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Published Sep. 24, 2021

Don’t heat-style your hair without researching the best straightening creams to help protect it. As useful as hot tools like straightening irons and curling wands can be for styling your hair, anything that exposes your hair shaft to high temperatures puts the health of your tresses at risk. Products like straightening creams and protective serums can help keep your hair looking and feeling healthy even if you regularly subject it to blow dryers and hot combs. 

Each strand of hair actually has two main layers. The inner core, called the cortex, contains water molecules bonded to a protein called keratin, which provides the structure and color of your hair. The outer layer, or cuticle, is made of overlapping, flattened cells that look sort of like shingles on a roof. A healthy cuticle’s “shingles” lay down flat and create the appearance of shiny, smooth hair. When cuticles are damaged, they can sit at jagged angles that leave the cortex exposed and make hair look rough and frizzy. 

Lots of things can damage the structure of your hair, but heat styling is especially bad for it. High temperatures make the water molecules in the cortex boil up and evaporate, which changes the molecular structure of your hair’s keratin and can permanently change its shape. The explosion of water molecules into steam can also burst through the cuticle, leaving it raised—which, in addition to making hair look frizzy, leaves the cortex exposed to further water loss and other damage. 

If you can’t live without heat styling, finding the best straightening cream or other heat protectant is crucial to prevent damage. Straightening creams and hair primers work by creating a sealed protective barrier around the hair strand. These barriers help keep water trapped inside, but they also conduct heat to make it enter the hair more evenly and slowly. Even the best straightening creams won’t completely protect your hair from heat damage, but your hair health—and the look of your blowout—will be much better if you use them than if you don’t.

How We Picked These Products

Methodology

After researching why straightening creams and other heat protectants are necessary, we researched products that truly help prevent the molecular damage inflicted when using heat tools on hair. We based our recommendations on expert advice, user reviews, and personal experience.

The Best Hair Straightening Creams: Reviews and Recommendations

Best Overall: Olaplex No. 6 Bond Smoother

Works on a Molecular Level

An in-salon product comes home to help smooth your hair. Olaplex

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Why It Made the Cut: With a patented secret sauce for preserving and restoring hair health, Olaplex was once only available during in-salon treatments. Now the brand offers a fleet of at-home options, and the No. 6 Bond Smoother does wonders when used before heat styling. 

Specs:

  • Patented active ingredients work to smooth damaged hair at the molecular level 
  • Free of DEA, aldehydes, formaldehyde, phosphates, phthalates, parabens, nuts, gluten, and sulfates; vegan and cruelty-free
  • 3.3 fluid ounces 

Pros:

  • Can also be used when diffusing or air-drying curly hair to fight frizz 
  • Reduces frizz for up to 72 hours 
  • A little goes a long way

Cons:

  • Pricey 
  • Most protective when used with other Olaplex treatments  

In-salon Olaplex treatments are a must-try for anyone bleaching or coloring their hair; the company’s patented Bis-Aminopropyl Diglycol Dimaleate molecule helps repair and protect hair from damage, which leaves tresses looking sleek even after chemical processing. 

Olaplex’s No. 6 Bond Smoother uses that same technology to help fortify strands as they dry, creating smoother and sleeker styles. While you can use Bond Smoother for any style, reviewers report especially impressive results when straightening with a blow dryer or flat iron; users who generally see flyaways, frizz, and other signs of “fried” hair say Olaplex makes their hair dry smoother and straighter, and more quickly. 

While Olaplex’s cutting-edge formula produces amazing results, there is one caveat: The Bond Smoother provides enough heat protection for a blowout, but not enough to fully shield hair when using straightening irons or curling wands. For high-heat protection, the company recommends also using Olaplex No.7 Bonding Oil—either after your hair has absorbed the Bond Smoother, or all at once in a mixture. 

We don’t lightly recommend a product that needs help protecting hair against hot metal, but the entire Olaplex system gets rave reviews. If anything, we hesitate to suggest you should buy just the pair of products instead of trying out the entire system

Best for Curly Hair: L’ANZA Healing Smooth Smoother Straightening Balm

Botanical Ingredients

L’ANZA’s straightening balm is formulated with shea butter and cactus extracts and keratin to shore up your strands. L’anza

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Why It Made the Cut: Users with curly and kinky hair rave about L’ANZA’s heat protection and smoothing powers—and it can be used on curly styles, too. 

Specs:

  • Coix seed amino acids, mangosteen extract, and keratin help strengthen, smooth, and protect hair 
  • Free of sulfates, gluten, sodium chloride, parabens
  • 8.5 fluid ounces

Pros:

  • Helps combat frizz even when air-drying hair or diffusing curls
  • Helps straighten naturally curly hair more quickly and effectively
  • Lightweight formula to maintain body 

Cons:

  • Some reviewers say frizz returns quickly in high humidity 
  • Some reviewers report formula can be sticky/tacky 

Using some kind of straightening cream or other heat protectant is even more crucial if you’re heat-styling curly hair, as the kind of damage that heat tools inflict can permanently change your curl pattern. Curly users say L’ANZA’s Healing Smooth Smoother Straightening Balm provides ample protection without making hair hang limp and greasy like other products can. 

In addition to containing keratin intended to shore up your hair’s natural structure, L’ANZA contains botanical extracts like shea butter and cactus to keep strands moisturized and insulated from heat. 

No straightening cream can or should physically straighten your hair, and some  at-home straightening treatments can be incredibly damaging. Products like L’ANZA’s serve to make your hair more receptive to heat styling and protect it from damage during the process. (In other words, don’t put it on curly hair and expect straight strands to magically emerge, like some of the product’s negative reviewers did.) But it’s actually a good thing that L’ANZA doesn’t inherently make hair straighter: You can also use it to get less-frizzy, more-defined curls by scrunching it onto wet hair and then air drying or diffusing it.  

Best Volumizing Heat Protectant: ghd Heat Protect Spray

ghd Ensures a Good Hair Day

ghd Heat Protect Spray helps you pump up your curls without weighing them down. ghd

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Why it Made the Cut: This formula rises to the top when it comes to producing sleek-but-voluminous styles, as the spray helps protect and smooth hair without weighing it down. 

Specs:

  • Sodium laneth, hydrolyzed wheat protein PG, and thermus thermophilus ferment help prevent cuticle lifts and cracks and protect heat from UV damage 
  • Free of parabens 
  • 4 fluid ounces

Pros:

  • Lightweight spray formula to maintain body and volume
  • Protects against UV rays 
  • May extend time between washes 

Cons: 

  • Some users find the cologne-like smell overpowering
  • Some users find product drying 

Made by a company known for its flat irons, the ghd Heat Protect Spray coats every strand of hair with heat protection for a sleeker, safer straightening experience. 

If bouncy styles with lots of volume are your aim—and especially if your hair is naturally thin and/or limp—using a heat protectant spray instead of a straightening cream is crucial. Creamy formulas tend to work, in part, by weighing hair down. Even ones that are relatively light and preserve hair’s body may give you a greasy look if your hair is especially flat. 

Sprays like the ghd Heat Protect provide the lightest possible heat protection, which is crucial for styling limp hair into big, bouncy curls without inflicting damage. 

Some users report that ghd Heat Protect leaves so little residue behind that styles stay fresh looking for days, thereby further reducing damage by stretching out the time between heat-styling sessions.

Best for Humidity and Frizz: KÉRASTASE Discipline Keratine Thermique

Fights Frizz Without Added Weight

Defines, smooths, and makes curls more manageable. KERASTASE

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Why It Made the Cut: Reviewers say KÉRASTASE Discipline Keratine Thermique smooths down even the most stubborn frizz, including in hot and steamy environments. 

Specs:

  • Proprietary Morpho-Keratine complex, high-concentration ceramide, and xylose help smooth hair’s appearance and protect the cuticle from heat and humidity
  • Protects up to 450°F
  • 5.1 fluid ounces

Pros:

  • Lightweight, non-greasy cream formula
  • Can also be used to reduce frizz on air-dried hair or diffused curls 
  • Prevents heat damage and protects against humidity 

Cons: 

  • Some users find scent unpleasant or too strong
  • Some users with very thin hair find it makes strands look greasy 

Kératase’s patented Morpho-Keratine complex has a great reputation for fighting frizz, which is why the brand’s straightening cream is our pick for fighting off the effects of humidity. Reviewers say that using just a tiny amount of the product on their hair while damp makes their strands shinier and less frizzy when dry—whether or not they use a blow dryer or heat tools. 

Like other products on this list, it’s important to realize that KÉRASTASE Discipline Keratine Thermique won’t straighten your hair; in fact, you can use the product on damp curls to help make them more defined and protect them from frizz. But because Discipline Keratine Thermique smooths out the hair cuticle and helps conduct the heat of your blow dryer or flat iron, it can make your hair dry more quickly and evenly, and help you blow it out more effectively. 

While frizz-busting results may vary, this product stands out for wowing reviewers in especially humid regions, who say it keeps their hair looking sleek despite the moisture in the air. 

Best Spray-On Heat Protector: Living proof Restore Perfecting Spray

Seriously Powerful Protection

Hydrates, restores, detangles and even keeps hair cleaner. Living Proof

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Why It Made the Cut: Living Proof’s products all include the company’s patented Healthy Hair Molecule, which does an incredible job of smoothing and protecting all types of hair. This spray is a crowd pleaser with a reputation for protecting blowouts. 

Specs:

  • Patented Healthy Hair Molecule smooths, softens, and strengthens hair; plant extract and time-released conditioner protect from heat and prevent frizz 
  • Free of parabens, phthalates, silicone, and gluten; vegan and cruelty-free
  • 8 fluid ounces

Pros:

  • Continues conditioning throughout the day
  • Also provides powerful detangling 
  • Offers UV protection


Cons:

  • Some users with very fine hair report a greasy look
  • May weigh down hair 

We love Living proof’s Healthy Hair Molecule, which seems to leave hair in better shape than it finds it no matter what product the company puts it in. In addition to providing a protective layer to keep hair safe from heat tools and the sun’s rays, the patented molecule also works to repel dirt—so it literally keeps your hair clean. (You can watch a video demonstration of the product’s dirt-repelling powers here.) 

The Living proof Restore Perfecting Spray might not create the sleekest blowout on everyone—because it’s super-hydrating, some users with thin and/or greasy hair says it makes them look and feel weighed down—but if you have dry and/or damaged hair and you frequently use heat styling, this product will provide you with some seriously powerful protection. 

This heat protection spray does double-duty as a detangler, meaning it minimizes the potential damage of brushing fragile wet hair. It also has a patented time-release conditioner that continues to moisturize hair throughout the day, keeping fried strands and split ends looking healthy and sleek. 

Best Value: John Frieda Frizz-Ease Straight Fixation Styling Creme

Sleek Hair for 24 Hours

Say good-bye to your frizz for a day with this wallet-friendly styling cream. John Frieda

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Why It Made the Cut: This drugstore favorite can be used on any type of hair and helps create sleek and straight styles for an affordable price. 

Specs: 

  • Proprietary ThermaGuard complex protects hair from heat; milk protein and almond oil provide shine and eliminate frizz
  • Holds style for up to 24 hours
  • 5 fluid ounces 

Pros:

  • Extremely affordable
  • Prevents frizz even in humid conditions 
  • Protects from heat damage and speeds up blowouts 

Cons:

  • Use sparingly; can make hair look greasy or weighed down 
  • Some users with very curly hair find to be ineffective

John Frieda’s Frizz-Ease products have been a staple in salons and drugstores alike since the late 1990s, and the brand’s straightening cream provides an excellent option for heat protection and smoothing on a budget. John Frieda Frizz-Ease Straight Fixation Styling Creme is available at most drugstores for a fraction of the price of comparable products. 

This product is best for hair that’s on the dry side, as users report the thick, creamy formula can look and feel greasy and heavy on hair that’s prone to oiliness. It might also prove too heavy for thin or very fine hair. But reviewers with thick, coarse hair and those in need of a serious hydration boost say the consistency is perfect for smoothing down frizz and making strands look shiny. 

Using Straight Fixation before applying heat with a flat iron, blow dryer, or curling wand will help keep your hair shaft protected and produce a sleeker, longer-lasting blowout. 

Things to Consider before Buying Straightening Creams and Other Heat Protectants

Hair Type

If you have very fine hair or your roots tend to get greasy very quickly, you may want to avoid straightening creams and instead try sprays that offer heat protection. A spray won’t weigh your hair down less and will allow you to create styles with more volume.

Style You’re Seeking

Some heat protection products pull double-duty by reducing frizz and improving shine even on curly or air-dried styles, while others are intended specifically for use before using hot tools. 

It’s also important to pay attention to how much heat protection a product offers; some are better suited for protecting hair during a blow-dry than under the pressure of a flat iron.

FAQs

Q:

Will these products straighten my hair?

While there are at-home products available that are designed to relax natural curls, these tend to be very damaging to hair. The products outlined in this guide are intended to make heat-styling more effective and less damaging, which should make it easier for people with curly, kinky, or wavy hair to achieve straight styles. However, you still need to use a round brush and blow dryer or a flat iron as you typically would. Do not expect your hair to dry straight unless you have straight hair.

Q:

Why do I need straightening cream?

Heat damages hair by evaporating the water that bonds to keratin inside each strand’s inner core, and by lifting the cuticles that usually lay flat to keep that inner core protected. Heat protection products like straightening creams and styling sprays can prevent this by coating hair strands with a strong barrier. This protective layer can keep moisture inside during heat styling and afterward, as well as help conduct heat more evenly to prevent intense damage and speed styling time.

Q:

How can I prevent heat damage if I don’t like putting products in my hair?

While the products we recommend should all leave only minimal residue on hair, you may not like the feel of them if you’re not used to using styling products. If you don’t want to use a straightening cream or heat protecting spray, you should avoid exposing your hair to intense heat. Use lower heat settings on blow dryers and avoid tools like flat irons and curling wands.

Final Thoughts

The best straightening cream or heat protection spray for you depends on your hair type, your desired style, and the types of tools you use. But if your hair is damaged from daily blowouts, you can’t beat the improvement you’ll see from using the Olaplex No. 6 Bond Smoother.

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