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What Do Heat Protectants REALLY Do to Protect the Strands?

If you did any perusing through TikTok circa fall 2020, you no doubt caught hairstylist Bethany Honey demonstrate the importance of heat protectant by way of toast. After spritzing Neäl & Wølf’s Guard Heat Protection Spray on half a slice of bread and tossing it in the toaster, she showed the burnt unprotected side next to the spritzed unaffected side. And while she had the proof to back up her argument, the bigger question is, how does heat protectant work?

Effectiveness in the Formulations

There are a few components of effective heat protection for hair. The most important is a cuticle-sealing film in the form of a silicone or copolymer.

“This film creates a barrier from the heat, letting the hair gently heat up instead of shocking the hair with a blast of heat,” explains Nikki Neubarth, Chief Operating Officer & Head of Product Development at UNITE Hair.

The second component is a protein such as rice or keratin. Neubarth says these “help strengthen the cuticle from within to keep the strand strong when dragging heat through the hair.”

And it probably goes without saying, but a moisture-rich product is always a good bet. Panthenol, for example, is what Neubarth says “keeps the strands hydrated as the heat likes to rob your hair of its natural moisture.”

The Right Heat Protectant for the Right Hot Tool

While heat protectants are generally a one-size-fits-all situation, direct heat-styling in the case of a flat iron, for example, really calls for silicone and polymer products.

They are the strongest,” Neubarth says. “Argan oil is also a great ingredient for this because it not only provides protection on the outside of the hair but it has strengthening and moisturizing properties as well.”

Importance of Silicones

Silicones get a bad rep in haircare and skincare, but truth be told: Water-soluble silicones are actually encouraged.

When it comes to heat protectants in particular, “I’d definitely suggest a water-soluble silicone which is lightweight, doesn’t weigh down the hair and easily washes out,” Neubarth says. “These ingredients also provide nice slip for the iron to slide over without causing breakage, as well as adding beautiful high shine.

Unlike other types of hair products, with heat protectants, Neubarth says, “I think it’s more crucial to focus on positive ingredients versus ingredients to avoid.”

Extent of Protection

According to studies, “A good protectant gives about 50% heat protection,” Neubarth says.

But even so, because all hair isn’t created equal, it’s bound to differ from person to person. “Some hair is finer and weaker, where some is thicker and much more durable to wear and tear of heat and daily elements,” she explains. “So I think everyone is different. Ultimately, if you over-use heat, you’ll see damage. Most people will eventually see damage over time, though it’ll take much longer and be less likely with the right heat protectant.”

Heat Protectants to Try

If you’re in the dark about what to try, there are a few places to look! Sephora has a list ready to go of their best heat protectant sprays based on customer reviews. If you have a curly hair texture, we came up with a list of options to peruse.

And of course, Neubarth highly recommends all things UNITE. “We try to add protection to almost all of our products,” she says. “But if you’re a heat junkie like me, UNITE 7SECONDS Detangler and UNITE U Oil will be your heroes. Both products not only provide optimal heat protection, but they add moisture, strength and shine without weighing your hair down. And they work on the finest or the coarsest hair.  They are the perfect base to any hairstyle.”

Itching to avoid heat altogether? HERE are five no-heat hairstyles to try stat!

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