There’s great debate scurrying around the hair community about the use of protein on one’s hair. Naturals who have difficulty with hair breakage or brittle hair after doing a protein treatment, will often blame it on the very use of protein in hair products. It’s been termed protein sensitivity.
Protein treatments have received a bad rap and it’s time to clear up the confusion.
Overview of The Basic Structure of Hair
Hair is composed of approximately 91% protein made up of long chains of amino acids. As the cells in your hair mature, they fill up with a fibrous protein called keratin. Keratin that is found in hair is an insoluble protein called “hard” keratin because it doesn’t dissolve in water and is very resilient.
Since your hair is predominantly structured of protein, it makes sense that if your hair became protein deficient at any point in time, only a protein treatment could help remedy the problem – if even temporarily.
The Role of Protein
Manufacturers of hair products have added protein to any and every product to convince you that the product they are selling will help you to grow your hair (because after all, it contains “super protein”). The problem is…
Protein has a sole purpose in hair products – one job and one job only – To Strengthen Your Hair – through temporary reconstruction. When used properly, the protein molecules in a treatment will bond to your hair shaft and strengthen it. Will it feel hard? Yes. Is it supposed to? Yes.
How you treat your hair after a protein treatment is just as important, if not more so as how you apply it.
Not all protein is created equal (ex: silk, wheat, collagen). some protein treatments are harsher than others. Do your research.
How to Properly Treat Your Hair with Protein
When you apply a protein treatment to your hair after washing it, heat is then used to swell the hair follicles open. At that time, the protein molecules can bond with the hair shaft to strengthen it.
If you apply a leave in or other “surface” treating product with protein in it, your hair is prone to feeling hard and brittle. This brittle, hard hair is then susceptible to additional hair breakage – defeating the purpose of using protein in the first place. And…wait for it…
It-Will-Stay-That-Way causing you to have what you think is “protein sensitivity” UNTIL you follow that protein treatment with a moisturizing deep conditioner which serves to to re-soften the hair. It’s what’s known as moisture/protein balance.
Sometimes even after following your protein treatment with a moisturizing deep conditioner, your hair may not feel as soft as you are used to. This will remedy itself within a few days when your ideal protein/moisture balance is reached. Just continue to moisturize your hair daily.
Now, that the role of protein is clearly understood, here are some tips to help make sure you apply a protein treatment properly:
- After washing, detangling, towel (or t-shirt, paper towel etc) drying and sectioning your hair, apply a protein based conditioner.
- Be careful not to over manipulate the hair. Do not comb or brush the treatment into your hair. Carefully, us use nothing but your hands.
- Cover hair with a plastic cap (unless the instructions state otherwise. Ex: Aphogee)
- Sit under a hooded dryer for 15-30 minutes. Anything more is not required. Protein will bond to the hair shaft within that time frame.
- Rinse hair thoroughly with warm water, allowing the shower head to do most of the work.
- Next and Most Important: Apply a moisturizing (softening) deep conditioner that’s protein free to your hair and allow it to sit on the hair for at least 15 minutes (preferably with more heat applied) You can finish your shower ritual during this time). This will balance your hair’s protein with moisture. It really does need both.
- Rinse hair with cool water.
- Apply a protein-free leave in conditioner that will pH balance your hair.
- Apply your styling cream as a final step
After applying a moisturizing conditioner that softens, you’ll find that any previously straw like hair is now softened, more pliable and ready for styling. Only after applying the moisturizing conditioner should you begin to manipulate your hair for styling.
It’s also not necessary to do a protein conditioning treatment every time you wash your hair UNLESS you are constantly re-damaging it with the use of chemicals, brushes or heat stylers. For most people, once a month at minimum is sufficient for maintenance.
What Products Should You Use?
Protein should ONLY be part of a treatment that you use to strengthen your hair. Leave In Conditioners, Serums, Curl Enhancers etc, should typically not contain protein. Why? Because protein should only be used with heat as part of a treatment to fortify or temporarily repair the hair.
Some moisturizers and stylers include protein in their ingredients. These products may or may not cause your hair to become brittle but that is based on how abundant the protein is within the product and how often you use it.
The further down on the ingredient list a protein is the least abundant it is. The higher the protein ingredient (hydrolyzed or otherwise) is on the list, the stronger the treatment will be. The only way to know exactly where protein falls in the ingredients (or if there’s any protein at all) is to read your product labels.
DO NOT blindly trust what the manufacturer says about their products. Product claims can run from over-exaggerated to downright outlandish. The ingredient label is what you need to give your full attention to.
By law, the manufacturer must disclose what formulates their products. However, the law does not address the fast and footloose way manufacturers dance within the shades of grey to “market” those products. That’s why we need to be educated consumers and read the labels.
Two store bought products that I’ve found to be very effective at strengthening the hair and putting a stop breakage are Aphogee Two Step Protein Treatment and Jamaican Black Castor Oil Protein Conditioner. The Aphogee is a very strong protein treatment and should be used for emergencies when breakage has gotten out of control. JBCO Protein conditioner is a great maintenance product but my staple protein conditioning treatment is a DIY goat’s milk and honey conditioner that I use faithfully every 2 weeks.
Educating yourself about the products you are using is very important if your goal is to grow and maintain a healthy, balanced head of hair.
So, do I believe in protein sensitivity? That’s a firm negative. What I do believe is that women tend to justify the hard and brittle condition they find the state of their hair in after using protein for one of three reasons:
- Improper use of protein
- Using the wrong type of protein
- Applying protein too often
Again, it goes back to researching what your hair’s needs are. For those with fine hair, regular use of protein is necessary to maintain strong hair.
*sources (in addition to my own research, trials and errors):
Ultra Black Hair Growth II by Cathy Howse – http://ultrablackhair.com
Texas Collaborative for Teaching Excellence – http://www.texascollaborative.org
Your comments are welcomed. While you may not agree, please be respectful.
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