Bottom line: healthy locks require two things, moisture and protein for hair. Some products provide moisture exclusively, while others offer protein. Knowing what your natural hair needs—a hair protein treatment or a moisture treatment—is paramount to healthy-looking and lively curls and coils. Ahead, discover the 411 on the difference between moisture and protein, how to tell when your hair needs protein, and all the benefits and ways protein positively impacts the hair.
What Does Protein Do For Hair?In case you need a quick refresher, amino acids are organic compounds that form together to make protein. These are the building blocks of your hair, responsible for the strength and structure of your curls and coils. If these amino acids are compromised, the protein in hair can become altered—leading to brittle and fragile natural hair.
If you notice your hair has become stringy, limp, or sticky, you could be lacking protein. Luckily, there are tons of great hair protein treatments, like the Almond Milk Leave-In Conditioner, that will work to restore extremely damaged and over-processed hair; or Monoi Repairing Leave-In Conditioner, which is formulated with proteins to add shine, softness, and manageability to your hair.
Both natural hair products and hair protein treatments in general will boost the nutrients and proteins in hair to assist in reconstructing and strengthening natural hair strands. With protein-packed strands, your hair will maintain its most optimal state.
How Do I Know If I Need Moisture or Protein?Determining whether hair needs moisture or protein is the difference between good hair and scalp health, and damaged, dry hair. Not to get too scientific, but the protein and moisture vary at the atomic level. Each strand is held by a disulfide bond. Proteins will reinforce these bonds, making hair stronger and creating less opportunity for hair damage. While moisture hydrates the bonds and impacts the overall look and feel of your hair.
So how can you tell if you need moisture or protein? The simplest option is to take a wet or dry strand of hair and gently stretch it. If it barely stretches and snaps, you need more moisture and might have too much protein. Also, if you brush your hair and strands fall out, you need protein. Equally, if your strands feel dry, you are likely lacking moisture.
Moisture is needed for removing brittleness from your hair and increasing elasticity to help prevent hair damage. Moisture treatments hydrate and restore the softness and smoothness back to the hair. If your hair is feeling rough and you’ve been overusing relaxers, highlights, or heat tools, you are most likely dealing with moisture loss. Here you will see dry, easily tangled, weak curls and coils. Lack of shine and inability to hold heat is also a red flag and a sign of dehydrated hair. For moisture-lacking hair, develop a regular hair care routine (pre-shampoo conditioning treatment twice a week or deep condition once a week) to draw moisture into the hair shaft. This will help with bounce and strength.
You will need protein in hair if your hair is porous, limp, has low elasticity, is shedding, or has been recently colored. High porous strands have tears and gaps in the hair, exposing the cortex (outer layer) to environmental stressors. Unfortunately, this causes the hair to absorb and release moisture faster than normal—producing tangled and frizzy strands. In order to seal the gaps and tears, you will need a hair protein treatment to strengthen your strands.
If you notice hair is limp and stringy, without bounce, you could have a protein deficiency. By increasing your protein intake, you will boost elasticity—creating bouncier, fuller hair that is easier to style for your hair care routine.
Additionally, hair color and chemical straightening treatments alter the bonds of the hair, leading to breakage. The chemicals in these processes will elevate the pH of the hair and cause the cuticles to rise. If cuticles are raised, the cortex of the hair becomes more exposed and has a greater susceptibility to protein and hair moisture loss. Hair color can also change the texture of your hair. If you enjoy coloring your hair, make sure you get a natural hair protein treatment prior to the color application to ensure strands stay strong during the chemical process.
How Do I Know If My Hair Has Protein Overload?Too much of a good thing, can, in fact, be bad in the case of protein for hair. Too much protein will rob the hair of the elasticity needed to manipulate hair without causing breakage.
And we get it. If you aren’t happy with the state of your hair, you might receive peace of mind by adding in natural hair protein treatments or hair moisturizers. But layering more products on already weak hair will weigh it down and make it even more fragile, potentially leading you to wonder: Can too much protein make your hair fall out? Not necessarily, but over time, protein overload can lead to the thinning of hair with see-through ends.
Luckily, if you are experiencing protein overload, it should just be temporary and will clear up as soon as the product is completely washed out.
How Often Should I Use a Protein Treatment?Essentially, the healthier your cuticle and cortex is, the more resilient your hair will be from daily styling, heat, and environmental stressors. Protein treatments are a great way to ensure this and reinforce strength into the hair.
Natural hair care products, like Hair Milk Refresher Spray, packed with sunflower seed extract oil and protein vitamin B5, help maintain shine and block out some of the environmental stressors. As protein treatments help the manageability of the hair, we recommend using curly hair products, like Sacred Tiare 4-in-1 Combing Creme, when styling as it will instantly fortify and smooth frizz, while deeply moisturizing and enhancing shine. Bonus tip: after doing a protein treatment, follow up with a moisturizing conditioner like Almond Milk Restoring Conditioner, which contains shea butter and vegetable protein, to balance out the moisture and protein ratio.
Incorporating protein for hair in your curly hair care will help reinforce hair fibers by making them strong against breakage. Depending on the state of your hair, you can do weekly protein treatments for preventative maintenance.
Now that you know when your hair needs protein and how often to do it, read more on managing split ends and damaged hair.