We’re sure by now every Natural has heard of a “protein treatment”. They are widely talked about and pushed, being advertised as a sure fire way to bring life to dull hair.
Here at NaturAll, we’re big advocates for giving your hair what it needs to flourish and thrive. We highly recommend everyone implement deep conditioning at least once every two weeks into their hair care routine. Deep conditioning nourishes the hair, deeply moisturizing the strands, which in turn allows the hair to retain moisture better in the future. This can prevent things like breakage and split ends – basically any physical damage to the hair.
Protein treatments are often said to do the same thing – fight against physical damage. However, most naturals don’t know that protein treatments aren’t something that everyone should do, unlike deep conditioning. Here, we’ll get into what protein treatments are, why they would be needed, and why they are not a good option for everyone’s hair.
Protein Treatments: What are they?
Protein treatments will be any product that is intended to strengthen the hair. Since your hair is made up of a protein called keratin, your strands will already have protein present. These strands are strengthened by the protein in the treatment attaching itself to the hair follicles, filling in gaps of the follicle, where protein (keratin) is missing. This reinforces the strands, making them solid and resistant to breakage.
In terms of ingredients, it’s pretty self explanatory what you can expect from a protein treatment...lots of protein! Just like your body, your hair needs protein to thrive. Eating protein rich foods will not only benefit your body, but your hair as well. It will allow your new growth to be strong instead of deficient, due to the keratin and overall structure of your hair being inconsistent. Inconsistent keratin structure leaves room for your hair to break off and lack elasticity, where elasticity is the ability for your curls to stretch and bounce back.
Ingredients that can be found in protein treatments can be things like castor oil, keratin, collagen, and our personal favorite here at NaturAll Club: avocado!
Protein Treatments: Why would you need one?
Since a balanced, healthy diet can be enough to allow your hair to grow without deficiency, a lot of people find that they don’t need protein treatments at all. Along with diet, most naturals already benefit from having protein packed ingredients in their hair products. Things like castor and avocado oil are extremely common ingredients found in natural hair products, and help fight breakage and split ends. Because of this, a lot of naturals’ hair is not suffering from a lack of protein (we’ll get back to this point later).
However, this is not to say protein treatments are never needed. Like mentioned before, a protein treatment will attach to the hair and fill in the gaps on the hair follicle where there is protein missing. This means that hair that is suffering from a lack of protein will, of course, flourish when replenished with a protein treatment.
You can tell that hair is lacking enough protein if it is weak and easily breaks off. It is important that weak hair is not equated to dry hair, as dry hair does not always need to be treated with protein. This will bring us to our next topic…
Protein Treatments: When are they harmful to use?
Protein treatments can be extremely harmful to hair that is just suffering from dryness. This is understandable, as it is easy to mistake dry hair for hair that is lacking protein. After all, in both cases, you will experience physical damage to your hair, like breakage and split ends. However, there is a difference between hair being dry and needing protein.
Dry hair is dry because it hasn’t been properly hydrated and is lacking in moisture. Protein deficient hair is dry because the gaps in the hair follicle make it so the strand cannot be hydrated or moisturized at all. It also cannot retain any moisture provided, as it will be absorbed into the air due to the gaps in the follicle. Dry hair breaks off not because it is weak, but because it isn’t lubricated or moisturized. Protein deficient hair breaks off because it is weak as well as dry. It is important to make the point that weak hair refers to the integrity of the hair strand. Dry hair can become weak the more it breaks and splits. However, just because hair is dry doesn’t mean there are gaps in the strands. As dry strands rub together, it can cause split ends on the strands, which then weaken the integrity of the hair. This is not to say your hair can go from being strong and resistant to breakage to weak just because it hasn’t been properly moisturized one wash day or dried out a little on a hot day.
Dry hair can be mitigated by using extremely hydrating, water based products. Protein deficient hair will be dry no matter what products you use, until the protein has been restored. When you go to use a protein treatment on hair that is suffering from dryness (and nothing more), you are then packing protein on top of hair that already has enough of it. There are no gaps for the protein in the treatment to fill, it will just sit on top of the hair, creating a cast around the strands. This will lead to more dryness and actually will weaken the hair, as it is now being weighed down and can’t withstand that weight without breaking. This is what we would refer to as a “protein overload”.
Even though protein treatments are good for those who have weak, protein deficient hair, that doesn’t mean that everyone with weak, protein deficient hair should get a protein treatment. Some people, mainly those with fine hair strands, are actually protein sensitive. This means that even if you are experiencing a lack of protein, your strands cannot withstand extremely concentrated amounts of protein. With protein sensitive hair, you will find your hair will behave in the same ways dry hair does when treated with protein; it will become extremely brittle and weaken the hair even more (due to the strands already having gaps missing).
We have a blog you can check that can tell you more about protein sensitivity and how to figure out if you have protein sensitive hair!
What if I’m sensitive to protein but need a treatment?
If you are in need of a strengthening treatment but have sensitive strands, don’t worry; you aren’t out of luck! The main thing for you to focus on is providing your hair with amounts of protein that 1) aren’t so concentrated (like protein treatments) and 2) are gradually supplied to the hair. Since you will apply the protein in less concentrated amounts, you will have to apply it more consistently and slowly – say, throughout your week – instead of applying it in one day (like a treatment). This means that products with protein filled ingredients will be your best friends – namely, stylers and moisturizers. Since stylers and moisturizers will have other ingredients, like moisturizing and or holding agents, your hair will not be shocked by whatever protein they contain. Along with the protein, your hair will benefit from the moisture provided allowing a balance of strength of moisture, which is what the hair needs in combination with each other to remain healthy.
Products with castor oil, avocado oil, and yogurt in their ingredient list will be good for those with protein sensitivity. Depending on how sensitive your hair is, it may benefit you to stay away from products with any high protein agent being the first 5 ingredients on the ingredient list. However, if protein is something that’s high up on the list, you want to make sure there is some hydrating agent at the top of the list as well. Our Ice Cream Treatment Deep Conditioners are good examples of this…
Take our Strengthening Ice Cream Treatment with Moringa-Monio and Carrot. The first ingredient in its ingredient list is Persea Gratissima – aka Avocado – and the second ingredient is water. Normally, this would not be an issue for those with protein sensitivity, as water (a hydrating agent) is close second to the protein agent (avocado). However, if you take a look further down the list (and even at the treatment’s name), there are other strengthening (aka protein filled) ingredients that may activate someone’s sensitivity. In this case, the extra protein packed ingredients would be the Moringa-Monio. This is why it’s very important for every natural to carefully read the ingredients on their products. Also pay attention to the name and labeling; it will help you figure out what the product is meant to do. This will help you figure out if the product’s ingredients backup how the product is being advertised as well.
A good example of a product where protein being the first ingredient may not present an issue is our Hydrating Ice Cream Treatment with Kiwi. Even though avocado is the first ingredient, water is the second. This treatment has butters and other deeply nourishing, hydrating agents – like the kiwi. As the name indicated, this treatment is more focused on hydrating the hair as opposed to strengthening it. The Curl Defining Treatment with Acai and Flaxseed would also be a good option for protein sensitivity, as water is the first ingredient. Even though avocado is the second, it is filled with things that will hydrate the hair, as hydration is needed in order to define curls.
Deep conditioners are a good way to get the protein you need without overdoing it since their main function is to deeply nourish the hair. This means that you’re getting the moisture and protein you need; nothing more, nothing less. Along with deep conditioners, simple moisturizing products you use after cleansing is a great way for your hair to get the protein it needs. Our Hydrating Leave-In Conditioner as well as our Hydrating Moisturizer can be used throughout the week to keep your hair moisturized. On top of moisture, it also contains avocado oil, allowing it to provide some protein content to keep your hair strong.
What if my hair doesn’t seem to like any protein?
Most people will find that as long as they aren’t applying extremely concentrated amounts of protein, their sensitivity won’t be triggered. However, there are small few whose hair is so sensitive, even an unconcentrated amount can cause their hair to go limp and become brittle. If you find yourself in this group, the main thing for you to do is make sure you’re getting enough protein in your diet. The health of your hair, especially its strength (amount of present protein), is highly dependent on your diet. If you are not getting enough protein in the foods you eat, then your body is not able to supply your hair with enough protein to maintain your hair, let alone allow for new, healthy growth. Here are some foods you can implement in your diet that are high in protein content:
- Nuts (almonds, cashews, and pistachios) have high percentage of protein content that their total calories are made of
- Greek yogurt
- Cottage cheese
- Dark, leafy greens
If you have the resources to, it may also be helpful to see a doctor or dietitian about your protein intake. They could help tell you if your body is getting enough to sustain itself and allow growth (in every aspect and area, not just your hair).
Tips for those without protein sensitivity:
- Even though your hair isn’t shocked by protein doesn’t mean you can’t overdo it. Oversupplying your hair with too much protein can lead to you developing a sensitivity, or it will simply leave your hair brittle and prone to breakage. Oversupplying your hair with protein can happen if you do protein treatments too often, leave your protein treatments on for longer than the instructed time, or if you are using a protein treatment that is just too strong for your hair. This last point doesn’t necessarily mean you have a protein sensitivity, you are just using a product that isn’t compatible with your hair.
- If you find that you have overloaded your hair with protein, the best thing to do is provide it with as much moisture as possible without manipulating it too much; this will increase the breakage. You should try to gently wash out any trace amounts of the protein treatment you have left in your hair and go to deep conditioning. You want to make sure the deep conditioner is moisture oriented, water based, and filled with humectants and moisture supporting products. You need to be super careful during this time, as your hair is in a fragile state. Low maintenance and protective styles would be best for you; something that has little tension on the hair and scalp. A pineapple puff or loose two strand twists are good options when in this situation. Lastly, don’t panic! You just need to listen to your hair and leave it be for a while.
Tips for those with protein sensitivity:
- You want to strategically choose what products you put in your hair and how many of them have protein based ingredients in their top five ingredients. Something like a deep conditioner with a protein based ingredient in the top five can be good if the deep conditioner is mostly for moisture and not strength. This can be paired with moisturizers or leave-ins with protein based ingredients in their top five since you are only using the deep conditioner once a week at the most. If you have very sensitive hair, using a moisturizer or leave-in that is protein based may only be doable if you’re using it 2-3 times a week instead of daily. The good thing about this is that if you are moisturizing your hair properly after washing, you won’t need to re-moisturize your hair daily!
- You will also benefit from eating high protein foods as a conscious effort to make your hair stronger.
Tips for everyone to keep in mind:
- Yes, protein is important and it is the very thing that your hair is made of, however, it is not the end-all-be-all of what your hair needs to thrive. Along with protein, your hair needs moisture in order to stay healthy. Protein and moisture need to be in balance with each other for your hair to thrive. Make sure you are also concerned with the amount of moisture you’re supplying your hair, as it will help it remain strong and resistant to damage.
- To keep your hair hydrated and reduce the amount of times you need to moisturize it throughout the week, make sure you are using lots of water when applying your products. You don’t want to overdo it, as you can also suffer from too much hydration, but you should be thoroughly drenching your hair when applying your shampoo and conditioner, taking time to smooth it into your strands. When you’re deep conditioning, you want to have your hair damp so the deep conditioner will take to your hair better; you want to smooth that in your strands as well. When you go to style your hair and apply your leave-ins and moisturizers, make sure your hair is slightly more than damp. It doesn’t have to be dripping wet, but you want it to be adequately covered in water. This will not only allow the products to take to your hair better, but also will allow your hair to remain moisturized for longer!