Quinoa Seed Extract Can Strengthen and Hydrate Hair—Here's How

Woman with shiny, healthy hair, viewed from the back

Stocksy / Design by Cristina Cianci

You may be familiar with quinoa, a delicious and nutritious grain often found in overpriced salad bowls. But did you know that its extract is an amazing ingredient when used in haircare products? Quinoa is considered a complete protein, meaning that it contains all the essential amino acids. Since our hair is made out of keratin (a protein), reinforcing it with quinoa extract adds strength and protection. 

During these hot summer months, taking care of your hair may seem like a drag, but quinoa extract might be the easy fix your dry hair has been begging for. We turned to three hair experts—dermatologist Steven Shapiro, MD, dermatologist Craig Ziering, MD, and Odele founder Lindsay Holden—for their advice on using the miracle grain for hair.

Quinoa Seed Extract for Hair

Type of ingredient: Hydrator, strengthener, and anti-inflammatory 

Main benefits: Can repel free radicals, hydrates hair and scalp, and strengthens hair, so it’s less likely to break and split.

Who should use it: Quinoa extract works for all hair types, but it is especially helpful for anyone with dry, dehydrated, or damaged hair in need of repair. It is safe for color-treated hair and can be beneficial in natural curly styles or for those who are dealing with the residual effects of chemical treatments.

How often can you use it: It can be used daily or as often as you wash, treat, or style your hair. 

Works well with: It pairs well with other amino acids and lipids, including shea butter and coconut oil for healthy hydration. 

Don’t use with: There are no known ingredients that negatively interfere with quinoa extract. 

What Is Quinoa Seed Extract?

Quinoa seed extract is an extract from the flowers and leaves of the quinoa plant, and it's produced from the cold pressing of the quinoa seed. The plant is usually found in South America and recognized for its exceptional nutritional qualities. When ingested, it has exceptional complete-protein nutritional qualities and it is low in glycemic and high in protein and fiber in comparison with most grains. By activating the breakdown of lipids, it is also able to support reduction in our internal inflammation, Shapiro explains. 

According to Ziering, “When oil or essences are removed or extracted, subjected to a grinding followed by a mechanical process to press and liberate the more viscous material, the quinoa extract is able to be used to support the synthesis of collagen and support the structural integrity of our skin and hair.” 

When shopping for haircare products that contain quinoa extract make sure there’s a meaningful level to get the benefits it delivers. Check to be sure it's not the last ingredient listed on the bottle packaging. “To be effective in haircare, it needs to be hydrolyzed, a process that breaks down the quinoa and extracts the acids,” explains Holden. 

Benefits of Quinoa Extract for Hair

  • Repels Free Radicals: Thanks to its high levels of vitamin E and other antioxidants, quinoa seed extract can repel free radicals, the harmful molecules that damage your hair and skin. This helps keep your hair follicles healthy and strong, so they’re equipped for steady hair growth. 
  • Hydrates Hair and Scalp: The humectants in quinoa seed oil attract moisture from the air, making it an excellent source of hydration for your scalp and strands. “Because it smooths the cuticle, it can also support curls and eliminate frizz,” explains Shapiro. 
  • Helps Retain Moisture: Additionally, it’s a storehouse for essential fatty acids like linoleic acid. Shapiro says that these acids are known to reduce water loss, so your hair can retain moisture and have a softer, silkier quality overall. Because the hydrolyzed quinoa protein molecule is very small, it can penetrate low-porosity hair and provide needed moisture beneath the cuticle better than thick, hydrating oils and butters, which can often build up on low porosity hair. It also works beautifully for those with high-porosity hair who lose moisture quickly from strands and can benefit from the flexible film coating hair that traps moisture in and releases it slowly. 
  • Strengthens Your Hair: The proteins in quinoa seed oil form a protective barrier around your hair, making it strong and protecting against potential damage. “Quinoa is chock-full of the amino acids our hair needs for strength, elasticity, and resilience. Without them, our hair health is lacking and we will be more prone to dry brittle hair that breaks and splits,” says Ziering. 
  • Supports Healthy Blood Flow in the Scalp: Quinoa extract contains vitamin B3, a compound that’s commonly known as niacin. “Niacin is known to help dilate blood vessels and support healthy blood flow in your scalp. This allows for more vital oxygen and nutrients to travel to your hair follicles,” explains Shapiro. This strengthens and nourishes your follicles, supporting their ability to grow hair. 
  • Protects Your Hair: Holden explains that quinoa extract helps to block out environmental stressors and provides protection from heat, while it locks in moisture and seals the cuticle for smooth, pliable, more elastic strands. “The amino acids in quinoa extract deliver on diverse benefits; some penetrate into the hair to fortify our strands and repair, while others within the same ingredient act as a barrier to protect the hair from environmental stress,” clarifies Holden. 
  • Reduce Scalp Acne: Quinoa extract is also known to aid in the balance of sebum control, therefore helping to reduce the appearance of acne from face to scalp, Ziering explains. 
  • Helps Preserve Color: Quinoa seed extract’s high protein content makes it ideal for preserving color treated hair. It can also help protect your strands from the damaging effects of heat styling.

How to Use It

Quinoa extract can be found in shampoos, conditioners, masques, leave-in conditioning treatments, hair shields, and curl creams. Quinoa extract is typically seen on product ingredient labels as “hydrolyzed quinoa protein.” Quinoa, like most proteins utilized in haircare products, needs to be hydrolyzed for the molecules to be small enough to penetrate below the cuticle layer. Hydrolysis happens either through acid, water, fermentation, or in the case of some ingredients, it is prompted by microorganisms which not only break down the proteins but also help to release lactic acid from the quinoa, which provides hydrating benefits. 

You can ground and make a paste of your own extract, but the process can be messy, time-consuming, and costly. Another option is to fill a container with quinoa, water, a starter, or a little apple cider vinegar for a few days to ferment, and then use it as a hair rinse in the shower for stronger, more hydrated hair. 

“Quinoa extract, usually found with water and glycerin, can be applied to hair or scalp as a pre-treatment. It’s water soluble, washes out well, and it is gentle enough not to need a carrier oil,” explains Ziering.

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