Ingredients Explained: Keratin – what is it and should you use it?

May 2, 2014

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I am originally a scientist – I did a cell biology/genetics degree.. I graduated last year and unfortunately biology jobs don’t grow on trees so I have moved into another field. However, I still think like a scientist and I wanted a way to combine this passion with my interest in all things beauty!

So this has led me to a series of blog posts about ingredients and packaging in products – manufacturers use a lot of marketing and scientific jargon to make products seem like they are effective. I wanted to focus on a few of these ingredients to discuss what they are and whether they are worth looking for when you buy beauty products.

This week is keratin – a very common ingredient found in stop hairloss meds and sometimes in skin care. These can be used in many different treatments, from home based kits to professional options from places like Park Avenue Skin Care and other treatment centers.

What is keratin?

Keratin is made within cells found in the skin – called keratinocytes. These cells essentially create lots and lots of protein strands which are strong and hard wearing, this protein when fully formed is known as keratin.

Keratin can come in two forms:

  • it can be pushed out by the cell into the surrounding tissues and help support the cells around it to hold them all together nice and snug!
  • Or the cell can essentially produce so much of the keratin that it eats up everything else in the cell and the cell dies. This cell is then effectively just a tiny ball of protective filaments. These balls migrate to the top of the skin and protect it – the skin you’re getting rid of when you exfoliate are mostly these types of cells.

Here is a cross section of a bit of skin – very zoomed in! The top flaky bit is the dead cells with keratin.

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These cells also in certain places on the body, become more specialised (change type and function), and as they reach the surface, immediately die and are pushed out – these are known as hair!

How is keratin used in products?

Keratin comes in two forms – the form in your skin and in a hydrolysed form, this is where the keratin is altered by adding water. You can find this form through great online stores like K-Beauty. The form in your skin is not able to be absorbed by you as the keratin is too big and won’t be allowed in. The keratin in the watery form is able to be absorbed by your cells as it is altered enough to fit through.

The theory is then when the watery keratin is added to the keratin in hair, it will bind to it and make your hair thicker and stronger, in skin care the keratin will be absorbed to plump and moisturise the skin.

For example in the Pantene Advanced Keratin Repair range – they are advertised to ‘cleanse and restore two years of damage in just two minutes’ – using new keratin to repair the damaged keratin in your hair.


So does keratin work?

There have been no peer reviewed formal studies which have proved keratin is effective in making hair thicker or restore damage. There is some evidence that if hair is intensely keratin treated with heat (such as in a salon), the keratin is able to bind to the keratin in the hair but this has not been scientifically studied. As the hair is already dead, the cells do not have any ability to absorb which decreases this effectiveness.

There has been a couple of formal studies at looking at watery keratin in skin care and these have been very promising – showing that this is able to be absorbed and increases moisture and elasticity in the skin. This was a recent study so I think that keratin skin treatments will begin to be more popular in the future.

Should you use keratin?

At this point in time, I would not pick a hair product with keratin in it over any other hair product – I think this is used a marketing tool to make the product seem more effective. If there was keratin in a moisturizer then I would give this a go.

I hope this post has been informative/useful to you – I won’t put all my references on here but I’m happy to provide them if you want any further info. If you have an ingredient and you are wondering what it does then please let me know as I really enjoyed writing this post!

JC xx

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