In the beauty world, keratin has become the hair-care ingredient of legend. For decades, many celebs with shiny and ultra-soft hair have made it happen via in-salon treatments — the results of which can last for months. But recently, a new spin on the protein has been tapped for promising at-home use thanks to a technology that employs a type of keratin native to the human body. This form of keratin has the potential to repair, restore, and smooth the hair shaft, which is why you'll see it as a principle ingredient in at-home styling and hair-care products from brands like Virtue Labs. But the storied protein has also been a spectacular source of downright confusion, thanks to FDA warnings against some in-salon treatment formulations that contain known carcinogens, outdated ideas on how keratin can be used, and a high-profile lawsuit by consumer watchdog groups.
So is keratin a must-have building block to healthy hair, somewhat of a health hazard, or both? These are the kinds of questions that are only made more confusing by search results. We talked to a veteran stylist who has followed the keratin saga from day one and a chemical specialist who provides in-salon keratin treatments for a most discerning Beverly Hills crowd to settle the score. The facts on whether keratin strengthens the hair’s bonds, leads to hair breakage, thwarts dye jobs, and more, ahead.