There’s great debate scurrying around the hair community about the use of protein on the hair. Naturals who have difficulty with hair breakage or brittle hair will often blame it on the use of protein in hair products. It’s been termed protein sensitivity. I don’t usually write exhaustively long posts but protein has received a bad rap and it’s time to clear it up.
Overview of The Basic Structure of Hair
Hair is composed of approximately 91% protein made up of long chains of amino acids. As the cells in your hair mature, they fill up with a fibrous protein called keratin. Keratin that is found in hair is an insoluble protein called “hard” keratin because it doesn’t dissolve in water and is very resilient.
Since your hair is predominantly structured of protein, it makes sense that if your hair became protein deficient at any point in time, only a protein treatment could help remedy the problem – if even temporarily.
The Role of Protein
Protein conditioners have one job and one job only – To Strengthen Your Hair through temporary reconstruction. When used properly, the protein molecules in a deep conditioner will bond to the hair and strengthen it. Will it feel hard? Yes. Is it supposed to? Yes. How you treat your hair after a protein treatment is just as important, if not more as for how you apply it.
How to Properly Protein Treat Your Hair
Protein should ONLY be part of a deep conditioning treatment that you use to strengthen your hair. Leave In Conditioners, Serums, Curl Enhancers etc, should NOT contain protein. Why? Because protein should only be used with heat as part of a treatment to strengthen the hair.
When you deep condition your hair after washing it, heat is used to swell the hair follicles open, at which time the protein molecules can bond within the hair shaft. Hair product manufacturers have added protein to any and every product to convince you that the product will help you grow your hair (because after all, it contains super protein)
If you apply for a leave in or other “surface” treating the product with protein in it, your hair will feel hard and brittle. The brittle, hard hair is then susceptible to additional hair breakage – defeating the purpose of using protein in the first place.
And…wait for it…It-Will-Stay-That-Way causing you to have what you think is ”protein sensitivity” until you wash and use a moisturizing conditioner to soften it. That’s because the application of the products containing protein (other than a deep conditioner) sits right on top of your hair shaft.
Now, that you clearly understand the role of protein, here are some tips to make sure you apply a protein conditioner properly:
- After washing, detangling, towel (or t-shirt, paper towel etc) drying and sectioning your hair, apply a protein based conditioner.
- Be careful not to over manipulate the hair. Do not comb or brush the conditioner into your hair. Only use your hands – carefully.
- Cover hair with a plastic cap (unless the instructions state otherwise. Ex: Aphogee) and sit under a dryer for 30 minutes minimum
- Rinse hair thoroughly with warm water, allowing the shower head to do most of the work.
- Next and Most Important: Apply a moisturizing softening conditioner that’s protein free to your hair and allow it to sit on the hair for 15 minutes (You can finish your shower ritual during this time). This will balance your hair’s protein with moisture. It needs both.
- Rinse hair with cool water.
- Apply a protein-free leave in conditioner that will pH balance your hair followed by any styling cream as final steps
After applying a moisturizing conditioner that softens, you’ll find that previously strawlike hair is now softened, more pliable and ready for styling. Only after applying the moisturizing conditioner should you begin to manipulate your hair.
It’s also not necessary to do a protein conditioning treatment every time you wash your hair UNLESS you are constantly redamaging it with the use of chemicals, brushes or heat stylers. Otherwise, once a month at minimum is sufficient for maintenance.
What Products Should You Use?
At the risk of being repetitive but necessarily so, protein-based conditioners should only be used as part of a deep treatment process requiring the use of heat. The only way to know for sure that you are not using other products containing protein is to read the ingredient labels.
DO NOT trust what the manufacturer says about their products. Product claims can run from over-exaggerate to downright outlandish. The ingredient label is what you need to give your full attention to.
By law, the manufacturer must disclose what formulates their products. However, the law does not address the fast and footloose way manufacturers dance within the shades of grey when “marketing” their products.
The two products that I’ve found to be very effective at strengthening the hair and putting an end to breakage are Aphogee and Jamaican Black Castor Oil Protein Conditioner. Apogee should be used as more of an emergency product when breakage has gotten out of control. JBCO Protein conditioner is a great maintenance product.
So, do I believe in protein sensitivity? That’s a negative. I believe that women needed to justify the hard and brittle condition they found their hair in after improperly using protein or using it too often.
Educating yourself about the products you are using is a very important step if your goal is to grow and maintain a healthy head of hair.
UPDATE: When I first wrote this article, I did so with the goal of exposing protein sensitivity as a myth. I did, however, neglect a few key points that I should have included:
- The higher the protein ingredient (hydrolyzed or otherwise) is on the list, the stronger the treatment will be.
- After a protein treatment, even though you’ve followed with a moisturizing deep conditioning, your hair will not feel as soft as you are used to. However, that will remedy itself in a few days once your protein/moisture balance is achieved. Just continue to moisturize your hair daily.