Keratin: What is it and why is it so vital for your skin and hair?

BASF scientist Mythili Nori explains the science behind keratin and how to keep hair healthy

Mythili Nori, BASF Corporation

A lot of what consumers do to their hair, including chemical treatments and the use of thermal appliances, results in damage to keratin, the protective protein and structural component found in hair and elsewhere.

With this in mind, Mythili Nori, Senior Scientist Product Performance at BASF Corporation, explains the exact function of keratin and how to act against keratin damage.


Keratin is considered as a protective protein and a key structural component that can be found in our hair, skin and nails.

Human hair keratins are classified as hard keratins, consisting of 65-96% proteins, 1-9% lipids, 3% melanin and other minor compounds.

Hair is mainly compromised of cuticle, cortex and medulla. The hair cortex exhibits a complex composite structure of crystalline protein domains formed by dimers of alpha-helical proteins embedded in an amorphous protein matrix.

The keratinic substance is rich in sulfur and contains amino acids. This complex morphology is responsible for the excellent mechanical properties of human hair.

Each hair cuticle consists of 5-12 layers of beta keratins and is the outermost coat of the hair shaft and regarded as a ‘protection wall’. A cuticle typically consists of 5-7 overlaying colorless layers, is extremely hard and resistant and protects the hair cortex.

Keratins provide both exterior protection to the hair cuticle and to the interior structure in the cortex. These proteins are the building blocks that contribute to the strength, flexibility and overall health of hair.

Keratins play a key role in cohesion and physical properties of hair and can be depleted with improper hair care regimens. Chemical treatments, use of thermal appliances, surface damage by improper grooming practices and environmental stressors can play a significant part in destroying keratin.

For skin, if these keratin scales are disrupted, they affect skin feel and appearance making the skin look dull, dry and less supple.

The function of proteins is primarily dependent on their molecular weight, derivatisation, amino acid composition and origin. Low molecular weight proteins can penetrate through the cuticle into the hair cortex and help with improving elasticity, repairing and moisturising deeply. Proteins with high molecular weight have film-forming attributes that help with conditioning, suppleness and protection.

Proteins can be derived from many sources and can vary in amino acid content. Collagen, keratin and elastin are the three most common animal-based proteins.

Proteins also naturally occur in food and plants and mostly available in hydrolysed form. Wheat-based proteins that do not contain gluten can be derived from soy or rice. Plant-derived phyto-keratin proteins can be obtained through enzymatical hydrolysis of vegetable protein.

A growing market

The number of protein-based product launches in hair care and skin care are on the rise. Major product application forms with proteins for hair include shampoos, hair treatments and conditioners; for skin they are primarily used in scrubs, cleansers and lotions.

As vegan and gluten-free claims are becoming more prevalent, consumers are looking for alternative solutions to animal-based proteins.

Depending on consumer preference, BASF offers both animal-based and plant-derived keratin proteins. Keratin micro-proteins such as our Nutrilan Keratin LM and Gluadin Kera-P LM are derived from 100% renewable feedstocks and produced by an enzymatic method.

The plant-derived protein Gluadin Kera-P LM is an ideal alternative to keratin. Both micro-proteins can penetrate deep into the layers of the hair, providing long-lasting effect. They repair structural damage and rejuvenate the hair surface. They refill and reload your hair with keratin and plant-based building blocks respectively.

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BASF Care Creations (more information, website)