Do Heat Protectants Work?

First off, let me say that I love my straighter, my curling wand, my hot rollers, and my hairdryer. Why? Because each of them gives me a different hairstyle that suits my mood for that particular day. These tools help me to show off my individuality. 

Secondly, I don't use them often. When I do, I load my hair with the best heat protectant I can find because I have literally burnt my hair when I was still very new to all this and believe me, once was enough. I never want to experience the smell of the burnt hair, neither the trauma of realizing what I had done to my hair as I looked into the cruel mirror.

But what that did teach me is A) don't put the straightener on the highest temperature, and B) ALWAYS use a heat protectant spray, cream or serum. But, it begs the question: do heat protectants work? Really?

The real damage from heat styling

The temperature that my straightener and curling wand can reach is an incredible 338°F (170°C), and even higher for some brands. If I decide to heat my hair above 266°F (130°C) to get those gorgeous curls or that perfect straightness, the following happens to my hair. (Please note this might be a trigger for some of us. Read with caution).

The moisture in my hair evaporates out of the medulla or inner layer. And if my hair is wet, the steam that is created will literally blast through my hair structure, leaving devastation in its wake, according to Lab Muffin. Who knew water could be that brutal?

READ: How To Repair Heat Damaged Hair Without Chopping It Off

Furthermore, the cuticle or outer layer of my hair frays and becomes cracked, the keratin proteins responsible for my hairs' elasticity and strength breaks down and the cherry on this cake? My pigment that gives my hair its beautiful chocolate brown, changes, becomes duller.

Do heat protectants work?

Here's the kicker, all of this happens even when using a protectant on my hair because the protectant cannot protect my hair 100%. Results show that you can expect about 50% protection. But I'd rather have 50% protection than smelling burnt hair again.

So what are the ingredients in heat protectant spray?

hairspray

Scientists agree that the ingredients in heat protectants do reduce (but not eliminate) the heat damage and they even out how the hair is heated up.

And these hair superheroes are called:

  • Quaternium 80 (a group of specialized quats, silquats for short) facilitates detangling, static electricity elimination while keeping fly-away hair in its place, improving the texture of the hair.
  • Hydrolyzed wheat protein (silicone quaterniums, dimethicone) is a protein that has been partially broken down into amino acids and aids the hair to retain moisture.
  • PVP/DMAPA acrylates copolymer, aids in the hold factor of styling products and helps hair with elasticity.

Does heat protectant work on natural hair?

Yes, it does. The three ingredients mentioned above all form a thin film over the cuticle of the hair. The hair is now protected and the layer distributes the heat more evenly and slows down the heating process. When hair is heated up gently, it causes less damage.

This works especially well with silicone due to its low thermal conductivities. Silicone quaterniums can be found in rinse-off conditioners and they protect hair during heat treatments. Dimethicone, also a silicone, found in spray-on products, can also protect the hair shaft but it doesn't coat as well as the rinse-off conditioners.

Another plus for products using silicone is that it seals the hair cuticle, which reduces moisture loss to protect the hair further.

Despite its bad reputation among curlies, Erica from Naturally Curly argues that silicone is actually a good heat protectant ingredient for natural hair.

READ: What Can I use Instead of Heat Protectant


Do you need to use a heat protectant when straightening or curling hair?

When we look at the benefits of using a heat protection spray, conditioner, cream or serum, the answer is a resounding YES. In fact, it's more of a pretty please plea.

The product protects your hair from heat damage, enhances the effectiveness of your styling tool, locks in hydration, helps to achieve that style you want and it leaves you with sleek or curly, soft and shiny hair.

Aaron Carlo, a celebrity hairstylist and TRESemme UK Hair Ambassador, put it this way: “To me, heat protection is exactly the same as sun protection.” Similar to how we don’t go out in the sun without using sunscreen, we shouldn’t be using heat on our hair without heat protection.  

Which one is the right one for you?

So, now that you can see that the writing is on the wall (or the blog to be more precise) and that you do NEED a heat protector, you'll have to do some research as to find the perfect one for your gorgeous locks.

There are products that not only shield your hair from high temperatures but also allows the strands to volumize and the volume lasts all day. Others reduce breakage by up to 99 percent. While others are completely vegan and contains no alcohol. As the saying goes: Seek and ye shall find.

Prefer to make your own? Check out these 7 Homemade Heat Protectant Recipes for more ideas!

For fine hair, choose a lightweight spray formula as some products may cause your hair to become greasy and heavy.

If frizz is your enemy, choose a protectant with an anti-frizz component.

Medium to coarse hair will definitely love the rinse-off conditioners with the added bonus of a heat protectant in them.

Other important factor that come into play is the price of the product. There are some great budget options to choose from or you can bless yourself and your hair with the crème de la crème.

Another tip when choosing your protectant is that your heat protectant spray should contain as little water as possible. This will prevent heat damage on your hair from the water contained in the spray. On top of that, it's best if you choose a hair straightener or curling iron that won't damage hair. Thankfully, we already have the technology to minimize hair damage.


Hopefully, you have come to the conclusion that you not only need a heat protectant but that you and your hair also deserve it. If your hair is damaged, know that by spending some time on yourself, it can be transformed. It's just going to take some time and effort.

If you are new to the whole heat styling business, please learn from my mistake and make sure to use the correct product to keep your tresses beautiful. Because as always, you and your hair deserve it.

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Image Credits: Deposit Photos

Last Updated: October 30, 2019

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