Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Protein 101 - Lots of Basic Information About Using Protein in Hair Products

I have some more in-depth information about using hydrolyzed protein in your hair on this blog - like here and here.

But as one blog reader pointed out - I don't have a summary for people who are just beginning to dip their toes into the hair care pool. I have loaded a lot of information into each sub-heading, so even if you don't see a sub-heading that fits what you're looking for - that information may be there. ©Science-y Hair Blog 2015
Hydrolyzed proteins have been used in hair products for decades. Even in small amounts (0.5% to 1%) hydrolyzed proteins can create a noticeable difference in hair care products. You can tell how much protein is in the product by where it is listed on the ingredient list. If there is protein in the first 5 or 6 ingredients listed, this is a higher-protein product or a protein treatment. If it is near the bottom with fragrances, it is a lower-protein product. High-protein, protein treatments might be in the 5-6% protein range.©Science-y Hair Blog 2015

Hydrolyzed proteins are not whole, intact proteins like those in foods. They have been broken into smaller pieces - smaller molecules - through treatment with acids or fermentation. Large proteins like those in foods are not very beneficial to hair. But hydrolyzed proteins can do a variety of things like form a clear, flexible film over your hair that slows water loss. Some protein penetrate below the outermost cuticles to keep hair hydrated at slightly deeper layers. Protein in products can also add a little extra support to hair - which is great if your hair is fine or medium, but can lead to rigidity and breakage if your hair is quite coarse and you use protein too often.

On a porous hair, the blue color
shows where protein would go
both to fill in gaps created by broken cuticles
(drawn only on edge of the
hair) and forms a film over
the hair.

On a lower-porosity hair, protein (blue color)
mostly coats the surface and fills in a few
gaps from broken cuticles.

Why use protein?
Protein is used for strength, for shine, for hydration and to reduce breakage. Protein helps temporarily repair damaged areas in hair by filling in gaps in the cuticle. Protein keeps hair hydrated by slowing the loss of water from hair.









Protein words
Look for these words to spot proteins in an ingredient list: Hydrolyzed ______ protein, amino acids, peptides. These are all proteins. Cocodimonium Hydroxypropyl Hydrolyzed (protein source - wheat, keratin, etc.) and Lauryldimonium Hydroxypropyl Hydrolyzed (protein source) are proteins which have been modified to be better hair conditioners and bond to hair better, add more softness. Yeast extract is a protein. Hydrolyzed oats, or Hydrolyzed seeds may also contain protein. 

Whose hair needs protein?
  • Damaged hair/porous hair: sun-bleached, pool-damaged, highlighted, relaxed, permanent waved, and permanent-dyed or semi-permanent-dyed hair usually needs more protein. Hair with lots of high-heat styling tends to need extra protein because it has lost some of the protective layers that hold moisture in and lost some native proteins. If you use baking soda or soap bars (alkaline treatments), your hair probably needs protein as a result of those things. If you brush your hair vigorously and the ends are thinner than the middle and look lighter in color, your hair may need protein - especially on the ends. Protein balances out porosity in damaged hair.
  • Dry hair - if you have tried deep conditioning, oil treatments (with coconut, palm, sunflower, avocado or olive oil - left on for 4-8 or 12 hours) and those things aren't working, your hair's dryness may indicate a need for protein rather than-or in addition to emollients.
  • Fine and medium hair: Protein also provides support for fine and medium hair because it adds just a little extra rigidity - protein is support for your hair. Coarse haired people tend to find that using protein too often makes their hair feel stiff or brittle, dry or tangly or possibly too soft and limp.
  • Before coloring or lightening, relaxing or perming hair or after a lot of sun exposure or dry wind exposure hair can benefit from hydrolyzed proteins in products.
  • Breakage in your hair. Seeing or hearing lots of breakage? If you have already tried deep conditioning or a long oil treatment, it's time to try some protein. Because protein helps keep hair hydrated (it slows water loss!), it can help reduce breakage in dehydrated hair by increasing hydration. Hair is less likely to break when it is flexible and hair is most flexible when it is well hydrated.

How to use protein in your hair: ©Science-y Hair Blog 2015

Look for shampoos or conditioners which contain hydrolyzed protein. Until you know how well your hair handles protein, you don't need protein in both shampoo and conditioner - but only in one or the other. 

Styling products with protein and leave-in conditioners with protein can be great for damaged or porous hair or for fine and medium hair, but ease into using them - try them once or twice, see how it works and then give the protein-containing products a break. Maybe your hair can use them daily - or maybe it can only use them occasionally. Watch your hair and see how it responds.

Try the product as the label suggests initially.

Protein treatment or products that contain protein - which to use?
Protein treatments have a lot of protein. They're usually marketed for damaged hair - as "repairing" products or strengthening products. If your hair is breaking a lot and oils and conditioners aren't working or you know some or all of your hair is fine (like toddler hair), you might go right to strong treatments. You're safer using a product in a creamy base - one that also has conditioners in it. If you are new to protein, you might prefer to use a conditioner with protein to get to know how your hair responds to protein first.

How to tailor protein use: ©Science-y Hair Blog 2015
Choose smaller proteins (any amino acids, any peptides or hydrolyzed: silk, keratin, collagen) if you're new to protein or have coarse hair. Larger proteins (oat, wheat, soy, vegetable, quinoa) tend to work well for fine and medium hair and even coarse hair occasionally.

Deep condition after using protein?: After using a product which contains protein or a protein treatment, some people find their hair feels tangly or stiff. This is sometimes a sign of having used too much protein, used protein too often, or having used the wrong protein. But before making that conclusion - try either 1) applying extra conditioner and leaving it on for a few minutes, or 2) apply a deep conditioner (an intense conditioner) and leaving it on for at least a few minutes with some heat. If that brings your hair back to a flexible, less-tangly condition, you need to follow up protein use with extra (or deep) conditioning. 

How to time protein use: If you get a result you like from a product containing protein, there are 2 paths to take. 
1) Push the protein. If you really loved what protein did for your hair, see how often you can use it before you experience one of the signs of having used too much protein. BUT - limit the number of products you use that contain protein. If you're using protein in shampoo, conditioner and leave-on products, you may get a false "reading" on how much protein your hair can tolerate. Limit protein to just a conditioner, or just a protein treatment at first.
2) Protein with caution: Don't repeat protein use until the beneficial effects of the previous use begin to fade. This is the careful approach. Good for people with coarse hair, or if your hair has has a bad experience with protein, if your hair is lower porosity or tends to accumulate build-up. If you use henna, this might be a better approach - for some people henna also adds rigidity to hair that magnifies protein's strengthening, supportive effect.

Signs of too much protein: Using protein too often, or using a protein-containing product that is too concentrated for your hair, or using the wrong protein for your hair can cause negative effects that almost seem to contradict each other:
  • Hair can become stiff, tangly, sticky, brittle, curl pattern can be affected, it can feel dry and have too much volume
  • Hair can become overly soft, limp, flat and lose its wave or curl. Or overly smooth.
Doesn't that sound contradictory? It's true - and the same person could have both negative results under different conditions. 

Protein-moisture balance?  Think of it as a strength and stiffness vs. softness balance. Strength/stiffness comes from protein, softness from oils and conditioners - collectively called "emollients." If your hair needs strength and support, protein might be a good choice. If you use too much protein and your hair becomes too strong or stiff, then you need more emollients to balance out the stiffness with softness. If you have used oils and conditioners too much in hair that needs protein, it may become too soft and need some strength from protein. But don't forget that overly-soft hair can also happen when you use too much protein.

Signs hair needs protein: ©Science-y Hair Blog 2015
When wet, hair that needs protein tends to feel mushy and not dense - like an old cotton/poly blend undershirt instead of a substance composed of individual fibers. Once you add enough protein - the hair feels like fibers again and you learn that mushy, thin feeling means you need protein.
  • Hair that loses its bounce may need protein.
  • Hair that just won't behave though you have tried deep conditioning or using oils probably needs protein.
  • Hair that is snapping off though you are using plenty of good (protein-free) conditioner probably needs protein.
  • Hair that remains dry despite using oils and conditioners may need protein for hydration.
  • Hair that feels "smaller" when it is wet - and homogenous or mushy - like a very old, soft undershirt may need protein. Hair should feel like individual fibers when it is wet - so it if feels soft and mushy and non-fibrous when wet, you may need some protein.
How often to use protein:©Science-y Hair Blog 2015
Porous hair that is not coarse might do well with protein every wash-day in a conditioner or in a leave-in product - the protein is needed to manage hydration and porosity. Or weekly protein treatments and occasional protein in between. Normal porosity hair that is fine or medium width may be able to use a similar schedule. Low porosity hair that is fine and medium may do fine with weekly protein in a conditioner or a protein treatment for the support and hydration. Narrower hairs or people with thinner (lower density hair), lower porosity may be able to use protein between weekly treatments also for support and hydration.
Coarse-haired people (wider hairs) that is porous (dry, damaged or chemically treated) may be able to use protein occasionally - maybe once per week (damaging chemical treatments, smaller proteins) or every 2-3 weeks; but low-porosity, coarse hair may need protein only every 1-2 months in a conditioner, perhaps if you are out in the sun a lot or your hair is wet for a long time.

How to personalize protein-containing products:
1) Choose proteins based on size. 
  • Amino acids and peptides are smallest and will likely agree with the widest variety of hair types - fine, medium and coarse, porous, normal porosity and even low porosity. 
  • Hydrolyzed silk, keratin and collagen are smaller and may agree with a wide range of hair types - fine, medium and coarse and low to high porosity.
  • Gelatin is between medium and large - better for porous or very damaged/brittle hair or fine/medium hair. 
  • Hydrolyzed wheat, oat, quinoa, corn, soy, lupine and other plant or vegetable proteins tend to have components that are medium to large and may be tolerated best by porous hair, fine and medium hair, damaged hair, chemically treated hair. Infrequent use recommended for coarse or lower porosity hair.
2) Select the timing, intensity and make a good assessment of the results
  • Leave protein-containing products or protein treatment on for more time to allow more protein to bond (temporarily) to your hair for better hydration. This makes the treatment more intense.
  • Use heat with a protein-containing product or protein treatment to encourage the hair to swell gently and slightly, to improve bonding of protein to the hair and increase the area that proteins can bond with. This makes the treatment more intense.
  • Leave protein-containing products on for less time or without heat for a less intense treatment - for example, for coarse hair or medium-coarse hair, for frequent protein users, or for lower porosity hair. 
  • Hair feels tangly and rough after using protein? Rinse very, very well. Apply a lot of rinse-out conditioner or a deep (intense) conditioner and leave it on for 3 or 5 to 15 or 30 minutes (with or without heat). If that rough feeling doesn't go away with this post-protein deep conditioning, then you 1) left the protein on for too long, 2) the protein was the wrong protein for your hair, 3) your hair didn't need protein now or 4) the protein was too concentrated (too strong), Either chose a lower-protein product or dilute the product you have with water or conditioner to make it less concentrated next time.

Frequent protein faux pas:

  • Protein is in every product you use or almost every product. Limit protein to only some products so it will be easy to add protein only when your hair needs it, and you'll avoid over-doing protein inadvertently.
  • You bought a product that combines several large proteins (oat, soy, corn, wheat) and maybe some smaller ones and used it every time you washed your hair. Unless you're very experienced with protein, try to stick with 1-2 protein sources in a product so you don't get a bad impression of a product because it was a very high-protein product or a bad protein combination for your hair.
  • This protein-product works in everybody else's hair, but not mine - my hair must be protein-intolerant. Maybe - but maybe it just doesn't work in your hair and your hair would tolerate a different product with a different protein (or less time or no heat, or more heat) just fine.
  • I only use natural products with lots of herbal extracts - my hair gets stiff with any protein. Try a product with protein but no herbal extracts or vitamins before you write off protein forever. Sometimes plant extracts can actually leave a stiff feeling in hair and so can some vitamins like biotin.
  • You want to try protein, so you use it daily. There's a good chance that will be too often. Or you might have a negative effect from another product that you attribute to the protein. 
  • You automatically deep condition following protein, whether your hair needs it or not. If you were using protein for strength and your hair doesn't feel too rough or stiff, use enough conditioner to detangle and so hair feels smooth and wait until your hair dries to determine whether it needed more softness or weight from conditioner. On the other hand, if your hair feels very rough and tangly after using protein - go for the deep conditioning.