The unique relationship that exists between the protein and moisture balances within the hair strand is not simply a case of balancing opposing forces one over the other to prevent hair breakage. These two components work together synergistically to produce a healthy head of hair, and neither can work well without the other. Keeping the hair balanced between these two entities is very important.
Over the last couple of months, a few of you have expressed concerns about excessive breakage and how to address it. In addition, I myself had begun to experience it and set about diagnosing the root cause. What I realized about two months ago was that my hair might be over-conditioned/over-moisturized. “What did you say?!?! Over-CONDITIONED? Natural hair?? HERESY!!”
LOL! But seriously, about a year ago, I read about the delicate balance between protein and moisture and “filed” it in the tombs. You see, I kept my distance … a very far distance … from protein. However, I was using henna on the regular and, although I couldn’t find an authoritative source that stated it was an effective alternative to protein, it seemed to work just fine for me as a strengthening treatment.
The problem? At the beginning of 2011, I started to perform roots only applications of henna to eliminate the problem I had with henna build-up causing excessive curl loosening. I would do a bit of a henna gloss on the length, but that was it. It never occurred to me that the length of my hair was no longer getting its regular dose of strengthening henna resin due to my regimen adjustment. So, I went about my merry way until about October of this year when I realized that the length of my hair was very soft, shedding like crazy and also breaking far more than normal. That’s when the article that I read about a year ago came out of the memory catacombs and I started to think that my hair might be over-moisturized and in need of protein.
Most of us think of breakage as related to the lack of moisture. But, in fact, it can be the complete opposite and diagnosing the source of the problem is necessary in order to select the correct solution.
What can cause over-moisturized hair?
- overzealous “baggying”
- back-to-back conditioner washes that don’t allow the hair to ever dry
- regular lengthy/overnight deep conditionings
- keeping the hair wet in general (water or oil) for extended periods of time without a break
- the complete elimination of protein products altogether
Well, I’ve definitely been known to sleep in a DC overnight and to leave a Vatika oil pre-poo in my hair for multiple days … more out of laziness than a desire to get “extra conditioning.” Also, given that I leave these treatments in so long, I find that I don’t need to co-wash at all during the week or re-wet my hair to maintain it in a moisturized state. Rather, I usually only need to apply a little cream moisturizer and an oil to seal a couple of times between weekly wash sessions. Anywho, the potential that my hair was over-moisturized/conditioned seemed strong.
So, what do you do if you are experiencing an excessive amount of breakage and aren’t sure of whether you need moisture or protein? Begin with a wet hair assessment and determine how your hair responds in the normal course of combing or finger-handling.
- (When Wet or Dry) Stretches slightly and returns to its original length without breaking, you are balanced! Stick with maintaining!
- (When Wet or Dry) Stretches a little more than normal then breaks, you need more protein in your regimen.
- (When Wet or Dry)Stretches, stretches, stretches with no significant breakage yet, add a bit more protein to your regimen.
- (Wet)- Feels weak, gummy, mushy, or limp, you need to add more protein to your regimen.
- (Wet or Dry) Experiences very little to no stretching, and simply snaps or breaks, you need to increase the moisture in your regimen.
- (Dry) Feels rough, tough, hard, dry, tangly, brittle, or any combination of those, you need more moisture in your regimen.
- Unsure? Err on the side of caution and give your hair more moisture. So now that you have figured out what type of hair breakage you have, what should you do?
If it turns out that your hair is over-moisturized, a protein treatment is in order. Fortunately, over-conditioned hair is pretty easily corrected with a single protein treatment. The strength of the protein treatment should be determined by the amount of breakage. A heavy duty treatment like the ApHogee 2-Step is recommended for severe breakage, whereas a lighter protein, like the ApHogee Keratin 2 Minute Reconstructor, is recommended for more typical breakage. Heavy duty protein treatments should be followed by a moisturizing conditioner to restore elasticity as protein “hardens” the hair by “patching” gaps in the cuticle. Also, it is usually recommended that they not be performed more than once every six to eight weeks.
Now, on the other hand, if you hair has too much protein, a moisturizing regimen will be necessary. A protein overload is not as easily and quickly remedied as over-moisturized hair and may take several weeks to rectify. If this is the source of your breakage, the following steps are recommended by The Science of Black Hair:
- Clarify to remove any excess product buildup.
- Deep condition for 30-45 minutes (with heat) once or twice a week with a thick, creamy moisturizing deep conditioner.
- Apply a water-based moisturizer to your hair daily, concentrating on the ends.
- Avoid excess protein in common products like leave-in conditioners, moisturizers, gels, and instant conditioners.
As to my hairstory, I saw a vast improvement after my first protein treatment (which was followed with a moisturizing deep treatment … ummm, why didn’t they say so?). My hair felt harder than normal, but I’ve come to realize that that feeling also signifies resilience and strength and the softness that I thought of as a good thing, was actually too much of one! So, you know, I’m learning to find the balance.
Do you consider the moisture/protein balance in caring for your hair? How do you incorporate it into your regimen?