When it comes to healthy hair, you’ve probably heard the word keratin mentioned and all of the haircare products that contain the ingredient. But you might not be totally sure what exactly it is and what it’s supposed to do. So, I decided to help us all out and ask the experts what it’s all about.
It turns out our skin, hair, and nails are all made up of keratin, which is a structural protein. “Hair is made up mainly of keratin, as well as some Keratin Associated Proteins or KAPs, lipids, and a few other minor constituents like minerals and water,” explains Suveen Sahib, founder of K18 Hair. “Keratin exists in a few forms. The key to hair strength and elasticity lies in alpha keratin, which forms long, helical intertwined fibers in the hair’s cortex. Think of it as a rope inside of the hair. These run along the length of hair and provide that resiliency that contributes to the hair’s tensile strength.”
Celebrity hairstylist, trichologist, and founder of Act + Acre, Helen Reavey, adds that keratin helps nourish the hair by filling in the gaps in the cuticle and is often used in haircare to help fight against frizz.
One way you can reap the benefits is to get keratin treatments at a salon. Sahib says the most well-known type of service is a Brazilian blowout, which includes washing the hair, applying a formula that contains a formaldehyde derivative and hydrolyzed keratin or a similar protein, and then blow-drying and flat ironing the hair to leave it looking shiny and sleek.
But the easiest way to get keratin benefits is through at-home products. “The cosmetics industry uses all different types of keratin,” Sahib explains. “In most common hair care products, you’ll see something called hydrolyzed keratin. This is essentially keratin that’s been broken up into smaller fragments. When these are applied to your hair, the bigger pieces coat the exterior of the hair or work to patch damaged sites on the cuticle. If the pieces are small enough, they are able to fit inside of the hair where they may bind individually in the cortex. In both cases, they can impart conditioning properties to the hair fiber by enhancing shine or forming a barrier to cover up existing damage.“
Sahib’s K18 products are a mix between a salon treatment and an at-home product. “Precisely the right size and molecular structure to fit in and reconnect broken polypeptide (keratin) chains, K18 restores hair strength and elasticity by reconnecting damage sites along the y-axis (length) of hair. This does not require harsh conditions to work—no hazardous chemicals and no extreme pH changes. This is because of biomimetics (the practice of learning from and mimicking nature). The K18 peptide’s interactions with hair keratin are the ways in which hair keratins interact among themselves.”
For at-home keratin products like shampoos and conditioners, people who have chemically-treated hair or are dealing with frizz can benefit from them. These products can help repair and strengthen damaged hair. And they also have some growth benefits, too. “If your shampoo has an adequate amount of keratin for your hair it can nourish the scalp and stimulate the hair growth cycle,” Reavey says.
For an all-natural alternative, Reavey recommends trying Act + Acre’s Restorative Hair Mask, which contains castor oil and hydrolyzed vegetable protein that act similarly to keratin.
So in short, keratin shampoo does have its benefits on your strands. But you’ll also want to make sure you’re doing other things to repair and prevent any damage, like using nourishing hair masks or other treatments, avoiding washing your hair too often, getting regular trims, and being extra careful when you’re using hot tools.
Take a look at some keratin shampoo and conditioner options below.