Mahek Walia was sick of getting a hair spa every month. The humid Delhi weather left her hair dry and frizzy all the time, and constant straightening was causing hair loss. Her friends’ frequent “please fix your hair” comments hurt more when the architect, 35, realised that each hair salon visit was setting her back by ₹8,000. “It was getting out of hand,” she says. “Plus I was also worried about the harm the chemicals were doing to the hair.”
Last month, her hair stylist suggested a “hot” new treatment: hair Botox. Unlike the Botox treatment most of us have heard of, hair Botox does not involve the use of needles. It’s essentially a deep-conditioning treatment that promises to repair hair that is dry and damaged—and make it smooth and shiny. The treatment starts with a shampoo to clear the dead skin and grease. After drying, the hair Botox treatment is applied and left for at least 45 minutes. This is washed off with a sulphate-free hair cleanser (something you have to continue using after the treatment too). Hair is then straightened using a heat tool to seal in the treatment. The drying and straightening process could vary. You won’t get poker- or glass-straight hair, as you would get with keratin or cysteine treatments—the purpose is to salvage and smoothen, not straighten.
Walia was sceptical; she didn’t want to waste another ₹9,000-10,000 on what was probably just another trend. “But I did a bit of research online and found out that it offered the benefits of keratin and without the use of too many chemicals,” she says. She went in for the treatment.
Remember, though, that it’s always a good idea to consult a hair expert first.
Experts say that hair, like skin, also shows signs of ageing, losing elasticity and fullness. Air pollution, stress and poor diet add to the problem. “Hair Botox polishes the hair fibre with keratin. The treatment involves working with compounds like proteins, peptides, amino acids, vitamins and collagen on each strand to make the overall hair appear more full and smooth,” says cosmetologist Geetika Mittal Gupta, founder of Dr G skincare, and ISAAC Luxe in Mumbai and Delhi. “Hair Botox has very few chemicals, and it’s free of formaldehyde, a compound found in popular keratin and cysteine treatments that locks or freezes hair strands into a straight position to help keep them smooth. It (formaldehyde) is a carcinogen.”
Dr Gupta claims that the demand for hair Botox is increasing. “It’s more popular among women than men. The age group asking for it is 25-40.”
One reason for the growing popularity of this treatment, says Sneha Jhaveri, owner and creative head of Mumbai’s Vous Salon, is that unlike cysteine, where you can’t tie or wet your hair for 24 hours, there is no down-time with hair Botox. “This makes it convenient for people on the move. Mumbai’s humid weather makes it especially popular,” says Jhaveri.
There are other formaldehyde-free cysteine treatments available today as well, with Godrej recently launching Kerasmooth by Godrej Professional. “It’s not like hair Botox is the only safe keratin option. But, as a hair stylist, I always ask my clients to embrace their natural texture, which gets completely flattened with cysteine treatments, making it a life-long commitment if you like poker-straight glass hair. Whereas hair Botox will give you a more natural and glossy look and address the frizz, which is common with Indian hair types. You can also tong your hair after hair Botox, which you can’t after cysteine as it’s too straight to curl,” says Jhaveri. Even teenagers are opting for it, she adds. “Several Mumbai schools allow students to leave their hair loose. So girls are conscious and often get hair Botox done.”
Dr Gupta says the treated hair lasts for about four months if you get the aftercare right. You may schedule it every 16-18 weeks, she recommends. It’s best done on its own, and should not be clubbed with other treatments. Since it has fewer chemicals, there are hardly any side effects.
There are some points to consider, though. One, it’s costlier than other treatments and one session is not always enough. Two, the aftercare can be a bit hectic since you need to use a hair mask every week, cover your hair in the sun and minimise the use of heat tools. Three, it may not show great results in everyone.
Limit the treatment to a maximum of three times a year, suggests Mumbai-based Rinky Kapoor, consultant dermatologist, cosmetic dermatologist and dermato-surgeon at The Esthetic Clinics. “Because it involves heat-straightening, it may cause some damage if not done right,” warns Dr Kapoor. “Use a sulphate-, silicone- and paraben-free shampoo and don’t skip conditioning. Use a hair mask at least once a week and ask your stylist to recommend one as per your hair type. Protect your hair from environmental stressors by covering it with a silk scarf when you go out. And wear a protective hairstyle to reduce damage and friction when sleeping.”
It has been two weeks since Walia got the treatment. She’s happy with the results but the aftercare is proving difficult. “I am happy with how my hair looks now, but let’s see how it goes.”
Dhara Vora Sabhnani is a Mumbai-based writer.