Top 8 Hair Straightening Methods and Safety Concerns for you

I am quite sure that we've all coveted the aura of sophistication and elegance that accompanies the smooth, streamlined and sleek look of straightened up hair. While curls and waves are admittedly fun and exciting at times, there's no denying that though simplistic, straightened up hair does indeed possess its own rightful place in the "hair styles walk of fame", if you will. However, there's a quite a number of us out there who may be reluctant to follow through with straightening up their hair because of either reported or experienced hair damage associated with this kind of hair styling. Truth be told, depending on the method or technique used, excessive and highly frequent hair straightening can cause significant hair damage such as split ends or worse.

To that effect, the following article will seek to find out meaningful information about the major means of hair straightening that are widely in use today, each with its own safety factor included so that in the long run, you can make a well informed choice about which hair straightening method to employ.​

​Before we curiously delve into the murky waters, it seems only prudent for you to at least understand the basic science behind hair straightening. Don't worry about some one or two nerdy terms that may appear because the overall concept is remarkably simple to understand.​

Put quite simply, hair along with other external body components such as skin and nails are mainly composed of a protein known as keratin. Keratin is responsible for providing the necessary strength and toughness associated with such parts. Like a thin strand of rope, keratin forms a long helix chain. Groups of these chains form filaments and the filaments in turn go on to form a huge segment of the hair's inner layer, namely the cortex. Hair straighteners work by changing how the keratin strands bond together.​ Various hair straighteners target different chemical connections that bind the strands of keratin together.

Hair Straightening Methods with their Safety Factors

​Hot Flat Iron (Chemicals absent)

The conventional hot iron works on your hair by breaking its hydrogen bonds. Your hair is flattened up until any sort of moisture has permeated the hair fiber and the hydrogen bonds are reverted back to their initial ordinary positions. The flat iron is by far the safest means of straightening up your hair due the absence of any invasive chemicals. However, its straightening up effect isn't as long lasting and you may find yourself having to using the flat iron severally in a week.

​The only danger that is posed by the hot flat iron is its high temperature. If the temperature ends up being too high, it may cause hair burns​.

Brazilian Hair Straightening (Formaldehyde Keratin Treatments)

​The Brazilian hair straightening technique delivers far longer lasting results. Apparently, this method provides an amazing up to 12 weeks (3 months) of straight hair permanence. For it to be effective, it relies on a chemical combination of keratin and formaldehyde.

​As a stylist coats your hair with the formaldehyde-keratin mixture, the formaldehyde molecules penetrate the hair and facilitate the cross linking of the product's keratin and the keratin contained within your own hair. The cross linking reaction is further accelerated when the saturated hair is blown dry and compressed with a flat iron.

​Though the Brazilian Hair straightening technique produces more concrete longer lasting results, the fact that formaldehyde is used as an active ingredient makes it a significantly risky method to use. Formaldehyde is known as a cancer causing substance and exposure to it has been known to cause eye, nose and skin irritations and itching. It can cause breathing difficulties as well as cause blindness and bloody noses.

Brazilian Blowout Zero (without Formaldehyde as an Active Ingredient)

​It is claimed by Brazilian BlowOut, that this product does not contain formaldehyde as an active ingredient. Instead, glycolic acid (sugar cane derived) has taken its place. The product's website claims that this formulation smoothes and straightens hair just as the initial one. However, in response to questions fielded by the EWG (Environmental Working Group) a representative of the company revealed that Brazilian Blowout zero does not smoothen and flatten hair as effectively as the original.

​An analysis performed by the CIR has concretely found out that glycolic acid is quite safe to use at concentrations of less than 10% in home products and less than 30% in salon/cosmetic products.​

The safety risks of using this product on your hair have yet to be solidly established. So if anything, it's a "do it at your own risk" kind of thing.​

Non-formaldehyde Cross Linking Alternatives

Other than formaldehyde, there are many other molecules that can cross link hair but most are too dangerous to apply in hair straighteners. Several companies have opted to use alternate aldehydes derived from same family as formaldehyde. Many of these still possess similar toxicity associated with formaldehyde products.

All in all, while these products claim to contain non-formaldehyde ingredients, most contain aldehydes related to formaldehyde and are thus generally not safe to consider as your hair straightening option unless it's really necessary.​

Ultra Long Lasting Hair Treatments (Disulfide bond disintegration)

​Such products have got the potential of causing irreversible changes to the shape of your hair owing to the fact that they disintegrate the strong disulfide bonds which are responsible for binding hair strands together. These changes are effective until your hair grows all out and cut off. The effect is achieved by the use of lye and other hydroxide relaxers which are commonly utilized in permanent wave solutions.

These have got the potential of causing permanent damage to hair. Thus, the risk factor for using these is quite obvious.

Japanese Thermal Hair Straighteners

These contain ammonium thioglycolate and they work using the same mechanism as permanent hair treatments. To speed up the chemical reactions, the stylists will have to flat iron the hair as well. These solutions pose the same risks and dangers associated perm solutions. As the term suggests, this method was started mainly in Japan as a smoothing and conditioning treatment. As it turns out, the Japanese straightening method is one of the most popular hair straightening methods. The advantage of using this method in straightening up your hair is that, your hair will attain a rich natural texture despite all the processing that the hair receives from tremendous heat and chemicals.

It is also a permanent straightening option and it is thus best to first make some considerations before getting it done. Once it has been done, you will not be in position to try different looks as this can damage your newly treated hair.​

Alkaline Based Relaxers (Lye based)

These commonly contain lye (sodium hydroxide) which is corrosive and has been known to cause skin burns as well as respiratory tract irritations and eye damage.

Lye based relaxers have been clearly documented to cause a lot of pain and burning of the scalp. These products are outright dangerous.​

Alkaline Based Relaxers (Non-Lye based)

As opposed to their lye based counterparts, these are less irritating/reactive and are quite common in household products. The active ingredients contained within these relaxers is actually potassium or calcium hydroxide or guanidinium hydroxide.

These are less corrosive but have nonetheless been associated skin and scalp burns as well as hair damage. Thus, these products pose a somewhat moderate hazard.​


As the breakdown has clearly demonstrated, chemical based hair straighteners whilst possessing far longer lasting hair straightening effects, in general, pose a considerable health hazard to your hair and other areas such as the scalp, nose and eyes. As such, they should be used only sparingly and occasionally if need be. The good ol' hot flat iron clearly emerges as the overall winner in terms of the safety factor.

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This article is inspired by Environmental Working Group headquartered in Washington, DC, USA.​​

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