The Cookbook


Protein and Protein Sensitivity in Natural Hair: Everything you need to know

There are some simple steps to healthy natural hair.

Your hair needs nutrients and vitamins to grow. You need to keep your hair and scalp clean if you want healthy hair. You need to fight tangles in order to prevent breakage and hair loss, and of course, your hair needs moisture to look and feel healthy. You also need to seal moisture into your hair, to prevent it from drying out. But this isn’t a perfect recipe to healthy hair. It lacks one key ingredient: protein.

You may know that protein is necessary for hair growth; you may even incorporate protein into your diet or give your hair regular protein treatments. But what does protein really do for your hair? What happens if your hair lacks protein? How does protein balance with moisture in healthy hair? And what happens if your hair gets too much protein? Keep reading this guide to find out:

healthy natural hair protein

Why does your hair need protein?

Your hair is made out of a protein called keratin. This protein provides structure to your hair, giving it its shape and strength. Without protein, your hair is limp, lifeless, and weak, and can fall out or fall apart very easily.

So what does protein do for your hair? Protein balances the moisture in your hair to keep the hair healthy and strong. If you have enough protein but not enough moisture, your hair will be dry, brittle, and stiff. But too much moisture and not enough protein can leave your hair limp, lifeless, and weak (this is known as hygral fatigue.) You need both moisture and protein to maintain healthy hair, which is often referred to as moisture/protein balance.

Chemical treatments, color treatments, the weather, pollution, washing, drying, styling, detangling, heat, and other factors can erode the keratin in your hair, weakening your hair. In addition, if your diet doesn’t contain enough protein this can lead to weak hair as well. We hopefully all know what to do when our hair lacks moisture (read our guide on moisturizing dry hair if you need tips!) But if you need protein in your hair, you need a protein treatment. And if you have protein sensitive hair... we'll get to that.

Common questions about protein treatments

What is a protein treatment for hair?

A protein treatment is any store-bought or handmade product that reinforces the protein structure of your hair. It restores damage, strengthens your hair, and improves elasticity, strength, curl, and bounce.

bouncy healthy natural hair

How do protein treatments work?

Protein treatments are made with ingredients that contain protein. The proteins in the product attach to your hair follicle, filling in any gaps, hardening the hair cuticle layer, and protecting it from further damage.

How do I know if my hair needs a protein treatment?

You can tell your hair needs a protein treatment if it feels weak, limp, and lifeless. Especially if it seems like products aren’t working and no amount of moisture seems to make your hair look or feel good, it’s time for a protein treatment. You also need a protein treatment if you have over-moisturized your hair.

How often should I do a protein treatment?

Because curly hair needs so much moisture, it's normal for those with curly or coily hair to over-moisturize or over-manipulate their hair and need protein treatments often. Most naturals benefit from a protein treatment every 4-8 weeks, depending on hair damage and how much protein is in your everyday hair products.

Pay attention to how your hair feels. If it is bouncy, strong, and healthy, you don’t need more protein! But if it is beginning to feel weak and limp, it’s time for a protein treatment. After a while, you’ll notice how often your hair needs protein treatments.

How do I incorporate protein into my hair regimen?

There are so many options! For severely damaged hair, you’ll want to look for a “reconstructor.” For moderate damage, look for a “deep penetrating treatment” which will strengthen your hair without providing a protein overload. For light or everyday damage, stick with light protein treatments or protein packs.

protect hair from damage with protein

What is the best protein treatment?

We recommend using small amounts of protein in your hair regularly. You can use NaturAll's Fresh Frozé Treatment Deep Conditioners. All contain small amounts of protein due to the fresh avocados we use, along with some other ingredients like wheat protein. These products both moisturize and strengthen your hair: the best of both worlds! Using one of these products every two weeks, your hair will stay strong and sustain less damage over time, so you’ll only need to do a more intensive protein treatment every 8 weeks or so.

Is it possible to use too much protein?

Yes. Remember the moisture/protein balance? It is possible to add so much protein to your hair that the moisture is unbalanced, leaving your hair feeling stiff, dry, or hard. This is why we recommend paying attention to how your hair feels before and after a protein treatment, and waiting at least a few weeks before doing another treatment. If you notice this happens to you no matter how infrequently you use protein, read the next section about protein sensitivity.

What are common protein ingredients in hair products?

Usually such products contain buzzwords in the product name or description, such as “repairing,” “reconstructing,” “strengthening,” or “rebuilding.” Look at the ingredients too. Any ingredients that contain “keratin,” “silk,” “protein,” “hydrolyzed protein,” “amino acid,” etc. are proteins. Here is a comprehensive list or proteins in hair products.

What is Protein Sensitive Hair?

So you read all our tips, went out and got a protein treatment, and now your hair feels hard, stiff, or extra dry. What happened?

Some individuals have “protein sensitive hair” -hair that is too sensitive to the strengthening effect of protein. When exposed to protein, it becomes stiff and hard.

How to tell if your hair is protein sensitive

Here is a simple test to determine if you have protein sensitivity:

  1. Dampen a section of your hair
  2. Apply a product or ingredient that contains protein. You can use a store bought protein treatment, greek yogurt, or raw egg.
  3. Let the section dry, and then compare it with the rest of your hair.

You’ll notice the section will be harder than the rest of your hair, which is normal. However, if the section is extremely stiff or starts breaking, you have protein sensitive hair.

is your hair protein sensitive?

Common Questions about Protein Sensitivity

What is the difference between protein sensitivity and protein overload?

If protein usually doesn't bother your hair, you might not have protein sensitive hair; your hair is probably just overloaded with protein. Anyone can overload their hair with protein, but only some people have protein sensitive hair that reacts badly to any amount of protein.

The outcome of both protein sensitivity and protein overload is the same- stiff, hard, crunchy hair. Try this trick: take all products with protein out of your regimen and heavily moisturize your hair for a couple weeks to get rid of the protein overload. Then, try a protein treatment again. If your hair feels good, you just overdid it last time :)

Are certain hair types protein sensitive?

There isn't a correlation between curl pattern or hair texture and protein sensitivity. Whether your hair is 4C, 3A, or 2B, you can have protein sensitive hair. However, protein sensitivity is more common in those with low porosity hair. When your hair is low porosity, it can be very hard for moisture to enter your hair. So even a small amount of protein can set off the protein-moisture balance of hair that naturally doesn't hold much moisture.

Not everyone with low porosity hair is protein sensitive, but if you know your porosity is low, you might want to be careful around heavy protein treatments.

Do I have to eliminate all protein from my regimen?

No, not necessarily. Your hair still needs protein to maintain strength. Make sure the products you use on a daily or weekly basis are protein free, and do a light protein treatment every 8 weeks. If the treatment makes your hair stiff or crunchy, be sure to follow it up with a moisturizing treatment.

Are there certain oils I need to avoid?

No, it is a common misconception that oils like coconut or almond contain protein. Oils are actually 100% fat, and can actually be great for protein sensitive hair as they strengthen the hair shaft from the inside out. However, there are many individuals with hair that is sensitive to specific oils in addition to protein. Pay attention to how your hair responds to different oils to determine which ones work best for you. We recommend NaturAll's Jamaican Black Castor Oil Growth Serum to keep hair both moisturized and strengthened.

products to use on natural hair

Can I use NaturAll's Avocado Deep Conditioners?

Yes! We recommend that protein sensitive individuals try the Restoring Fresh Frozé Treatment Deep Conditioner, which is a protein-free option containing Irish Sea Moss and Aloe Jelly as a base!

At NaturAll, we create and elevate clean haircare and beauty standards, providing freshly-made products that are better for you and your hair. Sourced from small farmers in Jamaica and Ghana. We source ingredients directly from small farmers in Jamaica and Ghana, so we always know how our ingredients are sourced and exactly who is being supported by our business. We are proud to support Black farmers and small businesses around the world. We believe that what goes on your body is as important as what goes in it. Too many hair products are made with synthetic ingredients that are irritating, damaging, or even hazardous, and the problem is worse in hair products marketed to Black women.

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