Taking good care of your hair can be a difficult task and repairing damaged hair can be a bit of a nightmare. Hair straightening and other heat styling methods can cause split ends and frizzy locks and it can often be hard to figure out how to restore your hair’s natural health. In this article, we look at how you can repair damaged hair with protein vs deep conditioning hair treatments and how you can identify which treatment is right for you.
There is a big difference between a protein treatment vs moisturising deep conditioning hair treatment. A protein treatment helps to restore damaged hair from heat styling and a moisturising deep conditioning hair treatment improves hair strength and elasticity by balancing water levels in hair fibres.
The key to healthy hair is, therefore, a perfect balance between protein and moisture and this can be hard to maintain.
Pollution, hair products and heat styling all contribute towards damaging your hair but with the right routine, you can easily get back on track.
Why does my hair need protein?
Hair has three important components: the cuticle, the cortex and the medulla. The medulla is more present in coarse hair and absent in fine hair. Asian hair, therefore, has more medulla than Caucasian hair.
The cortex makes up the majority part of the mass of hair. This mass contains a large amount of keratin which is essentially protein and this is mainly what your hair is made of.
The components within the cortex also determine whether your hair is straight or curly.
The cuticle is the outer layer of the hair shaft and is made up of overlapping scales, like tiles on a roof. The cuticle is thicker in Asian hair, less thick in Caucasian hair and very thin in African hair. African hair is therefore much more prone to breakage.
Because your hair is mainly made up of protein, you need to ensure that you are following a hair routine which prevents protein loss as well as damage caused by heat styling, chemical treatments as well as environmental factors.
When your hair is damaged, the cuticle becomes weak and exposes the cortex. This leads to loss of protein which in turn causes fibre fractures and split ends.
Can I have too much protein in my hair?
Yes, too much protein is commonly seen and is also known as being protein sensitive.
Many hair products contain protein because of the fact that damaged hair often leads to protein loss.
Using too many products with protein can cause an overproduction of keratin.
The balance between protein and water is essential for healthy hair and if you suffer from protein sensitive hair, you would need a hydrating deep conditioning hair treatment vs a protein treatment.
Why does my hair need moisture?
According to the NCBI, Hair strength depends on cuticle integrity and amount of water in the fibres.
Moisture is important to maintain healthy hair as it keeps it hydrated and helps retain shine and prevent dryness. Without water, your hair becomes dry and brittle and much more prone to breakage.
The protein and water in your hair actually go hand in hand in order to maintain optimal health. Water molecules bind with protein and so with the right balance of both, protein enables moisture to penetrate.
However too much protein will cause your hair to break and block hydrating products and water from penetrating.
Is there such a thing as too much moisture?
Absolutely. Too much moisture in your hair can lead to hygral fatigue which is repeated swelling and drying of hair.
This can cause just as much damage as too much protein. It is however quite common to experience hygral fatigue, especially if the outer layer of your hair, the cuticle, has already been damaged. It is, therefore, easier for water to penetrate and cause swelling.
To combat this, you would need a protein treatment vs a hydrating deep conditioning hair treatment.
How do I know if I need a protein treatment vs a deep conditioning hair treatment?
There are certain tell signs for when you will need a protein treatment and when you will need a deep conditioning hair treatment.
Lack of protein could cause the following:
Your hair feels limp and stretchy. A key sign of protein deficiency is when your hair feels limp and stretchy. It might feel like your hair has lost its gloss and shine and it’s not reacting to any products you use such as gel or mousse.
You have colour treated hair. If you have coloured your hair in the past, there’s a high risk of protein loss. This is because the chemicals in hair dye penetrate the cuticle and affect the cortex of your hair strands. These chemicals can alter the chemical balance of the cortex and cause fibre damage which is held together by protein.
Curls have stopped forming. If you’re a curly girl and you’re experiencing a lack of bouncy curls, you may need a protein treatment. Your hair
Hair breakage. Hair will obviously become damaged due to a number of factors, but the fact that you are experiencing hair breakage is a good sign that you may be in need of protein. If you have split ends and your hair easily snaps it could be time to try a protein treatment instead of a deep conditioning hair treatment.
Hair feels too soft. If you suffer from hygral fatigue, your hair is absorbing too much water. The absorbance itself is not a problem, but hygral fatigue means that there is repeated swelling and drying and this causes your hair to stretch and become weak. In order to combat hygral fatigue, you’ll need a protein treatment to help seal the hair cuticles to prevent water and harmful products to enter the cortex.
It can sometimes be difficult to differentiate between protein sensitivity and hygral fatigue. This is because your hair doesn’t feel or look healthy and so the main symptoms are sort of the same; split ends, stringy hair and curls that won’t really form.
However, there are few key signs you can look out for if you think you’re suffering from protein overload and that you might need a deep conditioning hair treatment:
Dry and brittle hair. If you suffer from protein overload, your hair will feel dry and brittle. It has lost its shine and seems hard to style.
Hair breaks easily. Whenever your hair is unhealthy, it’s far more likely to snap. If your hair is very dry and hair strands seem to break very easily, then you would benefit from a hydrating deep conditioning hair treatment to get rid of excess protein.
Curls don’t stretch. You might be following the Curly Girl method and after a while, your curls don’t seem to stretch anymore. This is another sign that your hair is lacking moisture.
Hair feels like straw. If the texture of your hair has changed and it now feels strawlike, you need a deep conditioning hair treatment. Strawlike hair is a key sign that your hair is suffering from protein overload and you will need to balance out the ratio.
Curls won’t clump together. If your curls won’t clump together there’s a high chance that you are lacking moisture.
When I first started my Curly Girl journey, I had good results from the products I was using. However, after a month my curls stopped forming as well and my hair looked dull and dry. It didn’t feel soft, but rather stringy and coarse. This is how I knew that I was protein sensitive rather than suffering from hygral fatigue.
This is my hair when I first started the Curly Girl Method:
This is around six weeks in:
As you can see, my curls were no way as bouncy and formed as when I first started on my Curly Girl journey. My hair felt brittle and dry and it had lost its shine.
Here’s another photo of my hair when it was out of balance:
And this is what happened when I balanced out the protein with an apple cider vinegar rinse:
I would always recommend that you do an apple cider vinegar rinse first if you suspect you’re suffering from protein overload. The apple cider vinegar balances out the PH in your hair and as you can see from my photos, produced amazing results.
Simply add a few spoonful’s of apple cider vinegar to 200ml of water and then soak your wet hair in the mixture. Leave for a few minutes and then rinse out with a non-protein conditioner such as the Faith in Nature Aloe Vera conditioner.
5 best protein treatments for hair
Alterna Haircare Caviar Repair RX Re-Texturizing Protein Cream
This repair protein cream from Alterna is simply amazing. It contains hydrolysed Keratin and bio-identical peptides to help rebuild damaged hair.
The cream is very rich and great for fine or coarse hair. This product produces fantastic results and should not be used too often.
Note: if you follow the Curly Girl Method, this product is not CG approved as it contains silicones
Vatika egg protein mask
The Vatika egg protein mask is a favourite amongst Curly girls. The Vatika egg mask is a protein mask which helps repair damaged hair and split ends.
Coconut10 keratin and coconut mask
According to a study by Rele and Mohile in 2003, coconut oil was the only oil which was able to reduce protein loss in both damaged and undamaged hair when used for washing hair. The coconut oil fills the gap between the cuticle cells and prevents harmful chemicals to enter the follicle.
Coconut is a protein mimicker and is, therefore, an important ingredient when choosing the right protein treatment for you.
This hair mask by Coconut10 has received rave reviews on Amazon and has produced amazing results.
Briogeo Don’t Despair, Repair Deep Conditioning Mask
The Briogeo Don’t Despair, Repair Deep Conditioning Mask is expensive but worth it.
A fantastic product which is super light but with a lot of power. It helps repair chemically treated hair and restores its natural shine. A gentle protein treatment which can be used weekly.
Note: if you follow the Curly Girl Method, this product is not CG approved as it contains drying alcohols
Garnier Banana Hair Food
If you’re looking for a gentle protein conditioner to use weekly as part of your routine, I would highly recommend the Garnier Banana Hair Food.
An approved Curly Girl deep conditioner treatment and a favourite amongst the curl community. The conditioner is lightweight, hydrating and of course, contains coconut oil for protein repairing.
5 best moisturising treatments for hair
Boucleme Intensive Moisture Treatment
The Boucleme Intensive Moisture Treatment is designed to strengthen hair and protect against environmental stressors as well as chemical treatments. It enhances curl definition and rebalances moisture levels.
Garnier ultimate blends almond crush
The Garnier Ultimate Blends Almond Crush is a lightweight moisturising deep conditioner. It leaves hair silky smooth and is enriched with organic almond milk.
Garnier Ultimate Blends Argan Oil & Almond Cream Mask
For a weightless deep conditioning hair treatment, try the Garnier Ultimate Blends Argan Oil & Almond Cream Mask. This product restores damaged hair and strengthens hair strands and cuticles. It helps protect fragile hair from breaking and makes your hair more resilient. A budget-friendly deep conditioner which should be used once a week.
Organic Shop Avocado & Honey Hair Mask
If you’re looking for an organic deep conditioning hair treatment, look no further than the Organic Shop Avocado & Honey Hair Mask. This mask helps repair damaged and dry hair and restores shine while reducing frizz. The hair mask is 98% natural and is made with organic honey and avocado for added moisture.
Low Porosity Protein Free Conditioner by Shea Moisture
The Low Porosity Protein Free Conditioner by Shea Moisture is a lightweight conditioner which provides a balanced level of hydration to hair which needs it the most. It also gives long-lasting moisture without surface build-up.
Specifically designed for low porosity hair which means that if you suffer from dry hair which normally struggles with retaining moisture, this product is for you.
How often do I need to treat my hair with protein vs a deep conditioning hair treatment?
If you are in need of a protein treatment, you should start out by treating your hair once a week for three weeks followed by conditioner. Incorporate a weekly treatment into your regular routine and make sure you give the treatment enough time to work.
I usually recommend thirty minutes and I would also recommend using a deep conditioning heat cap such as this one I found on Amazon.
A deep conditioning heat cap will help accelerate the process as heat allows for the product to penetrate your cuticles much easier.
If you do not see any improvement after three weeks, you should consider changing your routine. So think of the way which you wash your hair, how often you wash your hair and what other products you use. A protein treatment, if applied correctly, should in most cases produce results.
If you think you may have misdiagnosed your symptoms, you could try a hydrating deep condition but I often find that if you take a close look at your routine, you’ll find the mistakes and correct them.
Deep conditioning hair treatment
If you are in need of moisture, continue with a weekly treatment for as long as required. In general, your hair needs to be properly hydrated in order for it to return to its original healthy state.
Use a deep conditioning treatment the same way as you would a protein treatment, so leave for thirty minutes and utilise a heat conditioning cap for maximum effect.
Don’t over-condition your hair and don’t sleep with a deep conditioning treatment as this could make your hair too soft and cause further breakage.