How did your hair feel on your last wash day?
Did it feel brittle? Was it snapping off? Had it lost its elasticity? If you answered yes to any of these questions, chances are, you might need a protein treatment.
Natural hair is primarily made up of protein filaments called keratin. And just like the body, your hair needs protein in order to stay healthy.
A well-balanced diet can help maintain an appropriate protein level, which supports length retention and hair growth. However, excessive styling, over manipulation, and color treatments can lead to a breakdown of the hair’s protein layer over time.
“Protein treatments help to prevent breakage and reinforce the structure of the hair strand by filling in weak and damaged areas of the outer layer, known as the cuticle," says Dr. Kari Williams, trichologist, celebrity hairstylist and brand expert for DevaCurl. "The treatment reinforces this protective layer, making the hair strand strong, so it looks and feels healthier.”
Find out everything you need to know about protein treatments for natural hair, plus the best products to buy for your next wash day, ahead.
How Do You Know if Your Hair Needs a Protein Treatment?
If you are experiencing consistent breakage, if your hair feels too soft or mushy, and if you try to stretch your hair while wet (or dry) and it doesn’t return to its natural state or curl pattern, your hair needs protein.
“The best example is a spaghetti noodle,” says Jamila Powell, owner of Maggie Rose Salon and founder of Naturally Drenched haircare. “When you cook pasta al dente, it is perfect, firm yet edible. When you overcook pasta, it becomes limp and loses its elasticity. Hair has a similar concept; if you are experiencing a loss of elasticity, and your hair is limp, a protein treatment might be in order. In addition, color is another reason to add protein to your washday mix. The chemical color process can cause the hair to become porous. Adding protein helps maintain healthy hair strands.”
How Often Should You Use a Protein Treatment?
The condition of your hair is a prime factor that can help you determine how often you should do a protein treatment.
“If your hair is chemically processed (relaxer, texturizer, color) or heat-styled regularly, using a protein treatment once every four to six weeks can restore and revitalize weak or brittle hair strands,” says Dr. Williams. “Some protein treatments are stronger than others, so be sure to discuss with your hairstylist which treatment will work best for your hair. If your hair is not damaged or chemically processed, incorporating a mild protein treatment into your hair care regimen every six to eight weeks will keep the hair strong.”
Can You Give Your Hair Too Much Protein?
If you have identified that your hair needs protein, you might be wondering how much protein your hair actually needs.
“It’s very important to take time to learn your hair before choosing which protein treatment to use,” says Stacey Ciceron, celebrity hairstylist and textured hair coach. “There is such a thing as too much protein, it’s not just one of those things you use because you feel like it. Excessive use of protein treatments on fine and low porosity hair can cause the hair to feel rough and brittle, which eventually leads to breakage.”
It is also important to look at the ingredients in other products you are using, if you are using daily hair care products that contain protein, and doing protein treatments, you could be overloading your hair, which can also lead to breakage.
“If your hair has too much protein, temporarily discontinue the use of protein treatments and focus on using hydrating and moisturizing deep conditioners that are filled with emollients, these will help soften the hair and restore its elasticity,” advises Dr. Williams. “Emollients are typically found in the form of oils and butters, such as argan oil, olive oil, jojoba oil, and shea butter.”
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Do Protein Treatments Differ From Other Hair Masks?
“Regular conditioning treatments and hair masks are formulated to replenish moisture in the hair strands, keeping them soft and improving the elasticity — they nourish dry, brittle hair strands,” says Dr. Williams. “Protein treatments strengthen the hair to prevent damage, but they will not moisturize the hair. Hair needs a balance of moisture and protein to stay healthy and retain length.”
Protein and moisturizing treatments work hand-in-hand. “A protein treatment followed with a good moisture conditioner or mask is always a must,” adds Powell.
If you are ready to add a protein treatment to your hair wash routine but are a little unsure which to try, here are a few favorites from our experts.
Aphogee Two-Step Protein Treatment
To shop: $26; sallybeauty.com
Aveda Damage Remedy Daily Hair Repair
To shop: $31; nordstrom.com
Briogeo Don’t Despair, Repair! Deep Conditioning Hair Mask
To shop: $36; sephora.com
DevaCurl Deep Sea Repair Seaweed Strengthening Mask
To shop: $36; sephora.com
Miss Jessie’s Rapid Recovery Treatment
To shop: $14; target.com
ORS HAIRestore Hair Mayonnaise with Nettle Leaf and Horsetail Extract
To shop: $11; walmart.com
SheaMoisture Manuka Honey and Yogurt Hydrate + Repair Protein Power Treatment
To shop: $12; target.com
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