Texturizer vs Keratin Treatment: Which Is Harsher on Hair?

Pretty Girl

A few weeks ago, it became evident that I’m not the only natural who’s ever felt the creamy crack calling out to them in the midst of failed attempts at learning how to take care of their afro-textured hair.

It was a few emails in, after going back and forth between questions about hair management and products to try, that one of my subscribers asked me one of the best (and most transparent) questions I’ve ever received;

texturizer question

The woman was struggling, and to be it’s a struggle I’ve had personal experience with. I felt that it was important for me to give her more than a short answer.

The truth is any harsh chemical has the potential to be no good and even terrible for any hair type. I’ve gathered some information on the use of the most popular relaxing treatments for women who prefer a style that isn’t bone straight; texturizers and keratin hair treatments. Both treatments employ caustic chemicals, so the question isn’t which is better for your hair, but which is worse.

Now, don’t read me wrong here; I am not judging anyone who decides to go down either path, in fact I tread that road myself last year when I tried a keratin treatment for the first (and last) time. It’s important to know the facts, and that’s what I’ll be sharing with you in this post!

Why use a texturizer or keratin treatment?

Texturizers and keratin treatments have been created to loosen tightly curly and kinky hair. Some ladies find their hair to be ‘more manageable’ with a looser texture for various reasons including less opportunity for hair to tangle, less time spent styling hair, etc. These products provide permanent (texturizer) to semi-permanent (keratin treatment) results and should generally not be applied to previously processed hair.

How does each treatment work?

Texturizers employ the use of a chemical with a high pH in a cream base. A few of the chemicals used to create texturizers are sodium hydroxide (also know as ‘lye’) and guanidine hydroxide (no lye). Texturizers are applied to the hair and then rinsed out thoroughly with a neutralizing product.

Guanidine hydroxide texturizers usually have two components; a cream that contains calcium hydroxide and a liquid made of guanidine carbonate. They are mixed together to create guanidine hydroxide. This is the texturizer of choice for sensitive scalps. But while it is mild on the scalp, it is harsher on the hair because it is more drying and swells the hair more than sodium hydroxide based texturizers.

Keratin treatments contain silicone polymers and formaldehyde. When combined with the heat from a hair dryer and hot flat iron, the polymers coat the hair shaft to relax the hair. The formaldehyde helps hair’s keratin to link with the product’s keratin forming a bond that keeps hair straighter for a time.

What are the side effects of each product?

The chemicals in texturizers can burn exposed skin if left on too long. Many of the chemicals are used in hair depilatory (hair removal) creams and in solutions that help clear out clogged drains. Those with damaged and fine hair types may find that their hair immediately begins to break. This is because the hair’s bonds have been compromised and the strands are thus less elastic and more prone to dryness.

You’ve probably also heard that many of the chemicals in texturizers have been linked to fibroids. According to studies done at Boston University’s Slone Epidimiology Center, black women with an increased exposure to chemicals though scalp lesions and burns (from chemical hair treatments) experienced increased fibroid growth.

One thing to note is that no-lye relaxers don’t contain less chemicals than lye relaxers. No-lye will straighten hair better than lye relaxers, but have the tendency to cause more dryness through repeated application.

With Keratin treatments, there are two things to consider- (1) the very high heat needed to provide the most effective loosening and (2) the formaldehyde and other aldehyde derivates they contain. I did a keratin treatment using 350°-400°F heat last year, and while my hair felt very nice afterwards, similar to when I do a henna treatment, I didn’t experience any noticeable amount of curl loosening because I opted not to use the recommended amount of heat (450°F) for the best straightening effect. That being said, I imagine that many people can have negative reactions such as hair breakage just from the high heat needed to activate the chemical reaction.

The formaldehyde in the keratin formula is released via heat and as the coating on the hair breaks down over time. The problem with unnatural levels of formaldehyde is that the effect on the body hasn’t been sufficiently tested. There have been lots of stories of ladies losing their hair from the roots months after treatment and it’s just not clear whether this could be a cause of the extreme heat or the release of formaldehyde as the rate of chemical reaction doubles with every 18°F/ 10°C increase in heat.

There are keratin treatments that are said to be formaldehyde free, though many do contain aldehydes which are in the same family as formaldehyde and act like a less potent formaldehyde.

So, are texturizers  good for natural hair?

Here’s the thing, most of these curl loosening treatments aren’t the best for us health wise and will degrade the hair in one way or another. The alternative might be to heat train your locks to eliminate any chemical exposure, but you risk compromising your hair’s structure permanently through heat damage and increasing dryness in already dryness-prone hair. There are lots of things we do that aren’t 100% healthy, but we do them because we believe the benefits outweigh the risks. It’s all about weighing the pros and the cons and being very well informed before you make a choice and then keep yourself informed even after you’ve already made your choice. At the end of the day, you have to make the best decision for you and your hair.

Where I got my info from:

Halal, John, Hair Structure and Chemistry Simplified Fifth Edition; 2009 Milady, Cebgrage Learning.

Ladies, would you consider a keratin treatment or texturizer?


Just another naturalista playing by my own rules! Got hair that doesn't seem to grow past your shoulders? Check out my free Grow Your Hair Faster Video Course


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6 thoughts on “Texturizer vs Keratin Treatment: Which Is Harsher on Hair?

  1. I do an home keratin treatment made by Luster and will never go back. I have been permed, texturized, and completely natural and this has been the best decision I have ever made for my hair. I have been doing it a year and have experienced nothing but healthy hair and easy styling. I know some view it as selling out, but I don’t care. There is risk involved and a learning curve, but it has been more than worth it for me.

  2. I did a texturizer and I absolutely regret it. My hair is straight and a lot broke off. I’m wishing I’ve never even touched my hair. Been saying to myself maybe my natural hair wasn’t that bad to handle. I have no clue how to get my curl back. But if you wash out keratin treatment, can you wash out a texturizer? It was my very 1st time using, and my hair is colored. I was told there is no going back unless I big chop again or grow it out. Help me please!!! I’m so not happy :-/

  3. Hi Cassandre~ There is a bit of wrong information here which I would like the chance to amend.

    1) You say that with the keratin treatment you “didn’t experience any noticeable amount of curl loosening because [you]
    opted not to use the recommended amount of heat (450°F) for the best
    straightening effect,” but as I recall from speaking with you afterward, the problem was entirely that you did not use anywhere close to enough product.

    At the time, you had extraordinary length (to your derriere) and volume, vastly more hair surface to treat than most women, but you used only 1/3 of a bottle which would work on the average head but not on yours. Your hair would likely have needed almost the entire bottle. Had you used the correct amount, you would indeed have seen loosening of curl and had the ability to easily straighten it or wear a loose wash and go, or any number of other styling choices.

    2) Your results had nothing to do with using too low a temp because higher flat iron temperatures ARE NOT necessary to achieve the best straightening.results. Lower temps are just as effective but may require an additional pass or two with the iron. Or not. Depends on the hair, and it’s easy to determine with your hand during the process. The fact that your hair felt softer and smoother indicates that the product had indeed fused to the hair correctly. The fact that it didn’t straighten was solely due to too scant a coating of product.

    3) A legitimate keratin treatment such as UNCURLY absolutely, positively, unequivocally DOES NOT contain caustic chemicals (which are, by definition, able to corrode or burn by chemical action). That is the WHOLE POINT of the treatments. They work similarly to a top coat for the nails, protectively coating the hair to block humidity and strengthen against breakage.

    4) Texturizers DO contain caustic chemicals because they’re relaxers at heart, working by the same method of breaking the hairs molecular bonds. They nearly always result in damage, breakage, and dryness.

    Thank you for the opportunity to set the record straight! The UNCURLY Girls

  4. As a user of both products in various stages of my hair life I am disturbed that this article has been published. This information is glaringly incorrect.

    Relaxers and keratin treatments are two very different products and processes. Keratin treatments are protein based and not intended to loosen the curl pattern. Any loosening is a possible but not guaranteed byproduct of the process. Keratin treatments are intended to use keratin to bond to the hair for purposes of blocking humidity, strengthening the strands, and coating the hair to add slip for better manageability. Keratin does not permanently alter the hair structure as relaxers do. The keratin treatment is applied in liquid forming dampening the hair; it is then blow dried and flat ironed to seal in the protein. As a protein treatment it wears off over time. After the first wash the hair WILL REVERT back to its natural state–if relaxed, then it will be relaxed, if natural then it will be natural (possibly with a slightly loosened curl pattern).

    Contrast this with relaxers, which permanently alter the hair structure and is not possible to revert without cutting the processed hair to the point of new hair growth that has been unprocessed. Relaxers are applied on dry hair and can be followed with any treatment including or not including a flat iron. Relaxers do not coat hair with keratin to block humidity or aid in slip. The changed structure through the chemical processing accomplishes straight strands that are more likely to be manageable. And before you imply that texturizers accomplish what keratin treatments do, please research and see that texturizers have the same chemical composition as relaxers and are intended to gently relax the hair texture. In fact if you apply the texturizers long enough your hair will result in irreversible straightening that cannot be reversed without cutting since the chemical makeup of texturizers (generally) alter the hair structure. In any event, the relaxer and keratin treatment are not the same, are not intended to be the same, are not applied the same, and do not produce the same results. While some similar effects can be achieved (i.e. A personalized version of “manageability”, additional humidity resistance, etc.) by some people. The products are NOT the same.

    Check your facts, do some research, use the product or interview people who have. I like this website, but with this kind of glaringly inaccurate information I am going to be much more skeptical about what I read here.

    • Erika your post sounds pretty reasonable, I don’t think it could have been explained any better than what you did, thanks for making more sense of these treatments

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