse, the chemicals used in these three products are all linked in some way to a higher occurrence of various forms of cancer. The FDA does not regulate what goes into these cosmetic products, so assuming that if a salon uses it that it's safe is the wrong mindset to have.

See, your skin is an extremely effective way for chemicals to reach the bloodstream (doctors are creating creams that will administer medicine directly through your skin), and the skin on your scalp is the most porous of all. So we need to be extremely vigilant about what chemicals we allow to touch our heads.

Click through the gallery above to see the risks involved with these three hair treatments, and why you should maybe "just say no" next time you visit the salon!
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