Natural Hair Care: Protein and Hair – 7 Questions Answered
By Jacqueline Samaroo
Protein is the main component of hair which is why it gets so much attention in the natural hair community. Understanding how natural hair gets protein and the effects of protein overload is crucial for curly hair to have bounce, shine, and irresistible curls.
Here are the answers to seven questions that are often asked about protein and natural hair.
What is natural hair made of?
Hair is mostly made up of a protein called keratin. Keratin gives hair its structure and strength. It is the same for all types of hair, from kinky to wavy to straight. What’s more, the hair on cats and dogs, and even bears’ hairs are mostly made up of protein, too.
Hair cells are formed at the base of the hair follicle. They become keratinized as they are pushed upward. The hair shaft (what you see growing from your scalp) is actually dead tissue hardened by keratin.
Where does natural hair get its keratin from?
Keratin is made up of amino acids that are created when your body breaks down protein in the foods you eat.
The keratin your body makes strengthens your hair from the inside. Foods rich in protein are lean meats, poultry, fish and seafood, eggs, dairy products, nuts and seeds, as well as peas and beans.
Some hair care products contain protein that coats the strands of your natural hair. They give protection and strength from the outside.
What is the protein/moisture balance?
Hair that has sufficient protein but too little moisture will be stiff. It will also be dry and brittle, making it more susceptible to breakage. Hydrating moisturizers can help to correct this.
Hair that has too much moisture but is lacking protein is limp and weak. It is prone to breakage and to falling out. This can be addressed with a protein treatment.
What happens when natural hair has too much protein?
Hair that has too much protein is said to be suffering from protein overload. Here are some signs that your hair may have protein overload.
- Your hair is drier than normal, lifeless, and brittle.
- Your hair feels stiff or straw-like
- Your hair’s texture has changed.
- Your hair is less elastic and breaks easily.
- Your hair’s curl pattern has changed
- Your hair seems to have lost its natural luster or shine.
What causes protein overload?
Many natural hair products contain protein. Their combined effect can lead to protein buildup in hair. The excess protein weighs down your strands and creates the issues listed above. All of this can be worsened if you do protein treatments too often.
How often should you do protein treatments on natural hair?
That depends. Every 4 to 8 weeks is usually recommended but, natural hair that is already strong, elastic, and bouncy doesn’t really need any extra protein.
So, pay attention to your hair. If it is starting to show signs of having too little protein, then a protein treatment could give it a healthy boost. If you are seeing signs of protein overload, it’s probably wise to skip the protein treatments.
What can you do about protein overload?
For natural hair that has protein overload, you should increase your use of conditioners, moisturizers, and deep conditioners that say “protein-free.” They will help to restore your hair’s protein/moisture balance. Also, check whether any of your other haircare products contain protein and switch them out, too.
Other things to do include:
- Use a gentle clarifying shampoo to break up the proteins.
- Trim the damaged ends of your hair.
- Avoid heat styling and over-manipulation of your hair as these can lead to more breakage and damage.
What is protein sensitivity?
Protein-sensitive hair has a strong negative reaction to even small amounts of protein. It isn’t a common occurrence, though, and you would probably already know if you have it. That’s because it’s not just the hair that is sensitive to protein; the scalp is, too, and would show signs of irritation.
Do you do protein treatments on your natural hair? Why or why not? Share with us!