Keratin 101: What is Keratin Really?

Remember those days back in biology class? No? Well don’t worry – keratin is not as complicated as you may think.

Basically, keratin is a family of proteins that are among the most important and versatile compounds ever produced in nature.

Think of your hair, nails and skin as solid structures – like buildings, armor and carbon fiber – they’re all built for toughness and protection using keratin as the main component.

However, in the human body, unlike the industrial world of mechanics and machines, keratin can also help injured cells to heal and grow.

Now imagine having a building that could repair itself whenever it became damaged. It’s just a simple way of appreciating how important and amazing keratin really is.

Ever wondered what makes your skin waterproof?

Yes, you guessed it right…keratin.

You may have even seen keratin without knowing it was there in the first place. Rubbing and adding pressure to your skin can cause the outer layer to thicken, forming a protective callus.

The thick bit of skin at the edge of a blister and hard skin on the fingertips of musicians who play stringed instruments are all keratinized skin cells. In fact, they are constantly shed and replaced, even by microscopic pressure and rubbing.

The next time you see the guy in the elevator with dandruff on his collar and shoulders, don’t be grossed out…instead marvel at the fact that the white stuff is actually keratinized skin cells!

Especially when you consider that your hair is 95% keratin. This means that naturally occurring keratin needs to be incorporated into hair care products in order for them to be effective.

We’ll discuss the wonders of Keratin in more detail in the next blog entry.

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43 Responses to Keratin 101: What is Keratin Really?

  1. Samantha on

    If the body stopped producing keratin, what would be the effect on the hair?

    • Keratin Questions on

      Hi Samantha,
      That’s a 64 million dollar question! The short answer to your question is that if the body stopped producing Keratin it wouldn’t have hair. Our hair consists of Keratins, lipids, water, trace elements and pigments. Water makes up about 10-20% of our hair depending on how damaged or dry it is; the lipids and pigment total about 1%; and Keratin is all the rest. That’s about 79-89%!
      Simply put: Hair IS Keratin!
      BUT in the bigger picture, if the body stopped producing Keratin it would be in serious trouble. Keratin is not only critical for the hair but is an essential structural component of all the soft tissue cells in our body. If we didn’t have Keratin our skin would fall apart, and our internal organs would lack any structural integrity.
      We wouldn’t have any nails as these are also almost entirely Keratin. Even our bones contain keratin within the osteoblasts cells which are the cells that generate the Calcium structure of our bones. So Keratin is one of the key essential protein types in our bodies and critical to our physical well-being.

  2. Annmarie on

    Where does high end cosmetic companies get keratin from for their products?

    • Keratin Questions on

      Hi Annmarie,

      There are a number of sources of Keratin that are used by ingredient manufacturers and supplied for the personal care market. Some are extracted from the hooves, horns and hair of dead animals sourced from meat works. Some extract theirs from human hair available in many Asian counties, while others extract theirs from sheep wool shorn from the sheep as a part of ongoing good live animal care.

      With many products you cannot be sure of where the Keratin is sourced from. However if you buy products that promote the Replicine™ Functional Keratin® logos you can be confident that the products you buy contain keratin extracted from New Zealand sheep wool which is shorn from the animals without harm to them. Sheep wool sourced from New Zealand has the added security that New Zealand is formally certified as being free from all TSE type diseases – such as sheep scrapie. Products that display the Replicine™ Functional Keratin® logos include BHAVE hair care products, Keraplast’s own hair care products, Keras Skin care available through dermatologist offices in the USA, and Retrospect Skin care products available on-line.

      Brands that currently use keratin sourced from New Zealand sheep wool, though don’t display the Replicine logos for hair include: Paul Mitchel Awapuhi Wild Ginger Hair Care, Keune Careline Hair Care, and Schwarzkoff Hair Care. While for skin these include: Scholl (Active Cracked Heel Repair K+) skin repair and Innoxa One & All skin care.

  3. Natalie Stover on

    What is the name of the best product on the market that contains the correct keratin and the correct amount of keratin?

    • Keratin Questions on

      Hi Natalie,

      There are a number of good quality shampoos and conditioners on the market that contain useful keratins. At the premium end these include the Keraplast Intensive treatment shampoo and conditioner; the Bhave range including the intensive rescue shampoo and conditioner; the Awapuhi Wild Ginger range and the Keune Careline Keratin treatment products. These all contain a mix of oxidized keratin and hydrolyzed keratin.

      The very best keratin containing products are identified through the use of Replicine Functional Keratin branding on the label, this is how you know the product contains keratin optimized for hair care performance at inclusion levels that provide real benefits.

      The higher end products contain more keratin so have higher efficacy. But if these are above your price point, in the mid-range Schwarzkopf have some nice products that contain keratin and hydrolyzed keratin ingredients at lower levels. Look for their products that are marketed as containing “Liquid Keratin”.

      If you are thinking of a Keratin straightening treatment then you would want to ensure that the product you use includes keratin and hydrolyzed keratin. Inclusion of “oxidized keratin” is also preferable. You want to avoid those products that contain formaldehyde if possible.

  4. Samantha on

    Hi I have a question. Does Keratin make you hair grow? Like I have natural hair , a fro actually it’s curly but I have some heat damages. I want to know if I use it what it will do to my hair. Is it gonna grow faster? Be smooth? Repair the heat damages? And how long will that take.

  5. Peter on

    Some body once told me that nails come from dead white cells . Does white cell have any relation to keratin?

    • Keratin Questions on

      Hi Peter,
      Fingernails are made of keratin. They are made of this tough protein which is produced from living skin cells in the fingers.
      The fingernail is formed from the cells located in the growth plate called the epithelial cells. There are three types of epithelial cells: squamous, cuboidal, and columnar. As these cells age they are pushed outward by newly generated epithelial cells at the base of the nail in the growth plate. These cells that have been pushed forward, in the never-ending process, eventually die, allowing the inside of the cell to be taken over by the hard protein keratin which is why our fingernails are so hard and constantly growing.

  6. Mimi on

    I have problem with over productive Keratin, its produce too much, its cause acne on my face. How do i stop it from over producing? and what is the most effective way to stop keratin from under my skin on my face. I’m really desperate.

  7. Lakisha on

    would 5000 milligrams of biotin combined with keratin help with alopecia in men and women

    • Keratin Questions on

      Hi Lakisha,
      It would be best to seek the advice of a medical doctor with your question.
      Using shampoos or conditioners with keratin will help existing hair’s strength and shine but it does not help with hair growth.
      Also using a supplement such as “Radiant Pearls”, available at Walgreens, can help improve hair strength.

  8. Lakisha on

    actually I have an Herbal supplement that has proven to regrow hair in thinning areas. it has a combination of herbal and botanical extracts in addition to 5000 mcg of biotin. but I will follow your instructions and consult with a physician or pharmacist.

  9. Kellie on

    my hair to the front seems damaged and frizzy….my hair used to be oily…my hairdresser says my hair is healthy but i ode to differ…however i was also told that i cant use keratin if i’m pregnant i that true?? and what can i use to treat my hair.

    • Keratin Questions on

      Hi Kellie,
      Keratin is a very safe material. There are new medical products on the market made from keratin intended to be applied directly to wounds, which indicates just how safe keratin is. So, in general, yes, keratin hair products are safe to use during pregnancy as long as none of the other ingredients that are in the products have health concerns. The very, very important example of products with health concerns are straightening systems. Many keratin straighteners (such as those of the Brazilian keratin style) contain ingredients known to be of significant health concern during pregnancy. These products, most commonly containing formaldehyde or other aldehyde chemicals, should not be used during pregnancy. Always check the label for specific health concerns for any product you use.

  10. Kiran on

    Hi. My fingers gets wrinkly/pruney within 2-3 minutes of staying in contact with water. Is it something related with keratin ? If yes, what kind of treatment can be done ?

    • Keratin Questions on

      Hi Kiran,
      The epidermis,The skin’s outermost layer, is responsible for the wrinkles caused by extended exposure to water. The epidermis contains keratin which is a protein that strengthens your skin and helps to keep the skin moist. Recent studies revealed the nervous system controls this wrinkling by constricting blood vessels below the skin. It has been suggested that the wrinkles serve a purpose and could help fingers and toes grip wet surfaces. The wrinkling causes changes in skin properties like flexibility and stickiness and actually help the fingers and toes perform better when wet.

  11. Janice on

    I have KP on the backs of my arms. I’ve tried over the counter lotions made especially to reduce it, as well as exfoliating and nothing seems to work. I read it is caused by the over production of keratin. Do you know of any way to reduce it?

    • Keratin Questions on

      Hi Janice,
      Keratin is a fibrous protein that composes the outer layer of human skin. It is also one of the main components of hair and nails. Keratin also protects skin from harmful substances and infections. Problems arise when the body produces an overabundance of keratin, which results in Keratosis pilaris. This skin condition causes rough patches of acne-like bumps, which block the opening of hair follicles.
      While there is no known cause or miracle cure for an overproduction of keratin within the skin, there are ways to treat this skin condition effectively. By keeping the skin adequately moisturized and following certain bathing routines, along with prolonged maintenance, you will decrease the acne-like bumps.

      Bathing Behavior- Shower or bath in lukewarm water because hot water will dry out the skin which will worsen the condition. Also use a scent free moisturizing body wash. When drying, pat dry and do not use a rubbing motion. Moisturize with a hypoallergenic cream directly after when the pores are open and able to absorb more effectively.

      Make sure you use the same cream every morning and night. Also moisturize after swimming, exercising, or extended exposure to the sun. Exfoliate once a week with a skin sensitive product.

      Use a humidifier a couple of times a week when the humidity is low.

      Vitamin A deficiency may cause symptoms similar to KP but it is not a known cause of KP.

  12. m allen on

    what causes the keratin sac of a pericardial cyst

    • Keratin Questions on

      Dear M Allen,
      Keratin is present in most cells of the body as structural proteins which provide structural integrity to the components of the body. According to McAllister et al (ref) the wall of the Pericardial cysts mainly consists of collagen with scattered elastic fibers and is lined with Mesothelial cells. These cells contain certain keratins among other proteins. The cysts usually contain a yellow fluid.

      Reference: Hugh A. McAllister Jr. MD, L. Maximilian Buja MD, Victor J. Ferrans MD, PhD. Pericardial Disease: Anatomic Abnormalities Cardiovascular Medicine 2007, pp 1479-1482

  13. Anna on

    Is there any hair disease related to a person that produce too much keratin and what that disease called?

    • Keratin Questions on

      Hi Anna,
      Keratosis pilaris is a skin condition when the human body produces excess keratin. This skin condition causes rough patches of acne-like bumps which block the opening of hair follicles. There is no known cause or cure for an overproduction of keratin within the skin, but there are ways to treat this skin condition effectively. The skin should be kept adequately moisturized and certain bathing routines should be followed. This is help to decrease the acne-like bumps.

      • Miley on

        what about hair disease?

        • Keratin Questions on

          Hi Miley,
          Hair diseases are disorders primarily associated with the follicles of the hair. A number of factors are involved in hair disorders. Genetics, diet, endocrine abnormalities, systemic illnesses, drug intake, and hair shaft abnormalities may cause hair loss.

  14. beth on

    How does the lack
    keratin effect epidermolysis bullosa?

    • Keratin Questions on

      Hi Beth,
      EB is the rare genetic connective disorder that is caused by mutations in the DNA code that make up genes. Our genes are responsible for making keratin proteins. A mutation in the genetic code may not allow the affected gene to produce a specific keratin protein or it may result in an incorrect formation of that protein. This mutation does not enable the affected protein to work correctly and results in extremely fragile skin. The skin disorder causes blisters after even the mildest trauma. The anchoring of the epidermis to the underlying layers of skin has been lost.

  15. Ryan on

    I’m a coach,I have a basketball and football player that it being taken out of games because his Keratin levels.. What does this mean? And what does a week of rest do for this? How can I advise this player to keep his levels normal.


  16. Ryan Carruthers on

    What is keratin made of? As in what are the components that make it?

    • Keratin Questions on

      Hi Ryan,
      Keratin is a structural protein that make up the outer layers of our skin, hair, and nails. Keratin is a family of proteins that are among the most important and versatile compounds produced in nature. Like all proteins, keratin is made up of amino acids. Keratin is placed in skin care to make it smoother and more elastic, in hair care to make hair thicker, shinier, stronger, and can also help injured cells heal and grow.

  17. sandra on

    I am thinking of making my own hair products…where can I get keratin to buy in Canada or online and how much is the appropriate amount to use..thanks

    • Keratin Questions on

      Hi Sandra,
      Usually companies have a minimum requirement to purchase ingredient. To discuss this further we will be in touch with you directly.

  18. Michelle on

    Hi, I’m vegetarian and am trying to cut out all animal products.
    I have very course hair so I need specialised conditioner / masks to tame my mane.
    I have found that keratin does an amazing job.
    My question is: is there a synthetic type of keratin or something plant based that has the same effect?

    • Keratin Questions on

      Hi Michelle,
      Keratin is the best protein for your hair because it is the protein that is most like your hair. Keraplast extracts its keratins from New Zealand sheep wool which is a fibre that is very similar to human hair. The sheep are not killed in this process. Adult sheep are shorn regularly, usually annually, as a necessary part of caring for the animals. It is this material that Keraplast uses for its products. There are other keratins on the market that are extracted from animal hooves and these are a by-product of the slaughter house.
      There are products with other plant-based proteins, such as wheat and rice proteins that you could try, but they are not so compatible with your hair.
      Keraplast keratins are available in products sold under the brands of Paul Mitchell Awapuhi Wild Ginger, Schwarzkopf, Kuene Careline Keratin Smoothe, BHAVE, and Mike (NZ only).
      BHAVE describe the keratins on their website here: The BHAVE system is available in South Africa

  19. Yadu on


    • Keratin Questions on

      Hi Yadu,
      Unfortunately keratin will not restore your black hair from the gray. It can only help to strengthen and rebuild existing hair while adding shine and elasticity.

  20. Kelly on

    Can your body start producing more keratin if you are exposed to excess water?

    • Keratin Questions on

      Hi Kelly,
      Keratosis is an excessive protein buildup that can cause various types of growths on skin. There are several causes but excessive exposure to water is not one of them.
      Genetics play a role. Over 50% of people affected by keratosis have a family history of this condition. Keratosis can be linked to other conditions such as allergies, eczema, or dermatitis.
      Excessive exposure to the sun or ultraviolet light can lead to excess keratin buildup. Keratosis occurs in people who have excessively dry or hypersensitive skin.

  21. Leah on

    Hi! I heard that the keratin I hair products are made from horse hooves. Is this true because there are many products that I want to buy but they have keratin and I want to be animal cruelty-free. Thank you for your help!

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