What Is Keratin, and Does My Hair Need It?

BY: Editors |Sep 20, 2022

woman with straight hair smiling

If you’re someone who struggles with frizzy hair or breakage-prone hair, you probably have come across keratin treatments on your quest for a good hair day. But what is keratin, exactly, and what does it have to do with good hair?

What is keratin?

Keratin is a protein that already exists naturally in your hair (and nails, for that matter).

  • Keratin forms a protective shield around the hair shaft and helps your hair stay elastic and youthful
  • Unfortunately, keratin can be depleted due to overstyling, heat, chemicals, and other damaging processes.

woman with straight hair blowing, eyes closed

So what is a keratin treatment?

A keratin treatment has become the catch-all term to refer to a hair-smoothing treatment. The exact results vary based on what type of keratin treatment you do.

  • Professional keratin treatment: breaks the bonds in hair to soften curl patterns and smooth frizz for 2–5 months (e.g.: Global Keratin Complex Hair Taming System)
  • At-home keratin treatment: coats the hair shaft with a barrier—such as silicone—to help protect it from humidity; a flat-iron smooths everything out (e.g.: Tresemmé 7 Day Keratin Smooth Heat Activated Treatment)

There are also keratin hair products, such as keratin shampoos, conditioners, and masks, that add keratin to back into protein-depleted hair. This results in reduced breakage and smoother hair.

Does my hair need a keratin treatment?

That depends. A stylist can consult with you to determine if a professional treatment is right for you. Our comprehensive guide to keratin treatments can help too. Where it gets tricky is with at-home keratin treatments.

If you have frizzy hair, an at-home treatment like the Tresemmé 7 Day Keratin treatment can be a good option if you don’t mind that results only last about a week. It’s significantly cheaper than a salon treatment and, apart from the flat ironing, shouldn’t damage your hair.

If you have breakage stemming from hot tools or bleaching, a keratin shampoo or mask can be beneficial as the added protein helps rebuild the structure of your hair. However, you absolutely must add a moisturizing conditioner or mask afterward. If you don’t, your hair will feel like straw.

Can you have too much keratin in your hair?

You bet. When you have a protein overload, your hair feels dry and brittle—again, like straw. The solution is getting rid of products designed to add protein and focusing on moisturizing products instead. (A professional deep-conditioning treatment is a good idea, too.)

Look at the ingredients in your hair products. If your hair feels like straw, stop using anything that contains:

  • Anything with the word protein in it (silk protein, quinoa protein, wheat protein, etc.)
  • Keratin
  • Hydrolyzed collagen
  • Amino acids
  • Oat flour

Another way to tell is to look at the hair product name. If the words “anti-breakage” or “strengthening” appear, it most likely contains protein.

salon banner

Related Reads

woman with a keratin treatmentHow a Keratin Treatment Can Give You Hollywood Hair

A keratin treatment can give you celebrity-worthy hair, but there's a lot to consider beforehand.
Brazilian blowoutWhat Is a Brazilian Blowout & How Long Does It Last?

The popular salon treatment fights frizz and smoothes curl patterns. Here's everything to know about it.
Woman with curly hairCurly Hair Tips and Tricks

How to wash, condition, and style your curly hair based on your curl type, plus why using a brush on your spirals may not be such a bad idea.
woman with naturally curly hair smilingThese Women are Doing Natural Hairstyles Right

Gorgeous Instagrammers teach us how they style their natural hair.
woman with loose braid smilingBraided Hairstyles for Your Next Blowout

These gorgeous braided 'dos are great for both casual and formal occasions.
Stylist styling woman's long hairShort vs Long Hair: Which Is Easier to Style/Maintain?

We asked, you debated, and a winner emerged.