Heat tools for hair, like straighteners, curling irons, and hair dryers are one of the biggest culprits of hair damage. Although there is no way to totally reverse the damage, you can minimize some negative effects by applying a thermal protecting leave-in styling product. In fact, two studies published in the Journal of Cosmetic Science (1998 and 2011) have shown that several ingredients (which include copolymers, hydrolyzed protein, and cationic surfactants) can minimize hair breakage when applied before thermal exposure.
The Good Housekeeping Institute Beauty Lab tests hundreds of haircare and styling products each year, from shampoos and conditioners to dry shampoos and smoothing serums. In the Lab, products are evaluated on real human hair swatches using technical instruments and they are also distributed to consumers for at-home use feedback, including ease of application, effects on hair, and overall satisfaction. While the GH Beauty Lab hasn't tested the heat protection efficacy of these products, our Beauty Lab experts say that heat protectants really do work "by coating hair ... masking the degraded surface of damaged hair, and improving hair manageability, which in turn results in reduced hair breakage," says Beauty Lab Director Birnur Aral, Ph.D.
We rounded up the best heat protectant products you can buy from a combination of Beauty Lab top-tested formulas, editors' picks, and stylers that contain the key ingredients mentioned above. No matter your strand type or texture (curly, fine, dry, colored) read on for healthier, protected hair:
For both heat protection and smoothing benefits, look no further than this powerhouse spray formula from Matrix. A study has shown this lightweight mist can guard strands against heat from flat irons up to 450°F as compared to hair treated with heat alone. For best results, spritz it all over dry hair before straightening.
- Easy-to-apply mist
- Effectively shields hair from even high heat
- Smooths strands
This Garnier cream created to be used with hot tools is one of the GH Beauty Lab's top-tested products at the drugstore for heat protection. Added bonus: it's a strong frizz fighter. In the Lab's anti-frizz styling product test, the formula scored well for taming frizz throughout the day without leaving hair feeling sticky or greasy.
- Shields hair from heat
- Effectively smooths and combats frizz
A versatile, lightweight styler with heat protectant properties, Shu Uemura is a GH editor favorite. "This is really great for anyone hoping for a blowout with more volume, or if you want to use a curling iron, since it helps define curls and provides a bit of hold sans feeling crunchy or stiff," says GH beauty assistant Katie Katie Berohn.
- Adds hold without stiffness
- Defines curls
- Boosts volume
A winner of the GH Beauty Lab's anti-frizz styler test, this multi-tasking Kérastase mist tames frizz, key for curly hair, plus adds shine and leaves hair feeling soft. Containing several ingredients like xylose, protein, and silicones, it can also to protect strands from the heat of styling tools.
- Contains heat protective ingredients
- Fights frizz
- Softens hair
A top performer in the GH Beauty Lab's volumizing styling products test, this blowdry mist not only protects hair against heat but also helps make fine hair look voluminous and full all day long without any heaviness or crunchy, tacky feeling "I like this product better than the volumizing spray I get at my salon," a tester said.
- Shields hair from heat
- Provides all-day volume
- Lightweight and non-sticky
This blowdrying cream from Briogeo contains hydrolyzed proteins for heat protection and a combination of conditioning ingredients including botanical oils to smooth strands without any heaviness.
- Smooths hair
- Made with conditioning ingredients
- Might make hair a bit stiff
This heat protective mist from Pantene was created for natural hair textures and a range of curl types up to 4c. It contains polymers that form a protective barrier on hair, which reduces moisture loss from the heat of styling tools, plus conditioning ingredients to smooth strands to silky, shiny perfection. The spray can be used on wet or dry hair for blowdrying or straightening.
- Can be used for blowdrying or straightening
- Protects against moisture loss on textured hair
Hydrating, frizz taming, and blow dry accelerating, Redken's Frizz Dismiss is an all-in-one formula especially great for straightening hair. "It helps makes my super thick hair feel manageable, seals in smoothness, and cuts my blow dry time," Berohn says.
- Improves manageability
- Smooths hair and speeds dry time
Cutting the time you blow dry your hair is one way to minimize hair damage. In our GH blow dry accelerator test, this Paul Mitchell serum decreased drying time by 8%. Bonus: It smells amazing!
- Cuts blow dry time to reduce damage
- Great scent
- Adds shine
Drybar's Hot Toddy contains a blend of silicones, polymers, and cationic surfactants that can help minimize some of the damage caused by the heat from blowdryers. The weightless formula is perfect for those with thin or oily hair. For best results, apply on damp hair before blowdrying.
- Weightless formula
- Ingredients proven to protect against heat damage
- Some might find it not moisturizing enough