It’s 20 minutes before you need to make your grand entrance at the first holiday party of the season. Your hair’s still wet and you’ve got a face of makeup to do—can you skip the heat protectant and go right to blow drying? Absolutely not! Not using a heat protection product on your hair before styling may seem like a good way to cut time, but every time you do, it adds to the damage of your hair. To keep your hair looking its healthy, shiny best, you’ll want to use a heat protectant every time you use hot tools. This month, we’ll take a look at the how and why this product is so important while sharing a few of our favorites.
How Heat Affects the Hair
To start, it’s important to understand the effects heat has on the hair. One of the most important being that heat causes moisture loss. Heat is particularly dangerous in the winter when hair is at its driest and exposed to huge differences in temperature on a daily basis. This is also important when working with wigs or extensions where moisture in the hair isn’t replaced with any sebum—the only protection it gets is from product. As moisture is lost, the cuticle of the hair cracks and frays. This means that hair will continue to experience more and more damage from both moisture and protein loss. Heat can also cause the keratin proteins in hair to break down, and the cracks in the cuticle make it easy for it to escape. One of the last biggest problems is that heat can cause the pigment in your hair to change—this has been found to cause brassiness. With all these potential factors in mind, let’s move on to learning about how heat protectors work!
Silicones—Hair’s Heat Safety Hero
In her article on the subject scientist and beauty enthusiast, Michelle, of the blog Lab Muffin (we’ve interviewed her on pg. 64), explains that while there are many ingredients used to protect hair, only a few have been studied. “A 1998 study looked at the effects of PVP/DMAPA acrylates copolymer, quaternium 70 and hydrolyzed wheat protein on heat damage from a curling iron. They found that all three resulted in 10-20% less damage. 1% solutions of all three were used in the study, so they seem to work at low concentrations,” she notes. The idea is that these ingredients work by creating a very thin film on the hair surface that allows the hair to heat up slowly preventing some of the damage.
Michelle adds, “Many other ingredients can work this way to protect hair too–silicones, in particular, have low thermal conductivities, which means that when they’re coating hair fibres, they transfer heat slowly. Amino silicones, like silicone quaterniums in rinse-off conditioners, can protect hair during heat treatments according to manufacturer studies, and it’s likely that silicones like dimethicone in spray-on products can too (though they might not coat the hair fibres as well).” In theory, there are plenty of products that can help reduce heat damage. Michelle explains that the mechanics of heat protection are fairly simple, lower heat conduction, and reduce water loss. While only a few methods have undergone rigorous study, there are plenty of products that will help. Michelle also adds a word of warning that heat protectant products alone are not enough to fully shield hair from damage. Even with the best protection, hair should be given plenty of rest days from heat styling.
While all our naturalistas may be balking at the mention of silicones, Sister Scientist, aka Erica Douglas, over at Naturally Curly notes that while the ingredient gets a bad rap, it may just be a hair savior. As Michelle noted earlier, silicone is perfect for creating a protective barrier distributes evenly over all the hair. Sister Scientist ads onto this by explaining that the types of silicones in your heat protectant can be very important. “A number of silicones such as dimethicone and amodimethicone have an amazing ability to substantively adhere to hair fibers to reduce heat damage and retain moisture inside the hair for a long period of time,” she explains. Meanwhile the silicones found in serums and sprays, like cyclomethicone, are volatile, so they evaporate quickly and easily. Most products use a combination of silicones to achieve a product that is effective without leaving unmanageable amounts of buildup.
A Natural Option
If you’re still not into the idea of silicones, you’re in luck! Natural oils do have the ability to work in a similar way to silicone. While silicone is considered one of the holy grails for heat protection, most oils will still function in a similar way. Erica Douglas demonstrates this best in a short video comparing cooking an egg yolk with heat protection vs without. While it may seem silly the comparison is fairly straightforward—both have a thin outer wall protecting a moisture-heavy interior. If you’ve cooked an egg in olive or coconut oil, you’ve seen first hand that these oils work to create a protective layer that prevents heat from entering too quickly. The trick is that not all oils can withstand intense heat, and they tend to wind up being heavier than their synthetic counterparts. Douglas notes that, “this is why formulating chemists will combine synthetic ingredients like silicones with the natural goodness of oils to provide an improved customer experience when using the product.”
Whether you pick a silicone-based serum or a natural oil, using a heat protectant before any heat styling is the most important step in your beauty routine. That said, it’s important to remember that even with the best protection, heat styling will still affect hair over time. Make sure to give your hair (real or not) plenty of breaks from the heat and extra doses of moisture this winter.
We’ve pulled together a list of our top favorite heat protectants.
Tahitian Noni & Monoi Blow Out Cream
Cantu Thermal Shield Heat Protectant
Amika Blow Up Natural Heat Protectant
Curl Girl Unwind Thermal Protector + Detangling Mist