If you master one thing while following the curly girl method, let it be the basics of protein v.s. moisture! Let’s break down some of the science behind the importance of both protein and moisture, and of course how to spot the signs of which one your hair needs!
Why is moisture so important for the hair?
Well, the simplest answer is the human body needs water to survive. Our hair is very similar to a plant, it is fragile, takes time to grow and thrive, and most importantly it needs water on a daily basis! The human body can go three days without water in the event of a disaster, but let me tell you, your hair will not be as resilient to survive (I mean technically it’s already dead… lol see what I did there?). Your hair requires some source of water every single day. It can be either wetting it with water from a florisol or spray bottle, drinking your 8-10 glasses of water a day, and/or using steam for your hair every single day.
Without adequate moisture, the scalp begins to tighten up and starts causing excess flaking and dandruff. If the scalp is not healthy then it cannot be a hospitable environment for new hair growth. The remaining hair on your head begins to dry out and weaken, this will eventually lead to breakage. This will make it new hair growth and length retention nearly impossible. So before investing in hair growth vitamins, take a look at your water intake and your moisturizing schedule. Sometimes the smallest change in our regimes make the most impactful changes.
Why is protein so important for the hair?
Ah, the age-old question. Another simple answer, without protein there is no hair. Hair is approximately 90 percent protein (Milady). Meaning the overwhelming majority is made of protein. Hair encounters damage on a daily basis from simple manipulation like tight styles and brushing your hair. You even encounter damage from the sun, as the canopy of your hair (top layer) is subjected to the sun, the canopy can become more dry and porous than the underlayer of your hair. Not to mention self-inflicted damage like:
Therefore we need a steady protein source in your hair regimes. While the best way to acquire your protein is through your diet, you will have to supplement protein treatments into your hair regime anyway. The reason is most protein treatments help repair the cuticle. Most protein treatments don’t penetrate the cortex(the innermost layer of your hair) of your hair, they simply sit on the surface of the cuticle(outermost layer of the hair) and fix the surface of the hair strand. The only problem with this method is you need protein to penetrate the cortex because you need to strengthen the hair from within. The best form of protein (in my humble opinion) is amino acids. Amino acids are broken down protein building blocks. They are much smaller in weight and size which helps penetrate the cortex, strengthen and condition from within for increased elasticity (stretch) and strength.
If you would like to read more on the subject of protein, along with how to spot them on labels and how I use amino acids in my hair regime, click here for our Protein 101 article.
What is so important about striking and keeping the protein vs. moisture balance?
Like anything in life, too much of a good thing can prove to be disastrous. Like that time I ate a bunch of oatmeal creme pies while my parents weren’t home and got so sick off of them, I have never eaten one since. Lord…what was I thinking?
Too much moisture can lead to hair that is just too soft and undefined to really take your curl’s original shape. Over-moisturizing your hair is known as Hygral Fatigue.
Too much protein can lead to hair being too rough, stiff, and frizzy. Using too much protein in your hair is known as protein overload. Remember, your hair is made up of approximately 90% protein, so unless your hair is seriously chemically fried, you shouldn’t be using such intensive protein treatments so often.
After a few attempts at experimenting, you will eventually find the perfect balance of moisture and protein your hair best responds to. It’s important to keep some type of record whether it be on the notes section of your phone or an actual notebook like me. Make sure to keep track of what products you are using, when’s the last time you moisturized your hair (a.k.a deep conditioning, refreshing, etc). Keeping a log helps keep track if you are overdoing it. I found this was the easiest way to prevent hygral fatigue and protein overload throughout my journey.
When you have achieved the perfect balance of Moisture VS Protein, your hair will absolutely show you. You will notice some signs.
Signs your hair is balanced:
- Increased and stable curl definition
- Less or no frizz
- Natural Shine
- Increased elasticity(stretch) without losing the shape of the curl
- When hair is stretched (wet or dry) the curl stretches and returns back to its original curl
How do I test my hair to see what it needs?
There is no set right and wrong way to check your hair for what it is lacking. When I was learning at the beginning of my journey I would memorize the characteristics I have listed below for you to try and figure my hair out that way. Many times it was more accurate than set tests.
One test that was pretty accurate for me was the elasticity test.
The elasticity test is a quick test you can do to your hair by yourself to see how your hair reacts to being stretched. This will help you determine what kind of treatment your hair currently needs.
Now that you know why finding that perfect protein vs. moisture balance is so important and how to test your hair, let’s get into the signs that your hair needs protein, or, moisture, or both.
Signs your hair needs protein:
- Fine or thin hair
- hair looks limp
- extremely soft (more than normal) feeling mushy
- hair feels like cotton candy
- undefined or lackluster curls
- hair feels gummy
- hair stretches but doesn’t return to its original shape
- hair immediately breaks off when you try to stretch it (wet or dry)
- excessive breakage
- hair looks stringy
- hair feels sticky
If your hair feels like any of the above or you have not done a protein treatment in the last 4-6 weeks. This means your hair needs protein for structure. Too much moisture with no structure and strengthen in the hair (which is provided by protein) will result in limp and lifeless hair.
Signs your hair needs moisture:
- hair is dry
- hair is brittle
- hair is rough
- when stretched (wet or dry) hair stretches a bit but doesn’t return to its normal curl
- excessive shedding
- excessive breakage
- hair is weak
- hair experiences a lot of tangles
Signs your hair needs BOTH protein and moisture:
- limp, lifeless, stringy curls
- undefined curls
- overly stretched hair
- excessive frizzy (example: halo frizz)
- hair feels weak
- hair feels dry and rough
- hair experiences excessive breakage
- Curl definition and your routine seems “out of whack”
When in doubt of whether or not your hair needs protein or moisture, a general rule of thumb is always try moisture. More often than not, since naturally textured (wavy, curly, coily, kinky) hair is dry. The reason is, our scalp produces natural oils called sebum. The sebum produced is meant to naturally condition and moisturize not only the scalp but the hair strands. Normally for people with straight hair, the sebum has no obstacles to get through. The sebum quickly spreads across the scalp and down the hair strands. Naturally, textured hair has a lot of ridges and waves in the patterns so it’s literally a lot of twists and turns to get around before finally reaching the ends. Often the sebum never gets down to the ends in time, so the hair dries out becoming frizzy, in extreme cases even breaking off.
Since naturally textured hair is dry, we need to constantly supplement the moisture we do not get from our sebum. This is why it’s a good idea to use some kind of moisturizer(water, leave in, aloe vera, etc) on hair every single day, at the very least on the ends to keep them moisturized and preventing them from drying out and breaking off.
One of my favorite tricks is using Jojoba Oil to help “seal” my hair and prevent the moisture from quickly releasing from my high porosity hair. Using moisturizing oils in treatments such as pre-poo and hot oil treatments help keep the hair moisturized as well. If you would like more information on oils, check out our Moisturizing V.S. Sealing Oils article.
Another great trick I use to keep my protein/moisture balance is using deep conditioners with both protein and moisture in it. By nature, deep conditioners are formulated with oils and other ingredients that will deeply penetrate the hair (down to the cortex), which means it will help repair, strengthen, and moisturize from within. Most conditioners simply moisturize the surface of the hair strand (known as the cuticle) to help prevent frizz. The easiest way to make sure your hair has enough of both is using both protein and moisture in your deep conditioning treatments. There are a few ways you can do this:
- Using deep conditioners that contain protein and moisture in it such as Alodia Haircare Nourish & Hydrate Deep Conditioning Masque or Mielle Organics Babassu Oil & Mint Deep Conditioner,
- You can add amino acids to your deep conditioner of choice to make it a DIY gentle protein treatment that can be done weekly
That’s about it for this little breakdown. Remember to keep it simple, or try some of the suggestions in this article. I have tried all these suggestions and products and they have always served me well along my journey and I am hoping they serve you along your journey as well!
If you ever find yourself in the realm of protein overload you can check out the protein 101 article (already hyperlinked in this article) for instructions on how to reverse it.
If you are currently enjoying the perks of balanced hair and want to continue along that path, avoiding these messy problems, try using styling products with protein to keep that balance.
That is it, Queens! Yes, this experimental part of your journey will take a while to master but once you do picking products and regimes will be a piece-of-cake for you.
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Dias, Maria Fernanda Reis Gavazzoni. “Hair Cosmetics: An Overview.” International Journal of Trichology (2015): 2-15. Document.
Milady. “Properties of the Hair and Scalp.” Milady. Milady Standard Cosmetology. Boston: CENGAGE LEARNING, 2012. 220-232.