My hair is protein sensitive. While I occasionally use a protein treatment (about every 12 weeks), I have to be very conscientious about what type it is, how long to leave it on, and immediate aftercare. Many times, people will use protein when they are experiencing serious hair troubles (ie. breakage). When I use protein, I use it because of the stress of my active lifestyle (daily workouts, chlorine exposure, and the styling demands of travel).
Although many people decry the use of any type of protein treatment for natural hair, the truth is that our hair, a protein itself, needs the reinforcement of other proteins. The key is the aftercare of the hair once a protein treatment has been applied.
Protein is a fortifier; that is, it is used to make the hair stronger. On my hair, after a protein treatment, I notice significantly more shrinkage and dryness (in the minutes following the treatment) and combing through it, even with fingers or a wide-tooth comb is not really feasible. The antidote is….MOISTURE! I follow with a moisturizing deep conditioner and use Cute & Kinky Hair Moisturizer for styling.
In order to get positive results from protein treatments, the proper ratio or balance of moisture must be present. After using a stronger protein treatment, you must redeposit moisture into your locks or you will not get the results you want and may even end up with more breakage than you had before the treatment.
Types of Protein
The type of protein you use in your hair depends on what your purpose. Here’s a quick general guideline:
Wheat protein is known for strengthening and helping to retain moisture. I have found that my hair is less crunchy after using a treatment that is based on wheat protein. Although wheat is known for helping to retain moisture, you do not want to neglect moisturizing the hair after using it.
Plant-based proteins (ie. soy) are also known for their moisture-enhancing properties.
The product I have used that includes both of these ingredients (wheat protein and plant polysaccharides) is Elucence Extended Moisture Repair Treatment.
Keratin protein is probably the most popular when it comes to protein hair treatments. It is known for strengthening to the point where some treatments advise its use only by professionals. However, there are plenty of keratin-based protein treatments that one can use at home. I prefer Spiral Solutions Repairing Protein Treatment because it has a mix of both keratin and plant-based proteins that allows me to avoid the dryness and crunchiness that protein treatments that use only keratin temporarily cause me immediately after rinsing.
Silk protein is often used for softening. I have never knowingly used it and cannot attest to the results.
Collagen protein, common in anti-aging skin cosmetics, is known for its ability to increase elasticity.
As a bonus, I recommend that the proteins in your treatment be hydrolyzed. This allows them to better penetrate the hair and therefore more efficiently achieve their purpose.
Moderation Is Key
I started this entry off saying that my hair is protein sensitive and it is. However, this does not mean that my hair cannot benefit from occasional protein treatments. Many times, naturals will use protein-sensitive strands to avoid protein altogether. The problem is that your hair will eventually need protein. A protein treatment every 8-12 weeks, followed by a moisture-infusing regimen, will not hurt you. However, a protein treatment every day or week, I do not recommend.
Several blogs back, I talked about diet and getting enough protein in the diet. That affects your hair so if you find that regardless of how solid your regimen is and that even protein treatments/protein conditioners are not helping your hair, you may want to introduce more protein into your diet.
*Photo of protein sequence by Markus Buehler from Massachusetts Institute of Technology found at http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2007/atomistic-tt1107.html