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What Does Keratin Do?

by Jackie|27 January, 2021|Blog / Hair health / 

Keratin, a protein that can help smooth and strengthen hair, is a great addition to your hair care routine. The keratin benefits for hair include making hair more resistant to damage, taming frizzy hair, and repairing hair after chemical or heat exposure.

WHAT IS KERATIN?

Keratin is a fibrous, protective protein that provides the structure for human hair, nails, and the outermost layers of your skin – and your horns, hoofs, wool, claws, and feathers if you were an elk, a horse, a lizard, or a bird.

Keratin that is found as an ingredient in various hair products and hair cleansers is derived from horns, hoofs, wool, and feathers of various animals. Since keratin – less vulnerable to damage than other types of cells in the body – is the structural foundation of your hair strands, the theory is that keratin-enriched products can make your hair stronger, healthier, and more resistant to daily wear-and-tear.

HOW DOES KERATIN WORK?

Keratin works to make hair smoother and more manageable by smoothing out the overlapping shingles that form each hair strand’s outer shell called the cuticle. This layer of cells absorbs keratin that is applied, whether in a styling product or during special treatment processes. Like keratin, jojoba oil can act in a similar way; learn more about jojoba oil benefits for hair.


These treatments – generally referred to as Brazilian keratin treatments – are used primarily to make natural hair or curly hair less so, iron out frizz, and make hair easier to style. They act by restructuring the bonds that bind the keratin protein together and turning curly or frizzy strands to straight and smooth. It’s essentially a perm in reverse. During a keratin hair treatment, a cream is applied to your hair before it is dried and then straightened. Once the cream is washed out, another treatment is applied along with heat to “set” the results. The effects of keratin smoothing treatment can last up to three months.

Keratin serums, keratin shampoo, and keratin conditioner do not have nearly as dramatic effects as the salon treatments do. Still, keratin-enriched oil can help make hair somewhat more resistant to damage, and help repair hair that has been exposed to chemicals or heat. Keratin oil can also combat frizzy hair and make the hair shaft more smooth. Research shows that keratin can be a solution for those in need of stronger, less fragile or delicate strands. While keratin has many benefits, there are also other oils and vitamins that are equally as beneficial. It may take a blend of ingredients to make your hair more robust, so learn about all the essential oils that are good for hair, including the benefits of peppermint oil.

HOW DO I GET KERATIN?

There are three ways to deliver keratin to your hair:

• Internally: Keratin supplements are available in powder and capsule forms. Proper dosage is crucial because overuse can result in the protein building up inside your body. Check with your doctor or a nutritional expert.

• Topically: Look for hair products that contain keratin – from shampoos to serums. Some brands feature entire product collections created around the ingredient.

• Treatments: You can go to a salon for a professional keratin treatment if you think the price tag of at least $300 and up to $800 is really worth it (at-home versions run about $50, but the mess and the learning curve may not be worth it).

THE DARK SIDE OF KERATIN

We hesitate to even mention keratin treatments; aside from robbing hair of its unique texture and behavior, the health risks are significant for both you and your hairdresser. Why? Because salon treatments either contain formaldehyde or emit it once heat is applied, and formaldehyde is a dangerous toxin and has been known to cause hair damage.

Shockingly, Brazilian Blowouts and other keratin treatments have stayed on the market despite users complaining of eye-stinging, headache-inducing fumes. In 2017, the FDA’s scientists issued warning letters to two companies that produced hair-smoothing products containing formaldehyde for a failure to disclose potential health risks.

While these companies claimed their products were “formaldehyde-free,” the bottles contained methylene glycol - a chemical that converts to formaldehyde gas after being exposed to air and heat. Studies of workers exposed to high levels of formaldehyde have found an increased risk of myeloid leukemia and rare cancers of the nose and pharynx. Some ingredients do not belong in your hair and it’s important to know which ones to avoid.

To use these products safely, “you’d have to do the treatments in a wind tunnel,” said Bart Heldreth, executive director of the Cosmetic Ingredient Review, who concluded that formaldehyde and methylene glycol in levels over 0.2% are unsafe – and are not permitted for sale in Canada.

WHAT KERATIN DOES: THE BOTTOM LINE

Before you rush to the salon for a keratin treatment – our advice is to run in the opposite direction if you value your hairdresser’s health – we urge you to try versions of your go-to products that are formulated with it. All three versions of Hairstory New Wash – Original, Deep, and Rich – contain generous amounts in 100% detergent-free formulations.

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