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.

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.

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.


  1. Hi, thank you very much for this very interesting post, I will share it on my FB page. I once went to a blogger event hosted by a hair products company and we were told there that using some proteins such as keratin was useless if you didn't use heat to "bond" it to the hair shaft. I've always had this doubt, what's your insight on this issue? And does it happen with all sorts of proteins? I was thinking about buying some collagen to add to my flaxseed gel.

    1. Hello Eli,
      That information is not correct. It is true that heat will increase protein bonding to hair - but that just means more protein can bond to hair in a given amount of time when you use heat. Not that protein will not bond to hair without heat. Hydrolyzed proteins have a "mild" positive charge. Hair, especially damaged hair has a negative charge. Opposites attract - so the protein bonds to hair. But the film-forming effect is very important also for hydration.

      There may be some salon products containing keratin that are specially designed to be heat-activated. And, of course, keratin straightening requires heat to work. But otherwise, protein in hair care products does not require heat to in order to be able to help manage porosity and hydration (and elasticity, strength and shine).

      Protein in homemade flaxseed gel is great if your hair loves protein! In the U.S., "Neutral Protein Filler" is a liquid protein additive that mixes easily into flaxseed gel with mostly keratin and some wheat protein. I like collagen in flax gel also - if you get a powder it's best to dissolve it in some water first, then mix it into the gel so you don't get lumps.

  2. Thank you for maintaining this blog, it is amazing to finally have a source of scientifically robust information for caring for curly hair!

    Quick question - do you have a view on what percentage of hydrolysed protein is necessary to be effective for a wash-out condition, a leave-in conditioner, and a deep-treatment product? I enjoy making my own hair care products, but the suggested usage rates for proteins from the suppliers have a very large range (e.g. "suggested usage 1-10%").

    1. Hello Melanie,
      You may see a noticeable result from protein when there is as little as 0.5% to 1% in a rinse-out or leave-on product. Between 2% and 4% it becomes a stronger product that may cause unwanted side-effects in coarse hair - or great hydration and curl support for curly hair. Above 5%, you are in "strong protein treatment" range. If a product suggests 10% use, it may be a conditioning protein ingredient, or it may be more dilute. For example, liquid protein additives can have 25% active ingredients or 50% active ingredients. If there are 50% active ingredients, then using that ingredient at 10% is a total of 5% in the finished product. Which is still a lot of protein. Good luck!

  3. Thank you for the thorough, beginner-friendly information! I'm new to protein and my hair stylist recommended I try it, so this was great to get me started.

  4. Hello,

    I'm a little past 7 months into my transition and I'm questioning protein at this point. I've contacted you before regarding my hair and I have to say I can only come back to seek your advice because you are extremely knowledgeable and thorough.

    So here goes: I previously mentioned to you that I've been natural for 8 years but I've always heat styled my hair (Dominican Blowouts, Flat Ironing). I didn't start my healthy hair journey until about 1 year ago so I never used the appropriate products when heat styling (heat protectants, protein deep conditioners, maintaining moisture, etc.). Needless to say, I have extreme heat damage. I've been using protein deep conditioners/reconstructors every other week as part of my regimen to help with keeping my hair strong. Since the beginning of my transition (April), I've used: Aphogee 2 Minute, Shescenit Okra Reconstructor, Hydratherma Naturals Protein Treatment and now Shea Moisture Yucca Masque respectively. My hair is still breaking. The littlest manipulation (moisturizing using the "Praying Hands" method) results in short and mid length strands all over my sink, floor, hands.

    Do you think I should do the Aphogee 2 Step Protein Treatment? Or is the breakage part of the heat damaged hair which was already weakened getting even weaker? It scares me so bad to see hair just come out like that. Being that my hair is heat damaged, I have to moisturize every day. If not, its HAY/STRAW. I know some would recommend no manipulation but the dryness would be too extreme. The protein products mentioned above are the only sources of protein I use in my regimen. Everything else is protein free. Could it be I'm using too little protein? I have focused on moisture because of the current condition of my hair and I feel like too much protein would cause it to be much more straw-like.

    Which leads me to my next question: I've noticed that when my hair is dry (air dried-the only method I've been using), it turns into pure HAY/STRAW. I for the life of me cannot pinpoint what causes my hair to be like that once it dries. I do the LOC Method and yet the result is dry/brittle hair. Could it be silicones? I personally don't think so but you may disagree. Also, I've been using Keteconzale 2% Shampoo (as I mentioned in my prior email to you) and I read online that it can cause extreme dryness and change in hair texture. My hair is 3C when wet and dried it looks like 4C. Once I re moisturize, the curls pop right back. The dry hair is causing ALOT of knots. I've eliminated coconut oil, avocado oil and protein as possible culprits but yet no change in hair once it dries. What do you suggest?

    I'm also still shedding like crazy. All Doctor's tests have eliminated medical as part of the issue. I've questioned you about this before but can the heat damage hair cause the shedding?

    Sorry for the long question and I thank you in advance for answering.

    1. I think when you're in "problem solving mode" one of the first things to do is to limit yourself to one protein-containing product and make sure it's a smaller protein and not too concentrated if you're uncertain about protein in your hair. From your list of products, that would be the Aphogee 2 minute reconstructor. Stick to smaller proteins like keratin, silk, and collagen when you use protein. I would take a break from Hydratherma Naturals (combines large proteins), Aphogee 2-Step (very concentrated protein) and Shea Moisture Yucca Masque until you get your hair's protein needs worked out. Too many products makes it difficult to sift through the feedback your hair is giving you!
      Hair that is breaking and doesn't respond robustly to protein probably needs an emphasis on emollients (oils and conditioners) more than protein. Oil treatments (i.e. sunflower oil or coconut oil for 8 hours) before washing can help prevent weakness in water and improve flexibility - they balance out porosity in heat-damaged hair. Deep conditioning (protein-free conditioner + a little oil, left on for up to 30 minutes with heat) should help - but not overnight unless you're putting the deep conditioner on dry hair. Daily moisturizing is a good idea and not all that unreasonable. Make sure that one of the products you're using in LOC has something like aloe or marsh mallow extract or seaweed extract (Irish Moss) or flax extract or something juicy and humectant to help slow water loss from your hair.
      You can get that weird dryness from silicones - but that will wash out with the Ketoconazole shampoo, so you can test that fairly easily by skipping silicones for a few "wash cycles."
      Perhaps try oil pre-wash treating your hair for a few wash cycles, include a deep conditioning as well and **don't use protein** during that time and see if the breakage improves. Moisturize your hair daily during that time. If you can wear a "sleep cap" or wrap your hair in a silky scarf, it often helps create a humid little micro-climate around your hair while you sleep.

      The increased shedding sounds like you have extra friction in your hair - and that can come from too much protein as well as other things like build-up (butters, hard water). Don't massage your scalp with big motions during washing - not even little circles. Just short back-and-forth movements. I recently learned that thanks to extra tangles of my own.

      I was thinking my way through that. If it were my hair I would either: 1) Stick to only the Aphogee 2 Minute reconstructor protein product only and observe carefully and be sure to use moisture, moisturize daily, etc. to limit protein. Or
      2) Eliminate protein for a few wash cycles, use oil treatments and see if anything changes (continue to moisturize daily). I hope that helps!

    2. Upon further reflection...If sticking to one protein in the same frequency as before OR going protein-free doesn't work, then you might try increasing the protein like you suggested - using protein weekly or else incorporating some protein into your leave-on products.
      It just seems like a good idea to rule out "protein sensitivity" first. But I don't know exactly how much oil and conditioner you've been using. If you were using lots and lots - then the "more protein route" might be the first thing to try. But I would still stick with the smaller proteins like keratin or collagen.

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  6. Hello, My hair is wavy, frizzy, and probably heat damaged. When I run some strands of hair through my finger tips, the strand feels very bumpy. I think I have high porosity hair that is lacking moisture.

    I've read wonderful things about coconut oil, so I decided to give it a try. I mixed it with some honey and applied it to my hair (while dry), let it sit for about 30/45 min, washed it out with my normal shampoo (contains hydrolyzed keratin), and finally applied my regular conditioner (also contains hydrolyzed keratin) and rinsed it out. After air drying a bit, I applied some anti-frizz/smoothing product which contains proplyene glycol and silicones. I let my hair air dry the rest of the way.

    24 hours later, my hair feels softer than usual, but is breaking very easily. Mostly at the ends, but I can snap a strand in two with very little effort. Before, it would stretch a good bit before breaking.

    Is my hair "protein sensitive"? I've read that some hair becomes brittle, dry, straw-like, and breaks. But my hair feels great to the touch (well maybe except the ends, but I really need a cut). It seems to have lost all it's strength. Where did I go wrong? What can I do to fix it?

    Any advice is much appreciated!!!

    1. It actually sounds like your hair did not respond well to the coconut oil. But there are a lot of "ifs" here. *If you normally use that keratin-containing shampoo and conditioner together without the same brittle result (I think you do), then your result may not be the protein in those products. *The coconut oil wasn't on your hair long enough to really soak in and do its thing. Coconut oil needs 6-8 hours or longer to slowly penetrate into the hair - different treatment times give different results. Because you got a brittle result on this attempt, if you want to try a longer coconut oil treatment, best to do it on a 1 inch strand and see what happens. Or you might want to steer clear of coconut oil entirely - and that might be a smart choice for the time being.
      When hair is "coconut oil sensitive" it tends to be crunchy or brittle, dry or breaking more than usual when a person uses coconut oil. That has little to do with protein sensitivity. There is some confusion out there on the web about coconut oil and protein. In damaged hair, when coconut oil treatments are used and then the hair is wetted (and washed), it tends to lose less protein than un-treated hair. Where does that protein come from? It's amino acids (small protein fragments) that "live" under the cuticles and have the job of attracting water to keep hair hydrated. Losing those proteins means your hair is more easily dehydrated!
      Instead of coconut oil, sunflower oil or avocado oil or olive oil can be used, usually without that brittle or rigid or crunchy result of coconut oil, for a penetrating oil treatment to help maintain hydration in porous hair.

      Give your hair a break from protein and oils for a bit. Go through a couple "wash cycles" with protein-free products and see if your hair recovers. From there you might try reinstating your protein-enriched conditioner only (not the shampoo, use a protein-free shampoo at first) to see if the strength comes back.

      Your hair might be the sort that prefers to have its oil treatments and protein kept separate. My hair is like that with a vengeance! When I overlap those treatments, I get overly soft hair and I cannot sort out beyond reasonable doubt what went wrong and it takes me longer to un-do the fluffiness. So I keep them separate to keep life simpler and to keep getting my "Yes, that was exactly what my hair needed today" result.
      Good luck! You'll get this sorted out and be the wiser for it.

  7. Will the proteins in stylers adhere to the hair less strongly than those in a shampoo or conditioner? Will the effect of the proteins in the stylers be cumulative (for instance, if I begin using a styler with silk protein near the top of the list, will that protein adhere to the hair shaft each time I use it, creating a cumulative effect)?

    1. Hello Crazycatholic,
      Protein in styling products probably bonds with hair like proteins in a conditioner - the effect of proteins in styling products is definitely cumulative. When I think "cumulative" I'm thinking that any benefits of the protein will accumulate - bounce, hydration, and support, and that will persist (a little) even after washing. I think you are referring more to layer upon layer of protein, like a build-up? That's not entirely the case - protein has to bond to hair if it's going to accumulate and there are a limited number of places it can bond to.
      While the protein-containing styling product is in your hair, the protein is actively helping your hair stay hydrated, though. And that is a good thing, even though some of that protein will rinse away when you wash your hair. It won't create a build-up of protein. Though some people's hair will respond to a too-frequent use of protein by becoming stiff, that's not the same as build-up.

  8. Thank you for your help. I asked the above question because I recently started using a styler with silk protein (SheaMoisture Curl Enchancing Smoothie), and after a few weeks, my hair became very shiny and smooth but also overly soft and limp, with a looser wave pattern. Based on your reply, it sounds like the protein could have bonded to my hair over repeated uses and made it overly soft. I tried correcting the soft-hair problem by using the gelatin PT, and also trying a couple of protein-rich conditioners (Aubrey GPB, Mineral Fusion Volumizing with hydrolyzed barley), and none of these did anything, even the PT.

    I don't think it's build-up, because my hair feels extremely clean and lightweight, not weighed down or rough at all. I usually get rough hair from excess protein, but this is my first time trying silk, so maybe my hair is sensitive to this one.

    The other products I have been using are the shampoo and conditioner from the SM Yucca and Plantain line, which contain hydrolyzed rice protein. Could this protein also cause this type of problem? I have also done a few coconut oil pre-poos in the past few weeks, which may be another culprit. (I have hair that seems to be porous, so I was trying to improve porosity.)

    I really don't think it's build-up, because in the past, build-up has resulted in dry, rough hair. My hair feels overmoisturized now. And my hair in the past has liked shea butter, because my hair seems to be on the porous side and fine, and shea butter seals it but doesn't give it the weighed-down feeling that liquid oils do. So I'm not so quick to blame the shea butter.

    THANK YOU for your blog!

    1. Almost any protein used in excess or at the wrong time or in hair that doesn't need protein - can cause either the too-soft or too-rough result. A lot depends on the formula, on how long the product is in your hair, and what else is going on in your hair's life - like the other protein you are using - but you knew that.
      Shea Moisture Curl Smoothie can cumulatively soften hair regardless of the silk protein. That's not necessarily build-up - all the oils and humectants can be very softening to hair. So it may be the silk protein, or it may be the product as a whole leaving your hair so soft (and limp).
      When hair is over-softened by emollients (oils) - adding protein often doesn't help, or even makes it more soft. It seems like throwing more protein at hair should stiffen it up - but if it's already too soft, protein can easily make hair even softer.

      I think you might need to skip protein for a little while, make sure you're getting your hair clean enough, use softening products carefully (light-but-adequate application) and watch what happens. If you're over-doing protein, this break should let the over-softness gradually diminish. It may take a week or two. Then you can go back to using protein intermittently and watch out for an overly-soft result.
      Good luck!

    2. Thank you for the advice. I did do a clarifying shampoo, and that did not fix the problem, but at least I know my hair is clean. I followed it this morning with a protein-free deep conditioning, to see what would happen, and my hair remained soft and limp--but the tangles that I was getting with wet hair disappeared, which is nice (although my hair was supersmooth when dry, it was tangly when wet). I have cut all protein out of my products and am going for a very light application on products now. I am also going to try to lay off the emollients, as you mentioned--after my deep condition this morning, I felt like a better thing to do would have been to condition with a protein-free humectant-type conditioner. Oh well, live and learn. I'll stay off the protein and see what transpires in the next few weeks.

  9. Hi, I am a huge fan of your clinical blog-style. I was wondering if you had a take on Olaplex, the bis-aminopropyl diglycol dimaleate. I did a treatment today, so my personal opinion is pending.

    Thank you!

    1. I've looked at the patent for Olaplex and read some other information, such as exists. It's all a bit vague and hypothetical. They are using the language of polymer-creation. As bonds (sulfur-sulfur bonds) in hair are broken during highlighting/coloring/perming etc., the active ingredient (bis-aminopropyl diglycol dimaleate) is supposed to move in and bond with those now-broken bonds so there will be non un-bonded protein fragments. In Olaplex-free situations, those broken bonds will find something else to bond with, like oxygen, because un-bonded atoms in a molecule like to fill up their valence shells. Stylists who use it are reporting it works well for other sorts of damage that break bonds in hair (high heat, lots of sun exposure).
      I think the "Step One" that is used during chemical services might have the best chance of actually doing what is claimed. The molecular weight of the active ingredients, according to one source I found, actually is small enough to penetrate into the cortex of the hair where it would need to be. The reason I am thinking that is because when there is bleach or perms or relaxer - the hair is swollen and the cuticles have popped up and so it's much easier for *any* active ingredient to reach it's target.
      The other steps, I feel more ambivalent about. If hair is seriously damaged - maybe the result is much better than lightly damaged hair.
      To me, it's still all hypothetical. This is new, there is a patent on it so access is limited. There are no published studies done on human hair that I am aware of. I have heard some people say it works, others say they don't notice much.

      For people who don't have the time or inclination to take extra care of their hair when using chemical services, it may be a big advantage. But I'm not convinced that it is better than a conscientious, consistent hair care routine. (Based on communicating to people who've used it and analyzing hair samples for physical characteristics, a small number of which have involved Olaplex).

    2. Oh good! I see you have answered my question "what do you think of Olaplex?" here. I bleach my hair. Should I mix all kinds of good things into the bleach, since the hairs will be swollen and the cuticle lifted, thus particularly receptive to stuff I want to put in there?

    3. Check out how other people use things like "Neutral Protein Filler" for lightening. Read ingredients on commercial lightener formulas and see what they're adding already. You can add some things to a lightening formula, but you have to be careful not to create any unintentional chemical reactions or other weirdness.

      The high pH of most hair lightening solutions will interfere with how conditioners and even proteins usually bond with hair, but at least they can act as buffers for the hair - to protect it a bit during processing.

      Pre-lightening you can do things like a long oil treatment with a penetrating oil like coconut or avocado or sunflower. That helps hair act less porous during bleaching. That's done the wash before lightening - but some people actually color over oil. Not sure about bleaching over oil.
      Good luck! WS

  10. This blog is INSANELY good. I've spent hours on others and come away confused, or just felt nervous to ask questions because the forums can be somewhat aggressive! I can't believe I didn't find you earlier - you are a godsend, and your tone is so light and funny, it's a joy to read.

    Ok - two questions - (feel free to edit this down if it's rambling) Firstly - chemically 'bleached' hair.

    My hair is super-fine. Soft, northern european. It's what I call 'mouse' color which just looks drab on me so I go blonder chemically. (I know, I know - but in my defense I work in entertainment and it just pops better when it's blonde!) I have a great colorist - she hardly ever 'overlaps' when she does the base, and we only highlight at the front and very occasionally. We use coconut oil before coloring (I guess this works like neutral protein filler?) and Olaplaex every three our four months. I look after it very well but as you can imagine, controlling the damage is a full time job, and sometimes I just get random breakage for no reason at all. My question is: do you think it's possible to have chemically lightened hair and not have it break? I know people who do, but their hair is about four times as thick as mine. (my pony-tail is just over an inch circumference).

    Secondly - airplanes! Sometimes I can get away with a four hour trip if I put conditioner on it and keep it on for the flight (which is kind of gross but hey..) but when I fly transatlantic I get horrific breakage every single time. It doesn't happen on the plane, but the three or four days that follow. I'm sure it's the dryness and unnatural air and whatnot but Jeez - there must be SOMETHING I can do? The worst bits are the baby hairs at the nape of the neck and the 'crown' - top layer kind of where a hat would go. (Except I never dare put a hat on because they break my hair too - thanks for your lining suggestions btw!)

    I know it's hard to 'diagnose' over the internet, just wondered if you had any thoughts on these tow things since you seem to have thought of just about everything else!

    1. Hello Jane,
      The thing that popped into my mind is - hydration. Coconut oil before coloring is ideal. You could use Neutral Protein Filler during the process, immediately after or before. You can also add 1/4 teaspoon Neutral Protein Filler per tablespoon conditioner (as long as your hair responds well to protein) for extra hydration.

      It is possible to have chemically lightened hair without breakage, but you have to do something to manage that and maximize hydration every day - even if you don't wash your hair daily. Some of these ingredients will be your best friends in rinse-out conditioners and leave-in conditioners: http://science-yhairblog.blogspot.com/2014/07/film-forming-humectants-what-they-are.html

      Panthenol - that will penetrate the hair shaft for excellent hydration from the inside - look for that panthenol!

      Do you deep condition regularly? If not, start doing that. You can mix some honey (for hydration) or aloe vera gel (for hydration - my favorite is Lily of the Desert aloe gel, which also contains Irish Moss) into your rinse-out conditioner with a couple drops of oil and leave it on for 5 or 10 minutes with some heat. Every week, every other week - whatever your hair needs.
      Protein - use it as often as your hair tolerates it! If you can use protein in a conditioner every wash day or every other wash day, use it. It will keep your hair hydrated and prevent breakage.
      If coconut oil doesn't leave your hair softer - switch to sunflower oil.

      If you don't wash or wet your hair daily, mist it lightly with a mixture of distilled water and a little conditioner for hydration.
      If your hair needs more flexibility, apply a drop or 2 of oil over the spray for flexibility and softness and to keep the ends "together."
      Airplanes - If you can do a protein treatment before (Aphogee 2 Minute Intensive, Ion Reconstructor, Ion Effective Care, Joico K-pak...) use it to build in strength and hydration. Apply a little oil (jojoba, sunflower, coconut, whatever you like) to your hair. Then top it with a leave-in conditioner (which can be a diluted rinse-out conditioner) that contains those Film Forming humectants (panthenol, Irish moss, seaweed or sea algae extracts, hydrolyzed proteins, aloe, amino acids, some herbal extracts. The oil can go over the leave-in if you prefer. This should seal in as much moisture as possible and keep your hair lubricated.
      If you're not using a leave-in conditioner, use one every time you wash your hair. Look for one that contains film-forming humectants and a little oil. You can apply them to very wet hair and then add a little more water - squeeze and scrunch the water into the conditioner on your hair to get it extremely well-distributed.
      The same applies to conditioner application. Coat your hair, then splash on some water and squeeze the water into your hair. It should feel even more flexible and slippery. Add more conditioner and water so all your hair (including the crown area) feels flexible, slippery and very saturated. That method tends to give hair the best hydration.
      I hope that helps!

  11. I have been reading your amazing blog, thank you for all the great information. I've been a little unsure as to whether the answer for my hair is protein. My hair is curly and the issues I am having are that my hair is frizzing and some of the hair is separating from the curl. My hair is also tangling quite a bit.

    This describes my hair: medium texture, springy curls, low porosity, medium thickness.

    I did the float test to check porosity. I don't know for sure if I have low or medium porosity. My hair strands were floating after four minutes. The test doesn't seem to allow for determining medium porosity. I can't tell very well by the feel of it, I read your instructions for doing it that way.

    If I need protein it's hard to tell which to use. I read your article about the various levels of ingredients in the products, but then matching it with a product (other than your list) is another story. I'd also be interested in a recipe for resolving these issues. Options are great!

    1. Hello Kat M,
      If you've been using conditioners and oils and tried deep conditioning and none of that has helped, then protein may be the answer.
      A good way to start is with the smaller proteins like keratin in a rinse-out conditioner. Or Neutral Protein Filler added to a conditioner. If you notice less frizz, more shine, more bounce, a different/nicer feel - then your hair had a good response. Some hair will also "like" the larger proteins like vegetable, quinoa and oat protein - and have an even better response to those.
      That's my suggestion - start small and with a small investment like Neutral Protein Filler. See how your hair responds and proceed from there.
      If you get a "it's a little better, but I want more" response - then you might need one of the heavier proteins, or a more-concentrated product.
      Good luck!

  12. Hello WS,

    My hair seems to break each time I manipulate it. It even breaks when I moisturize it. It breaks the more I touch it and whether I manipulate it wet or dry. However, I think it breaks more readily when wet.I tend to moisturize my hair everyday or every other day with water + VO5 conditioner or water + coconut oil. My hair is usually soft so I don't tend to have a problem with moisture. So I'm wondering if I need more protein? All of the conditioners I use that have protein arent very concentrated as the proteins tend to be towards the bottom of the ingredients list. I don't understand why my hair breaks even while doing something as simple as moisturizing it.

    Here's a little background:

    I have fine, thin, low density type 4 kinky curly hair. I would say that my hair is normal to low porosity.

    For my regimen (which I have recently changed but the problem of breakage has persisted since I cut the relaxer out my head over a year ago),

    - I apply some type of oil to dry hair (coconut, olive oil, and I want to try shea next)

    - Then I put Trader Joe's tea tree conditioner over it and DC for about 30min - 1hr. Then rinse. I plan to shampoo my scalp every other week; otherwise use conditioner only on the scalp. *This portion of my regimen I just started doing last week with good results.

    - Then I may add some V05 conditioner (one with no protein) as a leave in and twist up my hair.

    - Then as stated above I moisturize throughout the week with water + VO5 conditioner (usually has soy milk protein) or water + coconut oil and I usually apply the coconut oil liberally as my hair soaks it up by the next day.

    My hair is twisted up or in a bun more than 90% of the time. I only wear my hair down when I'm washing, moisturizing and I may wear it down a few times a month.

    Now for my history with protein:

    Based on my experiences my hair can tolerate low doses of protein like those in my V05 and TJ conditioner. Both of these conditioner have Soy protein in them and work well for me but the protein in them obviously are not curbing my breakage. I have also used Shea Moist. Anti-breakage masque (has vegetable protein) and anti-breakge hair milk (rice protein) and have had good moisturizing results but once again it didn't stop the breakage.

    I have used a product with wheat protein and it tangled terribly,it was one of the worst experiences I'd had with my hair. The wheat was even towards the bottom of the list. Cassia (I know it isn't protein but I think it protects the protein already in hair) also has tangled my hair very badly. With both the wheat protein and the cassia it had taken me 2 deep conditioning treatments in a row to get my hair back to normal.

    So what I'm saying is my hair likes some types of proteins but those aren't enough to stop the breakage. I feel like if I do a heavy protein treatment my hair will become all tangly and brittle again. I don't think my breakage is excessive but I am tired of seeing little hairs on my hands or in the sink. I would say maybe 6-12 hairs break when I manipulate my hair. So what should I do next? I don't feel I have any other problems with my hair other than the breakage. I don't use heat, wear hair out often, no dyes or chemical treatments, combs, brushes, etc. Do you think this is just the nature of fine, thin, extremely curly hair? Or do you think there is something I can do about it?

    Thank you and sorry for the super long post! :)

    1. Hello LinaBlue,

      Fine, thin, extremely curly hair might tend to break on handling because it's fragile (fine-ness). You have to totally relax your arms and hands and neck and shoulders for handling so you'll be more sensitive in your movements to tension in your hair and not rushed. Using a lubricant every time you manipulate your hair - like an oil - or an oil-butter blend if you need something thicker - can help a lot, especially on the ends.

      You mentioned coconut oil. For some people, coconut oil actually causes breakage. Not only breakage, but crunchy or dry or brittle hair. So you might want to avoid coconut oil and use of other oils for the time being.

      For trying a strong or heavy protein treatment - you might save hairs that shed during washing or detangling. Stick one end on a piece of tape and when you've got enough, fold the tape over. Test out your stronger protein treatment on that lock of hair first! Follow up with whatever conditioning you would do if you were applying it to all of your hair. That way, you don't have to wear it if you don't get a good result. If the test-lock seems promising, you might do a test strand on your head before applying it all over.

      Next - you said that soy protein is okay. Soy is a small to medium protein. It's going to have a hydrating effect as well as a conditioning effect. The wheat protein you used was probably a high-molecular weight wheat protein. There are lower molecular weight wheat proteins that would act more like the soy protein, but they would need to be labeled that way or you can't be sure. So based on that - you might be better off with smaller to medium proteins like Hydrolyzed silk, keratin, corn, soy, or maybe collagen. All those proteins are less likely to make your hair stiff or brittle. Hydrolyzed vegetable protein may be a larger protein - it's not entirely clear. It seems to behave like a large protein. So that might not be an ideal choice.

      Use a protein either in a conditioning base, or follow up protein use with a deep conditioner to make sure you have enough lubrication and softness to balance out the support from the protein. And to a test-lock off your head, or a test-strand on your head.

      I hope that helps! Good luck. W

  13. Thank you so much for your blog!

    I'm not sure how to tell if my current moisture-protein balance is good or out-of-whack. Here are details with my questions:

    My natural, 4a hair stays more shrunken up (super DUPER coiled) than it used to and I'm wondering if it's due to too much protein or if I didn't have the right amount of protein before and my hair SHOULD be this shrunken.

    The main change I made is that I did a deep condition (under a hooded dryer for about 2 hours) with Shea Moisture's 10-in-1 Masque (link at http://www.sheamoisture.com/SuperFruit-Complex-10-IN-1-Renewal-System-Hair-Masque_p_1327.html). After that, my hair felt SUPER strong and that's when I noticed it had lost a lot of its hang. I don't know if the previous hang I used to get under running water was really limpness. But I do know that now my hair is super springy and strong feeling, and it feels more resistant to moisturizing conditioners. It won't get nearly as much hang time under running water as it used to.

    My coils feel stronger, and that's good, but I used to be able to cleanse/moisturize/detangle my hair with Naturalicious Moroccan Rhassoul clay and then condition it with Shea Moisture's High Porosity Moisture-seal Masque (link here http://www.sheamoisture.com/Mongongo-Hemp-Seed-Oils-High-Porosity-Moisture-Seal-Masque_p_1507.html), and have some serious HANG TIME under running water that I could capture with styling products. That's no longer happening!

    Is the new level of tight springiness of my coils a sign of protein overload? Did I maybe get too much protein into my hair with the 10-in-1 Masque, and is that why my coils are so coiled and short now? And then, might the Shea Moisture High Porosity Masque (which used to give me so much soft HANG TIME before I deep conditioned with the other Shea Moisture masque) now be a pile on of too much protein after the deep condition with the 10-in-1 masque?

    I gave myself a moisturizing treatment to see if I was just in need of more moisture to balance things out. (I used Bekura's Y.A.M.). Still tightly, tightly coiled coils . . . though softer!

    Thank you in advance for any insight you might have. I miss my hang time, but maybe this new super coiliness of my coils is "correct," i.e. healthy?

    P.S. And, oh!: The other change I've made is that I've been drinking a cup of Beautifully Bamboo every morning for the last two weeks.

    1. Hello Mickey,

      The Shea Moisture 10-in-1 (thank you so much for the links!) has so many things going on. Coconut oil, panthenol, and Hydrolyzed rice protein. The rice protein might be a medium molecular weight protein, and there is not a high concentration of protein in the product. So maybe it's the combination of ingredients that provided hydration and flexibility that gave you such enhanced springiness.
      Feeling stronger is good! As long as your hair doesn't feel inflexible or dry. Really good hydration from proteins and panthenol often does make curls bounce up.

      If you feel that this new strong-but-resists-elongating to capture under running water with styling products is a sort of excess rigidity, then you might be having a problem with the coconut oil or the protein.
      But before you suspect those ingredients - you mentioned that you left the treatment on for 2 hours. The longer you leave protein on your hair, the more intense the effect of the protein! So it may be that you needed a much shorter treatment time with a product like that one to still be able to style your hair how you like.
      That's a definite maybe for too much protein, but due to length of treatment instead of the product itself.

      The Shea Moisture Hi Porosity Masque has a different protein - soy, a medium, conditioning protein. And it has a lot of butters. Butters create just a little friction or "grip" in hair that helps some hair cling together better.

      You might want to avoid protein completely for a little while - as you suggested. It sounds like you did get a benefit from the 10-in-1 product. A shorter treatment might be just right. The super coiliness might be your hair behaving very differently to rice protein (it's advertised as an ingredient to be volumizing) than other proteins. It probably is super-hydrated, and if it's the protein providing the hydration, that should start to "wear off" after a wash cycle or 2.
      If you're not liking your hair like this, experiment with shorter treatment times with the 10-in-1 product (to avoid ending up with brittle hair) or different proteins. That should tell you if this is "correct" for your hair, or if you were at the very brink of totally over-doing it.

      Some people use oils and moisturizing products to try to un-do too much protein. That never works for me. I just have to wait it out.

      Oh wow - there's a bamboo tea!? That's really neat. It'll have an effect on the new growth, but it seems like maybe too soon to have this big an effect on all your hair.
      Best wishes,


  14. My hair is dark blonde right now. It is naturally more of a greyish dark blonde, kinda like snow on the road in winter.

    I dream of perming my hair at home, and I dream of lightening to what I had as a kid (613 in extensions, I think it's called platinum in English)

    Hypothetically, could proteinization perhaps combined with appropriate emollientation bring a hair back to health even after heavy chemical treatments?
    Is there a possibility of platinum light hair that is strong and water resistant?

    1. Hello again!
      Using protein, oil treatments and deep conditioning can help chemically-treated hair feel healthy , strong and manageable and shiny. Water-resistant may be more difficult, but with good care, your hair might not act overly porous if it is currently water-resistant. You absolutely must plan out your hair care, though. For example, if your hair tolerates gelatin protein treatments and does well with sunflower oil, you might need to use a gelatin protein treatment every week and a sunflower oil treatment every 1-2 weeks. And deep conditioning every 3-4 weeks.

      If you are consistent with good care, and pay close attention to how your hair responds to the different treatments, you will begin to know exactly what it needs. But it's still ideal to follow a schedule so you don't miss a treatment.

      If hair is over-processed - the lightener is too strong or left on too long or with too high heat - it will be much more difficult to keep your hair feeling healthy. You may be able to prevent breakage, but it will be more work. So for example - if you want to lighten your hair, save hair from washing until you have enough to test with lightener to see how long you need to leave it on, how strong it needs to be, and how the hair feels afterwards. You could even cut a little lock of hair to test with.

      The most damage from lightening occurs when too much heat or a too-long processing time is used.

      If you decide to lighten, try out your well-planned hair care routine at least 2 or 3 weeks in advance to make sure your hair is well-hydrated and strong before lightening. Best wishes - W

  15. Hi! Your blog is incredible! You really do a wonderful job :).

    I just had a quick question. I have medium to fine 4a/4b natural hair that loves protein. I use one designated protein product in my hair - the Aphogee 2 Minute Reconstructor (my moisturizing DC does contain protein as well but very little). Sadly, it's not strong enough and only works as a leave in (stops breakage completely when left in).

    Do you know of any alternative rinse out treatments that are stronger than Aphogee and can be used regularly (the Aphogee 2 step is an intensive process)? Thanks you, thank you, thank you! :)

    1. Hello Ivy Classic,
      Aphogee 2 Minute (according to the ingredients I found online) contains Cocodimonium Hydrolyzed Hair Keratin, and Sodium Coco Collagen Amino Acids. There's a fair amount in there! But also lots of conditioners to keep hair flexible.
      Aphogee 2-step is a very strong protein treatment. If you can leave in the Aphogee 2-minute, your hair can probably tolerate (or really love) the Aphogee 2-step. The label says to use a bonnet dryer to dry the product in your hair. That method packs a huge protein punch with the high heat. But you can also leave it in your hair, covered with plastic with some heat applied if the bonnet dryer or hair-dryer method isn't appealing.
      Aphogee 2-step says to use it once per month. Back when I used it, I used it every 2 weeks.

      My gelatin protein treatment recipe was my solution to the Aphogee 2-step because I couldn't deal with the scent. It's not quite the same (one needs to add a lot of conditioner to avoid creating tangles), but I can use that treatment weekly, though I use it *half-strength* and leave it on for 3-5 minutes with gentle heat. There's a link on the right side in "popular posts."
      Hydratherma Naturals Amino Plus Protein Deep Conditioning Treatment is also concentrated, though it's made with different proteins than the product you mentioned. One 'N Only Island Essentials Awapuhi Intensive Treatment is also protein-rich for protein-loving hair.

      Neutral Protein Filler (protein and herbal additive from Sally's or buy online) can be used straight from the bottle, or mixed with conditioner and is a really great product for protein-loving hair that does well with keratin.
      I hope that helps! W

    2. Thank you for responding! It's nice to know that the Aphogee 2-Step can potentially be used with alternative sources of heat b/c fortunately/unfortunately, I don't own a blow dryer (haha). Also, I'll be sure to try your gelatin recipe - it sounds like it will get the job done and inexpensively.

  16. Hi, since flaxseed & marshmallow root are high in plant protein I was wondering is the mucilage from them protein-sensitive compatible for hair? If not can you provide or refer me to a list of mucilage herbs that are protein sensitive compatible? Thanks.

    1. Gels made from flaxseed and marshmallow root are very, very low in protein. Flax gel works well in a wide range of hair widths and textures. Marshmallow root gel works really well in some people's hair, but not so well in others. There are other herbs like nettle and horsetail that make some people's hair shiny and full, and others get a little rigidity or dry feeling from them.
      I know that some people never get flax gel to work for them. If flax gel leaves hair stringy - it needs a thickener. If it leaves hair feeling dry, it may need the addition of oil or conditioner. If it makes hair feel overly soft, it may need a thickener too. If it's not moisturizing enough, it may need the help or another humectant like a small amount (0.5% to 1%) panthenol, or a little bit of aloe vera - for hair that likes aloe- or marshmallow root. A little bit of pectin added to strained gel (re-heat to dissolve pectin) can also be moisturizing, but for some people, it's too stiff once dry. It only takes from 1/4 to 1 teaspoon to see an effect with pectin in flax gel.
      I hope that helps! W

  17. Hi thank you for your information
    I have a question, do you not recommend doing a protein treatment on a very low hair cut like about 1/2 an inch since there's not much there to work with?

  18. Hi l have a question, do you not recommend doing a protein treatment on a very low hair cut like about 1/2 an inch since there's not much there to work with?

    1. Hello Fret fire,

      It's probably not necessary. But if you has spent a long time in the sun or heat, or bleached your hair or felt like it was soft and wondered if you could get it to feel "stronger" - then protein might be worth a try.
      If you were growing your hair longer than that and it's hair that does well with protein, the time to start using protein is now!

  19. Hello,

    How does one maintain a good protein/moisture balance? Is the use of a protein based deep conditioner once a month sufficient? I'm still trying to figure out if my hair likes protein (I'm still transitioning from heat damage) because I've used a lot of protein based products and my hair is still breaking and shedding.

    Also, do Shea Moisture Yucca and Shea Moisture Jamaican Black Castor Oil Masques count as protein treatments? Or would I have to use something stronger? They would be the only protein based products used in my regimen.

    Is Silk Protein strengthening? I currently use the Shea Moisture Curl and Style Milk as a daily moisturizer. I'm just trying to make sure it's not too much and will cause protein overload.

    Last question (sorry): what would you suggest for hair that is dry, brittle and straw like the same day I wash it (I air dry)? I've done everything such as pre poo, eliminate coconut, eliminate protein, do a hard protein (Aphogee), LOC or LCO method, deep condition, yet the end result is the same: very dry and hay like hair the same day I wash. Thanks!

    1. Hi! First of all, the 2 Shea Moisture products you mentioned are protein-enriched, but I probably wouldn't consider them a protein treatment because I think of protein treatments as being concentrated in protein. People with hair that is picky about protein or protein-sensitive might consider them protein treatments, if that makes sense. The longer you leave a product like that in your hair, the more protein your hair will take up - so if you're leaving them in a while, the protein might be more noticeable.

      You mentioned avoiding coconut oil already. It's not all that uncommon for hair to have an odd reaction to coconut oil. Hair will act rigid or crunchy, or dry and brittle and breaking. It might be worth avoiding a little longer and using sunflower oil or avocado for oil pre-poo treatments.

      I wonder if your hair would do better with a product more like Shea Moisture Noni & Monoi Smooth and Repair Rinse out conditioner. It's a differently texture product and might behave a little differently in your hair for protein. Keratin is a smaller protein and more likely to hydrate and soften than stiffen hair. Silk protein is quite small and good for keeping hair hydrated and soft. Some hair likes liquid conditioners better than thicker masques. Another good (and inexpensive!) product for protein is Neutral Protein Filler. It has keratin and wheat proteins. You can add anywhere from a few drops per tablespoon conditioner to half and half with conditioner for a protein treatment.

      If your hair is on the fine/medium side, protein once per month probably is not enough, it may need protein more often. If your hair is more on the coarse side (wider hairs), then once per month is probably a maximum for protein use, and it's better to stick with proteins like keratin and silk that are smaller.

      When you condition your hair, add water to the conditioner in your hair. Add it by the handful, duck your head quickly under the shower, pour some over with a cup - then squeeze it into your hair. The conditioner and hair should become more saturated-feeling, more flexible, heavier and more "swing-y." That gives you the best hydration and the best conditioner coverage. This is a great way to apply leave-in conditioner to keep hair flexible without over-doing the conditioner.

      Have you tried easing into everything? Like doing light oil pre-wash treatments (light application), left on for several hours. Or using a protein-enriched rinse-out conditioner, leaving it on for a few minutes to use "just a bit" of protein. Deep conditioning - but only for 5 to 10 minutes. Some people have "all things in moderation" hair and that's the best approach - their hair isn't impressed by strong or heavy or long treatments of anything.

      I hope something there was helpful! Good luck - W

  20. Hello,

    I've been CG for almost 4 months. I am high porosity and super sensitive to proteins and ingredients that act like proteins, and on top of that my hair hates humectants! I am very limited to products, since everything contains one or both, I have yet to find my holy grail. Lately, I've had a lot of frizz. I deep condition at least once a week but thought maybe I lacked protein. I've conditioned with Shea Moisture High Porosity which contains protein for no more than 6 minutes. I'm afraid to leave it longer, it didn't do damage but didn't help either. I am very frustrated since nothing seems to be working and am about to give up the method, my heart tells me not to. Do you have any suggestions?
    My current routine is cowashing, conditioning with Shea moisture low porosity, no protein but has humectants, I squish to condish and rinse out completely. I use Kinky Curly Knot Today as a leave in, olive oil to seal and Herbal Totally Twisted and diffuse.
    I appreciate your time.


    1. Hello Mercedes,
      Not knowing much about your hair or your water, I suggest you find out if you have hard water. If you do, this post might be helpful: http://science-yhairblog.blogspot.com/2016/03/hard-water-and-your-hair.html
      Shea butter can be troublesome for hair that accumulates build-up and seems to reject lots of ingredients. Sometimes coconut oil is also a problem for hair that behaves like that. You might avoid those ingredients and see if that helps. WS

  21. Hi! This article was so helpful, thanks for the information! I'm still a little lost though and was hoping you might have some insight.

    I have medium/fine lo-po 2b/2c hair. When stretched, it typically stretches a decent amount, but stays straight. This leads me to think I need protein, in combo with the fact that my hair looks limp and struggles to hold the waves. I have to use really lightweight products or it gets weighed down. I've done protein treatments (both gelatin and the aphogee 2 step) and it definitely makes my hair stronger but doesn't seem to help with hold.
    However, while in the shower, if I hold up a piece of hair that fell out while detangling or something, it looks like it's 3a...which makes me think it might not be so much of a protein issue. So I tried deep conditioning treatments (olive and almond oil mixed with conditioner, an avocado mask), that make my hair softer but not much else. Do you have any thoughts on what might be going on?

    1. Hello Tiak,

      If you use protein too often, you can also end up with hair that won't hold curl or wave - keep that in the back of your mind as a possibility. But if you're not using any styling product for even light to medium hold, that is probably why your hair is losing its wave. Especially if it's cold and dry where you live right now. Usually some sort of styling product helps hair mold in a shape when wet and dry in that shape so it stays that way when dry. Products like flaxseed gel can help with hydration because when hair gets dehydrated (like in dry weather), it tends to lose its bounce and spiral.
      Once you start encouraging your hair to curl with protein, etc., you'll often find some hairs that are a lot more curly than others. Hair tends to express the curl pattern that is the "median" of all the neighboring hairs. If you have some 3a hairs mixed in with 2b hairs, you usually end up with a somewhat fuzzy 2b or 2c wave pattern.

      Usually you'll need some extra hold from a light curl cream, curl enhancer (i.e. flaxseed gel), foam, styling gel, especially in winter and summer (dry or humid). Sometimes a leave-in conditioner has enough "grip" to help hair hold its wave together if you're not looking for strong hold.
      Look for styling products or leave-in conditioners with "film-forming humectants" - those ingredients help hair stay hydrated and bouncy. More about those here: http://science-yhairblog.blogspot.com/2014/07/film-forming-humectants-what-they-are.html Good luck! W

  22. I see the last entry here was in November 2016. I hope you are still responding to questions about proteins though. I would describe my hair as fine, kinky, low density, rough(brittle, and low probity. My goal is to grow healthy hair first of all, then strength and length. My hair is prone to tangles and single strand knots (SSK). I've learned that warm everything liquid that goes in my hair allows for better absorption of light oils (Aragon, Jojoba, H20). I have to confess I am afraid of "protein" because it has the potential to defeat my purpose if I don't get into the right balance of enough protein and moisture balance. I tend to use Ayurvedic products to try and keep my hair somewhere normal. I deep condition weekly and the products I use all have some type of protein in them; I intend to correct that now that I have read your AWESOME information regarding protein (s). I know my hair could be stronger and I could maintain more length (I believe) if I didn't lose as much as I do to SSK and thinning ends. I think the knots are associated with the thinning ends as the shorter hair tend to tangle with it and create knots. I have purchased some hydrolyzed quinoa and I would like to know what ratio should I mix it with conditioner, ballpark about how long do you think I should leave it on initially? How often should I use it (best guess), I shampoo once a week but I rinse my hair between washday because my scalp is sensitive and itchy with product build-up and contribute to hair thinning. I would gratefully appreciate any good advice you may have based on the above description. Right now my hair is short (5-6 inches).

    1. Hello Determined,
      Most recent blog post - yesterday (2017), I'm just a very busy blogger. You have a liquid Hydrolyzed quinoa additive (for anybody reading this who isn't familiar with how those are sold). Usually things like that are done by weight, and I think if it were my hair, I'd start with 1%. That would be 1 gram per 100g of conditioner. At 1%, there should be enough to be noticeable.
      To be cautious, you might leave such a protein-enriched conditioner on your hair for 3-5 minutes with some gentle heat (covered with plastic under the warm shower or wrapped with a warm towel). If that gives you a good result, that might be enough time. You can leave it on longer, but better not to leave it on more than 3-5 minutes on the first try.

      If you get a good result or even a hint of a good result, don't use the protein again until that good result fades. So if it made your hair feel stronger after using it, and still felt stronger after a few rinsings - you might not use it the next week and wait until the week after that. In other words, use it again when any benefits have faded so you don't over-do the protein. And - be prepared with some intense conditioner or a deep conditioning in the event that, after using the protein-enriched conditioner, your hair feels more tangly or stiff than you want. Then you can follow up with the intense conditioner to restore softness. Protein adds strength and support. Conditioner adds softness, lubrication and pliability. Good luck! W

  23. Hi WS. I was wondering, is maintaining a protein/moisture balance usually in regards to chemically or heat treated hair & not healthy virgin hair? What about using henna to strengthen the hair instead of protein? Like in the form of a tea or rinse around once weekly- (recipe example: 1 cup of boiled water

    1 tsp of body art quality henna powder

    1 tsp of amla powder

    5 drops of your favorite essential oil (optional)

    spray bottle

    After boiling the water, add the powdered ingredients to a clean glass jar, and place the lid on top and steep for 4-8 hours or overnight.) Thanks in advance for any insight you can offer.

    1. Hello Fret Fire,
      Chemically treated hair tends to bind more protein than non chemically treated hair. It also loses that protein more readily during washing. Those two things together mean chemically treated hair may need protein a little more often than un-treated hair.
      As far as I know, henna does not have quite the same effect on hair as hydrolyzed protein. Henna and cassia do tend to make hair hydrophobic (water-repelling), there is a study demonstrating that. More henna (or cassia) will be taken up by bleached hair, too. With protein, the improved strength is a result of better hydration making hair more elastic and therefore more breakage-resistant (when protein is appropriate). I don't know whether henna has that effect or not. The "dye molecules" in henna are small enough to penetrate into hair, but the dye is hydrophobic, so strength through hydration doesn't seem to be how henna makes hair feel stronger.

  24. Excuse me, I meant to say, use this tea as a leave-in conditioning spray

  25. Hi Wendy
    Can you explain the difference between a protein treatment and a cholesterol treatment? My hair used to like the latter although it's not colour treated anymore, I just wanted to understand the difference before I give it another try. I think I have low porosity hair.
    Thank you

    1. Hello Natalie,
      I can make a guess. A protein treatment should contain at least 1% to 2% Hydrolyzed protein. Protein helps with hydration and elasticity - and strength as well as manages porosity in hair. Cholesterol treatments can have a lot of different ingredients, it's more likely to be a deep conditioner for flexibility, softness and lubrication in hair. If it actually contains cholesterol, that is an emollient. Best wishes - W

  26. Hey there, I have to say that as a materials science student I LOVE how scientifically thorough and analytical are your posts! I am new to truly caring for my hair, so I decided to share my distress...

    I'd been constantly blow drying and flat ironing my fine, very porous and currently multi-typed hair (all 3 types, sections of 2b and even 1!) which I also had them coloured a few times. I'd been using a plethora of products full of sulfates, parabens, silicones and drying alcohols until the past 3 weeks, when I decided I wanted to restore my definition and learn how to handle my natural curls. Surprisingly enough, although my day 2 and on curls would always feel a bit dry, they have never felt rough...until now!

    The last "non curly-friendly" products I used were Syoss's Repair Shampoo and Renew 7 masque (always used masques instead of "conventional" conditioners), both with hydrolyzed keratin as the 7th ingredient, PHYTO 7 Dry Hair Hydrating Day Cream With 7 Plants (http://www.sephora.com/phyto-7-dry-hair-hydrating-day-cream-with-7-plants-P2882), together with a silicone loaded argan oil serum as my leave-ins. I would also occasionally detangle with Schwarzkopf's Gliss Kur Ultimate Repair Express Regenerating Conditioner Spray with Cocodimonium Hydroxypropyl Hydrolyzed Keratin and Hydrolyzed Keratin as the 6th and 7th ingredients. How come and my hair was feeling perfectly fine, apart from my ends where the shampoo had been harsh?

    Then I started to air dry my hair and use DevaCurl’s No-Poo and One Condition (which I now realized contains wheat amino acids somewhere in the middle) as well as castor oil or aloe vera gel to seal. My ends began to smoothen right away, until I used Briogeo’s Rosarco milk (http://www.sephora.com/rosarco-milk-reparative-leave-in-conditioning-spray-P396733?skuId=1784735&icid2=products%20grid:p396733) suspended in water, to moisturize before sealing. I noticed it kind of weighted down my hair and made them sort of lifeless, although moist, after a few hours. At the end of the day, my ends had become as rough as never before. It’s second ingredient is coconut oil, which I have used before to detangle, but with no “crunchy” side-effects.
    Today I made the mistake to test my hair’s protein limits and prepared a banana-milk-oil-aloe vera deep conditioner, after cleansing a hot oil pre-poo (with coconut oil). I then sealed with my own oil blend and styled with another Briogeo product, Curl Charisma™ Rice Amino + Quinoa Frizz Control Gel (http://www.sephora.com/curl-charisma-rice-amino-quinoa-frizz-control-gel-P408411?skuId=1784677&icid2=products%20grid:p408411). My curls came out generally pretty well defined, extra bouncy and voluminous, but also gloriously smooth at some “selective” inner areas and at the same time, coarse, stiff and crunchy at others, especially my ends.

    Now was that the protein, or the gel? I feel such an idiot… I’d also like to test Shea Moisture’s Mongongo & Hemp Seed Oils High Porosity Moisture-Seal Masque, as well as the Coconut & Hibiscus Curl Enhancing Smoothie but I’m afraid of the protein, coconut oil and glycerine (I live in humid climates) they contain! What are your thoughts?

    PS: Sorry for the enormous comment, it felt like talking to a priest! I hope you may be able to reply at some time…

    1. Hello keftes,
      Take this process one product at a time! It's really hard to tell what is going on if you throw too many things at your hair at once.
      Work out some reliable cleansers and conditioners that you can come back to between experimenting.
      Your hair may not do so well with coconut oil left in it all day (as in a product). Or in addition to the shea butter in the Roscaro product, even if it's okay with coconut oil for detangling. The longer coconut oil is in your hair, the more can soak in and that changes how your hair feels.
      The Briogeo might be a little too high in protein for some sections of your hair - it would be normal for your hair to vary in width - but I think I would consider inconsistent distribution as a possible cause for the stiffer ends and random stiffer sections resulting from using that product too. Protein will bond more, to damaged areas like the ends of hair. But it's easy to end up with too much product on the ends or in some sections. The product may be fine you used it away from other proteins.

      Quinoa is a more supportive protein than silk, and a higher concentration (closer to the beginning of an ingredient list) is more supportive than a lower concentration. Those things matter a lot when it comes to protein - protein source and concentration. And proximity to other protein use. Isolate those variables.
      Good luck! W