When it comes to healthy hair, you've probably heard the word keratin mentioned and all of the haircare products that contain the ingredient. But you might not be totally sure what exactly it is and what it's supposed to do. So, I decided to help us all out and ask the experts what it's all about.
It turns out our skin, hair, and nails are all made up of keratin, which is a structural protein. "Hair is made up mainly of keratin, as well as some Keratin Associated Proteins or KAPs, lipids, and a few other minor constituents like minerals and water," explains Suveen Sahib, founder of K18 Hair. "Keratin exists in a few forms. The key to hair strength and elasticity lies in alpha keratin, which forms long, helical intertwined fibers in the hair's cortex. Think of it as a rope inside of the hair. These run along the length of hair and provide that resiliency that contributes to the hair's tensile strength."
Celebrity hairstylist, trichologist, and founder of Act + Acre, Helen Reavey, adds that keratin helps nourish the hair by filling in the gaps in the cuticle and is often used in haircare to help fight against frizz.
One way you can reap the benefits is to get keratin treatments at a salon. Sahib says the most well-known type of service is a Brazilian blowout, which includes washing the hair, applying a formula that contains a formaldehyde derivative and hydrolyzed keratin or a similar protein, and then blow-drying and flat ironing the hair to leave it looking shiny and sleek.
But the easiest way to get keratin benefits is through at-home products. "The cosmetics industry uses all different types of keratin," Sahib explains. "In most common hair care products, you'll see something called hydrolyzed keratin. This is essentially keratin that's been broken up into smaller fragments. When these are applied to your hair, the bigger pieces coat the exterior of the hair or work to patch damaged sites on the cuticle. If the pieces are small enough, they are able to fit inside of the hair where they may bind individually in the cortex. In both cases, they can impart conditioning properties to the hair fiber by enhancing shine or forming a barrier to cover up existing damage."
Sahib's K18 products are a mix between a salon treatment and an at-home product. "Precisely the right size and molecular structure to fit in and reconnect broken polypeptide (keratin) chains, K18 restores hair strength and elasticity by reconnecting damage sites along the y-axis (length) of hair. This does not require harsh conditions to work—no hazardous chemicals and no extreme pH changes. This is because of biomimetics (the practice of learning from and mimicking nature). The K18 peptide's interactions with hair keratin are the ways in which hair keratins interact among themselves."
For at-home keratin products like shampoos and conditioners, people who have chemically-treated hair or are dealing with frizz can benefit from them. These products can help repair and strengthen damaged hair. And they also have some growth benefits, too. "If your shampoo has an adequate amount of keratin for your hair it can nourish the scalp and stimulate the hair growth cycle," Reavey says.
For an all-natural alternative, Reavey recommends trying Act + Acre's Restorative Hair Mask, which contains castor oil and hydrolyzed vegetable protein that acts similarly to keratin.
So in short, keratin shampoo does have its benefits on your strands. But you'll also want to make sure you're doing other things to repair and prevent any damage, like using nourishing hair masks or other treatments, avoiding washing your hair too often, getting regular trims, and being extra careful when you're using hot tools.
Take a look at some keratin shampoo and conditioner options below.
1. Virtue Recovery Shampoo
Virtue has a proprietary ingredient, Alpha Keratin 60ku, which is derived from human hair, so our bodies can recognize it as our own, which makes it powerful and effective. "Unlike other 'keratins,' which are highly processed animal by-products (feathers, sheep's wool), this is a unique protein that is derived from human hair, and carefully extracted to remain whole and fully functional," explains Adir Abergel, Virtue Labs Creative Director. "Since it is essentially hair, it 'sees' cracks of damage, and goes where it's needed to repave and heal the damage, giving you your best hair possible. It actually repaves the cracks of damage like repaving a road."
This shampoo and conditioner (below) duo repairs and rebuilds damaged hair. "It's incredibly hydrating without weighing down your hair, leaving each strand feeling smoother, softer, and restored," Abergel says. "It helps repair damage from heat styling, coloring, or environmental pollutants that have affected your hair health. It is also free of parabens, sulfates, phthalates, synthetic colors, and dyes."
2. Virtue Recovery Conditioner
This conditioner contains hydrolyzed quinoa for shine and moisture retention; baobab seed oil, which acts as an emollient; grapefruit extract to revitalize the scalp; and of course, Alpha Keratin 60ku.
3. Kérastase Discipline Sulfate-Free Smoothing Shampoo
Reavey also recommends Kérastase's shampoo. It cleanses gently while adding softness and shine.
4. Kérastase Discipline Sulfate-Free Smoothing Shampoo
Kérastase's conditioner feels weightless, yet it still softens, smooths, and detangles the hair. It also protects against humidity.
5. Nexxus Keraphix Shampoo
Nexxus's keratin shampoo goes deep in the hair fiber to repair your strands. The formula contains a blend of keratin protein and black rice to nourish rough and brittle hair.
6. Nexxus Keraphix Conditioner
And the conditioner part of Nexxus's at-home keratin treatment has a concentrated formula to deeply moisturize and nourish the hair. It will leave your strands soft and silky.
7. Oribe Shampoo for Magnificent Volume
If you're looking for thickness and volume, but also want to ward off any frizz, this one's for you. Key ingredients include hydrolyzed vegetable protein and keratin proteins to strengthen the hair, plus panthenol to hydrate.
8. Oribe Conditioner for Magnificent Volume
A lot of conditioners can leave your hair weighed down, but not this one. It contains high-tech polymers to add some oomph to your hair, plus shea butter, Japanese bamboo, and radish root to moisturize and protect the skin's barrier.
9. Keranique Scalp Nourishing Shampoo Curl Preserve
Made for curly hair, this shampoo enhances curl definition, while also smoothing frizz and flyaways. Ingredients include panthenol for moisture retention; keratin to smooth and repair; biotin to nourish the hair fiber and follicle; and a keratin amino complex to strengthen the hair and nourish the scalp.
10. Keranique Nourishing Keratin Conditioner Curl Preserve
For even more moisture, add this conditioner to your curly hair routine. It works to amp up the shine and reduce breakage.
11. It's a 10 Miracle Shampoo Plus Keratin
This daily shampoo is infused with keratin to strengthen the hair, protect against humidity and sun damage, and prevents breakage. It's also ideal for anyone who's had keratin treatments already.
12. It's a 10 Miracle Deep Conditioner Plus Keratin
Warning: This conditioner is ultra-moisturizing. And that's a good thing, right? It works to reverse damage, restore shine, and seal and protect your hair color.
13. OGX Ever Straightening + Brazilian Keratin Therapy Smoothing Shampoo
Infused with keratin protein, coconut oil, avocado oil, and cocoa butter, this shampoo will leave your hair stronger and shinier. And did we mention that another bonus of those nourishing ingredients is that the combination just smells so good?
14. OGX Ever-Straightening + Brazillian Keratin Therapy Conditioner
This conditioner works well with its shampoo mate. Massage it through your hair (making sure you get your ends) and leave it on for three to five minutes to let it work its magic.
15. Biolage Advanced Keratindose Shampoo
Biolage's shampoo is made for overprocessed, weak, and fragile hair. It gently cleanses while also preventing breakage and promoting shine and elasticity. The formula is free of sulfates, parabens, silicone, artificial colorants, and mineral oils.
16. Biolage Advanced Keratindose Conditioner for Overprocessed Hair
And Biolage's matching conditioner moisturizes and smooths damaged strands. It also prevents further breakage.
17. Vernon François
Designed for natural 4C hair, this shampoo contains a plant-based keratin to repair and strengthen the hair against future damage. The sulfate-free product is also formulated with natural ingredients like green tea extract, pine bark, and chamomile flower, which all work to prevent hair thinning and loss.
18. Vernon François Pure Fro Conditioner
This conditioner is a bit different from the other options on the list because it's a spray formula instead, but it's great because you can evenly distribute it and also target certain areas. Just rinse it off after five minutes. Like its Pure Fro shampoo counterpart, it contains keratin, but it's also formulated with lavender and eucalyptus to keep the hair shiny and healthy.
19. Garnier Fructis Damage Eraser Shampoo
The main ingredients in Garnier's shampoo are amla oil extract and phytokeratin, which are plant-based amino acids that are similar to what's naturally found in your hair.
20. Garnier Fructis Damage Eraser Conditioner
Pair the above shampoo with this conditioner for the full effect. The conditioner will infuse some moisture into your strands. All you need to do is work it from root to tip and rinse off.
Next: My Hair and Scalp Feel Reborn Whenever I Use This Unappreciated Type of Shampoo
Sarah is lifestyle writer and editor with over 10 years of experience covering health and wellness, interior design, food, beauty, and tech. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she attended New York University and lived in New York for 12 years before returning to L.A. in 2019.
In addition to her work on THE/THIRTY and Who What Wear, she held editor roles at Apartment Therapy, Real Simple, House Beautiful, Elle Decor, and The Bump (sister site of The Knot).
She has a passion for health and wellness, but she especially loves writing about mental health. Her self-care routine consists of five things: a good workout, “me” time on the regular, an intriguing book/podcast/playlist to unwind after a long day, naps, and decorating her home.