Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 15 November 2019

Getting rid of bad hair days comes at a price

The keratin treatment is immensely popular in Dubai, with several girls I know opting for what is advertised as a permanent straightening solution. My hairdresser promised me that I would love having 'straight hair forever!'

One of the sourest relationships I have is with my hair. It’s untidy, but definitely not the cool bedhead look achieved by blow-drying followed by artful rumpling with lots of bobby pins. It’s anything but straight but doesn’t curl. It’s simply a frizzy betwixt-and-between that deserves being given up on. Even tied up, tendrils stick out at the temples, refusing to be tamed, smugly waving back and forth.

My friend Sanjana, at university in Canada, visited me recently and I was pretty envious of her gorgeously shiny, straight, gold-highlighted mane – she’s had curly black locks for as long as I can remember. “No, not straightened,” she informed me. “I had it ‘keratined’.” The keratin treatment is immensely popular in Dubai, with several girls I know opting for what is advertised as a permanent straightening solution. I remember my hairdresser pleading with me to get it done: “You will get big boost in confidence, madame.” Yes, and her salon will get an equally big boost of a rather exorbitant Dh700.

I finally decided to give it a try. The hairdresser approved, promising me that I would love having “straight hair forever.”

“It can’t be forever, hair grows out and falls off,” I said. She seemed quite insistent that hers didn’t, although finally admitting that by forever she meant three months. It was nice enough when she was washing my hair, like a head massage, except the shampoo gets in your ears. The scary part came when she pulled on latex gloves and fixed surgical masks over my mouth and nose, and her own. “What on earth,” I squeaked, but she simply patted my head reassuringly.

A cream was slathered on my hair, the foulest smelling thing I’ve ever encountered. Then the blow-drying began, which can be described only as purest agony. The fumes from the cream, which contain formaldehyde, evaporated ever faster and got through the apparently impenetrable surgical mask.

Formaldehyde levels are regularly found to be dangerously high in keratin treatment products in salons, so I don’t know whether this one was following regulations. It feels like your nasal passages are on fire, akin to accidentally getting too much ammonia gas up your nose in chemistry lab.

You hold your breath for as long as you can, then take a gulp of air and immediately regret it as your throat begins to burn. Pretty soon, everyone present in the room needed a mask and the door was thrown open. A couple of women stepped into the salon, opened their mouths, and had the stench hit their nostrils. “We’ll come back tomorrow,” they murmured uncertainly, “when you’ve, erm, aired everything a bit.”

After three hours of immense boredom, you emerge with poker-straight tresses, but smelly. I feel I shouldn’t tie my hair up after all that effort, but it’s tiresome to have it getting in the way, wafting whiffs of burnt plastic into your nostrils. I think I’ve just grown fonder of my betwixt-and-between, flyaway-ridden ponytail. At least prepping for that hairstyle doesn’t involve near-death by choking.

The writer is an 18-year-old student at Cambridge who grew up in Dubai

Updated: April 19, 2014 04:00 AM

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