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How to Tell If Your Hair Is in Protein Overload

Too much of a good thing does exist.
15 Nov 2023

Is It Better to Brush Curly Hair Wet or Dry?
What are Protein Hair Treatments?
What Causes Protein Buildup in Hair?
What are the Signs Your Hair Has Too Much Protein?
How to Prevent Too Much Protein in Your Hair

When it comes to the health of natural hair, you’ll want to have more than a shampoo and conditioner in your hair care regimen. All curly hair routines deserve a little extra TLC with nourishing and curl-defining products as well as a deep conditioner and protein hair treatment. Focusing on the protein part of hair care, there seems to be some confusion around this item and whether or not curly and kinky hair types actually need it.

To cut to the chase, all hair types can benefit from using products with protein to promote stronger, healthier strands. However, like with most hair care products, too much protein can be a bad thing. You can (and should) have a protein treatment in your routine, just make sure you’re using it the right way. Here, we’re exploring what causes protein buildup and how to tell if your hair is dealing with protein overload, along with recommended products to add to your curly hair care regimen.

What are Protein Hair Treatments?

Protein treatments (along with other hair care products infused with proteins) are essential to help refresh damaged hair and promote healthier and stronger strands for hair growth. Hair is mainly made up of the protein keratin. Per a study published in Science Direct, when hair is damaged there is no way to add this specific type of protein back into the hair. If you’ve ever lightened or bleached hair, dyed it with demi-permanent or permanent color , or used a heating tool on your hair, then you have already damaged your hair and should consider adding a protein treatment to help restore your mane's shine, elasticity, and overall health.

Hair care products with ingredients like keratin and wheat protein serve a similar purpose to the natural protein found in hair. Protein treatments wrap around the exterior of the hair creating external strength to keep hair from getting damaged. This doesn’t mean you should saturate your strands daily with a protein treatment, in fact, it can lead to protein overload which can cause more harm than good.

What Causes Protein Buildup in Hair?

When you add an excessive amount of protein to your hair you’re creating an intense barrier on your strands. Protein buildup like this can be a real problem as water and other moisturizing ingredients aren’t able to penetrate the strand, leading to dry and dull hair that may feel limp and stiff.

The biggest culprit of protein buildup is overusing hair care products that contain protein and oversaturating strands with the products. If your shampoo, conditioner, and styling treatments all have protein in them you’re probably using too much. While these products can target damaged hair, using all of them at the same time can cause major protein overload, creating product buildup on the individual strand.

This doesn’t mean you should skip hair treatments altogether. Instead, use products in moderation and have a balance of protein and moisture to improve the condition of your hair. Whereas protein treatments strengthen hair to help reduce damage, deep conditioners add hydration and nourishment to the hair creating soft, defined curls and coils you’ll want.

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What are the Signs Your Hair Has Too Much Protein?

Protein overload can be tricky to spot since it mimics the look of damaged hair. One major sign is a change in the look and texture of your hair as it may start to look dry, dull, and brittle. Your hair may feel more coarse and struggle to hold a curl when dealing with protein overload. Too much protein may also cause split ends and breakage, leaving hair to shed more. If you’re noticing more strands than usual on your comb or brush, that could be a telltale sign of high protein hair.

The real struggle is trying to determine if you’re dealing with product overload or damaged hair from a chemical treatment or bad hair care practices. To figure this out use a protein treatment on your hair. If your strands still feel dry afterward, then you may be dealing with protein buildup. If your hair was experiencing damage the protein would add a boost of protection, and your curls would look slightly healthier. Limit the use of that product, opting for a moisturizing hair care item instead to treat dry hair (and buildup).

How to Prevent Too Much Protein in Your Hair

The best way to prevent protein overload is to use products with protein sparingly or as directed by the individual product. As a general rule, deep protein treatments are safe to use about once a month but can be used more frequently depending on the condition of your hair or at the direction of your hairstylist. If you’re unsure, try using protein treatments and products every four to six weeks and pay attention to how your hair reacts. Hair is a very personal thing in both style and texture, so what works for your specific curl type may not work for a different hair type.

Another way to prevent protein buildup is to keep hair balanced with a moisturizing treatment following a protein treatment. By adding a nourishing product like the Black Vanilla Moisture & Shine Hair Sheen
you’re allowing the moisture to penetrate the strands that may otherwise get flooded with protein as it settles on your hair.

You don’t have to be an expert or hair mixologist (if that’s even a thing) to create a hair regimen with protein. If you’re concerned about product buildup, use a dedicated hair set like the Goddess Strength Hair Care Gift Set-Shampoo and Hair Mask
which contain the nourishing Goddess Strength Fortifying Shampoo With Castor Oil
and wheat protein-infused Goddess Strength Cocoon Hydrating Hair Mask
for a more balanced start to your hair care routine.

How to Treat Hair Protein Buildup

If you got to this article too late and you’re currently dealing with protein buildup, don’t worry, there is a way to treat protein overload. There are actually a few ways to treat hair protein buildup, below find a few tips to recover your curls.

1. Change Your Wash Day Routine

One way to deal with buildup is to use a clarifying shampoo to gently cleanse hair and remove product overload without stripping strands of oils and moisture (that it desperately needs). We love Wash Day Delight Sulfate Free Shampoo for Curly Hair
which quickly and deeply cleanses hair of dirt, grime, and product buildup, leaving behind clean, soft, and moisturized hair (and scalp). Every few wash days, replace your regular curly hair shampoo with something clarifying and sulfate-free. Ideally, washing your hair with a clarifying shampoo should be done once a month to prevent product and protein buildup.

2. Moisturize, Moisturize, Moisturize

It’s essential to keep your hair moisturized. As we mentioned before, balance the protein in your hair with moisture to keep the protein from drying out your hair. Dry hair can lead to breakage and split ends, which in turn leads to dull, lifeless curls. Not only will water be your best friend, but you’ll also need curly hair products to help seal it in. Be sure to use curly hair conditioners like the Born to Repair Nourishing Conditioner
with Shea Butter. We like this product for its lightweight texture and nourishing ingredients of shea butter, Amazonian nut oil, and babassu oil that hydrate and detangle curls.

3. Avoid Protein Products

This is pretty self-explanatory, but just to confirm; put down any protein products for a while if you think you’ve overused the ingredient. When you’re ready to use them again, start adding a protein product slowly to see its effect on your hair. To start, opt for a lightweight styling product instead of a concentrated protein treatment.

Try the detangling Hair Milk 4-In-1 Combing Creme
which is infused with agave and keratin to help create a more moisturized, shiny, and manageable mane. Protein products can be great in moderation, but you want to use them sparingly to avoid overload. As with any hair treatment, consult with your hairstylist on whether or not you should continue using protein products.

4. Pivot Based on Environmental Changes

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been personally victimized by humidity and the dry heat of summer. I’m sure anyone with curly or coily hair types is shooting their hand in the air. That’s because hair health has everything to do with the environment as well as the products you put on your hair and the type of salon treatments you do.

Protect hair during summer months (or if you live in a constant dry climate) as protein overload can occur when hair gets dried out from environmental stressors like weather. Keep this in mind during hot temperatures to limit the amount of protein you add to hair, opting instead for a moisturizing and hydrating product.

Next Up: How to Know If Your Hair Needs Protein

  • Black Vanilla Moisture & Shine Hair Sheen
  • Goddess Strength Cocoon Hydrating Hair Mask
  • Hair Milk 4-In-1 Combing Creme
  • Monoi Repairing Leave-In Conditioner
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