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How to protect your hair from heat damage

Jeanelle says: I was wondering if you guys could tell me what to look for in a great heat protecting spray/serum/lotion. What are the key ingredients that protect hair from heat? (Besides the ones that promise to deliver to soft, silky protected tresses when in reality they leave you with sticky, gross hair from all of the alcohol!)

The Beauty Brains respond:

Jeanelle, if you’re buying heat protection sprays that contain a lot of alcohol, you should change brands! Hopefully you’ll be able to pick a better product after we explain how heat damages your hair and what kind of ingredients can help.

Blow drying is bad

Blow drying causes a “flash drying” effect that not only removes the surface moisture but also removes water that is bound to the hair, which is called water of hydration. The effect of this flash drying is that the cuticles become dried, rigid and brittle. When the hair flexes, the pressure causes the cuticles to crack. One study (see Reference 1 below) showed cracks occurring not only on the surface layer of cuticles, but actually two and three cuticle layers deep. Combing hair with this degree of cuticle cracking causes significant breakage.

Ironing is icky

Ironing hair causes two different types of damaging depending on whether the hair is ironed dry or wet. Ironing dry hair causes radial and axial cracking along the edges of the cuticles, which can lead to chipping. Ironing wet hair causes the moisture to burst out in little steam explosions. This causes a bubbling and buckling of the cuticle that appears as tiny hair blisters under magnification.

Helpful heat treatments

Blow dry damage can be prevented by using products containing glycerin and propylene glycol because these actives retard water evaporation. Products like Tresemme Heat Tamer Sprayshould be helpful in this regard. You can also look for an ingredient called “hydrolyzed wheat protein polysiloxane copolymer,” which also showed significant reduction in cracking. Interestingly, while we would expect various silicones to have a similar effect, this study showed that silicones alone did NOT reduce cuticle cracking.

Iron damage can be reduced by using conditioners formulated with low molecular weight conditioners that can penetrate into the hair like cetrimonium chloride. Another study (see Reference 2) showed that exposing hair to heat in the presence of such a conditioning agent actually caused an increase in tensile strength (the force required to break a hair). This is because the heat reacts with the conditioning agents and cross links some of the protein chains inside the hair. Look for products like Sunsilk Heat Defense Creamif you want this effect.

Do YOU have any favorite products to ward off heat damage? Leave a comment and share your steamy secrets with the rest of the Beauty Brains community.

References (online links not available)

1. Gamez-Garcia, M. “The Cracking of Human Hair Cuticles by Cyclical Thermal Stresses,” J. Cosmetic Science, 49, 141-153 May/June 1998.

2. Ruetsch, S.B, et al, “Effects of Thermal Treatments with a Curling Iron on Hair Fiber,” J. Cosmetic Science, 55, 13-27 Jan/Feb 2004.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • maria February 20, 2014, 4:08 pm

    i found the tresemme care and protect but it has alcohol in the ingredients it the heat tamer spray better than this 1?

    • Randy Schueller February 20, 2014, 4:30 pm

      Maria: I’m not sure which product you’re talking about. Can you please send me a link? Thanks.

  • Kristen Harden March 24, 2014, 4:31 pm

    Would a dry or penetrating oil work as well as product specifically desgined to be a heat protecter? If not, what other products would you recommend for thermal protection that is NOT tested on animals?
    Thanks much!!

  • Rampukar yadav October 2, 2014, 3:43 am

    Can you advice me that my hair has been thin due to heat water, I need to make dense so I need your help as soon as possible please.



    • Randy Schueller October 2, 2014, 7:19 am

      What kind of products do you use on your hair now?

  • Arlene November 24, 2015, 10:59 pm

    Hello would products in the hair such as shine seums or gloss serums ( which contain silicone ) damage the hair if exposed to heat even I’ve applied
    The tresemme heat protectant
    spray over them ?

  • Sarah Na December 7, 2015, 8:46 pm

    I am wondering if you know anything about Kerastase Resistance’s “Ciment Thermique?” I don’t see the ingredients listed on the product and online I could only find a few vague ones. http://www.makeupalley.com/product/showreview.asp/ItemId=89966/Ciment-Thermique/Kerastase/Hair-Treatments – there’s at least one (3rd party) source of it.

    • Randy Schueller December 8, 2015, 8:24 am

      I took a quick look at the ingredients. It looks like a perfectly fine product but it doesn’t appear to contain any differentiating technology. You can probably find a similar product at a lower price if you Google the ingredients. Good luck!

  • candice February 11, 2016, 1:36 pm

    Awesome, just found Tress Guard heat protector recommend to you, http://www.tressguard.com
    Love to straight my hair, and hoping it can help you:)

  • Annie March 28, 2016, 12:30 am

    Check out the karmin Spray Heat Protector

  • Mary Ware July 1, 2016, 8:39 am

    Hello PERRY! Very much helpful tips if I am say so. The best heat protectant I have ever used is the GKhair ThermalStyleHer. Very effective against heat prior to styling. I’d definitely recommend it to everyone who wants to protect his/her hair during the blow drying process. Amazing product. 🙂 <3

  • Amy June 19, 2017, 2:55 pm

    My favorite heat protector is Alterna Caviar heat protectant spray, but is this a good option for the price?

    Water (Aqua), Dimethicone, Propanediol, Cetearyl Alcohol, Dicaprylyl Ether, Glycerin, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein, Hydrolyzed Soy Protein, Hydrolyzed Cottonseed Protein, Hydrolyzed Rice Protein, Hydrolyzed Corn Protein, Caviar Extract, Saccharomyces/Magnesium Ferment, Saccharomyces/Copper Ferment, Saccharomyces/Silicon Ferment, Saccharomyces/Zinc Ferment, Saccharomyces/Iron Ferment, Phospholipids, Panthenol, VP/VA Copolymer , Retinyl Palmitate, Cyanocobalamin, Pyridoxine HCl, Tocopheryl Acetate, Cetrimonium Chloride, Biotin, Ascorbic Acid, Superoxide Dismutase, PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Amodimethicone, C11-15 Pareth-7, Laureth-9, Trideceth-12, Behenyl/Stearyl Aminopropanediol Esters, Behentrimonium Chloride, Disodium EDTA, Hydroxypropyl Cyclodextrin, Benzophenone-4, Polysilicone-15, Sodium Methoxy PEG-16 Maleate/Styrene Sulfonate Copolymer, Isopropyl Alcohol, Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate, Phenoxyethanol, Fragrance (Parfum), Hexyl Cinnamal, Limonene, Linalool, Geraniol, Coumarin, Citral.

    • Randy Schueller June 20, 2017, 8:11 am

      I don’t know, how much is it?

      • Sue May 21, 2018, 2:26 pm

        Hi – I love your site! 🙂

        I am also curious about Alterna Caviar CC Cream. This is said to protect hair up to 450F. Of course there are many price variances since the ‘bad guys’ tend to flood the market with counterfeit products, for all brands – which may explain the cost between Amazon vs Ulta – See links below.

        ***Though, cost aside – do you believe this product has ingredients that would provide good protection from blow drying and flat ironing? ***

        I prefer the creams since I always wonder about breathing in the mists of products I am spraying (with asthma what’s in the air is always on my mind). So far this one seems to make my hair feel nice, but I’m not sure if it is actually doing what it says – protecting and “healing” my hair.

        Again – amazing site! 🙂