Protein and natural hair are often two words natural hair women rarely use in a sentence together. I will admit, when I first starting wearing my natural hair all I focused on was finding a “good conditioner”. I, like many women, was so obsessed with moisture I forgot all about the protein. Overall, I honestly didn’t understand why I needed it and when to use protein in my hair. I’d heard of protein treatments before but still wasn’t 100% clear on them. After a bad experience with a protein treatment, I took a step back to conduct more research and really understand the role it plays in hair care. In the past few months, I’ve chatted about protein and natural hair with friends, family and one one one with blog readers in my comments to the point I knew I needed to write a more detailed post.
Protein and Natural Hair: What You Should Know
Why do we need protein for healthy hair care?
In short, a protein called keratin helps to make up the hair strand. Depending on your hair care regimen, diet, and lifestyle, lack of protein can translate to your strands. Healthy hair is ultimately a combination of great protein/moisture balance. Too much moisture can result in weak, limp hair that is prone to breakage. Too much protein, also known as protein overload, will cause your hair to snap and break as well.
How do I know if a conditioner has protein?
Most of the time, women have no idea if they are using a protein conditioner or a moisturizing conditioner. One sign may be if you’ve been using the same product for months and it “just doesn’t work” you should pay closer attention to the ingredients and the titles. Usually, conditioners with protein will have the following keywords in the title of the product.
- Repair/Repairing Cream
- Balancing Conditioner
- Deep Repair Mask
Conditioners with protein will also have a few of these common ingredients
- Hydrolyzed wheat protein
- Hydrolyzed keratin
- Hydrolyzed silk protein
- Hydrolyzed Oat Flour
- Variations of hydrolyzed collagen
- Variations of hydrolyzed soy protein
3 Signs Your Hair Needs Protein
1. Limp curls & weak, mushy-like hair:
Are your curls just not “popping” like they used to and you can’t figure out why? A lot of naturals go through a period where their hair starts acting weird. Moisture gets pushed down our throats at all time (which is great) but take one weekend to deep condition with some protein and watch your curls snap back. Also, if your hair starts to feel mushy more than likely your hair has become over-moisturized. Completely saturating your hair with water every day, deep conditioning overnight and keeping your hair in a constant wet state is not ideal or healthy. Yes, we know dry hair is horrible, but there is more than one way to moisturize your hair. Alternatives include hydration sprays, hair lotions, and developing a consistent deep conditioning regimen.
2. Consistent shedding/breakage:
Shedding is also a sign your hair needs protein. While lack of protein is not the only reason your hair could be shedding, it could be that your hair is slowly breaking off because it’s not strong. A light balancing protein conditioner will be ideal to whip your hair back into shape. Also note: protein conditioners and hard-core protein treats are TWO VERY different products. I always suggest talking to a stylist before undergoing a full-blown protein treatment if you are unsure what your hair needs. Incorrectly using a protein treatment can cause more harm than good.
3. Long-term heat use which has changed your curl pattern:
Heat damage occurs when the protein bonds in the hair are continually broken down due to extreme heat resulting in the permanent change of the hair follicle. In short, the hair is now permanently straight. In this case, you have no choice but to cut if off and start over. However, if you haven’t reached the peak of heat damage where the damage is irreversible, your curl pattern might have changed due to long-term heat use. I love a great blow-out as much as the next woman, so if this is your style of choice, follow-up with a great reparative deep conditioning masque on your next wash day following your blow-out.