Natural Heat Protectants for No-Poo & Water Only Hair
How do I protect my hair from heat?
You may find that you don’t have to heat style as often on No Poo mainly because 1) your scalp’s oil production slows down so you don’t have to wash it as often, and therefore don’t have to style it as often, and 2) your hair should no longer be frizzy or dry, so using heat tools to manage unruly hair isn’t as necessary as it used to be. With shampoo, taming my natural waves used to be like taming a lion’s mane after each wash and blow dry, but now I only use a hair dryer occasionally and a flat iron about once per month. (I’d just like to note that this level of low maintenance was completely impossible back when I used shampoo.) Of course, never using heat on your hair is ideal for its health, and I recommend you avoid it if you can, but some of us aren’t willing to give up that much yet. ;) And since I’m not willing to forego ever protecting my hair from heat tools on No Poo, I had to find a silicone-free alternative that works.
No Sulfates = No Silicones Either
When you switch from shampoo to any “No-Poo” method, you have to cut out the sulfates and the silicones, which means your silicone-filled heat protectants have to go. Silicones are the most common, and also the most important ingredient in commercial heat protectants; They coat your hair in a protective barrier, which seals moisture in (and out), and helps keep heat away from the core of your hair shaft. They are the best at protecting your hair from extreme heat tools, but they also cannot be removed from your hair without a sulfate-shampoo– the harsh cleanser that strips your hair of its natural oils– which we definitely don’t want to include in our routine. Without a sulfate-shampoo, the silicones can build up on hair shafts, causing hair to lose texture and definition, and sealing moisture OUT of the hair shaft which leads to drier, brittler hair that won’t absorb moisture… So when we cut out the sulfates, we have to cut out the silicones, too. So what should I use to protect my hair from heat styling?
Our Criteria for finding a Natural Heat Protectant
Criteria: I wondered if I could find a natural heat protectant that was inexpensive, could be used on dried or damp hair, and actually worked without leaving the unwanted buildup that silicones would.
Let’s explore four different methods people use to protect their hair from heat styling and their effectiveness as heat protectants. (Spoiler: I saved the best for last.)
Option 1: Sebum protects hair?
I’ve read many times that our hair’s natural oils (aka sebum) protects our hair from heat damage, and I’ve heard some people who follow a natural hair care routine say that’s why they don’t use anything at all to protect their hair from heat. It’s true that sebum can help protect our hair & skin from heat damage caused by the sun, but I haven’t found a credible source that states sebum is able to protect hair from direct heat of up to 400° F (~204° C) via flat irons, curling irons, or other heated styling tools. (If you find a source that does, please share it with me!) So while sebum is a natural product that may protect our hair from natural heat sources, I won’t solely rely on it to protect my hair from the unnatural, extreme temperatures of my heat tools, and I can’t recommend that you do it either. Moving on…
Option 2: Will Natural Oils Work?
I’ve found several sources claiming some natural oils, like grapeseed oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil, can protect your hair from heat styling tools. This would be great since many of us already have these natural oils on hand– but keep reading because it’s not that simple…
The general rule to follow when using oils as a heat protectant is to use an oil with a higher smoke point than the temperature your heat tools reach. The “smoke point” is the temperature you can heat an oil to before it starts to smoke. Once it reaches smoking temperatures, the oil can release toxic fumes, begin to smell or taste bad, and the nutrients in the oil start to degrade. So you need to make sure you choose an oil with a high enough smoke point to withstand the temperatures of your heat styling tools. (This is why it’s recommended to use extra virgin (unrefined) olive oil for things like salad dressings, and instead use a higher smoke point oil (like refined coconut oil) to cook your meals at high temperatures.) More on oil smoke points here.
Unfortunately, there is some controversy over whether or not just having a high smoke point is enough to determine whether an oil is suitable to actually protect your hair.
Oils have different compositions and properties, so it’s hard to know which ones will effectively protect your hair without doing a long-term experiment. I have not personally tested a lot of these oils as heat protectants, and the oils that I have tried, I haven’t used for long enough periods of time with high heat to feel comfortable personally recommending them to you. Unfortunately, there isn’t a whole lot of scientific evidence out there backing oils as solid heat protectants, and much of the information about the effectiveness of oils is anecdotal. But if you would like to try this option as a natural heat protectant, here’s what you need to know:
Choosing an oil: You should find the temperature each and every one of your heat tools gets to (each tool and brand differs, so you may need to google your specific model). Then make sure the oil you choose has a smoke point higher than those temperatures. Here and here are lists of oils and their general smoke points. Note that this is a list of cooking oils, so don’t assume all of these oils are good contenders for hair care (i.e. don’t use canola or vegetable oil on your hair). I recommend choosing an oil that has added natural benefits to it, for example Argan oil contains Vitamin E which is great for hair and skin, is moisturizing, promotes hair growth, adds shine without leaving a greasy residue, and many people already claim it works great for them as a heat protectant. Argan oil, avocado oil, and refined coconut oil, all seem to be popular choices with good feedback from people who have used them as heat protectants. You can cross-check their smoke points with your heat tools’ temperatures to see if they’d be good choices for you.
Refined vs Unrefined: Keep in mind that many types of oils come in two states: refined or unrefined, and their smoke points differ. The refined version of an oil will typically have a higher smoke point than the unrefined version of that oil, (for example, unrefined coconut oil has a smoke point of ~350 F, while refined coconut oil has a smoke point of ~450 F). But the refined version of that oil may contain less nutrients or natural benefits than the unrefined version. Keep that in mind when looking up the smoke points for different oils, and be sure to check the oil’s label for whether it is refined or unrefined.
Credibility? If you do decide to use a natural oil as a heat protectant, I highly recommend choosing an oil that has a lot of people backing it up with positive feedback as a heat protectant. You can try searching online for videos of people who can attest to using an oil with high heat tools for a long time so you can actually see the condition of their hair to know for sure if it works or not to your satisfaction. Protecting your hair from heat damage is crucial, so the extra research is worth it in my opinion.
How to apply it: You want to evenly coat your hair shafts with a very thin layer of oil before applying heat. Try to use as little oil as possible so that your hair doesn’t look greasy afterwards. If you used too much oil, it’s possible it will absorb into your hair shafts overnight leaving your hair less greasy in the morning. But if you don’t want to wait for it to absorb, you can simply co-wash the oil out of your hair, (work a silicone-free conditioner into the length of your hair, rinse it out and repeat one more time) and try again with less oil next time. Or keep reading, because there are other options to try!
Option 3: Water-Soluble Silicones are OKAY!
As I mentioned earlier, the best heat protectants are silicones, but they should be avoided on No Poo. Fortunately, some heat protectant products contain water-soluble silicones, which dissolve when you rinse your hair with water and won’t leave buildup like regular silicones. Just make sure the product you choose does not contain hard-to-remove silicones, too. This page includes a list of ingredient names for water-soluble silicones that you can look for in the ingredients lists of hair products, and it also includes a list of the hard-to-remove silicones which should be avoided. Please keep in mind that this is not the most comprehensive list, so before choosing a heat protectant, you should research each ingredient that you aren’t completely sure about, to ensure there are no hard to remove silicones in it. (Tedious, I know, but it will be worth it in the long run when you don’t suffer from silicone buildup.) If you would like more info about water-soluble silicones, check out this awesome, in-depth article here.
Product Recommendation: Nubian Heritage Honey and Black Seed Keratin Spray (<$15 USD, Amazon)
**Note: I have not personally tried this product, but this is the one I most frequently see recommended in No Poo forums and communities. Please do your own research before purchasing and read reviews! If you have your own product recommendations, please leave a comment below so I can look into them and add them to this list.
Option 4: [BEST] Why I use Shea Butter
I have to recommend 100% pure, raw Shea Butter as the best, completely natural heat protectant. Shea Butter seals the hair shaft and locks in moisture sort of like a silicone, but it’s completely natural and won’t build up on your hair like silicones would. This source says Shea Butter can be heated up to 450°F (233°C), which is super high, and it also has a long shelf life.
Where to buy: You can find 100% pure, raw Shea Butter at most health food stores or on Amazon. I don’t recommend searching for it at a drugstore or beauty supply store, because most of those products are Shea Butter blends which actually contain very little Shea Butter and a whole lot of other junk including silicones and preservatives, which we don’t want.
I found 100% pure, raw Shea Butter at a Canadian health foods store, but I didn’t like the way it smelled, but right next to it on the shelf were a bunch of different scented Shea Butter blends from the same company. I found a blend of Shea Butter, cocoa butter, and coconut oil that contains four ingredients (all natural) and smells like heaven (french vanilla mixed with chocolate). I called the company (Maiga) to make sure they use pure, raw, unrefined Shea Butter (they do) and they said all of their Shea Butter blends contain at least 80% Shea Butter, which is great! (P.S. This isn’t sponsored or anything; I am just really happy with their product.) Maiga has other Shea Butter blends/scents to choose from, though I’m not sure if your country carries this brand, but you can also buy 100% pure, raw Shea Butter and add essential oils to it to change the fragrance if you want a different scent.
To apply: I lightly touch my finger in the jar to get a tiny amount of Shea Butter on it, I warm it up between my fingers, then slide a very thin layer down each section of hair before using a flat/curling iron on it. Note that the product I use contains a small amount of coconut oil, which can look a bit greasy if I use too much, but 100% pure, raw shea butter shouldn’t do this. I keep the product away from my roots and only apply it on the length of my hair (where I use heat tools). I’ve also noticed it absorbs into my hair pretty well over night and doesn’t look greasy at all in the morning. If you find you’ve applied too much, you can rinse it out in the shower either with warm water or with a silicone-free conditioner. (Conditioner is great at washing away coconut oil.) I haven’t had an issue with buildup from Shea Butter, but I also use it & heat tools seldomly, so your mileage may vary.
Other uses: Shea Butter has SO many other uses as well, including the best skin hydrating properties I’ve ever seen, has anti-inflammatory properties, improves skin elasticity, helps heal scars, and makes for a super nourishing base ingredient in DIY body butters, lip balms, and deodorants.