Michelle Obama’s Hair: Brazilian Keratin Success?

Michelle Obama’s elegant, flattering hairstyles are admired by many women.  Can Brazilian keratin treatments help them recreate these styles at home? Were they a factor in Michelle Obama’s style success?

While the details of Mrs. Obama’s hair care regime aren’t fully public, a photo analysis and an interview with her stylist may hold the answer.

Early pictures of her hair show it somewhere in the Type 4s, which by nature is difficult to straighten and highly susceptible to breakage, frizz, and shrinkage, as well as matte rather than shiny. Yet most White House photos show her hair smooth with some bend, always shiny, never frizzy, and gradually growing longer.

Johnny Wright, Mrs. Obama’s stylist for over a decade, reveals that during the 2008 Democratic National Convention she was using relaxers but by 2015 she “ha(d) been natural for years.”

Did she transition from relaxers  to Brazilian keratin treatments?

Her pictures look like a “yes:” a gorgeously styled head of hair behaving exactly as a Type 4 natural does under the influence of Brazilian keratin. That is to say:

  1. It transitioned from relaxers without a Big Chop to remove chemical damage — often a telltale sign of BKTs, which were originally developed to restore relaxer-damaged hair (the smoothing and frizz-control properties were discovered later);
  2. It’s grown steadily longer without breakage — even the previously relaxed portions;
  3. It smooths out easily without excessive flat ironing (see stylist’s remarks, below);
  4. It holds any style, even bangs, without frizz, “pouf,” shrinkage, or heavy, greasy products;
  5. It has a polished sheen instead of a matte quality;
  6. The cuticle appears smooth rather than rough.

In addition to these indicators, the words of Mrs. Obama’s stylist solidify our conviction that she transitioned from relaxers to Brazilian keratin.  While Johnny Wright never speaks directly about Brazilian keratin on Michelle Obama’s hair, what he does say is consistent with the use of it.

For example, he acknowledges creating most of her styles with a flat iron. A stylist who frequently flat irons a client’s Type 4 hair will be attuned to minimizing heat any way he can. Furthermore, if his client has the busy schedule of a First Lady, he’ll also have to work fast. With that in mind, a savvy professional like Johnny Wright would know from experience that keratin treatments are the best available option for maximizing styling speed and minimizing heat use.

Brazilian keratin makes hair much more responsive to heat styling. Keratin-treated hair requires 2 to 4 times less flat ironing or blow drying to create a given style than hair without a keratin treatment. Furthermore, if Wright’s long-term strategy was to grow out her hair, as it appears to have been, he’d value the BKT’s structural strengthening of fragile Type 4 hair to prevent breakage and support longer growth — especially transitioning hair.

Other indicators that Wright is pro-keratin are found in his remarks about the “revolution” against relaxers in favor of styling versatility and healthy hair.

“I think a lot of women are starting to see what type of damage chemicals have caused their hair over the years, and they’re really starting to...embrace the fact that they can be versatile…They can wear it curly. They can wear it straight. They don’t have to really conform to any particular look. They can do it all, and that’s one thing that is going to stick. That’s the revolution part of it” (italics added). Ibid.

This is keratin-friendly language. When a stylist talks about a revolution of versatility with no more chemical damage, there’s no other product or process he could be referring to than Brazilian keratin treatments.

Wright is obviously NOT saying that simply quitting relaxers is enough to produce hair that “do[es] it all,” that’s “versatile,” that can be easily worn curly or straight. Why not? For one thing, most natural curl patterns don’t hit the straight notes easily, which is why relaxers came into being. If relaxers are removed from the equation, something else needs to take their place when straighter styles are wanted. For another thing, natural hair worn curly brings its own styling challenges often making it extremely high-maintenance. These include:

  1. Taking up to a day to dry, often with special handling needed;
  2. Shrinking to a fraction of its full length and looking a lot shorter than it actually is;
  3. Frizzing rapidly in humidity or sweat;
  4. Breaking easily due to its inherent structure;
  5. Lacking curl definition, depending upon its pattern;
  6. Appearing dull rather than shiny because of a strand shape that diffuses light;
  7. Being high-maintenance when it comes to sleeping, wind, convertible-riding, and other messy acts of life.

Keratin treatments resolve these problems while also restoring hair severely damaged by relaxers, heat, and bleach to like-new condition, eliminating the need for a big chop in most cases. For these reasons, stylists frequently use them on transitioning or fully natural hair.

In the final analysis, between the hairstyles themselves and the words of stylist Johnny Wright, our professional opinion is that Brazilian keratin treatments are an integral part of Michelle Obama’s care regime. By extension, they would be helpful for anyone with Type 3 or Type 4 natural hair who’s seeking to recreate those same styles for herself.

What’s your take?

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