Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Protein Sensitivity: Perspective

I have a little bit of social science to get out of the way. And then some ways to creatively work with protein - hopefully to find something you can use for hair that seems protein-sensitive - and save money on the way!

This page contains some affiliate links for which I may receive a small commission when clicked at no cost to you and without revealing your personal information to me. Clicking them helps support the Science-y Hair Blog - thank you. :)


What is protein sensitivity in hair?

It's when protein-containing products seem to make hair stiff, tangly, dry, rough, express an altered curl pattern, experience increased breakage. And the result can be so frustrating that it's easier to just avoid protein than try to give it a second chance. Totally understandable.

Coarse hair (wide individual hairs) can often be protein-sensitive because anything that makes hair a little more inflexible will be noticed quickly in hair that is already less flexible (than average / Medium hair).


The social / communication part

I've seen people claim "protein sensitivity" isn't a problem because they haven't seen unequivocal evidence of it. Or that, "Hair is made of protein, how can it be protein-sensitive?"

This misses the point completely. Because this is a communication issue. And it's a personal experience and perception issue. Sometimes consumers (and consumers talking to consumers) get on one side, professionals get on another side and don't listen to each other. 

As consumers, we don't talk and think in terms of things that reach a threshold of clinical proof and broad generalizations. If my hair reacts badly to a product, I have no way to demonstrate statistical significance of that. I am a sample of one person with ornery hair and moderately hard/high pH water. And I don't like what THAT PRODUCT did to my hair and I'm sorry I spent money on it. End of discussion. 😘


The product formulation and "why use protein" part

Why bother with protein at all? Because it can reduce breakage in damaged hair, or kinky-coily (Type 4) hair types (by stabilizing the inner protein structure). Because it can promote hydration and flexibility - so it helps reduce frizz. Because that can improve sheen. Because it can help support a consistent curl pattern in curly and wavy hair textures.

But - buy a protein mask at the store and it has a bunch of other ingredients too!

Let's say you buy a "Deep repair masque with (trendy things here) and protein." And it contains ingredients you don't normally use, or in concentrations you don't normally use. And your hair ends up feeling dry or tangly or stiff. Oops! I'll never use protein again!


Back this hair-mask up. What else is going on here?

  • Did the product contain far too much protein? (Were there 3 or 4+ in there? Near the first 5-6 ingredients in the list?)
  • Did it contain proteins that may not have been a good match for your hair?
  • Were there other ingredients that might accumulate (deposit) on hair, like butters, lanolin, lecithin?
  • Were there more oils than you normally use, or oils you have never used before?
  • Were there herbal extracts or botanical ingredients you've never used?
Any of those could have contributed to a bad result.

The "A Christmas Story" (1983 movie) effect

The "classic" movie where you learn (if you're not from a place where it gets cold) that more layers of things (like warm clothes) makes other things (like kids) less flexible.

The more extras we add to a product along with protein, the more potential there is to create an unpleasant result. If you wanted some extra protein - but you also got some polymer-conditioners, extra castor oil, extra shea butter and coconut oil in amounts you might not normally use - that could create inflexibility. Because protein deposits on and in hair - but so do conditioners and oils and other ingredients. And you may not have been prepared for that. Nor do you have a way to isolate the offending ingredients!

Gloves as additives in a product.
Left: Me, wearing a thin, single layer of flexible, knit glove. So flexible!
Center: 2 layers of gloves - this feels pretty stiff! Hard to bend my hand.
Right: 3 layers of gloves is stiff, inflexible and unpleasant. Not feeling healthy.
They're all fairly light, flexible gloves on their own. But combined they create a bad result!


"Hack" your way to affordable protein without too many surprises

I'm all about mixing and matching and feeling victorious (with a side-order of hyperbole) when I can make a single product learn new tricks.

  • If you have a conditioner (or cleanser) you like, you don't need another product to try protein. You need a protein additive that you can put in a product you already trust. Just for a single use so you don't have to make a commitment.
  • If your hair is protein-sensitive, you probably want to lean towards lower to medium molecular-weight additives that aren't too concentrated.
  • Add between 1-2 drops of additive per teaspoon of conditioner (or 3-5 drops per tablespoon / 15 ml).
  • Use the product as you normally would!*

* This is another place where many of us go wrong. Don't try something new, and then complicate things by leaving it on longer than usual. So many things can interact and muddy the results! Do yourself a favor - keep it simple. That makes it easier to succeed.
Some additives for low-drama. protein-added hair care. (These are all low or medium molecular weight).

  • HairLab Curl Define  (This does contain a polymer-type conditioner in to reduce frizz, the proteins are very nice though. For some people, that conditioner might create a dry or coated feeling with repeated use).

Science-y Hair Blog © 2024 by  Wendy M.S. is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Does Your Hair Do The Splits?

Split ends are the result of mechanical damage. Mechanical damage comes from: Brushing, detangling, sleeping, ponytails, braids and up-styles or protective styles. Heat-styling adds the protein-damaging element of heat to the mechanical damage of styling. Sunlight exposure and washing create unique forms of mechanical damage because it makes cuticles shrink.

Green circles: Interior fibrous cortex.
Grayline: Cuticle layers.
Yellow line: 
Our hair’s inner cortex is a protein fiber is strong, but nature gives it a couple extra layers of defense - the cuticle, which is hard like thin little micro-fingernails, and the epicuticle, which is oil-based and bonded to outside of the cuticles. 

The cuticles are like shields against mechanical force - dispersing forces over the hair-surface. Preventing damage to the interior. That’s why there are multiple layers of cuticles - if some break, the ones underneath can still do the job. If something sharp hits your fingernail - it hurts, but it doesn't cut your fingertip. The same concept applies to cuticles protecting the inside of your hair.

The epicuticle is a chemical barrier against water moving in (waterlogged hair cortex is easily over-stretched), and against water moving out because dehydrated hair is brittle and vulnerable to breakage.

When epicuticle and cuticles
are damaged, the interior
of hair has much less protection.

If we lose the epicuticle from UV, from heat-styling, highlights, permanent color, permanent waving or straightening - hair is more easily waterlogged or dehydrated.

When we lose cuticles to brushing, to years of wear and tear, accelerated by heat-styling and chemical treatments - the inside of the hair is vulnerable to - well - fraying.

Let’s break mechanical damage into 2 categories: Force and Friction.

Force on hair is pressure, like from sleeping, leaning back on long hair, a shoulder-strap on your hair, a tight headband, stretching during detangling or styling. Force can cause stress at the surface and below.

With severe cuticle loss,
pieces of cortex fibers
begin to fray under force
and with friction.

Friction is rubbing - of hairs against each other during sleep, as you move, during detangling, washing and styling. Friction causes stress mostly at the surface.

When you see split ends or mid shaft splits - your hair may have lost its protective barriers. This usually happens on the ends. But it can happen anywhere there is a vulnerable place. For example - a place where you always wear a ponytail holder, or where you twirl your hair with your fingers. Or a place where there is kinking and therefore uneven dispersal of stress over the hair-surface and within the hair fiber.

That’s where hair is going to split.

Left: split end. Right: Mid-shaft splits. Top is a split,
lower is a vulnerable area beginning to fray that will
progress into a mid-shaft split.

Left: Force, represented by combing (impact, tension).
Right, friction where hairs cross (blue arrows).

How To Prevent Splits In Your Hair

- Coconut oil use (twice per week) reduces breakage in vulnerable areas near the ends - this may reduce split ends in the long term. Other oils did not produce the same benefit, and mixtures of coconut oil and other oils are intermediate in reducing breakage.

- In the same study, a conditioning cream-oil mixture applied to hair 30 minutes before washing provided substantial benefits for potentially reduced splitting as well.

- The authors allude to the penetrating effect of coconut oil, and the attraction to proteins. Other oils penetrate hair, and so may be beneficial. Coconut oil is polar and attracted to hair proteins… But a combination of a conditioner + a penetrating oil that is not coconut oil (avocado, sunflower, shea butter) might work to get the “attraction to hair proteins” benefit from the cationic conditioner. Part of the protective effect is the occlusive effect - and an oil+conditioner is a good occlusive as you go into "the wash cycle." 😁

- Protein, such as Hydrolyzed keratin, can (temporarily) “fill in” gaps in damaged hair surfaces and protect hair. Medium-weight/size proteins like Keratin, Wheat, Oat, Soy, Quinoa, Milk - can also reduce breakage by (temporarily) stabilizing the internal protein structure of hair.

Short Story on Products that Reduce Split Ends: 

  • Using coconut oil applied hours before washing, or used in hair styling can help prevent split ends.

Reduce Force:

  • Try not to sleep with your body weight on long hair. If you must - wear a sleep bonnet or use a slippery pillowcase (silk, satin) to reduce friction and distribute pressure.
  • Lubricate dry hair before detangling if dry-detangling works best for you.
  • Otherwise, detangle hair when wet, with conditioner applied (to reduce force and friction).
  • Don’t use tight ponytail holders, and/or not always in the same place. Avoid trapping your hair under the straps of backpacks or shoulder-bags.
  • Be consistent with deep conditioning and / or protein and / or oil treatments if you heat-style, highlight, perm, or color-treat your hair. 
    • In other words - don't choose treatments or products that don't fit your lifestyle or budget. Make it easy to succeed. 
  • If your hair is long, or even long-ish, give the ends extra care with conditioners and treatments.
  • For multi-day hair, prepare your hair before going to bed. That could be a hydration spray, a little leave-in conditioner rubbed in your palms, or a drop of oil applied to the ends. To get through the night - hair needs to be flexible and lubricated. 

Science-y Hair Blog © 2023 by  Wendy M.S. is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Ceramides in Hair Care

Ceramides are part of normal skin sebum. One of their jobs is to act as part of the upper layer of skin to keep skin cells together, forming a barrier between the outside world and your skin. In SKIN, ceramides have a critical function in preventing water loss from skin, and in reducing inflammation.

In HAIR, ceramides are distributed with skin oils (sebum), though it’s possible they are incorporated into hair as it grows. In your hair, ceramides have an excellent lubricating effect. As an individual “ingredient” of sebum - ceramides tend to be on the “solid at room temperature” side for oils - which is different than in your skin.

This page contains some affiliate links for which I may receive a small commission when clicked at no cost to you and without revealing any of your personal information to me. Clicking them helps support the Science-y Hair Blog - thank you. :)

Ceramide - generic molecular structure

HIT THE BRAKES! Let’s talk about the “skin-ification of hair care.” Where we begin projecting skin-care ingredients benefits on to hair-care. It makes sense, to a point. Scalp oils are meant for hair too. But - we may tend to be distracted by ingredient of the moment. The one that is new and may be great, but isn’t the only ingredient that does what it does. It’s just in the spotlight right now.

So whereas products with ceramides have been a huge benefit for folks with some skin conditions, and those are products we didn’t have 20 years ago, that doesn’t mean they’re going to be the same game-changers when translated into hair-care. The functions of an ingredients like ceramide interact with and provide feedback to your skin that can change how it functions. Skin is alive and even the layer of dead cells has the ability to be “managed” by the living cells underneath.

Hair can’t do that. Which isn’t to say ceramides are useless for hair - quite the opposite! But it is meant to remind you that we’re attracted to new and shiny things that are getting lots of attention. Marketing uses your attraction to novelty to get you to buy.  So we’ll look at how this works, but do it with a grain of salt.

What can ceramides do for hair?

In African-Amercian hair, if ceramides (and the other oily substances that go with them) are removed, which can happen through chemical processing and shampooing, hair-breakage increases. Adding back a ceramide can reduce breakage, according to this study. Their ability to lubricate hair reduces both force and friction on hair, and their ability to stop porous hair losing water may provide this effect. 

Damaged hair (permed, bleached and relaxed), that was soaked in a 1% solution with ceramide-containing lipids retained moisture better and resisted breakage in this study - of oils extracted from wool. (It was 4% Cholesterol and 22% Ceramides for those who love the nerdy details).

Neither of these studies quite reproduced the normal way we apply products to our hair. But they do indicate there is a benefit to be had.

The kind of ceramide used in a hair product may not matter, considering hair can contain a multitude of different ceramides. It may be the structure of those oily substances we call “ceramide” that matters most in hair cosmetics. 

Cholesterol (I promised to bring cholesterol back into the conversation) - works along with ceramides, and in a similar way. They go together, functioning in similar ways to protect hair from breakage.

Other Ways To Approach Ceramides:

If you do not use those intense chemical processes you can prevent loss of ceramides and other very hydrophobic (water-repelling) oils from your hair. There’s a very easy way to do that - no extra steps required: Use a shampoo that contains a cationic polymer - one that performed well in testing was Polyquaternium-10. This ingredient is in many shampoos already as a detangler and conditioner. You can find a list of shampoos - with that ingredient indicated here. I promise - it's not hard at all to find a shampoo containing Polyquaternium-10.

This ingredient prevents the loss of ceramides and cholesterol from hair during shampooing because it is a cationic polymer that interferes with the way that detergents can remove ceramides, cholesterol, and other longer, complex oily molecules. 

The other component of oils - the shorter molecules or the ones nearer the surface can be protected from loss during washing by using milder surfactants - ones that don’t over-strip the skin (or hair) of oils nor penetrate the hair deeply.

Take Home Messages: 

Let’s take a really rational look at why you might consider ceramides in hair-care.

  • Damaged hair: Relaxed/straightened, Highlighted, Permed hair - may benefit from ceramides. Especially if your hair is already susceptible to breakage and you don't already have a product that works
  • Medicated shampoos, prefer clarifying shampoo: If you need to use medicated shampoos and they are drying to your hair, especially if you have Type 4 (kinky, textured) hair - ceramides might help prevent breakage from those stronger detergents. But so can ingredients like Amodimethicone, or check out products designed for Porous Hair, and "Bond-Building products" too.
  • Picky hair: Maybe (just maybe!) if your hair is hard to shop for - if it doesn’t do well with lots of ingredients that normally reduce breakage (coconut oil, sunflower oil, proteins) - ceramides might be an option. But product-options may limit you on the "picky hair" front.
Plant oils and ceramides: Ceramides can be derived from plant oils - and those can do a great job in cosmetics. But plant oils are not ceramides in the way we’re talking about them here.

Other strategies:

  • Use shampoos containing Polyquaternium-10 to prevent ceramide loss (and other oils too) from hair during shampooing.
  • Other ingredients that provide both lubrication and anti-breakage effects: Amodimethicone, Bis-Aminopropyl Dimethicone, Coconut oil.

  • Other ingredients that prevent hair breakage: Hydrolyzed proteins, Isopentyldiol, Hydroxypropylgluconamide, Hydroxypropylammonium Gluconate.

Price key:
$5 to $10 : $$
$10 to $20: $$$
$20-$30:  $$$$
(In which ceramide appears to be 0.5% or greater)

Saturday, May 4, 2024

Cholesterol In Hair Care

Cholesterol is part of our skin’s sebum - its natural oils. 

An "average" adult person's scalp produces less than 1 ml (less than 1/4 teaspoon) of sebum. Imagine your scalp produces anywhere from 1/16th to 1/8th teaspoon of sebum daily. Maybe less if your head is small or your skin is dry.

Sebum contains fluid oils that are liquid at room temperature or skin temperature (like vegetable or olive oil, for example). Sebum also contains some oils that are more solid at room temperature - like cholesterol. Which is kind of waxy on its own.

Sebum is a complex mix of different oily components - cholesterol is present at between 2 and 5% of the total oily components in sebum. 

We don't have a lot of cholesterol in our sebum - but it's kind of a big deal to have there.

Cholesterol works with ceramides (subject for another post) to prevent water loss from the skin. The upper layer of skin is where the cholesterol is concentrated. Cholesterol is formed from squalene, which is itself a powerful lubricant. That transformation is done by an enzyme in your skin.

And that bit about oils being produced by the oil glands, then modified in the skin is important when we're talking hair. Because skin has a lot of ways it can modify its environment that hair does not have.

While your hair is still growing, cholesterol on your skin matters because it's part of skin-health. Healthy skin produces healthier hair.

Ceramides may be the more important component than cholesterol in regards to hair-health, as part of the "integral hair lipids" (i.e. the epicuticle) that are bound to the hair surface - at least until it is too weathered or damaged.

Cholesterol is concentrated in the cuticle layers, and also in the medulla portion of hair. And if we lose oily things like cholesterol from our hair from shampooing, from chemical treatments, from lots of sun exposure - hair breaks more easily. Hair in people of African descent is more likely to break when its oil concentrations are decreased through those sources of stress. But that's talking about - all components of oils, not just cholesterol.

Cholesterol alone may be a minor player in hair-cosmetic maintenance, like any oil or butter, all the ingredient need to work well together. But you cannot have shopped the hair-care section without seeing "Cholesterol Treatment!" on big bottles of hair product. So what's up with that?

My impression is that "Cholesterol" hair products like Queen Helene, which have been around a while, were on the market before Shea butter appeared in mass-marketed products. And while the former might not contain any waxy/buttery cholesterol, products with shea butter do deliver on the buttery/waxy-oil promise. Shea butter is such a lovely ingredient. At their best, buttery/waxy ingredients impart great flexibility to hair - and I think that concept is what the inclusion of cholesterol (or just the word if not the ingredientπŸ˜‰) is all about. To tell you that this product won't be watery and pathetic! It will be rich, dense and create flexibility.

Ceramides (or ceramides + cholesterol) pack a little punch in hair cosmetics, and a lot in skincare. More about them in an upcoming post.

Science-y Hair Blog © 2024 by  Wendy M.S. is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Bond builders - Are They Worth It? How to make great product choices.

Question: Which bond-builders are worth it?

Answer: Any of them can be useful. The active ingredients pack some extra punch - but they're not working alone. The purpose is to increase strength in breakage-prone hair. But there can be some hydrating benefits and anti-frizz benefits too.

So let's make informed decisions and look past the marketing. 

 This post contain affiliate links for which I may receive a small commission when clicked, at no cost to you, and revealing none of your personal information to me.

“Bond Builder” is a marketing term. It's also informative. But bond-builders are NOT the only ingredients that are great for damaged / porous hair! 

There are some new and some old ingredients that stabilize the internal protein structure of hair - that’s “bond-building” in a nutshell. 

Bond-Building vs. Porous hair products?

I have a list of products for porous hair in this post. They provide some of the same benefits of helping hair behave in a less-porous manner. The difference is that the porous-hair products on that page have active ingredients that work (mostly) at the surface of the hair. Bond-building active ingredients tend to work inside the hair. There is significant overlap in the benefits of these products. Both categories can work effectively to help damaged hair look and feel healthy and be manageable.

My bond-building product list can be found here - with some handy notes. If you don't like wading into the weeds on subjects - go back to that list and use the cost-and-concentration cues instead!

Who benefits most from Bond-Building products?

  • If you have hair that is susceptible to breakage, such as Type 4 hair, or hair that is brittle from health issues such as thyroid disease,  or from environmental issues (hard water, dry climate) - choosing products with one or more of these ingredients could reduce breakage and help hair feel healthy.
  • If your hair is bleached/highlighted, color-treated, if you heat-style daily, very long hair with dry ends - these products may make hair-care easier and keep hair feeling healthy. May help color last longer.
  • If you have protein-sensitive hair that is susceptible to breakage - these products may be a substitute for the supportive effects of protein.

  • If you have a hard time keeping a hair-care schedule, or have a lot of hair-damage but don’t want extra hair-care steps, these products might help. Busy? Distracted? Who isn't?

  • But also - you’re not going to wreck your hair if your products don’t call themselves “bond-building.” I'll cover you with DIY tips at the end!

And also - DON’T be swayed by higher price. Sure, active ingredients cost a bit extra. But the trend recently in products is that more innovative ingredients are finding their way into national brands. 

The questions we’re asking about hair products since the bond-building trendsetter Olaplex came on the market, are somewhat different questions than we used to ask. And they’re often being asked about new ingredients more than old ones. So there’s a bias in which ingredients have some splashy marketing “heat” and which ones don’t - but are still great nonetheless.

Here’s an example. In the study of Olaplex and Lunex Restore (my post about that is here) - the authors mentioned that the product-base (meaning, the conditioner) was having some effects inside the hair shaft, even without the active ingredient included. 

It’s like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz when she learned that all she needed to do was  click her heels 3 times to get home. Because we already had some bond-building action going for us! Yep, yep and yep.

Bond-building is about stabilizing the secondary structure of proteins - which is getting kind of technical. The secondary structure is still tiny little aggregates of protein too small to see or recognize as hair. But it matters a lot because that level of structure is the one that the hair fiber is built from. 

White box is a strand of yarn in the sweater.

Imagine a sweater - and the secondary structure of the sweater is the yarn. If yarn becomes weak - the tertiary structure (the knitted stitches and shape of the sweater) will not look or function as it should. Stabilizing the yarn the sweater is made from is a big deal.

These ingredients don’t completely repair hair. They support hair. They increase strength (reduce breakage). They’re a functional patch. They can improve hydration, slip and shine and reduce frizz too.

Let’s look at where they work, and at what concentration, under what conditions and what other effects they have. 

I made a table with ingredients from my bond-building and porous hair posts so you'll see where they overlap.

The “effective concentration” is listed in this table. That's what the manufacturers recommend, and/or what was studied in trials. Some products may use more, some use the minimum, some use less. It’s okay if a product uses the minimum effective concentration! More isn’t necesarily better.  

Decoding ingredients lists is tricky. When you look at a product’s ingredient list, the first 4 to 6 are present at the highest concentration. The ones near “fragrance” and the preservatives are present close to or less than 1%.

Ingredients are meant to be listed in order from greatest to least, and most companies follow that model. Here is the table, for those of you who like to dig into the details. A run-down of how to apply that to ingredient lists follows.

Click to make this bigger! "bond-building" active ingredients at top, "porous-hair-friendly" ingredients at bottom. Ingredients are in the LEFT column. Follow that ingredient's row to the right to see where it works in the hair, and what benefits it may provide.

Let’s look at Soapbox “Let’s Bond


In green are the hydrolyzed proteins and amino acids - these are “bond builders.” Mostly those are Medium molecular weight, with some amino acids that strengthen hair. All together, there is more than 1% protein in this product. The Soy/Corn/Rice protein blend, and the Adansonia digitaria (baobab) are each close to 1%. We know that because the preservative Benzyl alcohol is used around 1% or less. Hydroxypropyl guar hydroxypropyltrimonium chloride is used at less than 1% (0.25-0.5%).

That also means the other bond-builders in here (Hydroxypropyl gluconamide and hydroxypropylammonium gluconate) are present at less than 1%, which is less than the effective rate in my table, but it still “counts.”

The workhorses in this product are the combination of proteins, oils, humectants (Aloe, proteins, Panthenol, Glycerin) as well as the specialty ingredients.

Looking at BondBar Conditioner:


The Hydroxypropyl gluconamide and hydroxypropylammonium gluconate might be present at less than 1%. It's listed after Sodium benzoate, and the maximum that can be used at is 1%. This product benefits from Capric/Caprylic Triglyceride, which is a hair-penetrating emollient for extra softness. And nifty new ingredients like Polyester-37 - an slip-providing, conditioning alternative to both creamy-type conditioning ingredients and Amodimethicone (all the benefits, none of the baggage - yet).

If you’re underwhelmed by that, check out Bondbar’s Bonding primer (below) and Bond Booster (Mix-In). These products clock in under $10 and $15, respectively, and pack a huge value for the money. The primer is a spray, the booster is a pump (and fragrance-free). No extra conditioning - great for hair that likes its treatments minimal.

Bondbar Bonding Primer Ingredients

Water, Hydroxypropylgluconamide, Hydroxypropylammonium Gluconate, Polysorbate 20, Phenoxyethanol, Fragrance, Potassium Sorbate, Citric Acid, Aminomethyl Propanol

Polysorbate-20 is used at 1% or more - so this product is full active ingredients. The Bond Booster product has instructions for mixing with water to use as an intense treatment.

Not Your Mother’s Tough Love Bonding Conditioner:

Water (Aqua) (Eau), Cetearyl Alcohol, Cetyl Alcohol, Behentrimonium Chloride, Stearalkonium Chloride, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Propanediol, Itaconic acid, Arginine, Panthenol, Linum Usitatissimum (Linseed) Seed Extract, Salvia Hispanica Seed Extract, Polyglyceryl-10 Laurate, Cetrimonium Chloride, Bis-4-PCA Dimethicone, Disodium PEG-12 Dimethicone Sulfosuccinate, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Butylene Glycol, Isopropyl Alcohol, Fragrance (Parfum), Hexyl Cinnamal, Alpha-Isomethyl Ionone, Tetrasodium Glutamate Diacetate, Aminomethyl Propanol, Phenoxyethanol, Ethylhexylglycerin.

There are 2 “specialty” bond-builders in this product, the first active at 1%, the second reported active at 4%. The first one (in orange) is present at least as 1%. The second may or may not be present at 4% - and it may well be effective at a lesser amount. Not Your Mother’s has their bonding products fully-stocked with active ingredients. We know the first is at or greater than 1% because it’s coming before preservatives and thickeners (Hydroxyethylcellulose), and fragrance.

Curlsmith Curl Bond Rehab Salve:


Here there is a protein-containing ingredient near the start of the ingredient list (in green). And Hydroxypropyl gluconamide and hydroxypropylammonium gluconate are likely above 1%, coming before the herbal extracts (often used around 1% each).

This was an example of how to decode these products. 

Don’t take my estimates too literally. I’m estimating how much of the active ingredient is present based on its location in the ingredient list, and known use-values for those ingredients before and after the actives.

Don’t take those “recommended use” percentages as absolutes either! Is there really such a big difference in effect between 0.75% and 1%? Not always.

- If you want to try bond-builders: Pick one in an acceptable price range. 

  • Pick only ONE. (Change one thing at a time, right?)
  • Pick one with enough active ingredient to pack some punch. But also - be aware that they work in low concentrations. They're more like a spice in a recipe, they don't need to be the main ingredient.
  • Pick one that fits your hair’s preferences. If your hair prefers rich products - choose a mask. If your hair prefers light products, choose a pre-wash treatment, a spray, or a mix-in.
  • Pick a product that doesn’t add an extra step that will be inconvenient or easily forgotten.
  • Choose a product appropriate for your hair (if your hair doesn’t do well with protein - don’t choose one that contains protein).

  • If you dye your hair or highlight - choose a product with active ingredients that also help with hair-color-retention.
  • Reasonable expectations. These are about anti-breakage! Your hair might feel stronger. It might feel more buoyant or less frizzy. Signs point to this being a cumulative effect - with repeated use you could see less breakage. Very dehydrated hair might gain some bounce and hydration.

DIY / Affordable options:

Under $10

Not Your Mother's Shampoos and conditioners (Tough Love, Curl Talk, Blonde Moment).

Some BondBar products

Soapbox Let's Bond

Marc Anthony Bond Resculpt Leave-in

Under $5

HairLabs Doses (Curl Define, Rebuild - proteins). 

Pantene Mix-ins (Curl Definition, Shine, Hydrate - proteins). 

Homemade gelatin protein treatment (which you can use in small amounts added to conditioner) - first recipe on the page, this is high molecular weight protein. 

A DIY beer rinse is a mix of high molecular weight proteins and smaller, hydrating sugars.

HASK shampoos and conditioners - proteins, Poluqyaternium-55

Honey - add to conditioner or shampoo. This is powerfully softening and hydrating.

Yogurt and kefir (dairy and oat) - Medium molecular weight proteins, hydrating lactic acids. (You must wash out yogurt and kefir thoroughly).

Science-y Hair Blog © 2024 by  Wendy M.S. is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 


Barreto T, Weffort F, Frattini S, Pinto G, Damasco P, Melo D. Straight to the Point: What Do We Know So Far on Hair Straightening? Skin Appendage Disord. 2021 Jun;7(4):265-271. doi: 10.1159/000514367.

Chambers LI, Yufit DS, Musa OM, Steed JW. Understanding the Interaction of Gluconamides and Gluconates with Amino Acids in Hair Care. Cryst Growth Des. 2022 Oct 5;22(10):6190-6200. doi: 10.1021/acs.cgd.2c00753. Epub 2022 Sep 20. PMID: 36217417; PMCID: PMC9542698.

Malinauskyte E, Shrestha R, Cornwell PA, Gourion-Arsiquaud S, Hindley M. Penetration of different molecular weight hydrolysed keratins into hair fibres and their effects on the physical properties of textured hair. Int J Cosmet Sci. 2021 Feb;43(1):26-37. doi: 10.1111/ics.12663. Epub 2020 Oct 15. PMID: 32946595; PMCID: PMC7820954.

Swift, J. A., Chahal, S. P., Challoner, N. I., & Parfrey, J. E. (2000). Investigations on the penetration of hydrolyzed wheat proteins into human hair by confocal laser-scanning fluorescence microscopy. Journal of cosmetic science, 51(3), 193-203.

Zhou Y, Foltis L, Moore DJ, Rigoletto R. Protection of oxidative hair color fading from shampoo washing by hydrophobically modified cationic polymers. J Cosmet Sci. 2009 Mar-Apr;60(2):217-38. PMID: 19450422.


Damodar Dhakal, Tayyaba Younas, Ram Prasad Bhusal, Lavaraj Devkota, Lu Li, Bin Zhang, Sushil Dhital. The effect of probiotic strains on the proteolytic activity and peptide profiles of lupin oat-based yoghurt. Food Hydrocolloids,Volume 149, 2024.