One of the best things about being in my mid-20s is the personal growth everyone encourages. I’ve been spending a lot of time exploring my likes and dislikes. I’ve found that one of my dislikes is doing my hair. Several months ago I took my best shot at becoming a naturalista and long story short it was a hot mess. I found out I’m terrible at doing flat twists and all the styles I tried take way too much time for me to be doing them multiple times each week. After that “journey”, I still wasn’t ready to return to the world of protective styling, so based off a recommendation from my hair stylist, I decided to try the Design Essentials Strengthening Therapy System Express. 

The Design Essentials Strengthening Therapy System Express (STS Express) is a three step system designed to maximize manageability and increase the time your style lasts, while simultaneously making your hair stronger and repairing damage. STS Express does this through an amino-acid infused smoothing and thermal treatment that temporarily straightens and smooths frizzy, naturally curly, transitioning, multi-textured, and/or chemically altered hair for approximately 12 weeks. According to their website, the benefits include “long lasting smooth, intense frizz protection, enhanced manageability, safe and effective (Formaldehyde free), proven on all hair textures”.pinterest - design essentials

Before I got the treatment, I wanted to do my research to see how other naturalistas felt about the product. I was rather disappointed to find very few reviews on the Design Essentials website and majority of the videos they had of stylists performing the service were on models with loose curl patterns. My hair is very tightly coiled so these videos really didn’t do much for me. I took to YouTube, where I still struggled to find reviews from anyone with hair close to mine. The few reviews I did find warned of a destroyed curl pattern both immediately after use and well after the 12 weeks the treatment is supposed to last. Despite this, I took the word of my stylist and gave it a try.

The day of my appointment, my hair was first washed with the sulfate free cleansing shampoo. Next, my hair was split into four sections and the smoothing mousse was applied with a comb. It is important that each strand is coated, so the mousse was applied in very small sections. I then sat with the product in my hair for a while (sorry I can’t recall the exact amount of time). The product doesn’t have a strong odor or burn your scalp (death to relaxers. lol jk). Then, my stylist applied the thermal therapy leave-in sealant to my hair to remove residue and seal in the smoothing mousse. She then blow dried my hair from root to end til it was dry. Lastly, she flat ironed my hair in small 1/8″ sections, making sure to pass over each section 1-2 times. It is important that your stylist flat iron your hair at a temperature that is appropriate for your hair type. I wanted curls, so she did that, and I was done. The entire process probably took less than 90 mins from beginning to end.

Design Essentials
Before and After the Smoothing Mousse was applied

So let’s address the things I liked first. My hair has what I feel is a tight undefined curl pattern. My hair basically drinks water and when it gets wet it shrinks like a rolly polly. Immediately after applying the smoothing mousse, I noticed that my curls were quite a bit looser (were wash-n-goes in my future?!?). When she flat ironed my hair, it seemed noticeably straighter! Unfortunately, that was as good as it got the day I got the treatment. While my hair was shiny, it didn’t seem any more shiny than when she usually does it and I was in no rush to see if humidity would have me looking like a poodle. About two weeks later, I washed my hair myself and I was so pleased! My wet hair was SO much more manageable as far as de-tangling and blow drying. My blow drying time was probably cut in half. The best part about it all, my curl pattern wasn’t ruined! Yes, my curls were a bit looser, but it was very much still curly. About a month after receiving the treatment, I decided to return to protective styling and chose to forego a closure to see how my hair would blend with my extensions. I had to give another check mark for the STS express because my leave out (the hair NOT braided and protected under my extensions) blended perfectly! It’s now probably been about 12 weeks since I had the treatment and while I can see its effects diminishing (it washes out as you wash your hair) it’s still working. I’ve had my hair in a protective style for 8 of those 12 weeks so it’s hard to identify what I should attribute my hair growth to.

Design Essentials STS
Finished Style

Now, for the two things I was less than pleased with. After she was done with my hair, there was a white residue (looked like dandruff) very visible in my hair and on my black top. Additionally, in my opinion, my hair had an unpleasant odor. I was very skeptical about the absence of a step to rinse or wash excess product out and clearly for good reason. While my mom nor boyfriend commented about the white flakes, I felt like they were just being nice because it was almost all I saw when I looked in the mirror.

I was originally hesitant to get the service because of the few reviews I’d seen and the price starts at about $100. For someone like me on a budget, this is definitely not a necessary expense and falls into the category of a splurge. However, I rationalized getting the treatment because I knew I’d be doing my hair at home for quite a while and this would make things a little easier. Which brings me to my next point, if you are not going to be visiting your stylist on a regular basis after getting this treatment, PLEASE be sure to consult them about the best products to maintain your STS Express. You don’t want to deactivate and/or ruin your treatment. All-in-all I would definitely get the treatment again. I’m unsure if having my stylist wash after blowing drying is an option, but I’ll certainly be asking to avoid that white build up.

I hope you enjoyed this video from the Design Essentials website. If you’re wanting to learn more about Design Essentials or the STS Express, please visit their site here.

Thinking about getting the STS Express, but still have more questions? Drop them below and I’ll reach out to my expert for answers!



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47 comments on “What You Need to Know About the Design Essentials STS Express”

  1. Finding products that work for my hair texture are such a challenge. I am glad that you have found a product that helps you maintain the natural look you desire. #blmgirl

  2. The before and after show just how great this product is! I like that you did some actual research and didn’t just go with word of mouth, which is what a lot of people do and then they regre it 🙁 I’m not much into my hair, shampoo/condition, brush and I’m good to go!

    • Hey Selena! Sorry for the delayed reply, but my hair is totally back to normal. I haven’t gotten another treatment since b/c I’ve been wearing protective styles, but I never experienced any issues with a c change in texture or ruined curl pattern.

      • I am thinking of getting this treatment. I have had the Arosci reconstructing version years ago which I liked mainly because it seemed to grow my afro hair faster with less breaking! Did you notice your hair growing faster, less breakage with this system?

        • I’m an avid user of protective styling and I’d say within a few months of getting the STS system I was back in some variation of protective styling so I couldn’t attribute my hair growth solely to the system. I will say that my hair was MUCH more manageable so I didn’t have to do much pulling, tugging, and detangling thus leading to less hair loss/breakage.

  3. I have been using this system for two years now. I have 3b hair according to my stylist. The express system is just as effective as the original STS system just without the strong smell afterwards. I get this done every 12 weeks like clockwork and my hair grown past my shoulders now. It has never been this long or healthy when I used to wear a relaxer. I highly recommend STS to anyone trying to transition from relaxer to natural. I can wear my hair in a curly afro or flat ironed straight and back to curly afro with no problem.

      • To be totally honest, I haven’t gotten a treatment since the first one. My hair stays a lot healthier when I’m not manipulating it daily, so I have a tendency to rely heavily on protective styles…especially since I always wear it straight.

  4. I can’t find a good salon to do service in northern va and DE won’t respond to purchase requests or provide a list of salon…any thoughts

    • Hey Patricia. Are you familiar with It’s a site that let’s you search by salon, stylist, or service in your geographic location. I’d recommend going there and doing a search for “STS express” or something to that effect and then reading the reviews of the stylists that come up. Good luck, I hope this helps!


      • Hi! I’m late to this post but I’m a stylist in manassas va. I provide this service if you are still looking. The salon name is Black Orchid Salon. My name is Brittany and you can reach me at 7035821818.

  5. Hello so I am a professional natural hair stylist and I just wanted to comment on a few things. So your hair can not be rinsed after the product is applied and blow dried that’s what locks the product in. She may need to just use a little less product. But I have experienced this with my clients with extremely thick hair because I wanted to make sure the hair was saturated. When this happens I usually schedule a shampoo style at a very reduced rate 48 hours later. Also it’s good you told your stylist you didn’t want your curl pattern to dramatically change because certain heat factors need to be adjusted during blow drying and flat ironing. I love this product is feel like it’s very dependable and always has consistent results

    • I will definitely request a shampoo a few days later. That was def. my hesitation about doing it again. Do you have any advise about naturalistas looking for stylists who do this service in their area?

    • Hi Shena, I’ve used the original version as well as the STS Express in my hair. As a stylist, have you noticed the Express version losing it’s potency quicker than the original? It seems as though I need (but can’t) go back more often.

  6. Hi, I’m 5 months post relaxer and trying to find products that will help me with my transition to natural hair! This system seems promising, but I just dropped $80 on E’TAE products and I’m a bit scared to splurge on something else that I’m unsure about, so your post was helpful! Were you able to put your hair up immediately after getting this service? Some treatments say that you can’t do ponytails or wrap your hair and have to keep it pin straight for so many hours after the service, which isn’t ideal for me!

  7. Question for you! Does this treatment allow you to do easy and successful wash n go’s (no shrinkage or frizz) without dramatically changing your natural curls?

    I’ve never had a relaxer or any chemicals on my hair so I’m not sure if this treatment will affect my hair differently…

    • I wouldn’t go so far as to say all shrinkage and frizz is eliminated. I do not wear wash n go’s (I have no clue what products to use to tame my main), but I will say my curls seemed to be noticeably elongated when I washed my hair.

      I haven’t had any chemicals in my hair in probably 8 years and my hair was not permanently altered.

      Hope this helps,

  8. I had this done a week ago and I wash my hair every week so I wont be washing it out until saturday. So far I love it! I have the same look of a perm but to me its better. No terrible smells, not burning scalp and its supposed to last longer. I have not had a perm in well over a year..closer to two years.I did not think my hair could look like this. I am interested to see what it looks like after my first wash though. Also I bought the DE STS shampoo to go along with it.

  9. I got the STS system about 2 weeks ago. I love it. My hair came out bone straight in the salon but I’ve worn it mostly chilly since then. I love how soft it is and my curls are slightly looser. For the person asking about wash and go I’ve been washing, blow drying them moisturizing and sealing and I’m good too go work this. Couldn’t do that with my natural hair prior to getting it.

    • From what I understand, you should not get a color treatment simultaneously. However, if you already have color treated hair it is fine or you can get color after.

      Hope this helps,

  10. Can this be used on 10 weeks post retouch. Ibhad this prior to perming. My hair was bone straight and shiny. I was not sure just what to expect. I did not do my home work prior to doing this treatment. my stylist did not tell me that non sulfate free shampoo would return my hair to it’s natural pattern. I found out after checking De STS website. I would like to try it again, before the big chop. Can STS hair be rolller or rod set?

  11. I just had the express STS applied last Thursday I’m not sure exactly what happened but by Saturday afternoon I was back to puffy roots and kinky edges. When applying the foam should there be copious amounts added to the sectioned hair before the hair is blow dried? I just don’t feel that she put enough product on my hair.during the application.

    • Hey Teresa,

      While I’m not a professional hair dresser, my recollection of getting the STS treatment is that it does NOT require a ton of product. However, the length of time you sit with the foam on your hair matters. Considering the price of the system, I certainly hope you called your stylist right away b/c that certainly shouldn’t have happened, but in the same breath I’d say the system made my hair more manageable, straighter, and shiny….and I’d even say I was less susceptible to the elements, BUT let it be humid, raining, etc. I was still reverting back.

  12. I live in laurel, md and I looking for a salon that does the STS treatment. can you please give me a list of salons that are in my area that do this treatment

    • Hi Vaunia,

      Please accept my apologies for the delayed response! The following link will allow you to search for salons in your area that sell/use Design Essentials products, I’d highly recommend looking up salons from that list to see if they do the STS treatment or just use/sell their other products. Hope this helps!

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