Sheila Ullenberg is a Southern woman, but big hair distresses her.
"Big hair," she lamented, shaking her head, as she prepared to have a keratin treatment with Genia Church of Epiphany Salon and Day Spa on Frazier Avenue. "Big hair, big hair, big hair."
Keratin treatments, which smooth the hair and make it manageable, are growing in popularity. Humid weather can wreak havoc on hair, making it frizzy and unsightly.
However, there has been some controversy over the safety of the products. In April, according to the Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration issued a hazard alert concerning the safety of a hair product called Brazilian Blowout and "similar professional-use-only hair-care products."
The presence of high levels of formaldehyde in some hair-straightening products has been connected to health issues, including skin, eye, nose and lung irritation.
On May 6, six members of Congress wrote a letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg expressing concern and requesting the FDA conduct testing to determine formaldehyde levels in hair-straightening products. The lawmakers want warning labels for products containing formaldehyde.
While keratin treatments can make hair more manageable and perhaps more attractive, being aware of what is in the product is essential, said Elizabeth Tate, owner of Hair A Go-Go salon in North Chattanooga.
"The variety and the quality of keratin treatments out there is just insane," she said. "It's so important that you really know what kind of product you're using. You need to be very concerned when it stinks really bad. It shouldn't do that."
Tate said users should be aware of the percentage of formaldehyde, or any other chemical with the suffix aldehyde, in any product. "You want to make sure it's the lowest amount possible. Some of it is harmful, so you have to be educated. It's worth it to do some research."
Epiphany Salon uses the brand Simply Smooth, a product derived from botanicals, according to its makers.
"Our products meet the recommendation levels (for aldehydes) from the Cosmetic Ingredient Review, which is 0.20 percent," said Arlene Benza, director of communications for American Culture, which manufactures Simply Smooth.
At Hair A Go-Go, they use the Global Taming system. "It took me a good two years to find it," said Tate. "The percentages are really low. The strongest version we have is 4 percent."
Post-treatment maintenance varies depending on the product used, as does longevity.
"I really believe the first time you get it done, you're only going to get two, maybe three, months out of it," Tate said. "The second time, because there is a cumulative effect, I feel like you get a lot longer."
WHAT IT COSTS
Keratin prices will vary according to location and treatment type. At Epiphany Salon and Day Spa, clients pay $90 for an express treatment and $325 for a full treatment. Hair A Go-Go opens prices at $100, varying on the hair quality, experience level of the stylist and type of treatment given. Those seeking keratin treatments should expect to pay about $200, on average.
After a keratin treatment, clients need to use shampoos and other hair products that are meant to work with the treatments.
The treatment itself begins with the hair being washed with a clarifying shampoo. Next, the product is combed in to the hair in small sections. It's then blown dry and smoothed with a flat iron.
Keratin treatments are to seal and smooth, not necessarily to straighten or flatten.
"You don't lose the body in the hair," said Church, co-owner of Epiphany. Thus a client like Ullenberg, whose hair has a natural slight wave with propensity toward frizziness, is a prime candidate.
"It's good for clients with that annoying type of hair," Church said, "frizzy, not quite straight, not quite curly."
Ullenberg, who owns two Champion Cleaners, said spending time in a dry cleaners can be detrimental to her hair. The keratin treatments make it more manageable and allow her to spend less time blow drying and flat ironing, she said.
And, she said, having smoother hair makes her feel "a little sexier."
"The older we get, the more we have to work on that part," she said.
The treatments, Tate said, can help restore the hair to a more youthful state. "After I had mine done, it was like my hair when I was 9 years old or something. The texture of it is so different. You're not using as many styling products. If you have naturally curly hair, if it's really coarse, if it's really frizzy, if you have texture problems, this product will literally change your life."