December 8, 2022
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Last Updated on April 9, 2023 by Verna Meachum
Protein. It’s everywhere in the health sphere. It’s essential for building strong muscles, but did you know that it’s also important for healthy hair?
With that said, you may be wondering…how to add protein to hair?
The good news is that adding protein to your hair regimen isn’t complicated. The challenge is understanding what types of proteins are best for your hair and how to use it properly in order to get the most benefit from it.
When hair lacks protein, it can start to rebel and look lifeless. To help restore the natural proteins in hair, you may need to add a protein-rich treatment. Protein treatments are made to replenish and strengthen the hair shaft.
Here are some quick facts about proteins:
Protein treatments are designed to add protein back into your hair strands, helping to repair and improve the overall structure of your hair. Protein treatments can help strengthen weak hair, reduce breakage, and restore elasticity.
Human hair is made up of keratin, which is a type of protein. When hair is frequently exposed to things like heat and chemicals, it can lose its strength, elasticity, and shine.
Our hair grows continuously, but the ends are the oldest and most fragile section. They’re also more likely to be damaged from exposure or wear and tear, which might make them more porous.
Without strength, elasticity, or healthy bonds holding everything together – our strands are left susceptible to damage. That’s why incorporating protein into your haircare routine is so important.
In order to have a healthy head of hair, it is important to maintain the protein matrix. This can be done through treatments at the salon or using protein treatments at home.
There are many reasons why protein treatments are a popular choice for customers looking for effective and results-oriented products.
Protein treatments often have high dosage levels, meaning that active ingredients are delivered directly to the target area.
Protein treatments are versatile, and can be formulated to target different hair concerns. They are typically easy to use, and can provide long-lasting results.
The main source has been natural materials to extract protein molecules e.g. wheat, rice, milk, and soy.
Over the years, scientists have taken naturally sourced protein molecules and improved them to create a new generation of functional protein ingredients. This enables the proteins to better attach to hair fibers, boosting their efficacy and performance.
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 – they are protein molecules extracted and fragmented from natural materials, e.g. hydrolyzed wheat proteins obtained by hydrolysis of wheat protein content.
Synthetic functional Proteins – these are man-made molecules add new functional groups in protein structure. For example, cationic proteins and silicone derivatives, e.g. quaternized keratin, Laurdimonium Hydroxypropyl Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein.
The question on everyone’s mind is: how can we obtain the maximum benefits of these protein treatments?
Below, we will study how protein ingredients work on hair fibers and how they impart benefits to hair care quality.
Protein molecules can interact with hair fiber via two modes of action. They can either penetrate hair fibers or stay on the hair surface forming a delicate coating all over the hair shaft.
The two mechanisms vary significantly in their results and impact on hair quality, and they also depend upon the type of protein being used.
Small molecular fragments of proteins can penetrate hair fibers. They pass through cuticle openings and may penetrate inside the hair cortex.
These protein molecules are crafted intentionally to a specific molecular size so they can easily penetrate through.
Once these molecules are inside hair, they fill the space of the cortex section and cement the fiber structure. This improves the integrity of the strands and restores its mechanical strength.
High molecular weight proteins with large molecular sizes cannot pass through cuticle channels.
These protein molecules form a weak covalent bond with hair keratin, which coats the entire hair shaft. This delicate film is water-soluble, making it easy to comb and improving surface smoothness and shine.
The two mechanisms are based upon the molecular weight and size of protein molecules. Consequently, whatever protein you choose will determine the results.
Synthetically modified proteins are prepared to enhance protein benefits on hair.
Cationic proteins contain positively charged nitrogen units which form electrostatic chemical bonds with negative charges of hair keratin. This boosts protein deposition on hair and thus delivering higher protein benefits to the hair fiber.
Silicon-modified proteins are also available which form a highly hydrophobic coating to the hair surface offering slip and shine to hair.
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 cuticle is the most outer layer of the hair shaft. It’s also the first site of interaction for cosmetics active ingredients from, which is why damage to them should be treated quickly.2
Protein fragments not only fill in the cracks along the cuticle line, but they 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. 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 makes 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 in empty spaces and making hair stronger.
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.
All types of hair, including curly and coily hair can use protein treatments. However, those with damage to their hair, or who have had color treatments or bleach done, will benefit the most from protein treatments.
Individuals with strong and healthy locks may not need them. So, use a protein treatment only when your hair needs it.
Everyone should do a trial test before using any protein treatment, in order to ensure that it is the right product for your hair and scalp. This will also help you determine if you have any protein sensitivities.
You should also examine the INCI listing printed on product labels. If protein is listed among the first five ingredients, it suggests that the product contains a high dosage of proteins.
Lastly, you should avoid protein overloading. These treatments should not be used excessively or continuously.
Many consumers opt for do-it-yourself methods because they are easy to use and more cost-effective.
There are various natural sources of protein that can be used on your hair, courtesy of Mother Nature. People have been using DIY techniques for centuries.
Here is a DIY protein treatment that is both simple and effective for you to do at home. The ingredients are pretty easy to find and mix.
Egg – Yogurt – Aloe Vera Blend Recipe
This DIY hair mask is suitable for all types of hair and can be used once a week.
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 provide slip to 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.
These treatments are left on the hair for a longer duration and penetrate deeper into the hair strands.
This is a powerful product designed to provide ultimate repair and protection for damaged, weak and brittle hair.
Formulated with a blend of Apricot and Sunflower Oils plus Amino Acids, this treatment penetrates deep into the hair shaft to fill in cracks and strengthen the hair from within.
Perfect for use after chemical treatments or as a regular maintenance treatment, this formula helps to keep your hair looking healthy, vibrant and strong. With just one use, you can notice an instantly visible difference in the texture and appearance of your locks. This is one of my favorite 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.
This treatment that helps to restore the natural condition of hair. With the power of substantive conditioners, it deposits deep within the hair fiber for lasting nourishment.
These powerful conditioning agents penetrate into the hair strands and make them permanently conditioned, while also smoothing out any existing damage or split ends.
Additionally, this reconstructor contains keratin, ceramide III and fruit extracts which work together to increase fiber elasticity and tensile strength, detangle knots and knots, reduce breakage and shedding, as well as restore hair back to its normal pH balance.
When used regularly, Affirm 5 In 1 Reconstructor can help bring life back to limp and lifeless hair. It has a pleasant scent thanks to its natural orange extract which also helps protect against heat damage from styling tools. The formula is lightweight enough that it won’t weigh down your locks or leave behind any greasy residue on your scalp. It also works great on color-treated or highlighted tresses as it helps gently nourish while shielding your color vibrancy.
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.
These treatments are used like regular conditioners. They are left on the hair for a few minutes and then rinsed out.
This is a powerful conditioner designed to help restore hair that has been moderately damaged. It replenishes moisture, rebuilds strength and elasticity. It can be used after each shampooing until hair health is restored.
This reconstructor is specially formulated to repair damage from chlorine and hard water, making it particularly suitable for tinted, bleached or relaxed hair. Its unique formula helps to smooth out the cuticle layer on each strand of hair for enhanced manageability.
It also cushions the fibers of the hair shaft, boosting shine and giving hair a more polished look. ApHogee Keratin 2 Minute Reconstructor works quickly and effectively in just two minutes, making it ideal for busy lifestyles. This is one of my go to’s when I need a quick 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.
This is a product designed to repair and strengthen damaged hair. This 5-minute treatment contains amino acids and Joico’s smart keratin technology, which are proven to help restore and revitalize stressed strands. With just one use of this reconstructor, your hair will instantly be restored to its healthy, natural state.
The reconstructor is easy to use; simply apply it to damp hair, wait five minutes and then rinse off with warm water. It helps protect 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.
These treatments are meant to be left in the hair and not washed out, providing a protective barrier that helps to lock in moisture.
This treatment comes from Redken that helps to fortify and strengthen hair that is overly distressed or damaged. It provides an instant power boost to the weakened strands, helping them to resist breakage and damage caused by chemicals. Made with Redken’s Strength Complex, this protein-rich formula helps to specifically target weak areas for boosted strength. I love this protein treatment – a lot!
This unique product serves as a great first step in any hair treatment regimen, helping to prep the hair before chemical services such as coloring, bleaching, and perming. With its lightweight yet deep penetrating formula, it effectively repairs damage without weighing down the hair strands.
The key ingredients in Redken Extreme CAT Anti-Damage Protein include wheat protein which helps to nourish damaged hair while strengthening each strand; soya protein which helps protect against future damage and improve elasticity; arginine which helps smooth out the cuticles; pro-keratin which provides strength by retexturizing fractured fibers; and sepicap which seals in moisture.
The combination of these ingredients is designed to provide maximum protection against further damage while reviving weakened strands for improved manageability and shine.
With regular use of Redken Extreme CAT Anti-Damage Protein, you can help restore your distressed or damaged locks back to their former glory. This fast acting yet effective formula offers targeted repair without weighing down your tresses so you can enjoy strong and healthy looking locks!
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.
This leave in helps to detangle and restore shine, while protecting your hair from the elements, thermal damage and color fading.
This powerful formula contains key ingredients such as Sunflower Seed Extract, Green Tea Leaf Extract, Silk Amino Acids, Aloe Vera and Panthenol – each of which contributes to the overall health and appearance of your hair.
The Sunflower Seed Extract softens your tresses and adds a glossy shine while the Green Tea Leaf Extract shields against environmental damage with powerful antioxidants.
The Silk Amino Acids help to restore natural moisture balance while facilitating strength, shine and manageability.
The Aloe Vera provides intense soothing and protective moisture whilst Panthenol acts as a highly effective moisturizer, fortifier and anti-oxidant.
This amazing leave-in product also helps to reduce frizziness, replace lost proteins in the hair shafts as well as preventing split ends from occurring– all of which results in healthier looking locks!
What’s more is that this leave-in plus keratin is safe for all colors, thermal protectant and also features UV protectant properties– ensuring maximum protection against sun exposure without worrying about any color fading or discoloration!
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.
If you use protein hair treatments as directed, they should be safe for long-term use.
Only use heat with protein treatments if the instructions on the product label specifically tell you to do so.
Using heat with protein-containing product or treatment will cause the hair to swell, which in turn improves bonding of protein to the strands and increases the area where proteins can bind. This makes the treatment more intense.
For a less intense treatment, leave protein-containing products on for less time or without heat.
Too much of a good thing can often lead to bad results. The same is true for protein treatments used on hair.
Overusing these treatments may actually damage and make your hair brittle.
Healthy hair is elastic and will bounce back to its normal state when stretched. However, hair that lacks protein will stretch and then break.
A simple test to determine if your hair needs protein is to take a strand and lightly wet it before stretching. If the strand breaks rather than stretching and then bouncing back, it’s a sign that your hair needs a protein treatment.
Do this test with several strands from various parts of the head to determine if your hair is in need of a protein treatment.
Please take care to read all product instructions thoroughly. While some products may be used weekly, professional versions are generally recommended for use only once or twice monthly.
The treatment your hair needs depends on its current condition. If you have dry, brittle hair that’s prone to breakage, it may be beneficial to use protein treatments more frequently. However, if your hair is strong and healthy, occasional treatments should be enough.
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.
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