Keratin - Protein Power For Hair

Keratin, todays star ingredient, doesn't really rate very high on the sexiness scale, but is vital to hair, skin, and nails. As a matter of fact, it is hair (and nails). Hair consists mainly of keratin – a family of fibrous proteins. Did you know your hair was over 80% keratin? As for skin, it is the presence of keratin in our epidermis that makes our skin nearly waterproof. By its very nature, keratin is an excellent ingredient for hair care. 

Really? Simple As That?

OK, I'll come clean, it's somewhat more complicated than just 'adding hair to hair', which basically isn't possible and would be completely futile to try. In order to be of use, the keratin has to have a specific supermolecular structure and grouping, which of course depends on the properties of the polypeptides present. This, in turn, depends on the composition and sequence of the amino acids present in the individual peptide strands, but hey, we're not going to get technical today. 

Suffice to say, some clever and chemically savvy folks have figured out how to turn keratin into a beneficial hair-strengthening ingredient that can be added to all kinds of hair care products. And, like squalane (and several other ingredients), keratin can be sourced from both the animal and plant worlds.

Phytokeratin - The Plant Version

As luck would have it, the common name for plant protein – Phytokeratin – needs more explanation than the straightforward INCI name (Hydrolized Corn, Wheat and/or Soy Protein). 

Phyto is a prefix that means 'of a plant' or 'retaining to plant'. So, when you pair phyto with keratin, you know are looking at plant-based protein material. The most common suppliers of phytokeratin are corn, soy and wheat. They need to be hydrolized before they can be used as ingredients.


I wrote about the hydrolization process earlier in an article about silk protein, but here's a super-quick summary. Proteins (whether from plant or animal) have to be broken down in order to be of any use as an ingredient to a skin or hair care product. It is the process of breaking down the protein into a liquid state that is called hydrolization. (And even though the British spell this hydrolisation with an 's' instead of a 'z', the process is the same)

The Benefits to the Hair

Because of its structure (after the appropriate treatment), keratin (whether plant or animal based) can penetrate the hair shaft and help the hair retain its natural moisture content by 'encouraging' its moisture-binding ability. It will also add luster, shine, body, and bounce to your locks.

I use phytokeratin in several products and have had nothing but success with it. I have the impression that it has the ability to 'feed' my (fine) hair, adding a noticable bulk and body to it. I will, however, admit that I almost always pair it with a hair-boosting algae extract (a posting is coming up on that), so it's a bit difficult to say how much is attributed to the kertain and how much is the algae.

Because I wear my hair short, I'm afraid I can't comment on any experiences with split ends either (which keratin is claimed to be useful for battling). As for customer feedback, it's all positive. Come to think of it, most of the folks using my hair products have the same, fine Scandinavian hair type as me.

Cattle hair, horns and hooves are all keratin sources from the animal world

The Animal Version of Keratin

Most commercially produced hair products use keratins from a variety of animal sources. Pig or cattle hair, ground up hooves, horns, or feathers – and even sheep's wool are all possible sources of keratin to the industry.

The INCI name for an animal based version of keratin is simply keratin. As I have mentioned before, an INCI name does not reveal the source of the ingredient, only the required name. Therefore, if you are looking to avoid animal-based keratins, you'll have to ask the manufacturer of the product you are using where they source their keratin.

Other Shampoo and Hair Care Extras

Here is a short-list of some additional extras I use in my hair products that you can read about on this blog.
Silk protein