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Here is How to Add Protein Back to Your Hair

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Protein is a powerhouse in the realm of health – a key player in sculpting resilient muscles. But here’s a heads-up: its significance doesn’t stop there. Did you know it’s also a VIP for nurturing and maintaining healthy hair?

Integrating protein into your hair care routine involves various practical approaches. Consider DIY protein treatments, at-home protein treatments, rinse-out treatments, and leave-in treatments as excellent options to provide your hair with the nourishment it needs. Additionally, incorporating a diet rich in protein foods. These diverse methods offer a comprehensive approach to ensuring your hair receives the essential proteins it needs both externally and internally.

Fortunately, it’s not a complex process. The key lies in knowing which types of proteins suit your hair best and how to use them effectively to maximize their benefits. With the invaluable insights from my hair scientist friend, a cosmetic formulator holding a PhD in Chemistry, you’re in for a treat. Armed with scientific expertise, we can navigate how to use protein and tailor it to your unique hair type.

Optimizing Protein Treatments: Key Insights and Strategies

Protein treatments are beneficial for all hair types, whether straight or wavy. Without strength, elasticity, or healthy bonds holding everything together – our strands are left susceptible to damage and even hair loss. That’s why incorporating protein into your haircare routine is so important.


Protein treatments primarily focus on the hair strands rather than the hair follicles. These treatments work to replenish and strengthen the protein structure of the hair shaft, repairing damage and improving overall hair health. While they may indirectly benefit the hair follicles by promoting healthier strands, their primary action is on the hair’s external structure. Other treatments or products may be more suitable to address specific issues related to the hair follicles.

Your understanding of how to incorporate them properly is pivotal to making the most of these benefits. Tailoring these treatments to meet your specific hair needs can significantly enhance overall hair health and vitality.

The burning question for many is: How do we maximize the benefits of protein treatments? Let’s delve into how protein ingredients interact with hair fibers. Here are some essential insights to enhance your protein treatment routine:

  • Targeted Benefits for Specific Conditions: Understanding hair’s keratin composition highlights the need to restore strength, elasticity, and shine compromised by heat and chemicals. Protein treatments play a crucial role, especially for damaged hair, color-treated hair, or bleach.
  • Selective Application for Strong and Healthy Hair: You may not need frequent protein treatments if your hair is already strong and healthy (i.e. low porosity hair – virgin, non-chemically treated hair). It’s essential to apply them selectively only when your hair indicates its need.
  • Hair Growth Vulnerabilities: Given that hair continuously grows, the ends, being the oldest and most fragile part, are susceptible to damage from exposure and daily wear and tear, leading to increased porosity.
  • Trial Testing for Suitability Before incorporating any protein treatment into your hair care routine, conduct a trial test. This ensures the product’s suitability for your hair and scalp and helps identify any potential protein sensitivities you believe your hair may have.
  • Informed Product Selection: Read the INCI label listing when selecting a product. If a protein ingredient appears among the first five ingredients, it indicates a high concentration of proteins in the product.
  • Avoiding Protein Overload: Avoid using too much protein. Excessive or continuous use of these treatments can be counterproductive. Moderation is key to reaping the benefits without overwhelming your hair.

5 Ways to Add Protein to Hair

1. DIY Protein Treatment

Many individuals choose do-it-yourself methods for their simplicity and cost-effectiveness. Explore the abundance of natural protein sources that Mother Nature provides for your hair. Centuries of tradition have seen people incorporating DIY techniques, such as rice water rinses.

Consider using natural ingredients to try this straightforward and effective DIY protein treatment at home. The ingredients are readily available and easy to mix, making it a convenient option:

Egg – Yogurt – Aloe Vera Blend Recipe


  • One egg
  • 50g plain yogurt
  • One tablespoon Aloe Vera Gel
  • One teaspoon Olive Oil


  1. Put all ingredients in a mixing bowl.
  2. Mix them well to create a uniform paste.
  3. Divide your hair into small sections.
  4. Using a spatula or whatever tool you wish to use, apply a small amount of the paste to your hair from root to tip. If you’d prefer to use it only on the ends, feel free to do so.
  5. Leave it on for 15 minutes.
  6. Rinse it out thoroughly. 

This DIY hair mask is suitable for all types of hair and can be used once a week.

DIY Protein Treatment: Explaining the Science

Egg protein, found in both the yolk and white, is the source of protein and lipids. Egg protein, known as albumin, is a large molecule that gives hair surface smoothness. Egg yolk contains cholesterol, which can slip the hair surface and enhance conditioning.

Yogurt is an excellent source of lactic acid, which is alpha hydroxy acid. This type of acid is highly sought after for its moisturizing benefits. Furthermore, yogurt has proteins, minerals, and vitamins that can liven up one’s hair and scalp health. Aloe vera is a time-tested ingredient for both moisturizing hair and improving the scalp.

Aloe vera’s polysaccharides help regulate water levels in your scalp and hair, therefore providing a solution to dryness.

2. At-Home Protein Treatments

Maintaining a healthy head of hair involves preserving the protein matrix, achievable through salon treatments or convenient at-home protein treatments. These types of protein treatments are left on the hair for a longer duration and penetrate deeper into the hair strands.

For your convenience, we’ve included ingredient lists of hair products for easy reference. However, it’s crucial to note that these lists may be outdated. To ensure accuracy and current information, we strongly advise checking the details on the product bottle. Additionally, be sure to verify the product size, as variations may exist across different sites.

Curl Junkie Repair Me! Reconstructive Hair Treatment

This is a powerful product designed to provide ultimate repair and protection for damaged, weak, and brittle hair. It is enriched with a blend of apricot and sunflower oils coupled with amino acids. This treatment works its way deep into the hair shaft, filling in cracks along the hair shaft and fortifying the hair from within.

Ideal for post-chemical treatments or as a routine maintenance treatment, this formula contributes to maintaining your hair’s health, vibrancy, and strength. A single-use reveals an instant and visible transformation in the texture and appearance of your hair. It’s a personal favorite among protein treatments!

Ingredients: Water/Aqua/Eau, Cetearyl Alcohol**, Behentrimonium Methosulfate, Hydrolyzed Keratin Protein, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, Panthenol, Keratin Amino Acids, Hydrolyzed Yeast, Glyceryl Stearate, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Glycol Stearate, Prunus Armeniaca (Apricot) Kernel Oil, Cetyl Alcohol, PEG-100 Stearate, Tocopherol Acetate***, Citric Acid, Disodium EDTA, Fragrance/Parfum, Propylene Glycol, Diazolidinyl Urea, Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate, *Benzyl Benzoate. *Fragrance Component **Derived from coconut oil. ***sourced from Soy.

Avlon Affirm 5 In 1 Reconstructor

This treatment restores hair’s natural condition with substantive conditioners for lasting nourishment. It contains powerful conditioning agents to penetrate strands, providing conditioning and repairing damage. The reconstructor, containing keratin, ceramide III, and fruit extracts, enhances elasticity, reduces breakage, and restores pH balance. Additionally, it revitalizes limp hair and features a pleasant orange extract scent and lightweight formula for all hair types, including color-treated strands.

Ingredients: Water, cetearyl alcohol, glycerin, urea, hydrolyzed wheat protein, mineral oil, dimethicone, C12-15 alkyl lactate, dimethyl stearamine, PEG-3 tallow aminopropylamine, citric acid, polyquaternium-6, polyquaternium-11, isostearyl ethylimidonium ethosulfate, polyacrylamide, ceteth-20, glyceryl sterate (and) PEG-100 sterate, stearalkonium chloride, imidazolidinyl urea, fragrance, tetrasodium EDTA, methylparaben, propylparaben, FD_C yellow #5.

3. Rinse-Out Treatments

These treatments are used like regular conditioners. They are left on the hair for a few minutes and then rinsed out.

ApHogee Intensive 2-Minute Keratin Reconstructor 

This potent conditioner is crafted to restore moderately damaged and dry hair by replenishing moisture, rebuilding strength, and enhancing elasticity. It is ideal for regular use after each shampoo until optimal hair health is achieved.

Specially formulated to repair damage from chlorine and hard water, it’s particularly beneficial for tinted, bleached, or relaxed hair. The unique formula smooths the cuticle layer, improving manageability and imparting a polished look with boosted shine.

It literally offers quick and effective results in just two minutes, making it perfect for busy lifestyles. It’s my go-to choice for a speedy protein treatment.

Ingredients: Water (Aqua, Eau), Glycerin, Cetyl Alcohol, Stearalkonium Chloride, Mineral Oil (Paraffinum Liquidum, Huile Minerale), Cetearyl Alcohol, Panthenol, Tocopheryl Acetate, Persea Gratissima (Avocado) Oil, Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein PG-Propyl Silanetriol, Mauritia Flexuosa Fruit Oil, Triticum Vulgare (Wheat) Germ Oil, Hydrolyzed Keratin, Phytantriol, Petrolatum, Polysorbate 60, Amodimethicone, Stearyl Alcohol, Polyquaternium-10, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Trideceth-12, Cetrimonium Chloride, Collagen Amino Acids, Squalane, Hydrolyzed Glycosaminoglycans, Linoleic Acid, Linoleamidopropyl PG-Dimonium Chloride Phosphate, Trimethylsiloxyamodimethicone, C11-15 Pareth-7, C12-16 Pareth-9, Linolenic Acid, Citric Acid, DMDM Hydantoin, Disodium EDTA, Fragrance (Parfum), Benzyl Alcohol, Benzyl Benzoate.

Aphogee Keratin Reconstructor
$9.99 ($1.25 / Fl Oz)
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Joico K-PAK Deep Penetrating Reconstructor

This product is one that I personally love for repairing and strengthening damaged hair. It’s a 5-minute treatment enriched with amino acids and Joico’s smart keratin technology, proven to restore and revitalize stressed strands. After just one use, my hair is instantly restored to its healthy, natural state.

Using this reconstructor is a breeze – I apply it to damp hair, wait five minutes, and then rinse it off with warm water. Not only does it provide immediate restoration, but it also acts as a shield against future damage from heat-styling tools like curling irons and blow dryers, as well as the sun’s harmful UV rays.

Ingredients: Water/​Aqua/​Eau, Stearamidopropyl Dimethylamine, Mineral Oil/​Paraffinum Liquidum/​Huile Minérale, Glycol Stearate, PEG-8 Distearate, Sodium Chloride, Ceteth-2, Hydrolyzed Hair Keratin, Laurdimonium Hydroxypropyl Hydrolyzed Keratin, Myristyl Myristate, Citric Acid, Fragrance/​Parfum, Sorbic Acid, Cetyl Alcohol, Stearyl Alcohol, Carthamus Tinctorius (Safflower) Seed Oil, Yeast Extract/​Faex/​Extrait De Levure, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Keratin Amino Acids, Methylparaben, Propylparaben.

4. Leave-in Treatments

These treatments are meant to be left in the hair and not washed out, providing a protective barrier that helps to lock in moisture.

Redken Extreme CAT Anti-Damage Protein

Introducing a fantastic product from Redken that I personally adore for fortifying and strengthening overly distressed or damaged curly hair. This is going to be a lengthy review because I love it that much, so hang tight!

This treatment delivers an instant power boost to weakened strands, making them more resistant to breakage and damage caused by chemicals. With Redken’s Strength Complex, this protein-rich formula targets weak areas for enhanced strength.

Preparing the hair for chemical services like coloring, bleaching, and perming is an excellent initial step in any hair treatment regimen. Its lightweight yet deep-penetrating formula effectively repairs damage without weighing down the hair strands.

It boasts key ingredients such as wheat protein for nourishment and strengthening, soya protein for future damage protection and improved elasticity, arginine for smoothing cuticles, pro-keratin for strength, and sepicap for moisture sealing. This powerful combination provides maximum protection against further damage, reviving weakened strands for improved manageability and shine.

Consistent use helps restore distressed or damaged curls to their former glory. Its fast-acting yet effective formula offers targeted repair without weighing down your tresses, ensuring strong and healthy-looking hair!

Ingredients: Aqua/Water/Eau, Hydroxypropyltrimonium Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein, Magnesium Sulfate, Laureth-23, Taurine, Sodium Benzoate, Parfum/Fragrance, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Salicylic Acid, Polyquaternium-10, Arginine, Lysine Hydrochloride/Lysine Hcl, Phenoxyethanol, Linalool, Hexyl Cinnamal, Citronellol.

It’s a 10 Miracle Leave-in Plus Keratin

Introducing a leave-in essential that effortlessly detangles, restores shine, and shields your hair from elements, thermal damage, and color fading. It features sunflower seed extract, green tea leaf extract, silk amino acids, aloe vera, and panthenol, each contributing to overall hair health.

Sunflower seed extract adds shine, green tea leaf extract protects from environmental damage, Silk amino acids restore moisture balance, aloe vera provides intense moisture, and panthenol is a moisturizer, fortifier, and antioxidant.

This incredible leave-in fights frizziness replenishes lost proteins and prevents split ends for healthier-looking locks. Plus, it’s safe for all colors and acts as a thermal and UV protectant, ensuring vibrant and protected hair in one go!

Ingredients: Water (Aqua, Eau), Propylene Glycol, Cetearyl Alcohol, Cyclopentasiloxane, Behentrimonium Chloride, Panthenol, Silk Amino Acids, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Extract, Quaternium-80, Butylene Glycol, Phenoxyethanol, Methylparaben, Propylparaben, Ethylparaben, Fragrance (Parfum), Citronellol, Hexyl Cinnamal, Limonene, Linalool.

5. Fueling Hair Strength: A Protein-Rich Diet from Within

Enhancing your natural hair strength isn’t just about external care; incorporating a protein-rich diet can strengthen your hair from the inside out.

Include foods like the following in your daily intake:

  • Lean meats
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Dairy products
  • Legumes
  • Nuts
  • Seeds

These protein sources provide the essential building blocks your body needs for healthy hair growth. Additionally, stay hydrated and maintain a balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals for overall hair vitality. Combining external care with a nutritious diet ensures a comprehensive approach to achieving strong and resilient hair.

The 411 on Proteins

When hair lacks protein, it can start to rebel and look lifeless. You may need to add a protein-rich treatment to help restore the natural proteins in hair. Protein treatments are made to replenish and strengthen the hair shaft.

Here are some quick facts about proteins:

  • Proteins are biopolymers made up of small amino acids bonded together.
  • A wide range of protein ingredients are available to formulators, and they can be used in hair cleansing, conditioning, and deep conditioning treatment masks.
  • You can do protein treatments at home weekly or monthly, depending on your needs.
  • There are 20 different amino acids that can be used to make a protein.
  • Proteins are proven to improve hair’s outer cuticular layer, enhance hair shine, and boost hair mechanical strength.1
  • The sequence of amino acids determines the structure and function of a protein.

Transforming Protein Ingredients for Optimal Hair Performance

Protein ingredients derived from various natural sources like wheat, rice, milk, and soy, undergo processes like extraction and fragmentation that influence their molecular weight. Over time, scientists have enhanced naturally sourced protein molecules, giving rise to a new era of functional protein ingredients. This advancement ensures better attachment to hair fibers, significantly enhancing their effectiveness and overall performance.

Categories of Protein Ingredients

There are two main categories of protein ingredients:

  • High Molecular Weight Proteins – (molecular weight more than 2000 Da) e.g. Hydrolyzed wheat protein PG-propyl methylsilanediol, hydrolyzed collagen, albumen. 
  • Low Molecular Weight Proteins – (molecular weight less than 2000 Da) e.g. Wheat amino acids, silk amino acids, silk protein, rice protein. 

In addition, they are characterized depending on their type.

  • Nature Derived Proteins are protein molecules extracted and fragmented from natural materials, e.g., hydrolyzed wheat proteins obtained by hydrolysis of wheat protein content.
  • Synthetic Functional Proteins – are man-made molecules that introduce new functional groups into the protein structure. Examples include cationic proteins and silicone derivatives, such as quaternized keratin and laurdimonium hydroxypropyl hydrolyzed wheat protein.

The burning question for many is: How do we maximize the benefits of protein treatments? In the following, we’ll delve into how protein ingredients interact with hair fibers and their positive impacts on the quality of hair care.

How Protein Treatments Work: Mode of Action

Protein molecules interact with hair fibers through two distinct modes, each impacting hair quality differently. The choice of protein determines the outcome:

Protein Interaction Modes: Penetration vs. Surface Coating Mechanisms

  1. Penetration Mechanism:
    • Small molecular fragments intentionally crafted to specific sizes.
    • Easily penetrate hair fibers through cuticle openings.
    • Fill the cortex space, enhancing strand integrity and mechanical strength.
  2. Surface Coating Mechanism:
    • High molecular weight proteins with large sizes.
    • Form weak covalent bonds with hair keratin, coating the entire shaft.
    • The water-soluble film improves combing ease, surface smoothness, and shine.

Optimizing Protein Benefits: Cationic and Silicon-Modified Proteins

The effectiveness of these mechanisms is governed by the molecular weight and size of the protein chosen. Synthetically modified proteins, such as cationic and silicon-modified proteins, enhance protein benefits on hair:

  • Cationic Proteins:
    • Contain positively charged nitrogen units.
    • Form electrostatic chemical bonds with negative charges of hair keratin.
    • Boost protein deposition, delivering enhanced benefits to the hair fiber.
  • Silicon-Modified Proteins:
    • Form a highly hydrophobic coating on the hair surface.
    • Offer slip and shine to hair, enhancing overall appearance and manageability.

Understanding these mechanisms and protein variations empowers you to choose the most suitable treatment for your hair needs.

Benefits of Protein Treatments

Proteins are multifunctional nature-derived ingredients that offer multiple benefits to hair fiber as listed below.

✔︎ Improve Surface Smoothness

The protective protein coating over each hair shaft makes the surface smoother and minimizes any damage done to the individual fibers, making it easier to comb or brush.

✔︎ Reduce Cuticle Damage

The hair cuticle is the most outer layer of the hair shaft. It’s also the first site of interaction for cosmetics’ active ingredients, which is why damage to them should be treated quickly.2

Protein fragments not only fill in the cracks along the cuticle line but also cement the damaged components of the cuticle. By doing so, this minimizes further damage from happening.

✔︎ Fiber Embrittlement

Several chemical and physical treatments can make hair dry, brittle, and porous, leading to a lack of protein. This brittleness is evident in split ends, weak threads, and roughness when touching the hair. Protein formulations help to repair this protein loss and boost fiber integrity.

✔︎ Hair Shine

According to microscopic studies, applying protein to the hair can actually improve its shine. This is likely because proteins make the hair surface smoother and help align the cuticle, which then improves how light scatters off of it.

✔︎ Recovering Hair Mechanical Strength

It’s important to regain the lost strength of your hair fibers to improve its health as a whole.3 Chemical treatments, especially oxidative bleaching, lead to significant protein loss in hair and make it porous and brittle.3-4

Severe and repeated exposure to such harsh treatments makes hair hallow from the inside, causing cracks to form within the cortex matrix, which can be seen under the microscope. Low molecular proteins with smaller molecular sizes can penetrate deep into the hair cortex, filling empty spaces and strengthening hair.

Several scientific studies have shown improvement in hair tensile strength following a protein treatment. Hydrolyzed wheat protein, hydrolyzed rice, and hydrolyzed keratin are preferred for this job.

✔︎ Hydration

Proteins and amino acids are organic humectants that have the ability to attract water molecules. Therefore, protein treatments can improve hair moisture levels and address the problem of dryness. 


Are protein treatments safe to use long-term?

If you use protein hair treatments as directed, they should be safe for long-term use.

Should you use heat with protein treatments?

When applying protein treatments, adhere to the product label instructions regarding heat usage. If the instructions specify its use, follow the guidelines for the best results.

The use of heat in conjunction with protein-containing products or treatments induces hair swelling, facilitating enhanced protein bonding to the strands. This, in turn, increases the area available for protein binding, intensifying the treatment.

For a milder treatment, consider leaving protein-containing products on for a shorter duration or opting for application without the use of heat. This flexibility allows you to tailor the treatment to your hair’s specific needs, ensuring optimal results.

Is a keratin treatment the same as a protein treatment?

While keratin treatments often contain protein, they are not the same. A keratin treatment is a specific type of protein treatment designed to smooth and straighten hair, typically using a solution with high keratin content. Protein treatments, on the other hand, encompass a broader category of products or procedures that aim to strengthen, nourish, and repair hair using various types of proteins, not exclusively keratin.

How can I tell if my hair needs protein?

Healthy hair exhibits elasticity, effortlessly returning to its original state after stretching. In contrast, protein-deficient hair tends to stretch and break.

A quick test to gauge your hair’s protein needs involves lightly wetting a strand before stretching it. If the strand breaks instead of stretching and bouncing back, it indicates a requirement for a protein treatment.

Conduct this test on several strands from different areas of the head to accurately assess whether your hair would benefit from a protein treatment.

How often should you use protein treatments in your hair?

It’s crucial to carefully read and follow all product instructions. While certain products may be suitable for weekly use, professional versions are typically recommended for application once or twice a month.

Tailoring the frequency of protein treatments to your hair’s current condition is essential. More frequent use of protein treatments may be beneficial for those with dry, brittle hair prone to breakage. Conversely, individuals with strong and healthy hair may find occasional treatments to be sufficient. Adjust the treatment frequency based on your hair’s specific needs for optimal results.

Should I wash my hair before a protein treatment?

Yes. For best results, shampoo your hair first.


1. 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.

2. Ruetsch, S. B.; Yang, B.; Kamath, Y. K., Cuticular damage to African; American hair during relaxer treatments; A microfluorometric and SEM Study. Inter. J. of Cosmet. Sci 2009, 31 (3), 244-245.

3. Lee, Y.; Kim, Y.-D.; Pi, L.-q.; Lee, S. Y.; Hong, H.; Lee, W.-S., Comparison of hair shaft damage after chemical treatment in Asian, White European, and African hair. Int. J. Dermatol. 2013, n/a-n/a.

4. Silva, A. L. S.; Nunes, A. S.; Gesztesi Natura, J. L., Protein loss quantification of abraded virgin and abraded bleached hair according to Bradford assay. Inter. J. of Cosmet. Sci 2005, 27 (2), 139-140.


I’m just a girl who transformed her severely damaged hair into healthy hair. I adore the simplicity of a simple hair care routine, the richness of diverse textures, and the joy of sharing my journey from the comfort of my space.

My mission? To empower others with the tools to restore, and maintain healthy hair, and celebrate the hair they were born with!

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