Sunday, September 8, 2013

More About Protein

In the realm of protein and hair-care, there is a lot of gray area. Some protein ingredients are beneficial for managing porosity and elasticity in hair, but there are a lot of unknowns for consumers. I think there are some guiding themes not so much in your hair's thickness or density or curliness - but in the effect you want and the composition of the proteins themselves. Given the variabilities in the raw materials and individual hairs, there isn't a "mix and match" guideline, but at least you'll have more information to explain your hair's reaction.  ©Science-y Hair Blog 2013

Cosmetic proteins - broad size classes: The font-size indicates the size of the protein molecule:
Hydrolyzed protein, Peptide, Amino acid.

All of these can be found in hair-care products.  Hydrolyzed proteins are made from raw ingredients (wheat, oats, etc.) that have been treated with enzymes or acid or alkali to break down the proteins. The proteins aren't lost - but they are broken down into smaller pieces. Like kicking a LEGO tower.

The more we process and filter and process again, the smaller pieces we can isolate.

Proteins condition your hair.
First of all, protein is regarded as a conditioning ingredient in two respects. One in that it can in some cases bond to hair and also that it can soften, reduce static and improve the feel and luster of hair. Being oil-free and not waxy nor oil-based makes proteins well-suited conditioners for hair which is easily weighed down. Protein is a hydrating conditioner. Oils and "fatty alcohols" and creamy conditioning ingredients that are the base of most conditioners soften and create flexibility and may prevent water loss. But protein grabs water and hangs on to it. Protein doesn't release water quickly, either. That doesn't mean, "hair that takes forever to dry" - it means, "hair that doesn't get dehydrated as easily."Well-hydrated hair is shinier and less frizzy and more flexible. Not bad. ©Science-y Hair Blog 2013

Whose hair needs the extra boost protein can offer? 
As a generalization: ©Science-y Hair Blog 2013
1) People whose hair is losing more water than it should - porous or damaged hair. 
That means: 
Bleached or highlighted hair
Chemically relaxed or permanent waved hair
Hair that has been frequently brushed
Hair you take swimming frequently in chlorinated pools or salt water
Hair that spends several hours each week under the full sun 
Some hair that tends to be dry no matter how much oil and conditioner you use
Hair that has been styled with high heat - flat irons, curling irons, hair dryers on "hot."

Active people who like to be outdoors - we're making our hair more porous. But at least we're having a good time doing it.©Science-y Hair Blog 2013

People who have kinking in their hair sometimes (not always!) have slightly increased porosity for 2 reasons. First is that the kinking areas are uneven, the cuticles cannot lie quite flat. When a cuticle does not lie flat, it sticks out and cuticles that stick out are likely to be broken off! Broken cuticles equals more porosity. Kinking hair suffers far more damage from daily life than non-kinking hair - it is more likely to become porous as a result. Curly hair also presents an uneven surface in that it "wears" unevenly against other hairs, your collar, your pillowcase. If this is the hair nature gave you - you have to fight your hair's tendency to become porous. It probably grows non-porous and pristine from your scalp. And then life happens. ©Science-y Hair Blog 2013

No matter why your hair is porous, it will lose water more rapidly than is good for it. Protein fills up those gaps for a while, and it does it in a water-grabbing way that is good for your hair. An oil or silicone or "fatty alcohol" conditioner just blocks the gaps and softens the hair - they may prevent water loss to some degree, but they do nothing in the way of improving hydration. As a side-note, porous hair also loses proteins from the cuticle layers when it gets wet because the cuticle cannot seal them in - another reason to use both proteins and pre-cleansing oil treatments on porous hair.
Porous hair - see the jagged cuticles
on the left side.
©Science-y Hair Blog 2013

2) People whose hair needs conditioning, but cannot take a lot of added weight. That's you, fine-to-medium-haired people, or anybody with silky, soft hair. Protein can bulk your hair up a little and add strength. 

Who needs to approach protein with caution?
If your hair is quite coarse (wide hairs), it may not tolerate protein very often. Or it may tolerate the smaller proteins and amino acids.
Coarse but porous hair may tolerate (and benefit from) protein more than coarse, lower porosity hair.

What does protein do to your hair?©Science-y Hair Blog 2013
Protein is most substantive to hair (it bonds to hair the best) when it has a molecular weight of about 1000 daltons or less. At this size, they are weakly cationic and bond to hair. Smaller than 500 daltons can penetrate into the hair. Substantivity is what defines a conditioner - something that bonds to the hair to reduce friction and static. So proteins are conditioners! Protein in a shampoo or conditioner or styling product can work, and recently I've become a fan of protein in shampoos after seeing my husband's fragile hair become very healthy and breakage-resistant from using a protein-enriched shampoo.

Protein will bond best to hair between pH 4 and 7 (around pH 5 is best). In fact protein has pH-dependent charges, at lower-than-neutral pH, it has a positive charge to help it bind to your naturally negatively charged hair. So proteins are most effective in products with a pH around 5 or 6.
Same porous hair, blue in-
filling represents hydrolyzed
protein filing in porosities
and also forming a light surface
©Science-y Hair Blog 2013
The larger proteins have more of a coating-glossing-moisture-hugging film effect that is present during use (for example oat protein or jojoba protein in a styling product). For porous hair, these fill in the gaps as well as lightly coat the surface. For not-porous hair and fine hair, they are mostly forming a film and providing a little extra body. For coarse hair, too much extra body might not be a good thing and protein needs to be used judiciously - though a little can be a great help.©Scien
Lower porosity, fine hair with blue
representing hydrolyzed protein
forming a film on the surface.
ce-y Hair Blog 2013
Proteins are made of amino acids. Hydrolyzed proteins are the source-protein which has been broken down with acid or alkali or enzymes into smaller pieces (no longer a whole protein). 

Within that hydrolysate product, there are various-sized "fragments" of the original proteins. Some smaller, some larger. The amino acid content of a hydrolyzed protein may make it better-suited for some hair-care needs.
Your hair has many amino acids within the cuticle layers that attract water to keep hair hydrated so it doesn't break too easily. Hydrated hair is great - it has more shine, it is more flexible, in hair with waves and curls, the curl pattern has better definition when hair is well hydrated because there is less frizz.  So take a look at the amino acids in the outermost surfaces of your hair.©

Amino acid content of human hair (first column containing letter x), and of hydrolyzed proteins; and typical molecular weight of hydrolyzed protein additive (bottom row): 
Click to enlarge this table.  Amino acid content in these hydrolyzed proteins is indicated as "xxx" is the largest quantity, "xx" is medium to high quantity and "x" means the amino acid is present in smaller quantities.

Science-y Hair Blog 2013
If hair is very damaged - it might make sense to try to supply it with proteins that contain the amino acids naturally present in hair. Products containing combinations of protein might work better than single proteins for some people's hair.  
©Science-y Hair Blog 2013
Refer to the table above for a visual aid to accompany the information below:
©Science-y Hair Blog 2013
Collagen is one of the few proteins to provide a lot of Proline, one of the more abundant amino acids in the cuticle - good for improving elasticity in hair that snaps and breaks easily and feels mushy when wet - like wet fabric instead of wet fiber. It is a hydrating protein, small to medium size and substantive. Collagen amino acids are smaller still. 
Gelatin is partly hydrolyzed collagen and therefore contains medium to large protein constituents and is both hydrating and film-forming. It contains the same amino acids as Hydrolyzed collagen - but because it's not as highly processed, it may behave quite differently for your hair.

Wheat provides abundant Cystine - but it is not necessarily the same Cystine as in hair. If it can function similarly to the cystine in hair, wheat protein is superb. Hydrolyzed wheat protein is fairly large and therefore more of a film-forming, porosity-filling protein. 

Oat protein is both hydrating and conditioning and also film forming and porosity-filling.  Some versions of hydrolyzed oats are engineered to be medium-sized, but you cannot always know if that is what is in your product. ©Science-y Hair Blog 2013

Soy protein. Even though soy protein is a medium-size protein, it may not have the hydrating power of the other proteins. It's amino acid complement is more abundant in amino acids which are not as abundant in human hair. Soy protein is a small-medium size for conditioning.©Science-y Hair Blog 2013
Corn protein is often combined with other proteins. Corn protein has small-medium size for conditioning and hydrating.

Keratin  Human hair-source keratin is even more similar to the protein in your own hair. Keratin is a small-to-medium protein so it has hydrating and conditioning potential and 6 amino acids naturally abundant in the cuticle of your hair.©Science-y Hair Blog 2013

 Silk protein is a smaller protein and mostly hydrating and conditioning.©Science-y Hair Blog 2013

So what's the take-home message? ©Science-y Hair Blog 2013

Protein can do a lot of great things for hair - it can condition, soften, or strengthen and provide support, promote hydration for good elasticity and bounce and shine. The higher molecular-weight proteins are more likely to quickly strengthen and provide support. 

If you like to analyze things deeply, looking at the amino acid content of the hydrolyzed proteins (table on this page) can inform you on how well they match the amino acids naturally present in hair - which might be extra-helpful for porous hair. 

My tables can be a pretty deep dive - but they work for me to make the mental juggling of variables a little more - visible. If I have stressed my hair with heat or sun and need porosity-control, I'm going to lean towards multiple proteins in a single product to try to mimic hair's natural moisture-retaining property. But if my hair feels mushy and flyaway and is snapping when I handle it, I might lean towards the larger-molecular weight proteins instead for the biggest boost of support and strength. ©Science-y Hair Blog 2013

Hair and Hair Care. Johnson, D. 1997
Chemical and Physical Behavior of Human Hair. Robbins. 1994, 3rd Ed.
Various sources from ingredient manufacturers and suppliers.


  1. So you know that I am stalking you by now.

    With that settled, I stumbled, in one of the many forums I am a member of, on a thread where everyone was raving about the amazing effects that adding powdered milk to their pre-poo conditioner treatment had on their hair. I am guessing it is because of proteins, since all of them said pretty much the exact same thing, which is thicker hair, a bit stringy unless conditioned afterwards, and how even if they leave the treatment on for hours, it has the same effect as if they left it on for fifteen minutes. Which feels to me like a repeat of what happens to me when I do a gelatin PT.

    I rant, sorry. My question was, what are your thoughts about the efficacy of this? I am honestly curious about it because it was the first time I ever read about using powdered milk like that, and if it's supposed to be a protein treatment, I want to try it. The gelatin one is great, but I hate crumbling the gelatin sheets, they are so thick they cut my hands sometimes when they crack as I break them! Alsoiamlazyandittakessomuchtimetobreakthem.

    1. Powdered milk is dried milk - so carbohydrates and proteins and fat unless it's nonfat powdered milk. But there is nothing in the process that makes the proteins smaller so that they interact with hair like hydrolyzed proteins do. However, there can be a beneficial film formed over the hair by carbohydrates and the proteins that might soften hair and make it feel thicker. So milk powder may have a similar effect to gelatine, even if it works in a slightly different way. And because it's the effect or a certain result in our hair that we really want - if it works for you and milk powder is more convenient than gelatine sheets, maybe that makes it better.

      I have tried yogurt but found it too heavy for my hair. I like hydrolyzed whole oats in my flax gel - which is mostly carbohydrate and just a little protein, but it works just as well as hydrolyzed protein.

  2. This article was very informative. I have relaxed hair which breaks constantly, it is then to medium texture. I am working on my weekly regimen to wash it. I recently got a haircut as the stylist said my ends were thinning, I was thinking of incorporating protein on my weekly wash treatment to help with this & help with breakage & hydration. I also have high porosity hair & reading about the amino acids & protein size makes alot of sense to me. My question is can brags liquid aminos be used as protein to help with hydration and help with porosity issues?. I have jherri reddin protein treatment which has aminal protein is that a large protein.

    1. Hello, Mzddann,
      I am not sure about Braggs Liquid Aminos - I don't know how it is made. Soy sauce is fermented soy beans. Braggs indicates that their product is different. If it has been hydrolyzed and does contain actual amino acids (not amino acids that are really components of proteins too large for your hair to use effectively) - then it could be a good product to try. In the US, Neutral Protein Filler is a protein product you can add to conditioners.
      If you are looking for non-animal-source proteins, Ion Effective Care is a vegan protein-rich conditioner. Quinoa and oat protein are especially good plant proteins. There is a list of products here and protein source is listed with products:

    2. Thanks for the response. After looking into it i read where persons have used it. I have decided against it after i did the elasticity test you posted. I did the elasticity test on dry hair hair & wet, on dry it snapped slightly after stretching most hairs, so i did not do the measurements. So from that i conclude that my elasticity is very poor. Which i will be trying to fix/work on immediately. I researched that hydrolysed collagen is good for helping with elasticity plus my hair has been feeling rough so I have decided to buy ORS replenishing conditioner, these are the ingredients:

      Water , Glycine Soja (Soybean) Oil , Glycerin , Olea Europaea (Olive) Fruit Oil , Hydrolyzed Collagen , Quaternium 80 , Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Orange) Oil , Citral , D Limonene , Linalool , Polyquaternium 37 , Propylene Glycol Dicaprylate , Dicaprate , PPG 1 Trideceth 6 , Panthenol , Silk Amino Acids , PEG 9 Dimethicone , Anthemis Nobilis Extract (Chamomile) , Salvia Officinalis Extract (Sage) , Urtica Dioica Extract (Nettle) , Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Extract , Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice , Achilea Millefolium Extract (Yarrow) , Actinidia Chinensis Fruit Juice (Kiwi) , Dimethicone , Hydrolyzed Glycosaminoglycans , EDTA , Triethanolamine , DMDM Hydantoin , Methylchloroisothiazolinone , Methylisothiazolinone , Yellow 6CI 15985 , Yellow 5CI 19140

      It contains both collagen for elasticity & silk amino acid which is a soften protein to use weekly with olive oil or coconut oil added to condition with heat for 20mins. Does the ingredients look fine to use weekly for about a month and bi-weekly afterwards?

    3. Mzddann,
      That looks like a very interesting and good protein conditioner with good lubrication. It gets very good reviews. Collagen is a great protein for hair that needs elasticity. See how your hair responds - if it responds well, use it again when the useful effects wear off. Your plan sounds good, and if you notice your hair needing protein sooner, you can use it sooner. If you notice your hair feeling more tangly or rough, you can use the protein less frequently or dilute it by mixing with another conditioner. Good luck!

    4. I tried the product over the weekend, my hair after rinsing out & roller setting, had a very coated build up feel to it, I saw improvements is the stretch after it dried & I tested, but with my naked eyes i could see white stuff on my hair. So back to the drawing board for me.

    5. An alternative is buying hydrolyzed collagen & Silk amino acids in the bulk form and adding to my favourite conditioner, can that be done?

  3. Mzddann,
    It would be best to add hydrolyzed collagen or silk amino acids to your conditioner just before you use it. If you add the proteins to the bottle of conditioner, it might overwhelm the preservative or destabilize the formula. If you have liquid hydrolyzed proteins, you can add 4-8 drops per tablespoon of conditioner (or more) and see how that works for you. If you buy powdered hydrolyzed protein, mix it with a very small amount of water first, then add it to the conditioner.
    Good luck! WS

    1. Hi WS! Would you reccomend this same ratio if someone wanted to combine hydrolyzed silk with distilled water to create a light, film-forming humectant spray for second day hair? (I have thick, , dry, coarse low-porosity, type 2b/c hair if it matters at all. )

    2. Hello AMD,
      If you were using a hydrolyzed silk powder, you might want to do that by weight because powders are more concentrated; use about 1% protein and then adjust from there. If you're using a liquid, it might be 50% protein (more or less). That would mean a starting rate of about 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon per cup of distilled water. Store it in the refrigerator! You might also like to add a little bit of conditioner to this spray. The water and protein will be hydrating and "humectant" but if your hair is needing a little lubrication, some conditioner might be nice. Even just 1/4 or 1/2 teaspoon. Good luck!

    3. Thank you so much for your reply! I can't wait to try this. Your blog is a life saver. I've struggled with having tricky hair my entire life--in addition to the traits I mentioned before, I also have a very, very oily scalp and inconsistent curl pattern. I never understood why so many of the techniques and products that worked for other curlies made my hair look worse. This is the first source that has really helped me to understand how to manage my hair. Thank you for all of the time and effort you put into this site.

  4. Thank you for this great article. I understand the properties of protein much better now. My hair loves gelatin, keratin and collagen also. This has been very helpful.

  5. Thanks for this
    Quick question. Is aloe vera considered a protein?
    I would like to use the gel as a film humectant but I don't really need the protein.

    1. Aloe is not considered a protein. Aloe contains lots of diverse compounds, and there is some protein in there, but it won't behave exactly like hydrolyzed protein in your hair. When aloe causes problems for hair, it's often "flash-drying" in which locks of hair dry almost instantly after being wetted. Aloe in some hair can dull hair or leave a build-up or make it behave strangely. Sometimes the solution is to limit aloe or dilute it or use it only rarely, sometimes the solution is to avoid it all together. Some aloe juices are very acidic thanks to acids added to preserve the product (like citric acid) and the acidic (low) pH can also be drying to some people's hair and increase porosity. When in doubt - dilute!

  6. Hi, you are publishing some amazing blogs, thank you!
    I follow a no-shampoo regime and last summer I experimented with rye and gram flour. They left my hair in amazing condition, until it suddenly didn't and received wisdom indicated my hair was "over-proteined". Please could you help me to understand where the proteins and amino acids in rye and gram flour fall in the table above, and if I am likely to damage my hair further trying gelatine. I am keen to try again with a different protein as it was so amazing last summer and nothing I have tried since has got near that. My hair is really fine and partially damaged by too many years of half head highlights.

    1. Anna, Most proteins in gram and rye flour are too large to interact with hair. But the gluten and giladin proteins which are several smaller protein molecules in these grain flours are of a size which could potentially interact with hair.
      They would fall in the "large protein" category. Even protein-loving hair can get over-proteined with large proteins.

      You might have some success with gelatine because you can control how much protein you use.

      Timing is important when using protein in your hair. Use protein again when the benefit has faded. If you don't get the same good result, you repeated the protein use too soon, or it was too strong this time. Sometimes our hair needs a lot of protein when we begin using protein, and less as time goes by. This may be the problem you are having, perhaps your hair needs smaller "doses" of protein than it did before.

      Protein strengthens - or stiffens and supports hair. When you use protein, you often also need to use something to soften your hair. That may mean following protein use with a rich conditioner or just leaving conditioner on your hair for a few minutes with some heat. Or you may want to use an oil deep treatment, wash it out and then follow it up with protein so you balance the softness of the conditioner or oil treatment and the support of the protein.

      I hope this is helpful. Good luck!

  7. I have read articles, suggestions and have been seeking different site etc for weeks to months. THIS is the most informative, complete and accurate site to assisting with the knowledge we need to know the absolute best so far! THANK YOU so much for creating this site and posting all the helpful information found on it. Grateful to have found it.

  8. Hello L. Eb - I'm very happy you find the blog helpful!

  9. Hello! i am seconding the above comment your blog is beyond informative! it goes into so many details its fabulous! For most cases I am able to follow right along and tailor the information here for my needs but protein is something I cant seem to wrap my head around. Would you please do a blog post for protein for beginners. I have no idea where to even start WHAT I should buy how do i incorporate these proteins like soy? like bathe my hair in soy milk?! lol I am so lost! I mean what do i do if i want to add collagen doi buy that?! I am sooo very lost here but can somehow keep up with everything else! esp the oils I love ur posts on that!

    1. Hi SV,
      You mean like a "Protein 101" post? That's a great idea!
      I hope to do that very soon. Meanwhile, in the "Product List by Category" there is a list of products which contain protein so you can see what's out there. Thanks!

    2. thank you so much for the protein 101 post! It def does help me out a lot...i think i have to re-read it again as some points went way over my head but its a great compilation thank u very much!

  10. I love Alterna Caviar Repair RX Re-Texturizing Protein Cream because it makes my short, thin, fine hair (that is grey and is coloured every 5 weeks) look and feel stronger, fuller and shiner. The instructions recommend using 1 to 3 times per week but I love it so much I want to use it every day. Will it damage my hair if I use it daily? What else could I use on my hair that will give me the same effect without damaging it?

    1. Hello,
      Wow - that product is loaded with protein! I think you might hit the wall with that one if you used it every day (but I could be wrong). If you over-do the protein, you will either end up with fluffy, overly-soft, limp, flyaway hair, or it might go the opposite direction and get stiff, rough, and tangly. In that case - you overdid it and you need to use the product less often.
      If nothing else will do for your hair, you might be able to mix this product with some conditioner (or just with water) to use it daily. That would dilute the protein so it's less intense. It is almost certainly the protein that is giving your hair the strength and fullness and some of the shine.
      I hope that helps.

  11. I have been using Shea Moisture Manuka Honey Shampoo and the Superfruit Complex hair masque for the past month and the last time I washed my hair it didnt feel the same. The ends felt super brittle and I had more breakage than usual. I wash and deep condition my hair every week. Could the protein in the products be causing those problems?

    1. Hello Unknown, Protein can cause brittle hair and breakage, there is hydrolyzed rice protein in the shampoo and masque you mentioned. One plan for playing it safe with protein is to use protein only in products that you use one-at-a-time when you suspect your hair needs protein - budget your protein use carefully. Having protein in a shampoo and conditioner can be too much protein, even for hair that "likes" protein.
      You might set up an experiment, skipping protein entirely for one wash. Then the next wash, try the protein-enriched shampoo but protein-free conditioner (deep conditioner). See how things are going. Next time you wash or want to use protein, use protein in nothing but your deep conditioner. Hair that sometimes gets brittle with protein tends to do better when you balance out the stiffness provided by the protein with plenty of softness from conditioners and oil-enriched deep conditioners.
      If you're sticking to a "one product with protein only on wash day" rule and still getting a bad result, then you may need to space your protein use farther apart, or use a product with a different protein source like hydrolyzed keratin. If all else fails, your hair might prefer to use protein only rarely. I hope that helps!

  12. I have been using Shea Moisture Manuka Honey Shampoo and the Superfruit Complex hair masque for the past month and the last time I washed my hair it didnt feel the same. The ends felt super brittle and I had more breakage than usual. I wash and deep condition my hair every week. Could the protein in the products be causing those problems?

  13. How does the infomercial cleansing conditioner rate in the way of benefit to hair ? Are they effective?

    1. Hello anonymous,
      I think this is something that can only be determined by the user of the product. Wen cleansing conditioners are formulated to be high in glycerin, a humectant which provides great moisture for some hair, and makes other hair feel frizzy or look dull. The conditioning ingredients are similar to those in other conditioners, but the one in greater concentration is one that tends to make hair feel more full and dense - and can also feel too heavy or coated to some people if you use too much of the product. Oils are a good addition. Panthenol is a good humectant. Hydrolyzed wheat protein is good for adding hydration and strength to fine/thin or medium hair or chemically treated, slightly coarse hair but could make quite coarse hair feel dry and brittle. Amodimethicone is added to increase slipperiness. It does not build up on top of itself - rather it bonds to damaged areas in the hair shaft.
      I can see some problems in using this to clean the scalp - there are a lot of herbal extracts and menthol which can create irritation. Each herbal extract and protein has its own preservative (as a raw ingredient) - another source of irritation. Using this exclusively could lead to too much conditioner bonded to the hair - and scalp if you aren't aware that you need to scrub (gently) your scalp when you use a cleansing conditioner or the skin cells that need to be shed may not be shed effectively. Conditioner build-up is a real problem and isn't as simple as a single shampooing to remove the residue. Conditioners actively bind to the hair shaft.

      As a conditioner, it is a well-formulated product, combining conditioners and emollients and humectants (and protein) and should work well for chemically-treated hair or hair that isn't especially coarse (wide strands). As with all products, there are people for whom this is not going to be a good product, and some who will love it.

      "Hair One" from Sally Beauty Supply is a less expensive "dupe" of Wen. It may not be exactly the same, but is a way to try such a product with a lower investment to get a feel for how something like that works for you. Renpure Solutions Cleansing Conditioners are quite similar and have some other ingredients also (good additions too!) which provides a more affordable alternative for a trial to see if your hair responds well to such a product.
      Good luck!

    2. Thank you for your response. I am looking for a solution for my hair type being fine texture but dense, slight natural curl, that needs to be smooth when dry. Additionally I color the roots to combine maturing gray hair using a natural series in a light blonde tone. I am looking for a shampoo that will moisturize and / or reduce the dryness and smooth frizz. I'm needing advice or any suggestions on how to get moisture back in my hair. My hair does get "flat" or very limp when I use some conditioners. These types make my hair so soft that it won't hold its shape. Thank you for your help !

    3. If you have a Sally Beauty Supply nearby, you might try their sample sizes - they should have sample packets of their Wen knock-off (Hair One), sample packets of Ion Effective Care (a conditioner with protein), and a number of generic versions (GVP) of salon shampoos and conditioners. If conditioners tend to over-soften your hair, protein may be helpful. But be aware that protein can soften hair too. On the page "Product List by Category" on this blog (tab at the top of the page) there is a list of conditioners which are less likely to cause build-up and that might give you an idea of products (or ingredients) to look for. If a conditioner is "almost perfect" but easy to over-do, you might try diluting it with water when you use it to try to avoid that overly-soft result. There is also a list of shampoos and conditioners with protein on that page.
      You might consider products labaled for color-treated hair vs. ones that are labeled as deeply "moisturizing." Color treated hair often needs extra conditioning, but not all color-treated hair can tolerate heavy conditioners - so product formulators (hopefully) keep that in mind. Good luck!

  14. Thanks much! Very good idea to be using "color treated" products in most instances vs moisturizing. That's good to know and I will be more attentive now when purchasing products. I have been reading just about every article possible on your site... it's very very informative, and I am learning a lot of things about ingredient and how they react on hair. I am looking to pick up some of the recommendations at Sally Beauty as suggested and I'm also interested in the Renpure coconut shampoo from the product list on your site...again thank you for your help!

  15. i have very fine thin lifeless curly hair with no volume
    and i want to make a hair mask to be used weekly with henna , amla , rice protein , whey protein , soy milk or soy protein ,coconut milk or cream , collagen , biotin , silica , msm , gelatin , egg , mayo , hyaluronic acid
    these are all the ingredients i hav heard are good for hair thickening and straightening and volumizing
    but i am lost
    in what ration should i use all these
    and should i omit some of the ingredients or missing out some which are very important than these
    is it too much
    plz help me formulate it 😓

    1. Hello Alia,
      Whoa! Throwing in everything but the kitchen sink. Start very simply or you'll never know which ingredient does what for your hair. Henna and protein together could be a disaster. Are you using henna for color? Decide that first.
      If you're using henna for color, look up recipes people use with amla added to avoid losing curl - but be aware that applying concentrated henna paste to all your hair regularly may pull out some of your curl, even though it may give your hair a thicker feeling.
      I would advise against combining several proteins together at first. It's easy to over-do protein and end up with even flatter, stiff, not-curly hair that way. Pick one protein. Add perhaps 1/4 teaspoon per Tablespoon of conditioner and leave that on for a few minutes with some heat. Repeat that with your different proteins a week or 2 apart to determine whether any of those proteins gives your hair more volume or bounce.
      MSM can add thickness in leave-on products. Hyaluronic acid is a good hydrating ingredient (humectant). Mayo and egg are classic homemade conditioners but too heavy for some people's hair.

      You really have to try using them in some sort of base - conditioner, gel, spray? See how they work and then go from there.
      Most ingredients have a use rate given in a percentage listed on the package. That is by weight - for example 1% = 1 gram per 100 grams total product. Good luck!

  16. Great article. I have a diy question. I love Curl Junkie's Rehab conditioner and would like to add a Hydrolyzed protein to it to make it a protein treatment. Is that possible? If so what would be the recipe/ mixture requirements and will it have to be refrigerated? I think my hair likes rice (the most), keratin, Sodium PCA (Derived From Amino Acid) and Vegetable Protein. I found some proteins on like this :

    1. Hello Sue,
      If you want to add a protein additive to a pre-made product, you are probably better off refrigerating it. Both the conditioner you mentioned and the protein additive you linked to already contain their own preservative, so hypothetically a mixture of the two could be okay un-refrigerated - but you don't know how the protein additive will interact with the conditioner. I wholeheartedly encourage mixing up only a small amount of the protein-enriched conditioner in case you get some separation or change in the product or shorter shelf-life.

      Sodium PCA is a humectant - a very good one.
      You can buy Neutral Protein Filler which is keratin and wheat protein and herbal extracts for a much smaller investment that MakingCosmetic's Rice Quat. It tends to mix very well with other products. Good luck! W

  17. Oh wow! I've spent months diving into the topic. The lack of posts like this forced me to educate myself in both biology and chemistry.
    I guess that's a good thing given how I've learned more than I did in school on the topics.
    But if I would have read this post and this post specifically, it would have saved me countless hours of research.
    This post is absolutely amazing. It condensed everything I needed into one single text.

    I've been playing with the idea of using protein powders for my hair. I live in a country to which its nearly impossible to order things online, and the shops leave a lot to wish for in terms of deep hair care. Most Nordic people have pretty straight, not too thick not too thin hair I guess so I guess they don't really spend a lot of time thinking about it.

    My question is:
    A protein powder designed for ingestion, would it be applicable to hair?

    I haven't seen any pure hydrolysed powders here, only flavoured ones, but they don't contain sugar. Are there any potential ingridients in protein powder that could cause irreversible damage?
    (I'm thinking that it smelling funky and feeling sticky is temporary and not really a problem)

    The protein powder I used a few years ago required swelling before ingestion. If I put it in my hair, would I want the swelling to occur when it's already applied? If the swelling is the protein assuming a liquid form, or binding water, or whatever it is; would it be better to let it swell before application or after?

    The protein treatments offered here require substantial amounts of heat. Would this be necessary in the case of the protein powder? Or gelatin for that matter?

    I've never heard of gelatin for hair before. Gelatin is promising since it's actually sold here. Those of you who use it, how do you do that?

    (My hair is naturally pretty thick, however I've used blonde spray throughout the summer, and I've only cut it once in the past year and a half. I'm Scandinavian so when I say thick I guess I'm comparing to other Swedish people aka my hair isn't thick as it would be if I had more melanin, but it's thick as in at least not thin.
    Since I've had it blonde for a while, as well as not cutting it, also add depression and the resulting vitamin deficiencies+less time grooming and more time spent in bed, my hair is the crappiest condition I can remember it ever being. I don't have split ends or anything - never had, but the top layer is frizzy and I'd like my natural water resistance back. Now it just kind of gets really mushy and damp. And frizzy. I never had a problem with frizz when I was younger.
    I'd like to grow it out or maybe perm it one day.

    Will I be able to get there on protein powder + gelatin?

    (Given that I've taken care of my vitamin deficiency and groom in whichever way would be best for my hair)

    Thank you so much for this post and thanks to everyone who commented or comments on this!

    1. Hello,
      Most protein powders made for food will be too large in protein molecules to be very beneficial to hair. Sometimes they will have amino acids that can be hydrating, but otherwise it is not the same. The protein needs to be hydrolyzed.
      You are right - those protein powders could be very difficult to rinse out completely.
      The gelatin protein treatment recipe on this blog is a good recipe for hair that does well with protein. I often use it without heat. If I want to use heat, I cover it with plastic and let the warm shower water run over it. I don't advocate using lots of heat for hair treatments. Body-temperature or slightly warmer is warm enough. The recipe for gelatin is the first recipe printed out on this page:

      Flat beer will also be an effective protein treatment.

      You may need to use some oils too, fro example olive or avocado or coconut oil as treatments before washing:
      Good luck! W

  18. Hello!
    You are a Goddess- one of the few blogs that goes microscopic on the hair, and Ive been able to learn so much from you!

    I do have a question though; It seems like I have low porosity hair thats fine (people continuously comment that my hair is soft, which is ironic because I was HORRIBLE at taking care of it). Now that I am on my natural journey, I have used many conditioners and many products, period - jojoba/argan oil, lightweight gel, deep conditioning, sulfate-free shampoos, etc.etc. However, I do realize that my hair loses volume and feels very bland (ie. there are some curl action going on, but after day two, it flattens so fast and its just a poofball!). I was considering using protein into my deep conditioners, however, I have been told by a stylest that my hair seems to be protein sensitive! I am worried that if I bother using protein that my hair will hate it and make it even harder to take care of. Is it also be possible to over-condition low porous hair?

    I know this isn't much to base off of, but I was wondering if it would be okay to try a deep conditioner with protein? Could it also be possible that it might be my hair trying to adjust (ie. I had prior heat damage from constant straightening of my hair and matting, I have some "blunt" ends). Any advice would do, thank you very much! :)

    1. Hello Eliza,
      Your hair is the best judge of whether it will tolerate protein or not. There are so many elements that figure in to how your hair responds to protein - your hair's width and density (low-density hair sometimes can handle more protein than high-density hair), the protein source, and how long you leave the product in your hair.
      To test out protein, you might try a product with amino acids or Hydrolyzed silk or Hydrolyzed keratin. Those are smaller proteins and less likely to create stiffness, dryness or brittle hair (signs of having used too much protein, or the wrong type of protein).
      When you use protein, start off leaving it on your hair for only a few minutes.
      We make the effects of any protein-containing product less intense when we leave it on for less time and with no heat. We intensify the effect of protein when we leave protein-containing products on for longer time and with heat. So use the "less intense" method - less time, no heat at first- to test your hair's response to protein.

      If your hair is okay with that - increase the time the protein is in your hair, add some gentle heat and see what happens, or try larger proteins like collagen or oat. If you get a stiff or dry-feeling result, use lots of conditioner and stay away from protein for a while until your hair feels normal again.

      Always pair protein with emollients. That might be using a deep conditioner with protein in it, or it might be using a deep conditioner after you use a protein treatment. Protein provides support and strength and hydration. Emollients like oils and conditioners provide softness and extra flexibility. Balance out support with softness to avoid unwanted side effects.

      It *is* possible to over-condition low porosity hair! It might end up overly soft and limp. Or it might just feel like you have residue in your hair, or overly slick. Humectants are great for low porosity hair to add hydration without adding a lot of weight. Look for products with plenty of humectants for rinse-out conditioners and leave-in products to help hair stay hydrated.

      Best wishes! W

  19. Hello!!!

    I am low porosity too as Eliza =) I am in love with your blog. I has been helping me a lot!! CONGRATS for the awesome blog!!

    My question is like Eliza question, I tried the Maximum Hydration Method, and it says that you shouldnt use Protein, because it causes build-up on kind of hair.

    So, if Protein makes film on our hair, Is it going be able to absorve moisture after?

    1. Hello daniaprincipal,
      Hydrolyzed proteins can do 2 things. They can penetrate into the hair if they're small enough molecules (amino acids, hydrolyzed silk and keratin) and they can form clear, flexible, water-hugging films over hair. Most hydrolyzed proteins bond to the hair temporarily too - so they're not rinsed right off when you rinse out a conditioner with protein.
      They don't exactly build up on hair - but if hair is coarse or has a more rigid or wiry feel, it tends to be much less tolerant of protein and you can only use a little protein now and then.
      Using protein takes some finesse. Smaller proteins are less likely to cause stiff/dry/brittle side effects. Larger proteins are more likely to do that - if they are over-used. Some people with silky, flexible fine hair can use protein frequently. Others with coarse or less-flexible hair might use protein only every 1-2 months, or when nothing else seems to be working. So it's not really "avoid all the time" with protein, it's more like, "Use it when your hair needs it."
      If you have a product with protein, like a reconstructor or conditioner or mask that you really like - you should be able to use it as often as it gives you a good result. If you use it too soon for your hair, you won't get the same good result and that may be a cue that you used it too soon - or something else has changed.
      If you use protein, it's always a good idea to follow it up with an intense conditioner or a deep conditioning to make sure you have enough softness and flexibility. The protein absolutely will not prevent your hair from absorbing moisture. Totally the opposite! Protein is a humectant and helps hair retain moisture. We just have to be careful how and when we use it. Best wishes! W

  20. This is such a great article! So I started using henna as a protein treatment but my hair used to be a little bit hard when I first started doing it. Now it's just soft and I can't tell if its from over doing the protein treatments. My hair used to feel thick and even my curls were very springy. Now it just feels like mush. Also I've done the hydrolyzed wheat protein but it always has to get combined with a conditioner for example I may use Irish moss. I just want to get my hair back to the way it used to be. What can I do?

    1. Hello Adenike,
      Henna is not a protein treatment, but henna can change how hair reacts to protein. Henna usually makes hair less tolerant of protein. If you want to focus on protein, avoid henna for a little while. If your hair is getting overly soft with Hydrolyzed wheat protein, then you may be using protein too often.
      If you're using henna mixed with a lot of conditioner for your henna treatments, that conditioner might be over-softening your hair and you may need to use less conditioner.
      Irish moss is a nice humectant and even can be used as a light-hold styling gel.
      It sounds like you may be over-treating your hair in general. Give it a break from extra treatments. Wash and condition and style as usual and don't use any sort of henna or protein until it starts to look and feel like it really needs something extra. And then don't use any henna or protein *again* until whatever benefit you got from the last use of henna or protein has faded. Good luck! W

    2. Ahhh I see thank you so much! So I've been doing the max hydration method for about a couple of years. Should I just continue to do it as in just the clay wash with no conditioner just oils or stop it all together? It's the only way I can keep my psoriasis or flakes at bay.

    3. Okay, I understand more now. It's worth a try just using the clay wash and skipping the baking soda step if you can. For sorting out what is making your hair feel "like mush," you can avoid conditioner and just use oil, but that may not be ideal for the long term. Conditioner adds weight and softness which is nice.
      First you might avoid protein for a while, and do everything else as usual (not using henna either). Then you might try adding a little protein, but only leaving it on (with conditioner) for 5 or 10 minutes, but not longer. And not every wash day. See what happens.
      If you want to add the henna back in, don't use protein too until you're sure how the henna will behave.
      In other words - try only one thing at a time, and give it 2-3 wash-days so you can make observations and draw some conclusions.
      If you use henna gloss treatments - those are potentially less stiffening or overwhelming than henna paste, but I think I would still separate protein use and henna use just to keep those two separate for making observations. Best wishes. W

  21. Thank you so much for this information!

  22. I have recently run across some products containing AMP-Isostearoyl Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein (Oribe Superfine Hair Spray and Oribe Dry Texturizing Spray). I generally avoid proteins because my hair is sensitive to them (I have very fine, low-porosity hair). Someone told me on a curly hair discussion board that this particular protein has been modified so much that it no longer acts like a protein. Is this true? I am especially sensitive to wheat protein (it makes my hair straigher), so I am being very cautious.

    Thank you for all your work!

    1. This protein is modified, it is a, "Fatty acid condensate of wheat protein neutralized with AMP and is anionic in nature." It forms films over hair for conditioning. This modification helps the protein be included in an alcohol based product. It may act a little bit like protein, but in the raw ingredient itself, the actual % of protein is lower because it's not all protein. And the amount of this ingredient in the product may be quite low.
      If wheat protein is in every single problem-product you have used, you might avoid it here as well. The ingredient should retain some of the qualities of ordinary Hydrolyzed wheat protein.

    2. Hi Wendy!

      In this post you say any protein smaller than 250 daltons can penetrate the hair but in the 'Mysteries of Hydrolyzed Proteins' post you say: "very small molecules (200 to 500 daltons) can penetrate the hair beyond the cuticle."

      So I just wanted to double check with you and see which is more up to date.

      If you happen to have a source for either of those claims I'd really love up share this with the Haircarescience reddit community, with your permission of course. We're huge fans of you over there!

    3. Hi Adelaide - Thanks for keeping me on my toes! There is a 500 dalton rule-of-thumb for skin and hair penetration. I should make those 2 posts have the same information. The smaller the molecule, the quicker/easier the penetration.
      I post my sources in small font at the bottom of the page. If I update a page, sometimes it gets very small because of how old some of these posts are. I'll copy it here for you:
      Hair and Hair Care. Johnson, D. 1997
      Chemical and Physical Behavior of Human Hair. Robbins. 1994, 3rd Ed.
      Information provided about ingredients (molecular weight, contents) from ingredient manufacturers and suppliers.

  23. Thank you so much for such an informative blog. I'm not sure if this is the right thread to ask my question. Here it is.
    My daughter has 2c/d type hair, with tight coil in front and loose curls at the back. I used to think she had high porosity hair,based on a test I had done,but I am not sure anymore, as I did another test, a month ago, on freshly shampood hair and it took over an hour for the hair strands to sink! I repeated the test to be sure.
    Anyway, my question is about proteins. About a year ago my daughter had a 'Brazillian treatment' done at a hair salon (without our permission),and her hair was flat ironed and curled. The damage to her hair was almost immidiate . She lost ALL of her curl pattern,hair was always dry and brittle, felt like straw even on washday. Hair wouldn't accept any hydration or moisturiser and broke off by the handfulls. Didn't need to be towel dried after washing as it would just be dry on its own. It had an obviosus film coating the strands, that could be seen by the naked eyes. It was also ALWAYS a tangled mess. I started looking for a a solution to remove this treatment after about 3 months, and I read about using salt. I did a few salt washes and I started to see less of the 'film'and less breakage and a little bit of the curl pattern returning. But its been a year now,and her hair has never been the same. There is very little curl, even the new growth doesn't have her old curl pattern. Her hair is always dry. We wash and do moisture condition every week or two. I'm not sure if we shouldbe using a protein condotioner to revive the hair? Is her curl pattern lost forever? Do you have any suggestions? Should we use protein or stay away from it?
    Kind regards

    1. Hello Zikhona, this response is much delayed - such a busy summer! I have actually seen hair damaged in this way, so I understand what you are describing. There is some chemical-induced swelling in the hair during a Brazilian Keratin treatment. That allows more protein to enter the hair shaft (during the treatment), and also increases porosity and weakens the hair's own proteins. The heat-damage from the treatment can further damage hair's own proteins. That damage can be permanent because protein breaks down a little when heated to high heat and when chemically treated. Despite behaving like low-porosity hair, sometimes damaged hair is porous and needs extra care, but you have to use a light touch and watch out for bad reactions to ingredients.
      The new growth may not be able to display the normal curl pattern because the damaged hair is behaving differently. Like if you took a telephone cord (I sure hope people know what I'm talking about, there!) and un-twist one end of it - the other end will lose its proper coil too.
      I think you could use a little protein to help add hydration. Maybe in a rinse-out conditioner, where the protein won't be overly concentrated. Or a treatment like Aphogee 2 Minute Reconstructor with smallish proteins. You don't want to overwhelm the hair with protein, just give it a nudge and see how it responds. And then don't use it again until it appears to need it.
      Are you doing any oil treatments before washing? Those can go a long way towards adding flexibility to help with curl pattern and help hair maintain hydration throughout washing. Hair that is damaged can be very picky about which oil it's going to work well with, my first choice is usually sunflower oil rather than coconut oil. I have some tips here for how to get the most out of those:
      That's another thing to look out for - oils not getting along with the hair. Any oil one's hair doesn't "get along" well with can cause curl pattern to behave differently. Sometimes ingredients like aloe will do the same thing. It might be worth going through ingredient lists and trying to limit different oils and see if her hair has a preference or a "problem-oil." I hope that helps! Good luck - W

  24. What is the difference (both effect and science based) between hydrolyzed versus hydrogenated. In particular hydrolyzed rice protein versus hydrogenated vegetable protein.

    1. Hello Ashley, Hydrolyzed means an ingredient has been broken down using acid or alkaline or enzymatic "digestion" to make smaller parts. So whole proteins are broken down into smaller proteins which interact with the hair in different ways. Hydrogenation is a process (using hydrogen) to transform - usually oily ingredients - into a slightly different from. For example, when liquid vegetable oil is hydrogenated, you have a semi-solid, opaque fat. Hydrogenating plant proteins has the effect of chemically changing their amino acids, in some cases altering their solubility.
      A hydrolyzed protein like rice will bond to damaged areas in hair a little - and proteins tend to hold on to moisture quite well, if there are some amino acids free in the hydrolyzed rice protein additive, those will penetrate into the interior of the hair to retain moisture inside the hair shaft.
      I'm not sure that hydrogenated vegetable proteins are used in cosmetics - I would be interested to know what product has this in the ingredients. A Hydrogenated vegetable oil in a product would have 2 goals, one would be to act as an emollient to soften and provide flexibility. The other goal would be to give the product a nice texture in the hand and in the hair. I hope that helps!

  25. Thank you so very much for the reply! I really really really appreciate it. It's been an uphill battle.
    A quick question: if we assume permanent damagen and We chop off the older damaged hair and leave newer growth only (telephone cord analogy), could that reverse the damage? Even hypotheticaly?
    Yes, we do oil pree poo. Her hair has always loved Argan oil and that would give her the softest, bounciest hair with beautiful curls. We've started again with oil pre poo and I make a simple mix of Argan Oil, Baobab oil, Red palm oil and a few drops of cape chamomile, peppermeint and lavender essential oils.

    I have hydrolised oat protein and rice protein that are often used in hair and body care formulations. What would be tge best way to use those? After conditioning or mixed in a conditioner?

    Thanks again.

    1. I always say - don't cut off the damaged hair until you've given it a really serious try for at least several weeks. Not unless you're ready to cut it shorter, anyhow.
      Elasticity is one very important thing which you can change by working on increasing hydration. Protein can be very helpful for hydration (elasticity) and also support and bounce. Your Hydrolyzed oat protein is probably anywhere from 75% to 50% protein, which is concentrated. I'd start with the oat protein instead of rice because it contains plenty of several amino acids that are already present in the hair's cuticle - so we know they are good at preserving hydration. You might try mixing it into a conditioner first to see how her hair responds. If you want to weigh it out, use about 1% protein - which is enough to be noticeable, but not especially concentrated. Otherwise, add about 2-3 drops per tablespoon of conditioner.
      If you don't see much of a result from that, you might mix the oat protein in a spray bottle with water (maybe 1 part protein, 3 parts water) and spray that on her hair after washing and before conditioning. That would be a concentrated protein treatment. And some hair actually responds better to protein alone vs. protein in a conditioner. This particular treatment would not be an "every wash day" thing because it is quite concentrated. I hope that helps! Best wishes - W

  26. My hair is low porous acc to porosity hair as it didn't sink in for a while nd is extremely brittle coarse dry frizzy kinky and tangy..someone asked me to use egg white bt it's nt responding seems rough stiff nd more i need protein? (Of egg white as such)..should o try nd use it with conditioner? Or should i avoid using it

  27. Hey! I wanted to know what decided if a protien will penetrate a hair or not? Is it the size of the protien or is it the porosity( more gaps in the hair).

    1. Hello - The answer to that question is: Both. The proteins with smallest molecular weight and size can penetrate into hair cortex or center better - that applies (in concept) to porous/damaged hair and lower porosity hair. But more-porous hair gives proteins greater access to areas under the cuticle, as well as having more locations for charged proteins to bind temporarily to form a water-hugging "film" around the hairs. Best wishes - W

  28. In table of amino acids, Collagen has molecular weight is medium to hight. I search on Google, this is true. But in footer of article, you write: "small to medium size and substantive. Collagen amino acids are smaller still". I do not understand at that. Can you explain, please?