If you blow dry or style your hair with hot tools, you need a heat protectant. But which one is the best? We’ve got some options for you in our informative guide, ranging from budget-friendly picks under $5 to the most splurge-worthy. Read on to learn more.
Looking for the Best Heat Protectant?
Most of the time, we’re pretty good about protecting ourselves from damaging elements. When you’re pulling a hot dish out of the oven, you use an oven mitt. If it’s 20 degrees outside, you put on a coat. And if you’re about to spend a day in the sun, you slather on some sunscreen.
But what are you doing to protect your hair when you blow dry, curl, or straighten it? You can’t just subject your lovely locks to the raw, intense heat from your blow dryer or flat iron.
It needs a layer of protection.
Human hair will burn and begin to melt at the same temperature that ignites paper: 451 degrees. Considering that most flat irons and curling irons go up to about 450 degrees, there’s not much room for error here.
Without heat protection, you can literally burn your hair with a hot tool if it’s even one degree off!
Let’s dive in and take a look at what heat protectants are, who should use one, and our top 5 picks for the best heat protectants. Then, we’ll talk about how to use a heat protectant and a few tips to help you avoid damaging your hair with heat.
What Is a Heat Protectant?
A heat protectant is a pretty self-explanatory hair product – it protects your hair from heat damage due to high temperatures from a blow dryer, curling iron, or flat iron. Heat protectants actually coat your hair with a thin layer or film that prevents intense heat from burning or wreaking havoc on your strands.
Most heat protectants use proven ingredients like hydrolyzed wheat protein, quaternium-70, and PVP/DMAPA acrylates copolymer to actually slow the rate of heat absorption into your hair. The result is more evenly distributed heat that gradually heats your hair rather than blasting it all at once.
Slow, gradual heat is less shocking than a sudden burst and it helps prevent intense heat from breaking down your hair.
Most heat protectants are sprays that you lightly mist all over your hair before applying any type of heat. Some are creams that are similar to leave-in conditioners. You’ll also find heat protectant serums.
The type you use is up to you and what works best for your hair. The idea is that you apply a heat protectant all over your hair, or at least on the parts that you’ll be subjecting to a blow dryer or hot styling tool.
Once you apply the product, you’ll be able to use your blow dryer, flat iron, or curling iron with drastically reduced levels of heat damage to your hair.
That’s important to note – heat protectants reduce the level of heat damage your hair experiences, but high temperatures will still have slightly damaging effects on your hair.
Do You Really Need a Heat Protectant?
If heat protectants don’t 100% insure your hair won’t be damaged by heat, do you really need to use one?
Yep. You’ve got to.
If you ever use a blow dryer or hot tools to style your hair – even if just once in a blue moon – you absolutely must have a heat protectant to avoid causing irreversible damage to your hair.
Here are a few reasons you really need to use a heat protectant:
- Protects your hair from burning or melting during hot styling
- Replenishes and seals in moisture usually lost with high heat
- Evenly distributes heat along hair shaft for less damage
- Reduces frizz and flyaways with conditioning ingredients
- Creates a silky-smooth look for straight, wavy, and curly styles
Now that you know about the benefits of using a heat protectant, what about the consequences of not using one?
What Happens If You Don’t Use a Heat Protectant?
If you don’t use a heat protectant, you’re definitely going to damage your hair each time you blow dry, curl, or straighten your hair. There’s no question. If you haven’t been using a heat protectant, you might already be noticing the following symptoms.
- Darker or brassy hair color: High temperatures without heat protection will slightly change the color of hair. Heat makes hair turn darker, or in the case of blondes, go brassy.
- Damaged hair: The cuticle, or outer surface, of your hair will literally crack under the “pressure” of heat. Under a microscope, heat-damaged hair looks frayed, cracked, and brittle. This allows heat to penetrate deep into the hair shaft, permanently damaging the hair.
- Weak hair: Since your hair is made up of the protein keratin, high heat will denature the protein and cause it to break down. Less keratin means weaker hair with less elasticity – meaning it’s easier to snap and break with little force.
- Dry, brittle hair: Your hair naturally contains moisture and needs it to stay healthy, but heat and steam damage actually causes that moisture to evaporate out and punch through the hair’s delicate structure. It’s similar to what happens to plants when temperatures dip below freezing.
- Misshapen curls: If you have curly hair, heat damage can result in “wonky” curls that lose their natural shape, become irregular, and look less defined. You’ll also notice more frizz and flyaways.
- Split ends: Dry, brittle hair goes hand-in-hand with split ends. Using hot tools without a heat protectant causes moisture evaporation, and when that moisture leaves the hair in the form of steam, it destroys the ends of the hair in the process.
Sounds pretty terrible, right? The good news is that with a good heat protectant, you can prevent ALL of this from happening. Next are our top 5 picks for heat protectants that prevent this type of damage!
Best Heat Protectant: Top 5 Picks
Whether you’re on a budget, ready to splurge, or just looking for an all-around awesome heat protectant, we’ve got you. Here are our top 5 picks for the best heat protectant. Every single product on this list has excellent reviews online, and is endorsed by me!
If you’re looking for a heat protectant spray that does it all – protects up to 450 degrees, won’t break the bank, works for all hair types, and has hair benefits beyond heat protection, then you’re going to love HSI Professional Argan Oil Heat Protector.
It works to protect hair from mild, medium, or extreme heat up to 450 degrees. It contains argan oil and vitamins to moisturize and seal hydration into hair during use. It minimizes frizz and flyaways, increases shine, makes hair soft, and smells really good.
You can even use this product as a leave-in conditioner! It works on natural hair, color-treated hair, and human hair extensions.
The formula is gentle without parabens, phosphates, or sulfates. Users give it a solid 4.4 stars, and there are a whopping 31,300+ reviews! You can’t go wrong with this one and it costs under $16.
You can get an amazing heat protectant spray for less than $4. Read that again. Less than $4! This one is a serious bargain, but it doesn’t mean you get less heat protection or hair benefits.
Grab the L’Oréal Paris Advanced Hairstyle SLEEK IT Iron Straight Heatspray for up to 3 days of heat protection that cuts frizz, increases shine, and offers lightweight conditioning. It won’t make your hair look or feel greasy like some heat sprays can.
You just spritz it onto damp or dry hair before applying heat. It’s that simple. This spray protects hair from heat as high as 450 degrees, so no matter how wild you get when you’re setting your flat iron temperature, you’re good with this one.
Reviewers have tested the 3-day claims and found that this product really does hold up. Reviews are awesome, giving this super-affordable product 4.5 stars from more than 29,750+ users.
One reviewer shared a helpful tip that this product can make your bathroom floor slippery after misting it. So make sure to put a towel down before you spray!
If you want the best and only the best for your locks, you’re willing to splurge a little on necessities like heat protectants. In that case, opt for Redken Extreme Play Safe Heat Protectant Spray & Leave In Conditioner.
This top-rated heat protectant is a cream that doubles as a leave-in conditioner. We say it’s a splurge, but it’s still really affordable. It’s just higher priced than some of the common drugstore brands because it’s made by world-renowned Redken (we recommend giving Redken shampoo a try, too).
It not only defends your hair from heat, but also has a ton of other health-boosting benefits. This heat protectant targets split ends, reducing their appearance by 70% after one use.
You’ll have about 28% less breakage because it fortifies and strengthens hair from the inside out. It protects at temperatures up to 450 degrees. Reviews are amazing for this Redken heat protectant. More than 1,400 users give it 4.5 out of 5 stars. If you can afford to splurge, this is what you should get.
Many heat protectants are rated for use at up to 450 degrees Fahrenheit, but this heat protectant is literally built for the high heat. If you have coarse hair, natural hair, or tend to use your flat iron or curling iron at the hottest setting, your hair will thank you when you use CHI 44 Iron Guard Thermal Protection Spray.
CHI is famous worldwide for their superior heat styling tools. It makes perfect sense that they’d have an awesome heat protection product in their lineup, too.
This spray works on all hair types, protects at up to 450 degrees, and comes in an 8-ounce bottle so it’ll last for a while. The spray won’t make your hair sticky or greasy. In fact, they call it a “brush glide formula” because of how easily your brush and styling tools will glide against this formula.
Reviews back up the product claims – more than 16,600 people say it’s a 4.5 star product. For sleek hair with no frizz and protection at even infernal temperatures, the CHI Iron Guard spray is best.
Anyone with curly/wavy/coily natural hair needs a heat protectant product that not only prevents heat damage, but also helps make the hair more manageable while reducing frizz. The old standby brand Cantu made it happen with Cantu Shea Butter Thermal Shield Heat Protectant.
Since curly and coily hair is actually quite fragile, it’s recommended to use lower temperatures to curl and straighten these hair types. This product protects up to 425 degrees – still an incredibly high temperature for hair.
But not quite at the 450 degree level of protection offered by other sprays and creams. Since you don’t need to be heating your hair beyond 425 degrees anyway, we think this product is an A+.
It is designed to actually put moisture back into your hair since heat causes your natural moisture to evaporate. It defines waves and curls, seals shea butter hydration into strands, and makes hair look shiny and feel soft.
But the coolest thing about this product is how well it actually works. One reviewer took the extra step of testing it out on a piece of toast. She spritzed one side of a piece of bread with this heat protectant and popped it into the toaster.
When it came out, the rest of the bread was dark and toasty – but the part treated with Cantu’s protectant was still white! Users say it smells *amazing* and give it 4.4 stars out of more than 6,100 reviews.
Did we mention that it’s also under $4 for a good-sized bottle? You need it.
Things to Consider Before Using a Heat Protectant
Shall we finish up with a few tips and tricks for using a heat protectant the most effective way? Now that you’ve got an idea of which heat protectant product you’ll get (or have already added it to your cart!), you can get even better results with the following tips.
Make sure you read before using a heat protectant spray, serum, or cream!
Heat protectants reduce damage by about 50%. Some products may offer slightly more protection, but studies have shown that these types of products cut heat damage by about half. So using a heat protectant doesn’t mean you should crank the heat all the way up or start styling with hot tools more than you normally do. It’s just there to prevent excessive damage.
Apply the product to dry or damp, not wet, hair. If you allow your hair to air dry, you can use a heat protectant on dry hair before flat ironing or curling it. Allow it to dry completely (should only take a minute or two) before styling.
If you plan to blow dry your hair, you’ll need to apply your heat protectant when your hair is damp, not soaking wet. If you apply it to wet hair, the product won’t have complete coverage on your strands. So either gently towel dry or allow hair to air dry until damp before using if you plan to blow dry.
Use hot tools with accurate temperature gauges. Tools with dial settings can swing wildly from one temperature to another. Choose styling tools that allow you to program specific temperatures or see the exact temperature in a digital display.
This way, you can ensure the temperature doesn’t go beyond your heat protectant’s capabilities and won’t fry your hair. Check out our recommendations for the Best Flat Irons for Your Hair Type to learn more about choosing the best.
Invest in a better hair dryer. For the most heat protection, you need to start with a high-quality hair dryer that dries in less time (less time=less heat damage), ensures smoother, frizz-free hair, and offers a range of heat settings to control how gentle it is on your hair.
Everyone’s heard about the Dyson Supersonic hair dryer by now for a reason. It. Is. The. Best. You can grab one for cheap when you buy refurbished! Check out my complete review to learn more about it: Dyson Supersonic Hair Dryer Review.
Limit hot tool usage. If you usually wash, dry, and style your hair everyday, this is your wakeup call. It’s too much! Even with a heat protectant, putting your hair through this much heat is a surefire way to get heat damage.
Instead, limit your usage to a few days per week. You’ll have healthier hair that is naturally more resistant to heat damage. Combined with a good protectant, you’ll avoid all the dryness, brittleness, split ends, and color darkening excess heat usage can result in.
Don’t let it linger. Even if you’ve coated your hair with the best heat protectant, you still need to work quickly while you style or dry your hair with heat. Don’t ever let your flat iron or curling iron linger on one section for more than a couple of seconds.
Steam, sizzles, and burning smells are your cue that you’ve exposed your hair to heat for too long. So keep it moving while drying or styling your hair and you’ll see healthier, less damaged hair!