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Keratin Hair Treatments Exposed: Hidden Dangers You Need to Know

Keratin is a common protein found in skin, hair, and nails. In a keratin treatment, stylists use heat to seal a keratin product into the hair. The reported benefits of using keratin treatments on hair include adding shine, reducing frizz, and straightening hair with a longer-lasting effect than heat alone.

However, researchers are finding associations between using products that contain ingredients common in many keratin treatments and harmful effects on health. The real issue is not the keratin protein itself but other products that could be in such treatments.

Formaldehyde Concerns and FDA Actions

Some Keratin treatments contain formaldehyde – a known carcinogen strong-smelling gas used in many industries, including health and beauty. The FDA is considering a ban on hair straightening products that contain or emit formaldehyde by July 2024. This consideration follows research that discovered a link between frequent use of chemical hair straighteners and uterine cancer, especially in Black women, in 2022. Exposure to high amounts of formaldehyde has been linked to certain cancers, according to the American Cancer Society.

Additionally, as the New York Times reported, some keratin treatments that claim to be formaldehyde-free may still contain methylene glycol, which converts to formaldehyde gas when exposed to air. This finding has led the FDA to examine these treatments more closely.

Potential Health Risks of Keratin Treatments

While keratin hair treatments are often marketed as a way to smooth and straighten hair, they come with potential hidden dangers that consumers should be aware of. Formaldehyde exposure is a major concern. Many keratin treatments contain formaldehyde or formaldehyde-releasing chemicals. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen that can cause respiratory, skin, and eye irritation. During the treatment process, especially when heat is applied, formaldehyde gas can be released, posing inhalation risks to both the client and the stylist.

Respiratory Issues

Respiratory issues are another significant risk. Short-term exposure to formaldehyde and other chemicals in keratin treatments can cause coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing. Long-term exposure can lead to chronic respiratory conditions such as asthma and other lung diseases.

Skin and Eye Irritation

Skin and eye irritation can also occur. Contact with formaldehyde can lead to severe skin reactions, including dermatitis, while vapors can cause burning and irritation of the eyes, potentially leading to conjunctivitis. Additionally, some individuals may experience allergic reactions to the chemicals in keratin treatments, resulting in symptoms such as rash, itching, and swelling.

Hair Damage

Hair damage is another potential risk. While keratin treatments are intended to smooth and strengthen hair, the use of high heat and harsh chemicals can lead to long-term hair damage, including breakage and thinning. Mislabeling and misinformation are also issues, as some products labeled as “formaldehyde-free” may still release formaldehyde during the treatment process due to other chemical ingredients that release formaldehyde when heated​ (Expert Market Research)​.

Environmental Impact

The environmental impact of these treatments should not be overlooked. Disposing of products containing formaldehyde and other harsh chemicals can contribute to environmental pollution, affecting water sources and wildlife​ (Fortune Business Insights)​. Regulatory concerns add to the complexity, as regulations on the use of formaldehyde and similar chemicals in cosmetic products vary by country. In some places, the enforcement of safety standards may be lax, increasing the risk to consumers.

Safer Alternatives and Precautions

If you are considering a keratin hair treatment, there are safer alternatives and precautions you can take. Look for genuinely formaldehyde-free products, though it’s important to verify their claims through research and reviews. Ensure the treatment is done in a well-ventilated salon by a trained professional. Additionally, ask if the stylist uses protective equipment such as gloves and masks, and if they have safety protocols in place.

By being informed and cautious, you can enjoy the benefits of smoother, shinier hair without compromising your health.

Kungul’s Recommendations

At Kungul, we prioritize your health and safety. Here are our top recommendations for those considering keratin treatments:

  1. Choose Formaldehyde-Free Treatments: Opt for products labeled as formaldehyde-free to avoid potential health risks.
  2. Consult a Professional: Always have keratin treatments performed by a certified professional to ensure proper application and minimize damage.
  3. Follow Aftercare Instructions: Use sulfate-free shampoos and conditioners to maintain the benefits of your treatment and extend its longevity.
  4. Consider Alternatives: If you have fine or highly processed hair, explore gentler alternatives such as keratin-infused shampoos and conditioners.


  1. American Cancer Society – Formaldehyde and Cancer Risk
  2. New York Times – Keratin Treatments and Formaldehyde
  3. NIH – Respiratory Effects of Formaldehyde
  4. CDC – Formaldehyde Exposure in Salons
  5. Healthline – Formaldehyde Allergic Reactions
  6. WebMD – Hair Damage from Chemical Treatments
  7. FDA – Mislabeling in Cosmetics
  8. EPA – Environmental Impact of Chemicals

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