Applying a heat protectant should be a non-negotiable step in any hair-care routine that involves hot tools. The reason? It's one of the most important things you can do to protect your strands against damage.
Here's what you need to know about heat damage: Putting any type of heat on your hair creates little holes in the protective layer of your hair (known as "cuticle damage"), and can destroy its outer surface. When this happens, it exposes the lipids and proteins that make up the strand, which is what leads to breakage. Because of this, you should be applying a heat protectant every single time you put heat on your hair, explains Vernon François, celebrity hairstylist and founder of an eponymous hair-care line.
"Heat protectant is necessary to help protect strands before drying or styling with heat," says François. "All strands no matter the texture—kinky, coily, curly, wavy, or straight—can be vulnerable to heat-related stress which can lead to damage. This is especially true if your hair is already damaged, if the heat that you’re using is set to a very high level, and if you are regularly applying heat to the hair."
Dominic Burg, PhD, chief scientist, hair biologist, and trichologist at Évolis Professional, explains that heat protectant works by "coating the proteins in your cuticles, helping them to resist thermal damage."
Many heat protectants use silicones to do this, which coat the hair and can make it difficult for other products and nutrients to penetrate the hair shaft. The ingredient gets a bad rap because of all of this, but it's totally fine to use as long as you're not allowing it to build up. "Silicones are used in the heat protectants to act as a protective barrier, helping to avoid heat damage," says Los Angeles-based hairstylist Larisa Love. Be sure to avoid overdoing it with the amount of product you're using, and wash your hair regularly to get rid of any remnants.
How to choose a heat protectant
The format of protectant you use really just depends on what you like. "All hair, no matter the texture or the shape that strands make, is structurally the same, and so the principle of thermal protection remains the same," says François. "The kind of heat protector that you choose to go with might come down to personal preference, like whether you are most comfortable using a cream, a spray, or a serum... My advice is always to try out what works best for you and your own unique head of hair, there are no hard and fast rules."
One pro tip to keep in mind, though? The more porous your hair is, the more quickly the product will absorb—so, for example, a cream heat protectant may be best for high-porosity hair, while a spray may be best for low-porosity hair.
Shop the best heat protectants
3 best heat protectant creams
“Redken’s Acidic Bonding Concentrate Leave-In Treatment repairs, strengthens, smooths, color-protects all hair types, providing heat protection up to 450°F,” says François. The formula works to reinforce broken protein bonds in your hair, which makes it ideal for preventing breakage in dry, damaged, and color-treated hair.
This cream is amazing for getting a silky smooth blowout. It’s lightweight, silicone-free, and works to minimize frizz, smooth hair, enhance shine, and protect against heat up to 450°F. It includes good-for-your hair ingredients like rosehip, argan, and coconut oil to make your hair feel super soft.
While protecting your hair from heat, Burg says to look for treatments that are rich in oils. “Our Promote Treatment Mask doubles as a heat protectant due to the levels of Baobab and flaxseed oils that hydrate and protects strands,” he says.
3 best heat protectant sprays
“Joico’s Heat Hero is an aerosol spray for dry hair that is lightweight also protects up to 450°F,” says Love. “It’s paraben-free, acts as a heat-activated split-end mender, and is laboratory tested using pollution particles showing it protects against pollution too.” In addition to all of that, it will leave your hair with a healthy, glossy sheen.
This spray provides protection heat up to 450°F while coating your hair in vitamins and proteins to seal your hair’s cuticle (translation: help it retain moisture and nutrients), thus reducing the chance of future breakage.
This multitasking, leave-in treatment primes hair for heat, detangles, protects from damage, and adds shine from root to tip. It features camelina oil to nourish strands, coconut oil to moisturize, and olive oil to add shine.
3 best heat protectant serums
This layerable blow-dry serum moisturizes and provides heat protection up to 450°F to achieve the ultimate blowout. It can also be used during styling to smooth flyaways. It’s made with agave extract to restore dry, frizzy hair and argan oil to protect from damage and split ends, plus has a UV filter to protect from UV rays and damage.
If you’ve got thick hair, this is the heat protectant for you. It can help to cut down time spent drying and provide a smooth blowout.
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