Healthy Hair Treatments

Whether you want super sleek strands, pretty playful waves or ultrarich color, the latest, healthier treatments help you make peace with your style without any sacrifice.

1If You Want Beachy Waves

Old way: Unless you’re blessed with the ideal amount of tousle, a perm can be your easiest (though not healthiest) answer. A stylist will put your hair in big curlers, then apply a smelly solution containing ammonium thioglycolate (aka thio) to break down the natural structure of your hair. Besides leaving strands dry and prone to breakage, the chemical has been linked to allergic reactions such as eczema, explains Olga Naidenko, Ph.D., a senior scientist with the Environmental Working Group.

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Eco way: To create lasting waves with fewer scary chemicals, chat with your stylist about a thio-free perm, says Sam Brocato, co-owner of the Sam Brocato Salon in New York City. We like Pravana Beach Wave; it uses cysteamine, an amino acid derivative, instead of thio to build texture that can last three months. It fades over time, so, unlike conventional perms, there are no bizarro ridges. Find a salon at

2If You Want Beachy Waves at-home alternative

Believe it or not, most of us have some form of a natural wave but don’t know how to play it up, says Morgan Willhite, a stylist at Ouidad Salon in Santa Monica, California. Coax out your kinks by raking a curl-defining mousse through damp hair, then cupping the ends with your palm as you with a diffuser.

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3If You Want Vibrant, Lasting Color

Old way: Whether applied to a bottle-born blonde or a colorist-created brunette, traditional allover hair dye uses a combo of ammonia and peroxide to open hair’s cuticle layer, remove natural color pigment and deposit synthetic pigments in its place. This may not be the healthiest option for hair. That said, there isn’t definitive proof that the chemicals in hair dye are carcinogenic. But p-phenylenediamine (PPD), a dye found in dark shades, could cause skin rashes and asthma, the Environmental Protection Agency reports.

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Eco way: Brunettes can cut back on PPD exposure by going brighter. Typically, the lighter the shade, the less PPD, Brocato notes. Give it a shot with PPD-free O&M Mineral CCT Permanent Hair Color; it’s made without ammonia, so it’s gentle. Learn which salons use it at Blondes don’t need to stress as much over PPD. Limit damage by accenting natural color with a few highlights. When dye is applied with foils, the chemicals don’t touch your scalp.

4If You Want Vibrant, Lasting Color at-home alternative

To juju-up your current color, try a deposit-only shade without PPD, like Palette by Nature Permanent Hair Color, $24. The no-ammonia formula lays pigment over existing color instead of lifting the tone you have. Chances are, it won’t last as long as other permanent colors do, but it will lend depth to your ‘do, and at a quarter of the salon price.

5If You Want Smooth, Sleek Hair

Old way: Pro straightening tames an unruly mane for months, which is why women happily shell out up to $300. A stylist applies a combo of labcreated keratin (a protein also found naturally in hair) and formaldehyde (a chemical that reshapes the bonds that control natural texture). Then she hot-irons hair to smooth. Heating the formaldehyde releases chemical vapors that can “cause wheezing or a bloody nose when you breath them in,” Naidenko says. Be wary of “no formaldehyde” claims, though: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which regulates workplace safety, noted that various companies use formaldehyde but get sneaky and call it something different. Plus, other commonly used chemicals can release formaldehyde during straightening.

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Eco way: Before you ditch salon straighteners, try Zerran RealLisseVegan Hair Smoothing System, which, according to testing by OSHA, did not release detectable amounts of formaldehyde. The process seals in protein with a flatiron. Your relaxed new ‘do ($250 and up) will be silky for as long as four months. Want in? Head to for salons.

6If You Want Smooth, Sleek Hair at-home alternative

With a little effort in the a.m., you can skip the pro blowout and still have silky, professionallooking hair. How? A keratin-depositing flatiron! When hair’s natural supply of the protein is depleted because of UV damage and styling, little potholes form along the shaft, leaving hair frizzy. The new Remington Keratin Therapy Flat Iron, $50, deposits keratin to fill in potholes as you iron. But remember: The foundation of any sleek style is a thorough blowout and a dose of smoothing serum (try L’Orèal EverPure Smooth Frizz-Free Serum, $3), so start there.

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7Learn the Lingo The no-fluff facts on key chemicals used in salons


A chemical used in permanent hair dyes to help open hair’s outer layer so new color can be deposited


Recently dubbed a carcinogen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, this chemical restructures hair’s texture and helps keratin bind to hair in straightening treatments.


A naturally occurring protein in hair that can be manufactured to smooth strands during straightening

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This amino acid derivative is used as an alternative to ammonium thioglycolate in perms.


Short for p-phenylenediamine, a dye used to color hair. According to the EPA, exposure to high levels can cause rashes, asthma and vertigo.


Also known as ammonium thioglycolate, this chemical is used in perms to help break hair’s internal bonds so hair can be re-formed in a wavier pattern.