How Does Heat Protectant Spray Work?

by Leah Williams | Updated: 12/03/2021

Heat protectants have been shown to work at reducing the damage heat styling tools inflict on hair. It works like a shield which protects the hair from direct contact with hot plates.

Heat protectants contain other ingredients which nourish and moisturize the hair from the inside, which cuts down on frizz and dryness.

I’ve worked with clients who were close to irreparably damaging their hair because of not doing the right prep, and yes, not using a heat protectant. While hair damage is treatable, it’s more important to prevent it. That’s why heat protectants are a vital part of a styling routine.

In this article, I’ll cover the benefits of using a heat protectant and how the product works to reduce heat damage. I’ll show you how to choose and use a heat protectant, as well some other things you can do to protect your hair.

Everything You Need to Know About Heat Protectants

Do heat protectants work?

Heat protectants have been proven to work in independent studies. These studies covered the following ingredients:

Because of the composition of the materials, they serve as an effective barrier between the hair surface and the heat source.

However, effective ingredients are not limited to those mentioned above. There are other materials which have the same properties but they need further studies to prove their efficacy. Up ahead, I will help you choose the right heat protectant spray for your hair and analyze its ingredient list.

Why do you need a heat protectant?

Even if you use a heat protectant spray regularly, you may not be aware of exactly why you need it. A lot of articles preach how it’s a must but to give you a deep understanding of this, you need to know how heat styling affects your hair.

Prolonged sun exposure wreaks havoc on the hair because of UVA and UVB rays, but imagine what direct heat can do, such as those coming from the plates of your flat iron.

Whether the heat source is near or far, a high temperature changes the hair cuticle. Heat dries out your strands. The structure of your hair is altered, which is how the straightener or curling iron changes the pattern of your hair. Once the bonds are broken, the hair becomes more malleable and take on a new shape.

However, these have negative effects. Aside from dryness, heat can change the pigment in the hair. This results in color fading and brassiness.

On a finer level, heat styling causes ruptures or cracks in the hair cuticle, which seals in moisture, and strengthen and protect your hair. Your cuticle when placed under a microscope consists of scales packed in layers. These are made from dead skin cells and the scales look like roof tiles. This is the jacket that stores the living tissue of the hair. Once this cracks, your hair becomes vulnerable to external elements.

Once the cuticle cracks, the moisture stored escapes. The keratin bonds are weakened. Hair becomes dry and frizzy. It’s not possible for hair to heal completely from this damage, and you have to wait until it grows out.

This damage is caused by direct application of heat 266 °F. Experts are split over the exact temperature but essentially, the higher you go, the deeper the damage you will inflict.

How does a heat protectant work?

A heat protection spray, when applied, forms a thin barrier between heat styling tools and the hair. This film slows down the rate in which heat is absorbed. As a result, heat is diffused more evenly.

The coating also helps seal in the moisture. Some protectants may even contain conditioning ingredients such as amino acids, oils and humectants. These makes hair more slippy, which helps with detangling.

There are oils which don’t feel as greasy or heavy on the hair. These include grapeseed, argan, or avocado oil. Try these if you have fine or thin hair.

Also, these dual purpose heat protectant sprays prevent and treat the loss of moisture, in a way that a wash-off or leave-in conditioner does.

Though heat protectant sprays fulfill this purpose, they don’t work as effectively as creams and serums.

Some heat protection sprays contain filters which protect the hair from UV rays, serving as a sunscreen to ward off other heat sources.

How to Choose the Best Heat Protectant

Confused about what heat protection spray or cream to buy? Here are the most important things to consider.

Hair Type

Use a hair protectant formula that suits your hair type. A heat protectant comes in spray, cream, serum, and rinse-out types.

If you have fine hair, look for a heat protectant spray. The creamier formulas are too heavy for your locks and will give you a greasy look, instead of conditioning your hair.

If you hair is normal to coarse, you have a wide variety of heat protectants to choose from. Around 5 to 6 sprays should be enough for your mane.

It may be tempting to slather on a heat protection product but in this case, too much of a good thing is bad. Putting more heat protectant won’t multiply its benefits. Use just the right amount, unless you’re going for a wet look.

Ingredients

Aside from the proven active ingredients, you should look for a heat protection spray or cream with supporting ingredients for nourishment and a boost in moisture. These include fatty acids, vitamins, silicones, hydrolyzed wheat protein, Quaternary 70, and PVP/DMAPA acrylates copolymer.

If you have oily hair, avoid silicone-heavy heat protectants which will only cause buildup and grease.

How to Use a Heat Protectant Properly

By now, I hope I’ve convinced you to use a heat protection spray or product in your styling regiment. But how do you use a heat protectant properly, you may ask. These are the steps to follow before using a straightener or curling iron.

First, choose a high quality tool, preferably one with variable heat controls. Choose the right material for your hair type. Shoddy flat irons and curlers exacerbate damage because they don’t distribute heat as evenly and can even burn your hair.

If you are blow drying your hair, you can use a heat protectant on damp hair beforehand. Wet hair absorbs the product better.

If you’re straightening, apply it on dry hair. Alternately, you can use it on damp hair and wait for it to dry.

Whatever you do, keep your hair away from hot plates when it’s wet. Hair is very fragile when it’s wet so be gentle and be patient.

To distribute the heat protectant evenly, divide your hair in sections. Apply the product to each section evenly. Then, run a comb through your mane to make sure the strands are coated.

Other Ways to Protect Hair from Damage and Promote Hair Health

  1. Stop heat styling when you see signs of damage.
    Signs of damage include split ends and breakage. If your locks are looking dry or feeling very dry, almost straw-like, it’s recommended to halt using straighteners and curling irons until it recovers.
  2. Limit the use of straighteners and curling irons.
    Even if your hair is not showing outright signs of damage, you should still minimize heat styling to preserve strength and elasticity. You shouldn’t straighten or curl more than twice a week. This is even more important if you have colored or chemically-treated hair, which may already be dry to begin with.
  3. Have a solid haircare routine.
    Slather conditioner and hair mask on your hair at least once a week. Your hair is thirsty and needs all the moisture it can get.
  4. Straighten and curl your hair properly.
    Follow the recommended heat setting for your hair type. It needs to be at a gentle yet effective temperature. The goal is to minimize heat exposure. The fewer the passes, the better. Go low and slow, to begin with. Starting at a high temperature right away in an effort to make styling quicker can backfire.
  5. Visit your hairstylist.
    If all else fails and the damage has completely taken over your mane, go for a trim. You can either ask your stylist to chop off the ends or go for a drastic haircut and start fresh.

Wrap Up

A heat protectant is a vital product if you use flat irons and curling irons. They protect the strands from direct heat.

However, they only reduce hair damage. They cannot prevent it. Styling in moderation is the best way to prevent wrecking your locks.

Remember to use extra precautions when heat styling and back off when you see signs of damage.

For buying guides and other top tips, check out our other articles.

About the Author

Leah Williams is the founder of Lucky Curl and has been in the hair care and styling industry for the last 15 years. Since then, she has developed incredible expertise and a deep understanding of how to treat and style the most difficult hair types and is passionate about sharing her knowledge with the readers of Lucky Curl.