To put it lightly, my relationship with my hair has always been… complicated.
I have a lot of hair. Take the amount of hair you think of as "a lot," and add at least 50% more, and that’s the amount that grows from my scalp. To me, a keratin treatment was an expensive luxury, not a real concept. For years, my hair has been my beloved burden — a self-administered haircut in fifth grade lead to my first relaxer, then thirteen years later, I bought into the trend at the moment and decided to grow out it my relaxer and go natural. What I thought was going to be effortless and easy, leaning into my cutest curls and coils, was a quick lesson that I, truly, had no idea how to do my own hair. Biweekly silk presses assisted by chemicals were a way of life, and now, I had to deal with a whole new lexicon of rules, tools, and products.
Aaaaaand I hated it.
People who wear their natural hair out daily, embrace the lifestyle, I love and adore you. I so badly wish I could be like you, but with the amount of hair on my head and time needed to do it, it's a nonstarter for me. Wash days could run up to sixteen hours if I did them myself. Not to mention the looks hairstylists would give me once they analysed what they were working with. "Have you considered a keratin treatment?" has been suggested by more stylists than I have fingers to count.
My natural texture is every type of curl pattern: curly in the front, coily in the middle, kinky in the back, and high-porosity. Moving to New York in the middle of my natural hair journey meant I had to deal with a new devil: humidity. I so wanted to be like the YouTubers who loved and embraced their hair texture, and trained their curls — but I also can’t braid, flat-twist, and lack the required upper-arm strength. Luckily, being a Black woman means finding a workaround when things don’t suit you, and instead, I leaned hard into wigs to, well, hide my hair away and not have to deal with it. Every three weeks, I was re-braided, cornrowed, with my wig applied, then out the door — time saved, money saved, and I didn’t have to completely hate myself for hours or be filled with dread as wash day approached.
Then, you know, a global pandemic hit, and I was wearing busted, gross, crusty cornrows for weeks while I, well, spiralled. (Who didn’t, though?) I eventually washed my hair, and fuddled around with natural hairstyles for a few months before immediately, as soon as I had access, popping a wig on top of my head. It wasn’t until relatively recently that I actually listened to the dozens of hairstylists who advised me on the topic of keratin treatments and took their recommendation somewhat seriously. I'd heard all of their woes with my hair, and I had them too, but...
I wanted to have a healthier, happier relationship to my hair, only, it seemed, I lacked the time, agility, and patience. Unlike the other Black women who returned to relaxing their hair in quarantine, I wanted something that would retain my curl pattern. I just wanted the ability to do a lot more for a lot less, and with ease.
I entered the FEKKAI Salon in SoHo for my very first Keratin treatment. Their keratin system doesn't use harsh chemicals, resulting in more of a smoothing, anti-frizz effect — exactly what I wanted: smooth, manageable, and will still be fightin' in the club against the humidity the summer.
The treatment was a three-step process: First, my stylist, Rae Cotto, washed my hair with a clarifying shampoo, before she blow dried my hair. (Note: Keratin is not for those who are heat-averse. I'm rather heat-friendly when it comes to my hair, and even I was astonished at the amount of heat in the treatment.) Next, she brushed the keratin treatment all over my head, letting it sit for about 30- 35 minutes. She rinsed out almost all of the treatment, about 90 percent, before going back and blow drying it again, flat ironing it straight as a line, and I was good to go. I wasn’t given any of the traditional rules you get with a normal keratin — don’t manipulate it for 48 hours because if you get it wet, you will go to jail like Brooke Wyndham in Legally Blonde — but rather, was advised that whenever I wash, to use sulfate-free products, and the longer I go before shampooing after initial application, the longer it'll last. Win-win for the girl who isn’t great at washing her hair.
But y’all, when I say this was one of the best decisions I have made for myself, personally, I mean it. It wasn’t even three full days before I had fallen back in love with my hair and finally understood what hairstylists meant when they said I had "beautiful hair." The flat iron treatment I got at FEKKAI lasted for a full week — an anomaly in a previous life, when I once had a silk press last me not even the length of a Netflix True Crime documentary. All the little, fun hair toys I never got to play with now blended beautifully with my new, smooth texture. Hello, Insert Name Here ponytails that have been gathering dust under my bed. Oh, my Covet & Mane clip–in extensions? There are a few places I need your help, mama, let's get to blending. I was doing all the things I never could before — Ponytails! Updos! Half-up half-down! — and I was doing it with (mostly) my own hair, with the ease I had back when I had a relaxer. Hell, I was finally able to enter a hair salon and get my hair done without massive death stares — and I was in and out in an hour, which has truly never happened to me in my entire life.
My mother immediately ran her hand through my hair and commented on how light and smooth it was — it's only months before she gets one for her own. My hair is manageable, smooth, and my curl pattern hasn’t really changed, which is the extra bonus. Not to mention, I learned from former Bachelorette Tayshia Adams that uh, that’s how all the Black contestants in that franchise maintain their hair. They're not all sweating their relaxers out in the beaches of Mexico next to the bugs — they have keratins. Literally, she calls it one of her "best kept secrets," and saved her from a disaster during her time on The Bachelor.
"On the season with Colton [Underwood], I got in the water in Singapore and everyone was freaking out because I literally just blow dried my hair, and then I had to go back and get ready for the nighttime portion," Adams explains. "I had to blow dry it within an hour and fifteen minute timeframe, absolutely not — so in Paradise, I definitely made sure to do a keratin."
There are also at-home keratin treatments available, for those who don't want to pay for a salon treatment. My coworker, Carly Danner, raves about U.S. brand Gussi Hair's at-home keratin. "I swore I'd never do another intense treatment on my hair again a few years ago, but Gussi totally changed my mind," Danner explains. "The entire at-home process was so seamless and it gave me even healthier-looking results than the pricey salon treatments. While the others gave me bone-straight hair, Gussi actually enhanced my natural curl pattern while still eliminating excess frizz and tangling. The lifespan of the treatment in my hair was definitely shorter than other salon treatments — probably didn't help that I was swimming in pools and the ocean while travelling right after — but I didn't mind knowing it's a gentler option for my very fine, delicate hair type."
Was an in-salon keratin treatment one of the best decisions I’ve made for myself in a long time? Yes. I originally balked at the cost of the treatment — FEKKAI's starts at $350 (£269) — but I realised that the price of three treatments a year, including tip, could be the same price as one well-made, customised, human-hair wig, which makes it much easier to swallow. I haven’t felt beautiful in my hair in a long time, and there’s literally not a price I can pay for that. However, I will say this: Getting a keratin will reveal all your dirtiest secrets. In my case, my very, very split ends are all up in the streets, so visible you can see them in space. I also feel like my hair feels dirtier much faster, but that could just be my newfound desire to do my own hair more often.
For those who want to say I’m no longer "natural," that’s your cross to bear — I don’t need to to wear that label, it's never been my identity. I just want my life to be as low-maintenance and easy as possible, and dealing with my heavily-textured hair brought me more anguish than it did peace, and I wanted to rediscover my relationship to it. Also, uh, keratin is the protein that makes up hair and nails, so let’s take a moment to reexamine what the concept of "natural hair" actually means. Personally, I find it weird that we are shaming anyone for their hair decisions so hard it feels taboo, when there is no reason to gatekeep any of this information other than personal shame.
While y'all litigate that, I’ll be over here, flipping my keratin-ified ponytail back and forth.