I’ve received several requests to revisit the idea of ‘protein sensitivity’ and the tell-tale signs. So, I turned to an expert, Jillipoo of Naturallycurly.com.
A reaction to protein usually manifests itself through dry, brittle hair that tends to look like it might have been electrocuted. People sometimes mistake it for overconditioned hair, but the key difference is that overconditioned hair is very soft — over-proteined hair feels (and looks) like straw. Protein sensitivity afflicts thicker hair more often than thinner hair, mostly because thinner hair (and blonde hair) lacks a medulla, which is the “core” of a hair strand and the place where protein lives. So, because thinner (and blonde) hair doesn’t have protein, it responds well to it in products. Thicker hair can easily overdose on protein because it doesn’t need much.
For more advice, visit her blog at http://www.jillipoo.blogspot.com/.
I’ve read several times (from several sources) that finer hair should love protein. However, my hair detests keratin, wheat, soy, or anything hydrolized- it becomes stiff, brittle and prone to breakage. At the same time, the tannins in henna ‘act’ like a protein treatment, and I definitely didn’t maintain much length until I started henna’ing (my pre-henna’ed hair hated protein too). So it appears that my hair craves pseudo-protein treatments- it makes it stronger, restores elasticity, and makes it much less likely to break and snap.
I’ve also read that healthier hair needs fewer protein treatments, since the purpose of the protein is to fill in gaps in the cortex (and raised cuticle), caused by heat and chemical damage. Thus, healthy hair may display signs of protein sensitivity if exposed to too much. Although the majority of my hair is much healthier now (except for the last few highlighted ends), when I discovered my protein sensitivity, my fine strands were fryed, dyed and laid to the side. So for my head, that theory doesn’t stand up either.
Each and every head is different, and you’ll never know if you have a protein sensitivity until you do some snooping around. If you’re experiencing dry, brittle hair, no matter how much you attempt to moisturize- inspect your shampoo, conditioner and styler for hidden protein. According to RedCelticCurls, protein can come in the form of the following ingredients:
- Anything that says hydrolized will be a protein on your hair.
- Anything that says protein or amino acid.
- Grain extracts (like oat flour). Grains contain protein. Oils from grains should be all fat, thus protein free.
- Some extracts can act up for some. Brewer’s yeast extract in EMBC dried me out.
- Coconut oil isn’t a protein, but it helps with protein retention, so it bothers some people.
- Jojoba oil is actually a wax and has some protein. I can’t stand it alone, but I don’t mind it in something else.
If you’re displaying the symptoms, cease and desist use of protein containing products for the next few weeks. During that time, up your moisture by doing Deep Treatments, and only using moisturizing conditioners. After some time passes, judge your situation. If your hair is softer, less brittle, and more elastic, the protein may have been the culprit.
What have your experiences been with protein? Be sure to state whether you have thin or thick strands.
ok I am going to check all my products because I'm noticing that my hair has a wire like feel..thx
This is helpful because my hair seems more wiry ever since i applied the Aubrey Conditioner…not sure what to do..planned on trying Henna for the first time and then Deep conditioning
My hair is extremely coarse and thick, I have 4c hair and at first I used shea moistures silk protein curl milkshake and my hair was absolutely fine. In fact better then fine amazingly soft, then I added almond and coconut oil and my scalp started breaking out in sores and parts of my hair became extremely dry/brittle so I'm assuming I have a protein allergy or those two oils should not be mixed.
typo: "…why these products *aren't* more balanced…"
I did an egg, olive oil protein treatment, and got straw hair. It took several washings and several deep conditionings before it went back to normal. I dye my hair, it's medium blonde, and I go lighter. The strands are very fine, but there is a lot of it. I thought at first I'd have to cut it all off. Really scary, stuff. I guess despite it being fine and colortreated blonde, it's not going to tolerate protein. I started looking at different old products I had. Many "conditioners" didn't work, and my hair either stayed brittle or got worse. Without fail, I found protein in them and words like, "strengthening." I can't figure out why I'm just hearing of this at 46, or why these products are more balanced. I guess everyone had problems picking what's good with our hair differences, but protein really causes a lot of damage to my hair. Alternately, the more I moisturize, the "stronger" it gets.
I also have fine hair (thin strands of hair) and my hair will not tolerate protein at all. It does not like Panthenol either. Even though I have thin or fine strands of hair I have a lot of hair. Perhaps that is the problem.
I have begun making my own shampoo and conditioner because I am also allergic to some of the surfactants. So far so good.
OMG. After searching the boards, I decided to give myself a protein treatment. I used Motions CPR Protein Reconstructor. It made my hair soft after I left it in for about 10 minutes. I rinsed it out and was going to continue with a co-wash. I put on some Pantene Relaxed and Natural Conditioner which conditions my hair really well in even the worst condition. My hair suddenly became straw like! It got hard and very dry. Mind you, this is while I'm still in the shower with the Patene on my hair! I freaked out! I'm washing all of the crap out of my hair and I drenched it with shea butter after I got out. It still was pretty dry, but better.
I went on curlynikki.com (my favorite hair website) to research protein and I realized that protein is not good for my hair type (very thick and course) because my hair is already super rich in proteins and using proteins can cause your hair to become straw like and hard. Can you believe that??!!!? I'm learning so much about my hair and I'm loving it. I won't make that same mistake again….no more protein…my hair needs lots of emollients.
Ladies, I tried Liquid Keratina nd I wish I had seen this blog before I did!! My hair was a hot mess. I had a bad reaction and resulted in my hair being very brittle and would not hold a curl. I recently was forced to cut my hair… I had to cute about 6 inches to get it all out!! I hope this helps to save someone else's hair.
In the past, I am trying to stay away from proteins, so I am unsure about using coconut oil. You said that is not a protein, but it helps with protein retention. What does that mean?
Thank you for the link Nikki!
JC is right, “hydrolized” itself refers to a process. But, most things I’ve seen that say hydrolized on a bottle are large proteins that have been hydrolized into smaller, easier to absorb (so the theory goes) proteins.
I’m medium to thick stranded, a natural dirty blonde who colors red, and I hate most proteins. I like keratin infrequently. Wheat is the worst for me.
Suburbanbushbabe brings up another good point. I have read views from Jonathan Torch that silk proteins work better than others because they are small. Protein size may have something to do with how well they are tolerated.
It just goes to show that we’re all different in our hair care needs, and that we shouldn’t go so much by the description on the bottle, but by the ingredient listing on the bottle. I laugh to see how many protein heavy conditioners say “moisturizing” when they have the opposite effect for me.
Hi Nikki.. this is an on-time topic for me.
I have thin strands, semi- to very porous hair (absorbs water, color, and products easily).
Lately my hair has been soft and conditioned, so I’ve been using more proteins in my hair such as coconut milk, and as of yesterday hydrolyzed keratin oil. So far my hair seems to like the protein. I think it can handle a certain amount, maybe because of my porosity.
I just love your site. Such useful information. I just had to send my love! I have quite a few friends who are transitioning and I’ve pointed them hair. I wish your site was around when I first went natural. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!
I have never liked the term protein sensitivity in relation to hair because I feel that hair is predominantly protein so hair may not detest protein, it may just not need additional proteins as it already has an abundance of it but instead wants more moisture. I try to always keep in mind my grandma hair routine as she had and still does at 84 a beautiful head of hair. Well she never used protein treatments but she aso never used heat or chemically processed her hair so she may have had little protein loss thus little hair damage. She used alot of castor oil, coconut oil, pure aloe and hibiscus and locally made soaps. My hair is very fine and I don’t like too much proteins especially in leave-ins because my hair gets that weird wiry texture and I like it to feel smooth and soft. However, I can sometimes use a homeade preshampoo protein treatment, and when I follow with a very moisturizing DT my hair feels great. Also I love coconut oil but only use it as a preshampoo treatment because it does not smooth or coat the cuticle layer but instead penetrates the hair shaft and has a high affinity for hair proteins thus reducing protein loss remarkably and making hair stronger. I always follow preshampoo coconut oil treatments with a very moisturizing DT as coconut oil does not leave my hair with that smooth feeling like many other emollients but it’s one of the only oils to actually stregthen hair.
Another interesting fact I’ve found that on my hair, conditioners with protein that are meant to penetrate the shaft are bad, while leave-ins with protein meant to coat the shaft are okay. Keratin and soy protein still suck no matter what. I would also be interested to find out if whether some hydrolized proteins are smaller than others and thus easier on the hair.
I’m sorry I forgot to mention that I have thick strands 🙂
My hair was staying dry no matter what I did and I could not figure out why until it dawned on me that maybe I was protein-sensitive. So I eliminated all conditioners and leave-ins that had any amount of protein in them, and drastically cut down my use of the the one thing I kept (Fantasia IC gel with Sparklelites) that had protein. I also started moisturizing my hair with water or something water-based just about every day. Talk about an improvement!
I went about 5 months with no protein and then recently I introduced yogurt DCs into my regimen. So far so good BUT I added blackstrap molasses to my last yogurt DC and I feel like my hair got supercharged! (My hair is crazy sheeny too…borderline shiny…but that’s another story.)
I’m natural 4b CNapp with fine strands.
I never heard of protein sensitivity until I began my research before going natural. I tried a conditioner that was supposed to leave my hair soft but it was extremely dry and brittle. It felt awful. I couldn’t comb through it. I was a little shocked because my hair never responded to a conditioner that way. I just read the label and it has wheat protein in it. Thanks for the information. I will pay more attention to the way my hair reacts to proteins now.
Thanks for discussing this topic, i have medium to fine hair and i cannot use products with protein in them.I am natural but i do color my hair with a semipermanent haircolor. Johoba oil by itself makes my hair hard and tangled so does coconut oil by itself but mixed with other ingredients is ok but no keratin , wheat or hydrolized proteins. I have wasted alot of money on good conditioners that are full of proteins, now i am certain thats what it was.
Good information. I do think that if your hair is not chemically treated, then less protein is usually better.
Would like to say though that hydrolysed (lised/lized) does not always refer to a protein. Hydrolysis is just a chemical process to break up a substance in the presence of water (hydro meaning water and lysis meaning to break up hence hydrolysis!). So many things in hair products can be ‘hydrolysed’ not just proteins.