Protein is a word often thrown around when discussing natural hair, we have all heard about it, but do we truly know the importance of protein? Let’s discuss together, shall we?
What is Protein?
Protein is an essential micro nutrient that aids in bodily processes such as hair growth. Protein is made of even smaller building blocks known as amino acids. Protein is found throughout the body; inside and out, whether it be your bones, muscles, skin, or hair. Fun Fact: According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Our body is made up of approximately 16% protein. Our hair strands are technically dead fibrous cells, so it makes sense, you need protein to maintain the structure.
Why Does Our Hair Need Protein?
The simplest answer? There is no hair without protein.
According to the Milady Cosmetology Textbook, Hair is made up of approximately 91% protein. Protein gives the hair structure, providing a physical space to absorb and retain moisture, color, etc.
Healthy hair requires a balance of protein and moisture. Too much of one good thing turns into a bad thing, keeping a nice balance of protein allows the moisture to bind to the hair strand more effectively which increases moisture retention levels. A steady routine involving protein prevents Hygral Fatigue (water damage to cuticle often do to over-moisturizing your hair).
Your diet is where you need to get most of your protein. Making sure to eat plenty of protein such as meat, shellfish, among other sources is a huge factor in the overall health and recovery of your hair. This aids healthier hair growth and health.
While ingesting protein through your diet is fantastic for your insides, you need to supplement protein treatments since the protein doesn’t reach the dead protein hanging from your scalp (the exterior). Protein you ingest distributes differently in your body, it heads straight for the places that need it the most, that can be your skin, hair, arms, etc. There is no guarantee where the protein will go, whereas protein treatments are designed specifically to target the hair strands and heal the hair of any damage sustained to improve the overall health and appearance.
Hair goes through natural weathering (the process of natural damage over time), supplementing protein treatments, expediates the healing of any damage sustained from everyday stressors such as manual manipulation (combing, brushing, tight hairstyles), and your environment( the sun overtime damages your hair as well as seasonal changes).
To read more about the benefits of using protein to combat natural weather, see our 5 Benefits of Adding Protein to Your Hair Regime post, by clicking here.
What Type of Protein Does Our Hair Need?
The human hair strand is made up of many layers. Therefore, the protein molecules must be small enough to penetrate the hair. Protein is designed to penetrate the hair strand to repair the hair and provide strength and structure. Think of protein as your hair’s best insurance policy.
When it comes to protein for your hair, size matters. I’ll say that again because it’s particularly important. When it comes to your hair, the size of the protein molecule matters.
The only type of protein that can penetrate the hair strand to strengthen it are hydrolyzed proteins.
Hydrolyzed protein essentially means the protein molecule has been broken down so much that it is small enough to penetrate the hair to the deepest layer known as the cortex.
Most protein is too big to penetrate the hair strands, as a result, the protein molecules sit on top of the outermost layer of the hair strand known as the cuticle.
Over-sized or non-hydrolyzed protein such as avocado and egg yolks sit on top of the cuticle layer, granted, the protein does work to temporarily fill in any gaps or holes in the cuticle layer until the hair strand can heal itself, but once you rinse the treatment off most of the protein washes off since it was unable to penetrate. What a waste!
That is why the best types of protein treatment for your hair will always be hydrolyzed proteins or amino acids. This will help prevent protein overload that normally comes from using the wrong type of protein for your hair. For more information including product recommendations, please see my tutorials below.
How to Do Protein Treatments and How Often?
Ecoslay Matcha Boost Protein Conditioner
Since hair is predominately made up of protein, the good news is we don’t need too much of it on a regular basis. Hydrolyzed protein is gentle, this makes them perfect to use once a week. Twice a week max if needed, normally if your hair has a lot of damage.
I am one of those people who likes to combine my protein and deep conditioning treatments to save time to expedite my wash day. I combine, but I will never sacrifice protein or moisture. I prefer to combine treatments to keep a healthy balance.
As you saw in the embedded videos, I always prefer to scoop out a little bit of deep conditioner, just what I will need for that use, then I put the rest of the bottle away. In a separate bowl or container, I add 1-2 teaspoons of either Bragg’s Liquid Amino Acids or Neutral Protein Filler Drops into the conditioner, and I mix well. I proceed to apply the mixture to my hair and leave on (with indirect heat such as a heating cap or steamer) for 30 minutes and rinse.
What About Protein Sensitivity?
Protein sensitivity is quite rarer than you would think. Many times, we think we are protein sensitive when the real issue is the TYPE of protein we chose. Protein sensitivity is when hair is so delicate it doesn’t respond well to the strengthening effects of protein, many times it leaves the hair feeling rough and stiff. This characteristic can also be mimicked by using the wrong type of protein (intensive treatments such as aphogee or big protein like eggs), which is what causes most of the confusion.
There is also another myth that goes around the hair community, low porosity hair doesn’t need protein. This is NOT true, all hair NEEDS protein. Even protein sensitive hair needs protein, it just needs far less and much gentler types of protein. It’s all about finding your individual hair needs.