Thursday, April 19, 2012

What's Cookin': Vegetarian Protein Treatment for Hair

One word. Beer. See the end of the post for store-bought vegetarian protein products!©Science-y Hair Blog 2013
I have been wracking my brain for a homemade  vegetarian protein treatment which would give "I want to see a change right now" results like my gelatin protein treatment recipe, and which you can find locally and easily. I tried commercial hydrolyzed proteins at varying levels, but they just did not pack the punch I was looking for. When I use a protein treatment, I want my hair to feel different - to be bouncier and shinier. I'm looking for instantaneous gratification!

Hydrolyzed protein, whether hydrolyzed by heating with acid or by fermentation, is the form of protein which is the most useful to your hair. Gelatin is hydrolyzed collagen, an animal protein. Soy sauce is hydrolyzed soy protein, but did not impress me much - though I admit fear of using it on my entire head because I have light-colored hair and don't like the smell very much except in cooking.

But beer has a wonderful effect on hair. I'm not a beer drinker, so I can't speak much about brands, but a strong, dark beer is best.©Science-y Hair Blog 2013

What's in it for you? All the carbohydrates from the grains beer from which the beer is made - probably mostly sugar by the time it has become beer - are humectants which moisturize the hair. Beer contains pectins, celluloses, lipids and hops. "Hops" is a vine and the flowers (used to flavor beer) themselves make a marvelous rinse for hair. There is a small amount of protein in beer - both from the grains and the yeasts. Because this protein has been subject to fermentation, some of it should be useful to your hair. Protein is a humectant as well and the protein, sugars, and plant-based nutrients from beer are much like the gelatin in that they both moisturize and form a subtle film around your hair, making it feel thicker, more substantial, less frizzy, shiny, and bouncy.

Beer also has a pH value which is lower than water - something your hair will like.

How to use: Pour a glass of beer and leave it at room temperature to go flat (though it isn't necessary, you definitely want the foam incorporated into the beer because the foam contains the smaller proteins). You will probably need about 1/2 cup - so it is possible to freeze what you don't use. Cleanse your hair. Pour the beer over your hair, work it into the length and make sure all your hair is saturated. 
1) Leave on (beer doubles as a light-hold "setting lotion"): Don't rinse at all, or just duck your head into the shower spray to make sure the beer is evenly distributed. If you are using a conditioner, condition first, or just use a leave-in conditioner after the beer rinse.
2) Rinse off: Leave the beer on your hair for 5-15 minutes with gentle heat (wrap your hair in plastic or a treatment cap), then rinse out and apply conditioner.

The beer smell evaporates almost completely - I do not like the smell of beer one bit, so I was surprised to find it went away without rinsing. The scent which remains is slightly "woodsy" or grainy/herbal and not at all like the floor of a baseball stadium after a big game.

Like most protein treatments, this is one you do when the effects begin to wear off, or when your hair needs a boost. It's not cheap, but if you have leftover beer or if you use it as a once or twice per month treatment (freezing the extra) - it's not unreasonably priced, either. I have yet to try using heat with this treatment, because it is left on, that seemed unnecessary. When I do try that, I'll update this post.


Curious about the protein in the foam? Read this.  Beer foam is about 10% protein, the rest is carbohydrate. Much of the protein in beer foam is higher molecular weight (large) - 40,000 Daltons. This will interact with hair - but only in film-forming, which is desirable for fine/medium hair or damaged (including highlights and permanently colored) hair. There is a lower molecular weight protein (9700 Daltons) which has been broken down during the malting stage (sprouting and microbial breakdown of the grains). It's not small enough to get beyond the cuticles - but it is small-medium and will also help with hydration. Undoubtedly the protein size (weight, to be correct) and composition will vary with the kind of beer, and brand of beer.©Science-y Hair Blog 2013

Other Vegetarian-Friendly Protein-rish products (may not be cruelty free):

  • Nutress Hair Moisturizing Protein Pack
  • Nutress Stop Break (spray)
  • Garnier Fructis Damage Eraser Conditioner
  • Garnier Fructis Damage Eraser Shampoo
  • Garnier Fructis Damage Eraser Reconstructing Strength Butter


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  2. Hi, do you know the molecular size of the hydrolized protein in beer?

    1. Hello Fret Fire,
      I don't know the molecular weight (size) of beer, I imagine it varies a lot with the type and brand of beer. The link I provided in the last sentence is here: It indicates that ***the foam*** is about 10% protein, the rest is carbohydrate. Much of that protein is higher molecular weight (large) - 40,000 Daltons. This will interact with hair - but only in film-forming, which is desirable for fine/medium hair or damaged (including highlights and permanently colored) hair. There is a lower molecular weight protein (9700 Daltons) which has been broken down during the malting stage (sprouting and microbial breakdown of the grains). It's not small enough to get beyond the cuticles - but it is small-medium and will also help with hydration. I am almost certain you can find out more about this because beer-making is both art and science and people do love to study it.

  3. This is very interesting! I am thinking of trying protein in my hair and looking for a DIY version. Beer intrigues me, although cost is a deterrent. Plus I love beer and hate the idea of rinsing it down the drain instead of drinking it! :P
    Question- what do you say about the homemade treatments containing egg, mayo, or yogurt? I have read on your blog that food proteins are too large to interact with the hair. But yogurt, like beer, has been fermented so I wonder if it would be more effective. I am always reading anecdotes about these treatments, but is there any evidence to support them?

    1. Hello Chelsa,
      Egg can be really good in some people's hair - the cholesterol and other fats in the yolk are great emollients for hair. Mayo has egg and oil - so you get a lot of lubrication and softening and a nice feel. Yogurt works well for some people. The proteins should be mostly intact, but the bacteria break down sugars and produce lactic acid (good humectant). Dead bacteria will release their amino acids into the yogurt (I know that sounds just awful) - and there you have some free amino acids for your hair. The fats in the milk are emollient and any sugars left over are humectants. Some yogurt-making bacteria actually do break down some of the proteins in milk, but I'm not sure if those are in most commercial yogurt:
      Food proteins don't get underneath cuticles nor bond to the hair unless they have been hydrolyzed in one way or another. But there is potential for benefits one way or another.
      You do have to try those homemade treatments and see if they work for you. I am not a fan of yogurt because it leaves my hair tangly and rough. But some people really love yogurt and get a nice result from it. To each their own! W

  4. From a viewpoint of homebrewing... There is the 'trub' and a small amount of beer liquor left in a fermenting vessel after it has been racked off to a bottling bucket which gets washed down the sink. Trub is live yeast with unfermentable products such a fats, hops and unhydrolyzed proteins. Woukd the leftover contents be viable for a (free) protein treatment? I assume a small amount of trub would be beneficial (as with apple cider vinegar, for example)? I am worried using trub heavy beer would start yeast infections on the scalp or would that depend on the strain of yeast? Unhydrolyzed proteins wouldn't be of benefit to hair but the hots and lipids could be? Could you offer any thoughts on this?

    1. Without the foam - you only have proteins too large to penetrate hair, and probably too large to bond to hair - though on second thought, the yeast's dead cells might release some smaller proteins - like amino acids.
      You'd think there would also still be some of the good stuff left from the grains and herbs - carbohydrates, soluble silica and those are great for hair.
      The lipids - those might be helpful too from the grains, though they might be oxidized - which changes the fatty acid composition. Not necessarily a problem either, if it's just for you and you're willing to take a risk on the trub-treatment.
      Yeast-wise, Saccharomyces can be immune-stimulating (probiotic), it's not the sort of yeast that causes skin infections in healthy people, though some people might be sensitive to (or allergic to) it. Good luck! -W

  5. I'm curious about the alcohol content of beer and potential drying. If I avoid using isopropyl alcohol for drying potential, should I be concerned with any drying from the alcohol in beer?

    1. Hello Carina, Depending on the brand, beer is usually no greater than 5 or 6% in alcohol content. Whereas a hairspray containing alcohol might contain 55% alcohol. The difference here is the quantity and evaporation. Isopropyl alcohol in a hairspray can dehydrate hair because it is concentrated and evaporates quickly. Quick-drying alcohol takes some energy (and moisture) with it. Using a beer rinse is a lower concentration of alcohol and will not be evaporating on your hair unless you choose not to rinse it out. The overall evaporation of moisture from hair is slower in that case because of all the water. My experience with beer rinses (leaving it in) is that it acted like a light setting lotion (leaving a little crunch), but more a feeling of hydration from the sugars and proteins than dehydration. Hair which is very picky about protein might have a dry feeling from the protein.

    2. Thank you for the response! This makes sense and speaks to my experience with using beer for hair.

  6. This is great! Thanks for sharing. Would nonalcoholic beer work as well or does it need to be alcohol?

    1. Non-alcoholic beer should work fine - as long as you let it go flat to keep the foam.

  7. What about the ethanol in beer?
    Following the CG method I was told to avoid drying alcohols as ethanol.