Protection from heat is one of the most important elements of natural hair care and one of the most difficult. Almost every styling tool involves a transfer of heat, and years of flat ironing, curling, blow-drying and even sun exposure can leave your hair weak and brittle. In my quest to transition my hair from relaxed to natural for the first time in over a decade, the need for a great heat protectant became a reoccuring theme.

To see what works for me, I gathered some of the most popular drugstore heat protectants in the natural hair care community. I looked at how they compare to each other, how promises matched what they delivered and which had the best frizz and heat protective abilities.

What makes a good heat protectant

Heat strips your hair of moisture from the inside out, dehydrating the hair and making it prone to breakage — the archenemy of all natural hair women. Heat can also cause unwanted color changes and molecular changes in the structure of your hair. Specific heated styling procedures like drying can even make your hair more prone to flyaways and static charge.

A great way to prevent heat damage is to cut heat out of your hair care regimen as much as possible, if not altogether. But for those of us that find that difficult, a good heat protectant is a must.

A good heat protectant:

  • Adds moisture to your hair
  • Adds a protective barrier that reduces moisture loss when heat is applied
  • Provides a key defense (aside from proper temperature and tools) against frizz and heat damage
  • Has more natural ingredients and less harsh sulfates and chemicals that could damage your hair

What I’m testing and why

It was actually pretty difficult to find big-name, credible websites with heat protectant reviews I could reference. Heat protectants in general are a hot topic with online beauty publications and blogs, but heat protectants require different traits for different textures of hair. Unfortunately, reviews for African American or grade 4 hair are few and far between on larger websites and publications.

Niche magazines like Essence and Ebony were a key resources in my selection process, along with customer reviews from Amazon. All of these products have 4+ stars on Amazon and multiple glowing reviews from real consumers with kinky, curly hair. I also consulted top natural hair care blogs since it’s usually best to look to each other for advice. All of these products are available at your local grocery or drugstore, and they’re affordable to test out and later purchase if you fall in love.

Products tested:

I typically style my hair with medicated Sulfur8 hair grease for my dry scalp, so I was curious to see how effective these popular drugstore picks were at fighting humidity without feeling heavy, as Sulfur8 tends to feel.

How I tested

It’s important that I incorporated these heat protectants into my hair care routine as naturally as possible to get a fair review of the product. My leave-out is what gets the most heat action, so I tested these heat protectants on those portions of my hair, which includes the right frontal portion of my hair and edges.

I’m a big fan of protective styles due to their ease. Right now, it’s pool season so I’m wearing a sew-in to make things a bit easier. I styled and blended my leave-out with a Natural Brown 14 in. Brazilian Body Wave sew-in that I straightened and lightly curled to better blend with my own flat-ironed hair.

Each day, I styled my leave-out with one of our popular drugstore picks, then went about my day as I normally would: I worked where I do the majority of my tasks inside and then spent some time outside in our South Carolina summer heat throughout the day to see how things varied.

Based on the criteria above, I asked the following questions:

  • Does this product smooth my strands without weighing them down?
  • Is there a nice shine after styling that doesn’t make my hair greasy?
  • Is the product versatile? Can I use this product when my hair is wet (before blow-drying) and when it’s dry (before flat ironing)?
  • Does the product last all day without succumbing to high humidity?
  • Does the product have rich, natural ingredients that are formulated for my hair type?
  • Am I able to blend my hair with my sew-in?

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to test how these products fight against heat damage long-term, but I can make an accurate prediction based on how the products coated my hair and how my hair behaved throughout the day. For example, a protectant that keeps my hair smooth and straight all day despite humidity will reduce the need for continued flat ironing later, which will help reduce heat damage in the long run.

Day 1

Product: Creme of Nature Argan Oil Smooth & Shine Polisher
Temp: 93 degrees
Humidity: 62%
Product promise: Smooth, shiny, healthy hair protected from heat styling and UV damage.

Heat-Protectant-Day-1-Collage-1

Beginning of the day

Heat-Protectant-Day-1-Collage-2

End of the day

Pros
  • Can be used on wet or dry hair, or before heating tool
  • Cost effective
  • Stands up well against high humidity
Cons
  • Hair can look heavy after flat ironing

This product has great natural ingredients, including argania spinosa kernel oil, olive fruit oil, and honey. You can use it on damp or dry hair and you don’t need much, which makes this product versatile and likely to last you a while. I used a dime-sized amount of product before flat ironing my leave-out and was very impressed with how smooth it feels. It was very easy to blend my hair using this product and I didn’t experience the greasy feel I’ve felt with other oil-based serums.

I noticed more shine when initially styling my hair than I did throughout the day after brushing and adjusting, but I actually prefer this. The weave and my leave-out are blended and that’s one of the primary objectives of wearing a sew-in. Toward the end of the day, I noticed the roots of my hair waved up due to sweating in the humidity. But I was happy with how my hair looked after a long day of wear and for such an inexpensive product.

Day 2

Product: It’s a 10 Miracle Moisture Leave-in Treatment
Temp: 82 degrees
Humidity: 79%
Product promise: Smooths hair, fights frizz, and heat damage. Restores shine and natural body of all hair types. Makes hair stronger and healthier with each use.

Beginning of the day

End of the day

Pros
  • Great, clean smell
  • Hair is very soft after blow drying
  • Exemplary detangling effects
  • Good list of natural ingredients for long-term strengthening
Cons
  • Styling directions are not for all hair types
  • Product on its own shouldn’t be used for flat ironing grade 4 hair
  • No smoothing or frizz-fighting effects even in lower summer humidity

I knew almost immediately after reading the instructions that this product was not going to be effective on its own. The directions instruct to spray on damp hair and towel dry. That sounds great as a first step, but I know my hair and South Carolina humidity. If there isn’t some kind of oil involved it’s not going to work.

I walked outside before work and the chaos began almost instantly. My hair started lifting and curling — I hadn’t even made it to the office yet. Against my every urge to reach for some oil-based product to lay my hair down throughout the day, I went to work and the hair situation got worse.

I went online to see if I had missed something or if some additional product was recommended on the website. In the “How To” is a video of a woman with very straight, very silky hair using the product, blow drying her hair and then proceeding to go about her day. I’ve never been able to do that and I doubt most women with natural hair can.

The product may work great as a first step in your heat defense process on wash day, but it can’t be your only step. It boasts strengthening capabilities and I believe that overtime it may very well do that. But as far as an everyday styling heat protectant for natural hair, not so much.

Day 3

Product: Chi Silk Infusion
Temp: 93 degrees
Humidity: 74%
Product promise: A leave-in alcohol-free reconstructing treatment that protects damage related to heated styling and is suitable for all hair types.

Beginning of the day

End of the day

Pros
  • Product has a soft and protective texture
  • Long-term heat defense
  • Light feel on hair
  • Powdery, fragrant smell
Cons
  • Pricey

I heard great things about the Chi brand so I had high expectations for this serum, especially with the whopping price tag for a full-size bottle of the Silk Infusion. You can use it on dry or wet hair which I greatly appreciate from previous experience. As soon as I put this product onto my hair it had a very interesting feel to it. It actually feels coating and protective in the same way that grease feels against water. When I began flat ironing, I could feel the flat ironing gliding differently over my hair, leaving it smooth and light.

With this protectant, my hair blended especially well with the hair I’m currently wearing and was long-lasting even against high humidity and some extra time spent outdoors. I’m not sure if I’d be able to fit this product into my budget, but I could definitely see it being worth a spring/summer splurge.

Day 4

Product: Mizani Thermastrength Heat Protecting Serum
Temp: 90 degrees
Humidity: 40%
Product promise: Formulated with anti-breakage ceramide technology to leave hair voluminous and shiny and improve hair’s tensile strength.

Beginning of the day

End of the day

Pros
  • Great detangling effect
  • Leaves hair smooth and light
  • All-day humidity-fighting abilities
Cons
  • Pricey
  • Aggressive smell

I was dreading this one after my last experience with a pre-blow dry product, but I saw the difference right away in the texture of Mizani’s Thermastrength heat protecting serum, which is a lotion instead of an oil or spray. I applied the recommended dime-sized amount on my leave-out and found the product had great detangling effects. I didn’t love the product’s fragrance, which smelled like cologne.

The slight lathering that occured while my hair was damp wasn’t an issue when I started blow drying. My hair was smooth and light when drying and even smoother after flat ironing. I could still feel the product on my hair and that made all the difference when blending. I didn’t feel the need to add another product before flat ironing just to help “cook” my hair as in the past with other pre-blow dry products. Toward the end of the day, I noticed a big problem with flyaways, but this wasn’t a major deterrent. My hair lifted, but remained straight and blendable after brushing, so I consider that a win.

Day 5

Product: Shea Moisture Yucca & Plantain Anti-breakage thermal protectant serum
Temp: 91 degrees
Humidity: 56%
Product promise: Boosts shine, conditions and smoothes hair to reduce frizz. Formulated with a strengthening formula that helps hair fight breakage.

Beginning of the day

End of the day

Pros
  • For use on damp or dry hair
Cons
  • Sticky feel
  • Doesn’t fight frizz

Although this product has great natural ingredients like organic shea butter, baobab oil and cilantro extra, I wasn’t thrilled with the results. I was happy with the way my dry hair felt after spritzing on the product until I started handling my hair. The more I touched my leave out, the stickier it felt, especially when flat ironing. At first, the product left my hair smooth and shiny but then I went outside. The ends of my hair started lifting almost immediately on my drive to the office and things only got worse as the day went on.

I won’t touch this “frizz-free shine mist” again. I’ve experienced hotter and more humid days in South Carolina and this product couldn’t stand up to a mild one. I didn’t experience the light hold or shine this mist boasts and I doubt use on damp hair would help the issue. Maybe there’s different and better heat protectant by Shea Moisture, but I wouldn’t run back to the store to find out.

The Winner: Chi Silk Infusion

I was most impressed with the Chi Silk Infusion serum. I happened to test this product on a day with the highest humidity and still made it through with smooth hair. I absolutely love the protective feeling this serum leaves on my hair when styling. With use alongside a ceramic-plated flat iron like the Chi Air, you can move through your hair quickly and effortlessly without snags. Although this was one of the pricier heat protectants, a little bit of product goes a long way, which makes me feel comfortable with the investment. Growing your hair back after extensive heat damage is an extremely expensive endeavor in itself, so a great heat protectant is worth it in the long run.