Protein and Natural Hair

Why are proteins important to natural hair? What are the purpose and benefits of protein-based conditioners?

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On my quest to longer, stronger, and healthier hair I have been researching the purpose and benefits of protein conditioners.  So what’s the deal? What are protein conditioners? Why are they important?

Hair is comprised of 70% keratin protein. It’s stored in the innermost layer of the hair, the medulla. Protein is responsible for hair’s strength and structure.  I like to think of it as the building block of each strand.  A protein-based conditioner can strengthen damaged hair and replenish protein lost through regular maintenance such as shampooing and styling.

 Moisture Protein Balance

Protein and moisture have an interdependent relationship.  A proper moisture protein balance is important for the overall quality of your hair.  One without the other leads to breakage.  Protein deficient hair equals breakage and moisture deficient hair leads to breakage.  Conversely, too much of one or the other can lead to breakage (hair is imbalanced).  Deep conditioning with a moisturizing deep conditioner weekly and protein deep conditioner biweekly or monthly can help you maintain balance. Balanced hair is healthy hair.  Still foggy on Moisture Protein Balance check out this video: Demystifying Moisture Protein.

Read More About Deep Conditioning Natural Hair

I’m sure you already understand the importance of moisturizing your hair and how omitting it can lead to breakage.  If your hair is moisture deficient you will notice dry, frizzy hair that lacks elasticity. This ultimately leads to hair that snaps, crackles, and pops.  If protein is the building block of hair then moisture is the glue that helps to hold it together. Water reinforces the structure of the hair and allows it to be flexible.  Deep conditioning with a moisturizing deep conditioner is recommended weekly or bi-weekly.

Breakage is also the end result of hair that lacks protein.  Protein deficient hair has a decreased ability to retain moisture from water. The protein lives in the deepest part of the hair and binds to the hydrogen molecules of H2O (water).  This strong bond helps the hair hold on to the water tightly in the medulla keeping the hair moisturized.

During regular maintenance of your hair such as shampooing, you will naturally lose a small percentage of protein each time. Your hair regimen should minimize and replenish the loss of protein.  It is also important to eat protein rich foods. Finer hair textures will have less protein than others. Therefore, it is more important for them to superficially add protein by using a protein conditioner.

Read: 5 Moisturizing Deep Conditioners

How do you know if you need a protein deep conditioner?

You can do a wet assessment of your hair.  We will discuss this in detail a little later. But from what you have learned already in the post you know that protein is an important part of a healthy hair regimen.  Replenishing proteins is a necessary part of maintaining healthy hair.

How Do I Perform a Proper Wet Assessment?

It would be difficult for you to wet assess your hair by holding a single strand and pulling on both ends. That type of stress would be considered “undue” stress, because no single hair is ever really subjected to that sort of tension at one time. Any strand of hair (healthy or not) that you pull on by both ends has the potential to snap depending on the pressure you apply to it. Hair should be wet assessed by the normal act of combing though it or touch-testing it.

Wet Assessment Hair Breakage Break Down

If your hair:

(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?


  What Are Protein Conditioners

 on the next page

See Also

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About Tamara

Tamara is the Founding Editor of Natural Hair Rules!!! Natural Hair Rules (NHR) was originally created as her personal hair journal. Since its creation in 2008, it has grown to one of the top natural hair/beauty blogs online today.

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  1. Best advice I’ve seen all day. Thanks!! Sheila

  2. I can’t seem to find an answer to this question: Where in the wash day process should I use protein treatment? Is it to be done before I shampoo (say on dry hair) or after I shampoo? For example, is the correct process: protein treatment -shampoo- moisturizing deep con OR shampoo-protein treatment- moisturizing deep con?

  3. How often do you have to use a protein conditioner ? Please help I was looking everywhere for a answer. I also love your website I just found out about lots of good information.

    • Every 6-12 weeks, it really depends on your hair’s needs. If your hair is really damaged every 6 weeks until its in a healthy state or if you just need a quick repair once a quarter or even once a year.

  4. Shasme Jackson says:

    I am very new to the natural hair community. My 10 y/o daughter and I have been heat free for less than a month. I sometimes find myself very confused with all the information. Although, your article was helpful it left me with so many more questions.

    Your article states you need to add more moisture to your haircare regimen if your hair feels tangly, brittle dry and/or tough when its not wet. This describes my daughter’s to a tee. She has very dry 4c hair. But, her hair is also very porous and has some heat damage. According to information I have been reading, heat damage/highly porosity hair should be treated with protein to fill in the gaps. I have used Aphogee protein leave in on her hair and it responds well. But, can you please help me understand how I can effectively provide treatment for her when her hair is highly porous and lack moisture at the same time. Is this even possible?

  5. I hear many people talking about using eggs for their protein treatments. What I find interesting is that they are simply coating the outside of their hair
    and not penetrating the hair shaft into the core of the hair strands. This is because the protein molecules are not broken down small enough to get through the cuticle into the hair shaft. The type of protein needed to do this is hydrolyzed. Look for that wording along with keratin, wheat germ, etc., and you’ll know its going to completely penetrate into the core of the hair. Hope this helps!

  6. I try to keep my process as chemical free as possible. For my protein treatment I use 1 egg and a few drops of peppermint oil. I sit until its dry-ish (just past damp) and rinse my hair. Then I deep condition with a moisturizing conditioner. Currently, I am using YesTo! Blueberries. Next, I apply coconut oil & mango butter sealing my ends with shea butter.

  7. Allison says:

    When speaking of the wet assessment & stretching the hair, are you talking about simply elongating the curl pattern or streching beyond that? Are there any how-to videos you can reference that use actual hair?

    • Naturalhairrules says:

      Yes, you are elongating your curl pattern. The Wet assessment is not the best way to determine your hair’s deficiency. Its best to pay attention to how your hair feels and reacts to products. In the case of protein deficiency if you are not using a protein treatment once every 6 weeks or so you, you may need to.

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