Hair Liberty’s Nicole Harmon, our Resident Curl Chemist, is answering your most urgent hair questions. Check it out below! 

Q: I’m interested in your comments on “protein overload.” My hair seems to have a hard time absorbing moisture, staying moisturized; products evaporate quickly, hair dries very quickly after getting wet, conditioner seems to just sit on top instead of penetrating. A stylist suggested I might have protein overload as I have been using Giovanni’s Smooth As Silk Deeper Moisture conditioner religiously for about 6 months (high concentration of soy protein, 4th ingredient). Does protein overload exist? If not, what do you think is going on with my hair? I definitely have noticed a change.

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A: Hair that dries quickly and has trouble staying moisturized is porous. That’s exactly why porous hair is constantly dry and breakage prone. That’s the opposite of protein overload. Your hair definitely needs protein. I know that sounds completely wrong, but I’ll explain. The ingredient listed as “soy protein” in Giovanni Smooth as Silk is not the kind of protein that can benefit your hair. What you need is “hydrolyzed soy protein” which is different. That one word, “hydrolyzed”, doesn’t seem like it should make a big difference but it does. The important thing to understand is that “soy protein” doesn’t attach to your hair. It just rinses away when you rinse the conditioner out. “Hydrolyzed soy protein” has been formulated to stay on your hair through the final rinse and keep it moisturized between washes. So “soy protein” may be a good ingredient for a leave-in (or body lotion), but it’s not as helpful in a rinse out conditioner. Each company comes up with their own recipes for their products. Some recipes are effective for curly-kinky hair, others are not. I can’t tell you why Giovanni chose to use “soy protein” in their rinse out conditioner. All we know is that it didn’t help your hair retain moisture.

That little distinction is exactly why the protein overload myth exists. Giovanni Smooth as Silk doesn’t contain any hydrolyzed protein so it wouldn’t be a good idea to avoid all protein because of your experience with that conditioner. In order to strengthen your hair and get its porosity under control, you’ll need a conditioner that contains hydrolyzed protein which can be from soy, but also from silk, oats, wheat, quinoa…there’s a long list. Ouidad Deep Treat contains hydrolyzed wheat protein. The other conditioners in the Rehab article contain “hydrolyzed keratin” which could also be called “hydrolyzed wool/sheep’s hair”. Studies show hydrolyzed keratin to be most effective for damaged hair. If you prefer only natural brands, I suggest EO Products Repair Deep Conditioner. It contains hydrolyzed quinoa protein around the middle of the list. I hope that helps!

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