Everything You Wanted to Know about Chemical Hair Treatments Part 1: What, When, Why

You walk into a hair salon, and the first thing you see is a price list hanging over the receptionist’s desk. It starts simple: blowout, haircut, hair styling, highlights, color. But, as you go down the list, you start to see less familiar words like “keratin” and “relaxer.” What are they, exactly? And hair bleach… that can’t be good for the hair… can it?

In this two parter, I’d like to go over a list of the four major chemical treatments that you’ll see offered in most hair salons: Keratin Treatments, Chemical Perm, Chemical Relaxer, and Hair Bleaching. Why are they offered? How long do they last? What’s a fair price? And, most importantly, what do they do to your hair?

The Why: Why do a chemical treatment at all?

Different chemical treatments do different things, but they all exist for the same reason: they’re an easy shortcut.

Now, I don’t say that as a bad thing! We do things every day to reduce the time it takes to complete daily tasks, and, many times, an extra few bucks or certain minor risks are worth the long-term benefits. There will always be a market for a good time-saver. But, you should be aware of those trade-offs before you make a decision.

The What: What do each of these treatments do?

Keratin Treatment: reduces hair frizz.

Chemical Perm: adds curls and waves to the hair.

Chemical Relaxer: straightens the hair.

Hair Bleaching: lightens darker hair colors, blonding the hair and making it easier to apply hair dye.

The When: But… Why, Though?

This is a segment here where I show off my love of history and sociology by giving historical context to these articles to justify whatever research rabbit hole I’ve fallen down while writing it.

The first modern chemical treatment was the Chemical Perm, invented in 1870 by French hair stylist, Marcel Grateau, and later revolutionized in 1906 by the Swiss hairdresser Karl Nessler (Charles Nestle) while living in England. It was most popular from the 1920’s to 1960’s, mainly fueled by depictions in Hollywood movies. In 1928, the African-American hairdresser  Marjorie Joyner invented an electric dome helmet that was able to perm thicker hair, like those found in those of African descent. The “cold wave” technique, which is the basis of modern perms, came in 1941, which replaced these sometimes dangerous machines and reduced damage to one’s natural hair.

Hair Relaxers came from Garret Augustus Morgan Sr in 1913, an African-American Ohio resident. It was used mainly in African-American communities as a home remedy to reduce tangling and thin the hair, applied with a commercial alkaline relaxer mixed with lye shampoo bars. Relaxers surged in popularity starting in 1971, when it became more commercially available, and its widespread use among white populations rid it of its racist stigma. In the late 1970’s, when it became apparent that lye had horrific effects on the hair, lye was phased out in favor of hydroxide agents.

Hair Bleach came into high fashion through Howard Hughes’ 1931 film Platinum Blonde, and was easy to do at home thanks to advancements from Lawrence Gelb in the 1930’s. Gleb’s company later released an updated at-home formula in 1950, discovered by his wife, Jane Gleb, which reduced the danger and damage of bleaching hair. Since blonde hair takes hair dye better than darker colors, this led to the modern trend of coloring the hair, something so popular that, by 1968, legal documents like passports stopped using hair color as an identifier because this changed so often.

Keratin Treatments, also known as the Brazilian Blowout, was invented in Brazil by a mortician in the early 2000’s (I could not find their name, unfortunately). It came into widespread use in the late 2000’s and early 2010’s, and is the modern trend to this day. In 2010, the keratin treatment’s use of formaldehyde, a chemical toxic to the hair, came under fire, and was phased out by 2012. Today, it is the most widespread chemical treatment, surpassing hair bleach in the late 2010’s.

Next time, in part 2, I’ll be going through the pro’s and con’s of chemical treatments, where to get them, and more.

Come Through, Growth!

Source: The Glamourdaze Archive