Last Updated on December 2, 2022 by Verna Meachum
Does low porosity hair need protein? The short answer is: maybe. It depends on the health and condition of your hair.
If you have low porosity hair, protein may not be your immediate go-to product – but should it be?
Low porosity hair requires protein but it needs to be used with caution.
Protein-based products can give your hair some added strength, but too much protein can leave you with a dry, brittle mane.
The trick is finding the right protein balance for your individual hair type.
In this blog, we’ll discuss the protein for low porosity hair (and how to know if your hair needs it), which type of protein works best, and some tips for using protein products correctly.
First, let’s look at what porosity is, and what low porosity hair means.
Understanding Low Porosity Hair
Porosity describes the porous nature of hair fiber. Just like our skin, hair has tiny pores over its surface and can absorb or desorb other materials via these pores.
The damaged hairs have a higher capacity to absorb water molecules, pigment molecules, and other active ingredients.
Hair scientists have made attempts to measure the size of pores, and how porous they are, as well as correlate this with hair tensile strength.3 Porous hairs are weak and break easily. They are also vulnerable to high frizz.
Low Porosity and High Porosity are Two Relative Terms
Hair fibers categorized as “High Porosity Hair” have larger pore sizes and a higher capacity of absorption, while “Low Porosity Hair” has smaller pore sizes and a low capacity of absorption (cannot absorb as much).
There is no one-size-fits-all standard scale for this evaluation. A good place to start, however, is by examining the physical state of your hair and its recent treatment history.
For example, natural virgin non-chemically treated hair would (presumably) have relatively little damage, and is called low porosity hair.
Whereas chemically treated, excessively exposed to UV radiation or high direct heat hairs can be called high porosity hair.
Protein and Hair
The vast majority of our hair is composed of a protein called keratin. In addition to keratin, the other elements that compose the chemical composition of hair are: water, lipids, minerals, and pigments.
Keratin is a protein that gives strength and structure to hair, and is found in the cortex. Think of protein as the glue that keeps our strands together. Without protein, our hair strands would be brittle and weak.
Just as the muscles in our body need protein to develop and grow, so does our hair. Protein is the building block of the hair shaft, providing strength and elasticity.
Protein can also help to make curls look more defined and bouncy, giving them a shiny and healthy appearance.
But how does this work for your hair specifically, and what is the best way to use it given your individual hair porosity?
Protein for Low Porosity Hair
Amongst hair care consumers, combating porosity is a top concern, and they look for products that will be effective in solving this problem.1 Protein treatments are frequently advised to address this issue.2
Many people also have questions about whether proteins are suitable or compatible for low porosity hair. It is probably one of the biggest confusions amongst all hair porosity types.
When we think about protein for hair, we usually associate it with high porosity hair. This is because protein helps to fill in the gaps and holes along the cuticle layer, which is often found in damaged high porosity hair.
However, protein is not just for high porosity hair, it can also be beneficial for low porosity hair!
More often than not, protein treatments are often the go-to solution.
We will now study low-porosity hair fibers and the possible use of proteins on these hair fibers.
Proteins: Low molecular Weight vs. High Molecular Weight
Many hair care product formulations feature protein ingredients that come from plants, such as hydrolyzed wheat proteins or hydrolyzed amino acids.
The process of obtaining these ingredients varies and their molecular weight and size significantly affect their affinity for hair fibers.
Low molecular weight proteins are smaller in size and can penetrate deep inside the hair structure.
Whereas, high molecular weight proteins are made up of large molecules which prevent them from penetrating. Instead, they form a coating over the hair shaft and provide surface-improving benefit to the hair fibers.
Because these two types of ingredients have different working mechanisms, they also produce contrasting effects on hair quality.
Here is a short list of high molecular and low molecular proteins:
High Molecular Weight Proteins
- Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein PG-Propyl Methylsilanediol (Synthetic)
- Laurdimonium Hydroxypropyl Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein (Synthetic)
- Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein PG-Propyl Silanetriol (Synthetic)
- Hydrolyzed Collagen (natural, yet high molecular weight & size)
- Stearyldimonium hydroxypropyl collagen (Synthetic)
- Albumen (natural, large molecule size and weight)
Low molecular Weight Proteins
- Wheat amino acids
- Silk Amino Acids
- Silk protein
- Rice protein
All four above are naturally sourced.
Now, let’s explore some key questions related to protein treatments for low porosity hair.
Can low porosity hair use protein?
Yes, you can use protein formulations on low-porosity hair. The key is to choose the right types of proteins with low to moderate dosage levels.
Those with low porosity hair should search for the following points:
• Nature-sourced proteins: Nature-derived proteins are recommended. The examples are “Hydrolyzed” proteins. They are water-soluble and thus are easy to rinse off and do not cause protein overload.
• Type of protein: High molecular size proteins are preferred for low porosity hairs. These molecules are large and therefore cannot pass through cuticle openings. They stay on the hair surface.
• Protein dosage: When perusing a product label, the consumer should pay attention to the INCI listing on the product label. If protein is within the first four to five ingredients, this signifies that it’s highly concentrated and not ideal for low-porosity hair types.
Does low-porosity hair need protein?
Yes. It is perfectly fine to use proteins on low-porosity hair. Proteins are nature-derived hair conditioning agents that offer multifunctional benefits.
They help improve hair surface properties, boost hair shine, and make hair strong. Low-porosity hairs can use protein formulations.
When does low-porosity hair need protein?
Low-porosity hair can use protein treatments once a week (or as needed), especially after excessive brushing, combing, or heat styling. This will help restore your hair’s health and boost its quality.
Furthermore, if you frequently utilize a pool or often go to the beach, it is advised that you use protein products.
It would address the chlorine-induced damage to hair proteins caused by chlorine and can restore the mechanical strength of hair fibers.
Is low porosity hair protein sensitive?
Not necessarily. Proteins can be great for your hair, but some people experience an instant adverse response to proteins in their hair fibers. This is called protein sensitivity.
As a result, hair becomes dry and difficult to comb and style. You quickly feel a negative sensation and touch and feel your hair.
However, this may not be due to low or high porosity hair. Even high porosity hair may show protein sensitivity.
Protein sensitivity can be because of multiple other factors i.e. physical state of hair, past treatments, the type of protein used, and their dosage.
How do we fix a negative reaction to protein?
What if, after applying protein, low-porosity hair becomes dry and brittle, and feels like straw?
In such cases, the best solution is to follow the steps below:
• Wash your hair immediately using a clarifying anti-residue shampoo.
• Once hair is dry, apply light-textured hair oil to lubricate the hair shaft and minimize fiber-to-fiber friction.
• Do not use the protein product. Stop using it at once.
What Specific Type of Protein Treatment Should I Use on Low Porosity Hair?
The goal is to choose proteins that are light enough for your hair and won’t cause protein overload.
Always pay attention to how your hair responds to the protein. If it does not respond positively, immediately reduce or stop using the product.
It is also worth noting that you may only need to use a protein treatment on your ends instead of your whole hair. This will allow you to target the damaged or weak parts of your hair.
Our ends are the oldest part of our hair and goes through a lot of wear and tear, so it is important to give them extra TLC.
Low-porosity hair can use the following protein treatment products:
1. Protein hair masks/treatments containing suitable proteins. A list of such proteins is given below. Use a protein mask once at least once a week or every other week for low porosity hair. As your hair becomes stronger and does not need protein as often, you can reduce usage.
Suggestions for protein hair masks:
2. Protein rinse off conditioners. It is advised to use once or twice a week on low-porosity hairs. Again, you can reduce usage as you feel the need.
Suggestions for protein-based rinse off conditioners:
List of Suitable Proteins for Low Porosity Hairs
The list comprises water-soluble proteins which are obtained and derived from natural vegetal source:
• Hydrolyzed keratin
• Hydrolyzed wheat amino acids
• Silk Amino Acids or protein
• Milk protein
Low porosity hair needs adequate conditioning and moisturizing formulation. It is perfectly fine to use protein products on low porosity hair. You just need to make sure you use the right type of proteins with low to moderate dosage levels, and consider whether your hair needs it in the first place.
It is advisable to do a patch test before applying protein treatments. If you experience any negative reaction after application, wash it off with a clarifying shampoo and apply a moisturizing conditioner afterwards.
Before using a protein treatment, carefully read the INCI listing of the product label, which can provide valuable information about the type of protein used as well as its dosage level.
Water-loving protein or amino acids is suitable for low porosity as they can be easily rinsed off and will not cause any significant build up.
Synthetic proteins are not recommended for low porosity as they are heavy and difficult to rinse off.
1. Hessefort, Y. Z.; Holland, B. T.; Cloud, R. W., True porosity measurement of hair: a new way to study hair damage mechanisms. J. Cosmet. Sci. 2008, 59 (4), 303.
2. Neudahl, G. A., Proteins for conditioning hair and skin. In Conditioning Agents for Hair and Skin, Schueller, R.; Romanowski, P., Eds. Taylor & Francis: 1999; pp 139-166.
3. Syed, A. N.; Ayoub, H., Correlating porosity and tensile strength of chemically modified hair. Cosmetics and toiletries 2002, 117 (11), 57-64.