We’ve all heard of protein and know that it’s beneficial for us. For our diets, yes but no so much for our hair. The word protein gets thrown around so much when discussing hair regimens and routines. But what is it really?
We did an Instagram poll at @the4cvoice, and 69% of people had used protein in their hair previously but only 33% knew how the protein had actually affected their hair. Don’t worry, we are here to clear up this confusion and explain what protein is and if your hair is in need of a protein treatment!
What is Protein?
Proteins are the building block to our lives, literally. Without going too deep into chemistry and biology, proteins are the building blocks for the tissues in our body and serve as a fuel and energy source. Just as we need protein in our diet to remain healthy and strong, we need it in our hair too for these same reasons!
In a little more detail…
Proteins are long-chain molecules built from smaller units known as amino acids. Proteins build, maintain, and replace the tissues in the body. The organs of the body are mostly made of protein. The same goes for hair. Our hair is primarily made of a tough protein called keratin, about 65-95% to be exact. Keratin is a family of naturally-occurring structural proteins found in hair, skin, and nails. These proteins serve as the structural support for these parts of the body.
Keratin forms the exterior protection to the cuticle and shafts of the hair as well as the interior structure in the cortex of hair. These proteins can be used to restore strength to our hair but can also be destroyed with bad hair practices. Anything that is taxing on the hair can destroy the keratin composition in our hair. Excessive heat, chemical usage, and improper techniques (i.e. improper detangling, general roughness, etc.) are all things that can deplete keratin in hair. When depleted, hair is left weak and is at risk for damage.
How do I know if I need a protein treatment?
Keratin gives our hair its structure. If the keratin is damaged, you’d lose this structure and outer protection that it provides. This can manifest itself in many ways.
If Your Hair:
Is feeling lifeless and limp and you are noticing a lack of coils and curls that you normally see, even after trying to revive your hair by deep conditioning
Feels mushy to the touch, as if too much water has been absorbed
Is very stretchy – once you stretch your hair, it doesn’t bounce back
Is breaking excessively and shedding more than normal
Has had a change in porosity (from low or medium to high)
Doesn’t respond to your usual hair products (for example, following a chemical treatment)
Then, you may be due for a protein treatment.
What will the protein do for my hair?
As we stated earlier, keratin forms the exterior protection to the hair shaft and cuticle. When the protein/keratin in our hair is destroyed, it makes out hair weak and we lose this outer protection. Adding protein to your hair restores this toughness and protection to the outer layer. The protein comes in and fills in any gaps along the hair cuticle and shaft.
In the image above, you can see how the outer cuticle lifts as hair is damaged. Some people with high porosity hair naturally have more lifted cuticles than others with low or medium porosity. However, improper hair practices like excessive heat, over processing with chemicals, etc. can also lead to the lifted cuticles shown above. In cases like these, you’ll notice that is very difficult to retain water in your hair. You’d be able to easily get moisture into your hair but the moisture leaves just as fast as it entered – leaving your hair dry.
A protein treatment is like new armor for your hair; it would fill in these gaps along the cuticle, leaving hair noticeably stronger. This would also help with retaining water because once you moisturize your hair, there aren’t gaps for the water to escape through. (This may mean that you have to work a little harder to introduce moisture into your hair though!)
This protection being added will restore the curls and coils to your hair and eliminate the extreme stretchiness you may be experiencing as your gains some strength back.
Is my 4C hair sensitive to protein?
One common thread in the natural hair community is that low porosity 4c hair is sensitive to protein. The rationale is that protein strengthens hair. 4c hair is already seen as “strong” and “tough”, so it must not need protein. Low porosity hair already has a tightly closed cuticle, so adding protein to it would just make the cuticle harder to penetrate.
This may be the case for some heads of hair but is not the rule for everyone with low porosity and/or type 4c hair.
If you notice that your hair is breaking and shedding excessively, regardless of your hair type, you may benefit from a protein treatment. This treatment will add the strength to your hair that will keep it from breaking off. And all types of hair experience breakage. If you are low porosity and/or type 4c and have tried a protein treatment that didn’t work for you, you may need to clarify first to see its results or follow up with a penetrating deep conditioning treatment!
You may also be adding in more protein to your hair than you think. If the products that you currently use for your hair already contain protein, then adding a protein treatment to your regimen may be overkill and responsible for any negative affects you may be seeing. Look at the ingredients in your products. If you see any words like: collagen, keratin, hydrolyzed, hydrolyzed soy, or protein (of course), then you have already been using protein that may be sufficient for you!
How should I apply protein to my hair?
As with anything hair related, make sure that protein is right for your hair at the time you are trying to use it! You can start with a patch test. Also try incorporating natural protein ingredients to your deep conditioners to see how your hair reacts. If you notice positive results, then adding protein to your regimen will benefit you!
On average, apply a protein treatment to your hair every 6-8 weeks or once every other month. Overdoing the protein treatments will lead to protein overload which will damage hair as well!
If you are looking for a weaker protein treatment, look for products with “Reconstructor” in the title or description. If you are experiencing extreme breakage, look for products designed for “Severe breakage”.
Always follow up your protein treatments with a moisturizing deep conditioning treatment. The deep conditioning treatment will bring moisture back into your stiffened hair following a protein treatment. Remember, the key to healthy hair is a balance between protein and moisture.
What are some sources of protein?
Proteins are all around us! The sources are endless. Many Youtubers and naturals love at-home DIY protein treatments using ingredients like egg, yogurt, mayonnaise, and avocado. There are many debates on whether these protein sources are actually beneficial to hair like store bought products.
Increasing protein in your diet will always be beneficial to you and can show in the strength and feel of your hair. Protein can be found in: eggs, almonds, chicken breast, Greek yogurt, tuna and lentils to name a few.
Henna is an all-natural ayurvedic herb and treatment that doubles as a hair dye. Henna is known for strengthening hair and adding a brown tint. Some have noticed a loosening of their hair’s texture after using Henna and usually add in Amla (another ayurvedic herb) to prevent this.
Some popular store bought protein treatments are from the ApHogee and Nexus brands.
Whatever you use, remember to follow up with a deep conditioning treatment!
Will you be incorporating protein into your regimen? Comment below!