You know that more protein is a good thing for your diet, but can it help your hair, too? That’s the philosophy behind the rising popularity of keratin shampoos.
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“Keratin is a protein naturally found in the flat cells of our hairs—it keeps them strong, elastic and healthy,” says Kelly Monica, a celebrity hair stylist and owner of Kelly Monica Hair Co. in Atlanta, Ga. “But the amount of keratin in our hair diminishes on its own, which leaves the hair feeling brittle and dry.”
The keratin craze began as a salon-only treatment that originated in Brazil as a semi-permanent straightening process for curly or frizzy hair, and came to the U.S. about 2007. (They were also known as Brazilian blow-outs.) Since then, the products have been improved, with some potentially dangerous chemicals removed, and now they’re often recommended as a smoothing treatment for anyone with dry, damaged hair—curly or straight.
With the popularity of the treatment in salons, it’s no surprise that keratin is the new buzzword in the shampoo aisle now, too. Tons of products promise that you can not only extend the life of your salon treatment with a shampoo, but even replace the treatment altogether by simply washing with them regularly.
Naturally it’s tempting to try keratin the bargain way, but professional hair stylists are divided on the effectiveness of these products on their own.
“If you’ve had a keratin treatment in the salon, keratin-protecting shampoos are essential—normal shampoos will quickly wash away that expensive treatment,” says Avi Elkayam, hairdresser and CEO of Runway Tools. “I’m not totally convinced that keratin shampoos by themselves really do anything.”
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Others believe the shampoos do work—just not as instantaneously as an expensive salon treatment.
“Keratin shampoo works like a domino effect—by using the product consistently, it builds up protein levels on the hair, making it stronger and sleeker,” says Amanda Shackleton, a celebrity hair stylist and makeup artist. “You may not see the results immediately, but after time, you will feel your hair getting softer, and in some cases see less split ends.”
If you want to road-test the trend at home yourself, keep a few cautions in mind.
“If you leave keratin shampoos or conditioners on beyond their recommended time, your hair will become brittle and start to break,” Elkayam says. “Too much protein is just as bad as not enough!”
Shackleton says price isn’t necessarily an indicator of quality but suggests avoiding shampoos with sulfates (which many drugstore brands still contain), which can cause damage that counteracts the good you’re doing.
And as with any hair care products, what works for your best friend or stylist may not be right for you. “More than just the price is getting the correct formula for your hair type,” Shackleton says. “Unfortunately there is no guarantee—it’s trial and error.”
We did some product testing ourselves, with a few brands available to consumers. Here are our thoughts:
Keratin Complex Shampoo
This product smells identical to Johnson’s Baby Shampoo, but in every other way it’s clearly high-end. It feels silky going on and leaves hair smooth with tons of volume. And while some keratin shampoos feel drying, this seemed to boost moisture, too.
It’s a 10 Miracle Shampoo Plus Keratin
Our tester with the longest locks loved that you only need a small amount of this super-thick product for one shampoo (cost-effective!). Surprisingly, it rinses out easily and leaves hair super-clean and easy to manage.
Organix Brazilian Keratin Therapy Shampoo
The avocado oil and cocoa butter in this drugstore shampoo made our hair super-glossy in addition to the smoothing effects of the keratin. Organix products are also sulfate- and paraben-free, which can be hard to find at such a low price.
KeratinPerfect Perfect Cleanse Keratin Enhanced Shampoo
A tester prone to oily locks appreciated that not only did this shampoo calm frizzies and straighten as promised, but left her hair clean enough to skip a wash the next day.
Suave Color Care Keratin Infusion Lower Sulfate Shampoo
Don’t tell the salons, but we were pretty impressed with this bargain offering. It left hair super-soft and controllable—and the spicy smell is luxurious. We do take the warnings about sulfates seriously, though, so would be inclined to use it only occasionally.
Keranique Volumizing Shampoo for Thinning Hair
Our fine-haired testers didn’t necessarily experience the miracle hair thickening this product promises, but that tends to take more time than we had for this test. We did really like the day-to-day effects of using this shampoo, from the tingling peppermint smell and sensation (great for early mornings) to the noticeable body it imparted.