I realized lately that almost all my hair products contain protein. After doing a bit of research, I realized that applying too much protein on my hair results in dry, brittle hair. Since I reduced proteins, my hair is much softer and breakage has been reduced.
Do you know how to include protein efficiently in your hair routine according to our hair type?
Here is a complete guide to learn how to use protein for natural hair:
- what is the impact of protein on hair?
- what hair type needs protein?
- how to recognize the signs of intolerance?
- what is the difference between a protein excess and a protein intolerance?
- what to do in case of protein intolerance?
- are home made protein treatments effective?
- how to identify protein-rich products?
- does coconut oil contain protein?
What is a protein?
A protein is the specific sequence of small molecules called amino acids. The nature, number and order of amino acids constitute the sequence of the protein.
The hair fibre is mainly composed of a protein called keratin that gives it its strength and structure.
The difference between hydrolysed proteins and whole proteins.
Whole proteins (such as proteins found in eggs) are too large to penetrate the hair fibre. To be effective, the proteins must be broken down into smaller pieces in the form of hydrolyzed proteins.
The effect of protein on natural hair.
Hydrolysed proteins have not only a strong affinity for the hair fiber but they also have the ability to attract and retain water molecules, which makes them excellent humectants.
The proteins found in hair products come from different sources:
- wheat germs,
Depending on the type of protein (silk, oats, etc), the nature of the hair (porous, fine, etc) and the frequency of use, these proteins can have a radically opposite effect: they can either render the hair silky, hydrated and strong or, on the contrary, make it coarse and brittle.
Small-size proteins such as silk, keratin and collagen will penetrate the hair fibre, attract water molecules and fortify the hair from the inside. As a result, they improve the elasticity of the hair and make it more flexible.
The proteins of larger size, such as oats, wheat germs, and quinoa have the ability to form a film around the hair fibre, giving strength and volume to the hair.
How to know your hair product contain proteins?
It is important to know how to detect the type of protein and its amount in a hair product. First of all search for the keywords “Hydrolysed / Hydrolyzed” and “Protein” such as:
- Olivoyl Hydrolysed Wheat Protein,
- Cocodimonium Hydrolysed Hair Keratin,
- Cocoyl Hydrolysed Collagen,
- Hydrolysed Silk,
- Potassium Cocoyl Hydrolysed Collagen,
- TEA-Cocoyl Hydrolysed Soy Protein.
It is possible to evaluate the amount of protein in your hair products according to its position in the list of ingredients. As a matter of fact, proteins listed among the first six ingredients show a highly concentrated protein product (5-6%) such as a reconstructive or revitalizing treatment.
Proteins found at the end of the list indicate a low protein product (between 0.5% and 1%).
Which hair type needs protein?
Bleached, fine, damaged hair (porous), as well as hair damaged by excess heat or sun will truly benefit from protein-rich products.
How to know if your hair need protein?
Your hair needs protein if:
- it feels “mushy”,
- has lost its curl definition,
- is extremely elastic.
You can either use a strengthening mask or a protein rich leave-in conditioner to improve the health of your hair.
Strengthening / repairing masks.
Repairing masks are very rich in protein and should only be applied twice a month at the most on porous natural hair and maximum once a month on non-porous hair healthy hair.
Protein-rich moisturizing leave-in conditioners and styling creams.
Now that you can decipher the composition of your hair products, do you know if your styling creams contain protein?
Finding protein in most of your hair products: shampoos, conditioners, treatments, leave-in conditioner and styling creams, shows a surplus of protein supply, which can result in dry and brittle hair.
Additionally, using a protein rich moisturizing leave-in or styling creams several times a week can equally make your hair dry. It might be better to alternate, for example, with a milk without protein.
Protein sensitivity on natural hair.
Is your hair dry and quite difficult to detangle after using proteins? This is probably a sign that:
- You have protein build-up on your hair,
- You used the wrong kind of protein,
- Your hair did not really need protein at that time,
- The protein in the product was too concentrated.
The difference between protein accumulation and protein intolerance.
While the excess protein supplied by a mask, a shampoo or a conditioner is removed during rinsing, the proteins found in a styling cream, a moisturizing milk or a gel tend to accumulate on the hair fibre until the next shampoo and stiffen the hair.
Imagine that: after rinsing your mask (enriched with protein), you will spread your moisturizer (enhanced with proteins) and define your ringlets with your gel (enriched with proteins).
You will probably re-apply your moisturizer (enhanced with protein) several times a week when your hair is dry.
This overdose of protein can be responsible for the dryness of your hair.
Protein intolerance quickly becomes apparent after applying the product: the hair turns dry, brittle and difficult to style. It is particularly common on thick non porous afro hair.
Here are 3 reasons why your hair does not tolerate protein:
1) This protein is actually not suitable for your hair.
A protein will react differently depending on the type of hair (thick, thin, porous, non-porous …).
That’s why it’s important to recognize which protein is present in your product.
Broadly speaking, the thicker the hair, the less they support large proteins such as hydrolysed wheat proteins. These proteins will form a stiff film around an already thick capillary fibre.
NB: A reaction to a type of protein does not necessarily indicate intolerance to all type of protein. Your hair can handle really well silk proteins but they do not tolerate wheat proteins.
2) Your hair arguably did not need protein at that time.
Your hair is probably healthy and does not need proteins.
Are you using a protein mask too often?
3) The product you used contained too much protein.
For example, hair will react differently with Aphogee Two-Step Protein Treatment containing a very high protein concentration and Shea Moisture Fruit Fusion hair mask which has a low protein concentration.
Broadly speaking, if your hair is pretty damaged, select a mask with high protein concentration. On the other hand, if your hair is healthy and you just want to make a maintenance mask, choose a low protein mask.
What to do in case of protein intolerance:
1) Identify your protein-enriched products:
– Gather the hair care products you currently use: your shampoo, conditioner, mask, moisturizer and gel/styling cream (oils do not contain protein).
– Read the composition of these products and look for the following keywords: hydrolysed, hydrolysed protein, hydrolysed vegetable protein, rice, soy, silk, wheat, collagen, keratin, oats, milk, maize, quinoa, elastin, amino acid…
Proteins at the top of the list (in the first 6 ingredients) indicate a high protein product as an intensive repair mask.
Here is the list of ingredients of Aphogee Two-Step Protein Treatment:
In this treatment, hydrolysed collagen is first on the list as well as hydrolysed vegetable proteins. Hence, this treatment contains a very high concentration of proteins.
Proteins at the end of the list show a low protein product such as a moisturizer or a conditioner.
For example, the composition of Shea Moisture Curl Enhancing Smoothie:
This styling cream contains silk proteins in the middle of the list.
Now that you have identified the protein-based products from your hair care routine, what should be done next?
2) Replace your protein product with a protein-free product:
Remove protein products away from your daily use for a few weeks, substitute them with protein-free products, and pay attention to how your hair reacts.
Proteins are essential for healthy hair. Do not eliminate them completely from your hair care routine. Consider making a protein mask once a month or every 6 weeks.
Avoid especially the very strong masks such as those of the Aphogee brand. You can also leave your mask on for a shorter time, dilute it with water or else do not use heat in order to diminish the intensity of your protein treatment.
3) Analyze your results.
After a month of using protein-free products, what are your results? Is your hair less dry, less brittle? Is it easier to disentangle, softer?
Your hair is healthier:
The type of protein you identified was incompatible with your hair type or there is too much of it in the product.
You have the choice to either completely remove this product from your routine or substitute it with a protein-free equivalent, or to apply it on your hair seldom.
You have not noticed any change
Your hair is always dry and brittle even after eliminating the proteins from your routine. Other ingredients must be responsible for this lack of moisture, such as coconut oil. Identify your products with oil or coconut milk.
Does your hair need moisture? Increase the frequency of your moisturizing masks and apply your moisturizer more regularly. Sometimes the hair “adapts” to the product making it less effective. Change your moisturizing masks with another brand, for example.
Do you have an excess (build-up) of products on your hair? It may be time to make a clarifying shampoo.
Home-made masks on natural hair.
Eggs, dairy products (cottage cheese, yoghurt, cream…), mayonnaise, bananas, avocados and aloe vera found in your home-made masks contain more or less protein.
In order to test the tolerance of your hair to proteins from a new home-made product or ingredient (eggs, cream), do a patch test:
- Wet a section of hair
- Apply the protein product
- Allow it to act
It is normal for your hair to be slightly stiffer after applying a protein. If, despite everything, your hair becomes brittle and very dry, there is a good chance that your hair is intolerant to the proteins found in this product.
Coconut oil and proteins
Does coconut oil contain protein?
Coconut oil and milk are rich in lauric acid, a small molecule with high affinity for hair proteins. Due to its small size, lauric acid has the ability to penetrate the hair fibre and cling to the hair proteins, which will fortify the hair fibre.
While coconut milk contains a significant amount of protein, coconut oil does not contain protein.
On thick, healthy, non porous natural hair, coconut oil/milk excessively stiffens the hair fibre and makes it brittle.
What to do in case of intolerance to coconut oil?
Like in the case of protein intolerance, identify your coconut oil products from your routine (read “coconut oil” in the ingredients list) and replace them with a product without coconut oil.
Do you use coconut oil as a sealant after your moisturizer or during your pre-shampoo treatment? Substitute it with olive oil, avocado or sunflower oil (lighter).
To learn more on how to chose your hair oil, click here.
Studying the list of ingredients in your products, observing how your hair reacts after application and avoiding an overdose of protein, will allow you to keep your protein intolerance under control.
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