How Does Japanese Hair Straightening Work?

Some call it thermal reconditioning, others call it a heck of a commitment.

If you grew up in the late ’90s, chances are you or one of your friends has had Japanese hair straightening. The process, which is also called thermal reconditioning, gained popularity in Manhattan, when the straight-hair craze took the city and fashion capitals by storm. Several salons started offering this wildly requested service, which provided permanent pin-straight hair to those frustrated with their frizzy, wavy or curly strands.

Thermal reconditioning was touted as a miracle treatment for both men and women who always wanted straight hair, but either couldn’t maintain the styling upkeep or couldn’t come across one with optimal results. Japanese hair straightening hit two birds with one stone: It was reasonably priced (starting around $150*) and gave commercial-worthy locks impervious to humidity levels and were, as it turns out, actually wash and wear. Unlike first-generation straighteners that left strands looking abnormally stiff, thermally rebonded hair had the natural, supple sheen of straight hair without the frizz and unmanageability. Read on to learn more about how it works:

*NYC prices

Japanese hair straightening back view straight black hair
P-p-poker straight: Would you?

How Japanese Hair Straightening Works

The revolutionary treatment immediately attracted a national appeal, as salons all over the U.S. started to offer this life-changing hair procedure. The technique involves applying a cocktail of chemicals to hair to break down its original bonds—it helps to visualize hair bonds as steps on a spiral ladder—and, with the help of heat via a flat-iron, “rebonds” them into a straight shape, or a straight ladder. This obviously comes with its own share of damage, as it essentially alters the hair structure. Clients are sometimes advised not to color their hair while their hair is thermally rebonded as strands are just too sensitive to withstand any more damage.

Enter: Other Straighteners

This main drawback was what encouraged other alleged “milder” processes such as the Brazilian Blowout and keratin treatments to enter the scene. However, backlash from the formaldehyde (a carcinogen) used in these treatments, and the fact that the treatments’ effects washed out after a few months and didn’t offer permanent results, may have caused some loyalists to return to the Japanese hair straightening method.

The Finished Product

If you visit a reputable salon or skilled stylist for a Japanese straightening treatment, the results are pretty much standard: Stick-straight, yet natural-looking hair that stays that way—whether you like it or not—for until six months or until your hair starts growing out, whichever comes first. While some can view the long-lasting results as too much commitment, others consider it a godsend to not have to bother with flat-ironing, straightening or worrying about the weather every time you step out of the house. Its wash-and-wear characteristic was one of its main sells, and there are still some people to this day who swear by its results.

Those who can’t commit to the simple, straight look for months on end (it can get monotonous) but still want smoothness can try an at-home version. Products such as TRESemmé 7 Day Keratin Smooth Shampoo, Keratin Smooth Conditioner and Keratin Smooth Heat Activated Treatment, can mimic salon-grade smoothness. Its technology can help give post-wash sleekness and humidity resistance for, you guessed it, up to one whole week.

The Drawback

As with any chemical procedure, damage is to be expected. Straightening your strands, regardless of the method—whether via your trusty blowdryer or a high-end keratin treatment—exposes the hair cuticle to damage. A chemical process that actually changes this original structure and reshapes it into a totally different shape can obviously have pretty severe effects on the core of the strand, even more than coloring. Hair is ostensibly shiny and healthy-looking, yes, but those who have undergone this treatment should not be remiss in deep-conditioning their newly sensitized, processed strands regularly. A weekly at-home conditioning treatment, such as Dove Nutritive Solutions Intensive Repair Deep Treatment Mask, can help restore your mane’s integrity after a chemical procedure.

Have you ever gotten a Japanese hair straightening treatment? What was the experience like for you?