How to protect no poo hair from heat?
With a no-shampoo method, hair likely doesn’t need to be heat styled as often because 1) the scalp’s oil production slows down so it doesn’t need to be washed as often, and therefore doesn’t need to be styled as often, and 2) hair hydration should start to improve so using heat tools to manage frizzy/dry hair isn’t as necessary as it used to be.
With shampoo, taming my natural waves used to be like taming a fluffy mane after each wash and blow dry, but now I only use a hair dryer occasionally and a flat iron it 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 hair is ideal, it is recommended to avoid it when possible, 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. (More on why to avoid silicones.)
No sulfates = No silicones either
When switching from shampoo to any “No-Poo” method, it’s important to cut out sulfates and silicones, which means silicone-filled heat protectants have to go. Silicones are one of the most common ingredient in commercial heat protectants; They coat hair in a protective barrier, which seals moisture in (and out), and helps keep heat away from the core of the hair shaft. They are the best at protecting hair from extreme heat tools, but they also cannot be removed from hair without a sulfate-shampoo– the harsh cleanser that strips 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 dry, brittle hair that won’t absorb moisture… So when cutting out sulfates, also cut out the silicones. So what should I use to protect my hair from heat styling?
Criteria for finding a natural heat protectant
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 used to protect hair from heat styling and their effectiveness as heat protectants. (Spoiler: I saved the best for last.)
Option 1: Does sebum protect hair from heat?
I’ve read many times that hair’s natural oils (aka sebum) protects 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. I learned sebum can help protect 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. Moving on…
Option 2: Will coconut oil protect hair from heat?
I’ve found several sources claiming some natural oils, like grapeseed oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil, can protect hair from heat styling tools. This would be great since these natural oils are often already in the kitchen cabinet– but keep reading because it’s not that simple…
Oil smoke point matters with heat protecting
The rule to follow when using oils as a heat protectant is to use an oil with a higher smoke point than the temperature heat tools reach. The “smoke point” is the temperature oil can be heated 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 it’s important to choose an oil with a high enough smoke point to withstand the temperatures of 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 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 hair.
Which oils protect hair from heat?
Oils have different compositions and properties, so it’s hard to know which ones will effectively protect 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 others. Unfortunately, there isn’t a whole lot of scientific evidence 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 a heat protectant oil: Determine the highest temperature each heat tool gets to (each tool and brand differs, so maybe look up specific models). Then make sure the oil chosen has a smoke point higher than the heat tools’ 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 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.
Refined vs Unrefined Oils: 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.
Heat protectant credibility? If going with a natural oil as a heat protectant, choose an oil that has a lot of people backing it up with positive feedback as a heat protectant. Protecting hair from heat damage is crucial, so the extra research is worth it in my opinion.
How to apply oil as a heat protectant: Evenly coat the hair shafts with a very thin layer of oil before applying heat. Try to use as little oil as possible so that hair doesn’t look greasy afterwards. If too much oil is used, it’s possible it will absorb into hair shafts overnight leaving hair less greasy in the morning. Or simply co-wash the oil out of hair, (work a silicone-free conditioner into the length of 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 for No Poo!
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 hair is rinsed with water, and they won’t leave buildup like regular silicones. Just make sure the product does not contain difficult-to-remove silicones, too. This page includes a list of ingredient names for water-soluble silicones to look for in the ingredients lists of hair products, and it also includes a list of the difficult-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, research each ingredient to ensure there are no hard to remove silicones in it. (Tedious, I know, but it is worth it in the long run to avoid 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: Why shea butter is the best no poo heat protectant
I use 100% pure, raw Shea Butter as my favorite 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 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 find Shea Butter:
Find 100% pure, raw Shea Butter at health food stores or online. 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.
I found 100% pure, raw Shea Butter at a Canadian health foods store. I also found a bunch of differently 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 which countries carries this brand. Another option is to purchase 100% pure, raw Shea Butter and add essential oils to it to change the fragrance if you want a different scent. (More on: how to make your hair smell good!)
How to use Shea Butter as a No Poo heat protectant:
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 greasyin the morning. If too much is applied, 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 seldom, so your mileage may vary.
Shea butter has many 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.