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What Is Keratin, and Does My Hair Need It?

BY: Editors | May 20, 2019

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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.

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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.

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