Let’s face it: even with the best hair products in our arsenal, sometimes we need to add a little heat to tame, style, and set our hair. Whether you’re maintaining your curls with a diffuser, blow drying fine hair for va-va-voom volume, or straightening for a sleek style, there’s a hot tool for every look.
But with repeated use, these tools can wreak havoc on even the most beautifully-styled tresses. To understand why and how this happens, you need to know about your hair’s structure. Each strand of hair has layers:
- An inner cortex, filled with water molecules and keratin
- An outer cuticle, which in healthy hair is smooth and shiny
Experts say applying heat to hair essentially evaporates the water molecules in the inner cortex, altering the internal structure and mechanical properties of the strands. This allows you to change your hair’s natural curl patterns (read: straighten your curls, or vice versa), but it can also cause frizz and dry out your hair. High temperatures can also form cracks and ruptures in the cuticle, making the hair even more vulnerable to future damage. Finally, heat can break down the keratin in your hair, which affects the strength and texture of the hair.
Phew — worried yet? Fortunately, it’s not all bad news. With the right preventative techniques, you can reduce the chances of heat damaged hair. The key is to learn how to protect hair from heat, and then commit to it! Enter: heat protection products.
What is Heat Protectant?
Heat protectant is a product that reduces damage to your hair when used before heat styling. (Note that we say it reduces — not prevents. More on that later.) It’s often a spray, cream, or serum that you leave in your hair (damp or dry), although there are also formulas you rinse out in the shower. Some products have additional benefits, such as combining heat protection with a leave-in conditioner or a styling cream.
How Does Heat Protectant Work?
Heat protectants add a barrier between your styling tool and your hair, sealing in moisture and fending off frizz. They also work to smooth the cuticle, making your hair look smooth and feel soft. Quality heat protectants contain ingredients like humectants (like panthenol and propylene glycol), which preserves moisture and blocks frizz; amino acids (like keratin), to strengthen hair and provide antioxidants; and natural oils and extracts (like aloe), which protect and seal the hair’s cuticle. While some products rely on silicones (like dimethicone and cyclomethicone) and water-based polymers (like polyquaternium and acrylate copolymer), these ingredients can leave a film on some hair types and end up weighing it down — so some prefer to avoid them.
When Do I Use Heat Protectant?
Depending on the type of heat protectant, you may apply it on damp hair or dry hair before using any hot tools, including blow dryers, curling irons, and straightening irons. Apply section by section, and comb through to distribute the product evenly.
How Do I Find the Best Heat Protectant for My Hair?
To determine the best heat protectant for your hair, consider the following:
- What’s your hair type? Identify your hair type, and select a product that works for you. For example, serums are often too heavy for those with fine hair, so consider a spray.
- What are the ingredients? Look at the ingredients list and look for high-quality and nourishing ingredients, including natural oils and extracts.
- Is it something you’ll remember to use? Make your life easier by investing in something that can replace two (or more!) of your other products. It’s a 10 Miracle Leave-In Plus Keratin, for example, acts as a leave-in conditioner, a heat protectant, a shine-enhancer, and a restorative styling agent, all in one.
Too Late? How to Repair Heat Damaged Hair
Keep in mind that using heat protectant doesn’t completely prevent heat damage, especially if you’re styling often. If your hair feels like straw, or is breaking off more than usual, you may be dealing with heat damaged hair. At this point, it’s time for some TLC!
Start by using a clarifying shampoo to remove any build-up, then follow with a deep conditioner or hair mask, such as the Potion 10 Miracle Repair Mask. Select a quality, sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner for daily use, looking for ingredients like natural extracts, antioxidants, and keratin or silk amino acids. Add a leave-in conditioner, like the Potion 10 Instant Repair Leave-in Conditioner, to your daily routine, which will continue to restore and protect your hair.
Next, lay off the heat styling for a while and opt for air-dry hairstyles. Avoid coloring and other chemical processing. You may need to trim off your ends to start fresh — or even a more drastic chop if your hair is severely damaged. Your hairstylist will be able to help you determine your specific needs.
With the right products and techniques, heat styling shouldn’t leave you with stressed-out tresses. If you must heat style, do so in moderation to avoid heat damaged hair. Lower the temperature (staying under 350 degrees is best, or even lower for fine hair), and don’t forget that heat protectant for hair! Your locks will thank you.