Okay, let’s talk straight. For decades, women of African descent the world over have relied on various tried-and-tested methods to “relax” their hair. Then, about a decade ago, the Yuko system made a big stink among people of all colors when it came over from Japan, followed by Opti-Smooth. Now a third contender is fighting to become top dog in the hair straightening stakes: the Brazilian.
Not what the name may imply, the Brazilian is a relatively new hair straightening system that has nothing to do with waxing away pubic hair. It is a semi-permanent way to straighten the hair on your head, which uses keratin – and sometimes formaldehyde – to tame even the curliest locks. But while it may be taking the world of hair by storm, even it has its drawbacks…
If you are considering straightening your hair for more than just an occasional night out, you may be thinking of a permanent hair straightening system. Here is the best – and the worst – of the most popular systems currently on offer. Remember, success will depend not only on your type of hair and how rigorously you adhere to its upkeep but also on the skill of your stylist – as well as the products he or she chooses to use.
Brazilian Hair Straightening (aka Brazilian Blow-Out or Brazilian Keratin Treatment). The stylist applies active keratin, a protein found in the top layer of our skin which makes it both waterproof and tough, although sometimes this is used in conjunction with formaldehyde, which can be dangerous (see below). The formula is then sealed into the hair using a hot iron, taking away frizz, curls and unruly waves. Takes about two hours, more for longer or more unruly hair.
PROS: Will fade away gradually, meaning that it will eventually grow out and leave you with natural waves once more. Takes less salon time and generally costs less than the Yuko or Opti-Smooth system. Leaves the hair with more body than the Yuko System and can be used on dyed hair as well as virgin hair.
CONS: The effect doesn’t last as long as Yuko or Opti-Smooth – about three to four months. And if the product contains actual formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, – you will need to check with the salon first – this could reportedly be a health hazard, for both you and your stylist as well. Note that the FDA does not regulate the use of formaldehyde in cosmetics.
The Yuko System. Created in the 1990s, this can make any type of curly hair straight in about five hours – for about six months or so, depending on hair. After a consultation with your stylist, your hair will be washed and divided into segments, then the application will be put on for roughly 20 minutes, depending on hair length etc. It will then be flat-ironed and a neutralizer will be put on to reset the bonds of the hair. It will then be rinsed, followed by a blow-dry, style and perhaps a cut. The whole process takes roughly five hours in total.
PROS: Last forever. That means that you won’t see any curly hair until new hair grows in.
CONS: Last forever. That means that when the new curly hair grows in, you will have a ring of frizz on the top followed by dead straight hair. The only way to look “normal” – with hair either entirely straight or entirely curly – is to have your hair redone, in about six months’ time, or to straighten the top bits with straightening irons. Also, repeated application of the Yuko system can cause extensive damage to hair – and not just the ends. Not recommended for use on color-treated hair as it will damage it too much.
Opti-Smooth. Similar to the Yuko System, but you will have a choice of results: cold-smoothing is for less frizz, progressive smoothing will leave your hair looking as if it’s just been freshly blow-dried, and heat-straightening will make it look iron-rod straight (that’s just so passe, darling!).
PROS: Lasts forever (see Yuko, above). If your hair is shorter or you choose cold-smoothing, the salon time will be considerably lessened.
CONS: Lasts forever (see Yuko, above). Unlike the Yuko system, however, Opti-Smooth claims to be kinder to hair long-term, with less damage and breakage. Not for dyed hair.
Other Ways To Straighten Hair
* Blow-Drying. Many people seek to blow-dry their hair to make it straight and sleek, although often only a salon blow-dry can have truly effective results. Can damage hair long-term.
* Hair Straighteners. A variety of flat irons or hair straighteners are on the market today – those with ceramic plates are usually considered the best as they work by gliding through the hair without it catching on the edges and splitting. It’s advised to use them sparingly with special products/gels that minimize heat damage to the hair.
* Home Relaxing Kits. Much like a do-it-yourself salon-style routine. Apply straightening cream, leave on, rinse away, straighten with straightening iron, neutralize, wash and blow dry. Takes about two hours in total, more for longer hair. Good luck!
* Ironing. Time was when many young girls had their hair ironed – with a clothes iron – to have straighter tresses. The process could take up to an hour and was often saved for special occasions. Required two people: one to lay her head on the ironing board while the other wielded the iron. Had to be a trusted friend – with excellent eyesight!
Hair straightening is just another way that us mortals deal with “the grass is greener” syndrome. In the 1970s and 1980s everyone was rushing to have a perm and make their straight hair curly, now the reverse is the talk of the town.
If you decide to go the permanently straight route, it’s important to find a salon you trust. Take heed if your hair is dyed, colored or even just highlighted, as this may affect the outcome of the straightening process – even if your stylist assures you this isn’t the case!
Remember, also, that all chemically straightened hair will require a good hair-care routine to keep it looking good. This means using a protein-rich shampoo, conditioner and other anti-frizz products, as locking in all the moisture possible will be crucial in maintaining that salon style.