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Curly hair is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get. It could be super-defined one day and a frizzy concoction the next day – and it's never exactly the same from one head to another. Our mission is to equip you with the necessary tools for restoring and maintaining healthy locks and celebrating the hair you were born with! 

See How Easily You Can Identify Protein and Moisturizing Ingredients

October 19, 2022


Verna Meachum

If you've been trying to figure out what ingredients to search for in protein hair products or moisturizing hair products, look no further.

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Curl care

I am highly experienced in the beauty industry and specialize in writing for brands and websites that focus on curly hair care. Moreover, I actually have curly hair and have curly-haired children with varying hair textures. I am also surrounded by curly-haired friends, including curly hairstylists and curly-haired family members. You get the point :) I’m well-versed in the language and nuances of curly hair care, styling tips, and product recommendations.

Furthermore, I collaborate with my friend who has a Ph.D. in organic and inorganic chemistry and works as an R&D Chemist to help us navigate through the misinformation around curly hair care. He advises us on Hair Care Science to ensure we are well-informed.

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Last Updated on April 10, 2023 by Verna Meachum

If you’ve been trying to figure out what ingredients to search for in protein hair products or moisturizing hair products but weren’t sure what to look for, in this article discover how to easily identify protein and moisturizing ingredients in hair care products.

Have you ever tried to read the ingredients on a curly hair product label and felt like your eyes were going cross? Let me help. I’m going to do my best to explain what they mean and how they impact your hair.

If you’re reading this, it means that you’ve probably already spent some time in the haircare aisle trying to find a good hair care product.

It’s so confusing though, right?! What are all of these “ingredients” anyway? How is one supposed to know which ones are proteins and which ones moisturizers? Well, don’t worry! I’m here to help!

In this blog post, we’ll be talking about protein and moisturizing ingredients in hair care products.

We will teach you how to easily identify protein and moisturizing ingredients in hair care products so that you can better choose what products to try and buy.

Let’s get started!

Why Are Proteins in Hair Care Products?

Today, almost every hair product contains protein in one form or another. While protein treatments are popular among consumers, protein ingredients have been used in hair care products for years.

Scientists have developed new sources of protein and modified protein ingredients to boost their performance and efficacy.

The hair itself is made up of a protein called keratin and is responsible for the physical, chemical, and morphological properties of hair.

Hair may lose its protein as a result of:

  • chemical treatments (bleaching, dyeing, perms, straightening, etc.)
  • prolonged exposure to solar radiation (photo-damage)

As a result, hair becomes porous, fragile, and may even break, so we need remedies to restore hair’s mechanical strength and make the hair strong again.

Hair that has lost its protein

These protein ingredients can form a film on the hair providing a fine coating on the surface or can even penetrate the hair shaft, depending on the size of the molecule. They interact strongly with protein residues of the cuticles to build a strong bond.

Protein technology has advanced in recent years, and hydrophobic (oil or silicone) modified proteins have been developed that give hair shine, lower combing strength, and make it appear healthier.

Hydrolyzed vegetable proteins derived from wheat, soy, and oats are more frequently found in today’s hair care products.

What to Check For in Protein Products

If you are looking for protein hair products, there are generally two classes of protein-containing products.

The first class of products is labeled as “Protein Treatment,” while the second class of products is general products (shampoo, conditioner, leave-in, or even hair color) still having proteins.

Protein treatments

Protein Treatments” are more concentrated and may contain protein levels of 5 – 25%. They are designed for damaged hair to restore its strength, cuticular alignment, smoothness, and shine.

A cuticle treated with protein

Chemical treatments, such as bleached hair, relaxers, etc. make people more likely to need these concentrated protein products. They should be used only occasionally; otherwise, they may result in build-up and protein sensitivity.

General hair care products

The second class is general consumer hair care products such as shampoo, everyday conditioner, or leave-in, which has some protein listed in its ingredient listing.

The amount of protein in the haircare product will vary based on the formula, but it is most often between 0.25 and 1 percent. On the label, we usually find a protein listed towards the end of the ingredient list.

Many of the proteins that make up this formulation are big molecular fragments that function together with other components in the mix.

The type of protein used in hair care products can often indicate the protein strength or protein richness of the product. Most proteins are unable to penetrate the fiber and are largely surface-acting.

Protein-rich deep conditioners frequently include partially hydrolyzed proteins, which means they have been broken down into low molecular weight amino acids that are more likely to bind strongly to the hair fiber.

These smaller molecules of hydrolyzed proteins are superior and deliver long-lasting effects on the hair fiber.

To learn more about proteins in hair care, click here.

Hair Care Product Ingredients List

The ingredient placement in the list on the label gives us a good idea about how concentrated an ingredient is.

The general understanding is, the ingredient listed first is the most abundant in the composition, and the concentration level decreases as we go down the list.

The last ingredient, according to the information provided, is most likely to be the lowest in concentration (usually, the last ingredients are preservatives or fragrances).

So, if we see protein (amino acids or peptides) in the first 3-5 ingredients of the list, it implies that the product is rich in protein.

However, please keep in mind, this is an empirical rule and may not apply to every product.

Common Proteins in Hair Care Products

The INCI names for the most commonly used proteins you may find on the back of your product may be written as:

  • Hydrolyzed (wheat, oat, soy) protein
  • Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein
  • Hydrolyzed keratin
  • Hydrolyzed collagen
  • Amino acids (Silk, milk, wheat, etc.)
  • Cystine Bis-PG-Propyl Silanetriol (Derivative of keratin protein)
  • Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein PG-Propyl Silanetriol (Silicone modified wheat protein)
  • Cocodimonium Hydroxypropyl Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein (Quaternized wheat protein)

Water is the Ultimate Moisturizer for Hair

Water is the number one moisturizer for hair. It hydrates the strands and keeps them healthy. When your hair is hydrated, it is less likely to frizz and become unmanageable.

If you have curly hair, it is essential to use a moisturizer to keep your curls defined and frizz-free.

Water is a universal solvent which means that it can dissolve most of the substances in it. In most hair care products, water is used as a solvent base to deliver active ingredients to hair fibers.

Curly haired woman adding water to hydrate hair

For example, water makes up almost 60-70% of the total weight in regular shampoo, whereas it may be as high as 80-90% in conditioner (emulsion products). The quality of water used to manufacture these products is critically important.

Water with high mineral content, such as hard water, can cause problems with the quality of the product as well as the hair itself by causing metal build-up.


As we all know, hair absorbs moisture depending on both its porosity and outside humidity conditions.

Excess brushing, grooming, and chemical treatments cause hair to become dry, frizzy, and rough. The pores get larger, as a result, so water molecules are lost more quickly.

A protein-based product offers the best protection from moisture loss, as protein is needed.

Dry hair is a common problem and a large number of consumers suffer from it. That’s why so many hair treatments are labeled “Moisturizing” or “Hydrating.”

These products are intended to entice consumers with dry hair by promising to make their hair hydrated with balanced moisture along with surrounding environmental humidity levels.

How to Add Moisture to Hair

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as the amount of moisture you need to add to your hair will depend on its porosity, protein and moisture content, and the climate you live in.

The two most common methods for keeping and maintaining hair hydration and moisturization are:

  • The first method is by adding water molecules from outside (products or environment) into the hair shaft.
  • The second method for maintaining hair hydration is to prevent the escape of water molecules from the hair shaft by using sealants or emollients.

Let’s study more about both methods…

Adding more water molecules into hair

When you want to hydrate your hair, the goal is to add a lot of water molecules into each strand, which can be done by using humectants.

Humectants have a natural tendency to absorb moisture from the surrounding environment and deliver these water molecules to hair.

Glycerin is an excellent humectant and is commonly found in hair care products. The concentration level generally used in conditioning products is 2.0-5.0%, which are sufficient levels to attract water from the outside environment.

Today’s formulators have a plethora of humectants to choose from and their efficacy varies depending upon their water solubility and molecular structure.

Other examples are:

  • Propylene glycol
  • Butylene glycol
  • Hexylene glycol
  • Urea
  • Sorbitol
  • Sodium PCA
  • Zinc PCA
  • Alpha hydroxy acids (lactic acid)
  • Sodium lactate
  • Sugar (glucose, lactose)
  • Betaine

Preserving existing water content in hair

Preserving the existing moisture level in hair can be done by forming an impermeable coating at the hair’s surface. This prevents existing water molecules from escaping the hair’s surface. These ingredients are commonly termed as “emollients.”

The two primary ingredients used as moisturizing agents were petrolatum and mineral oil.

However, consumer organizations have recently pushed for greater use of sustainable and green chemicals.

As a result, petrolatum and mineral oil were phased out of many personal care products and were replaced with plant-based oils and butter.

Examples of emollients that are used in hair care products are:

  • Plant butter (Shea, Cocoa, mango, etc.)
  • Waxes (Bees waxes, carnauba wax, etc.)
  • Plant sources oils (coconut oil, sunflower oil, castor oil, olive oil, etc.)
  • Hydrocarbon based ingredients also offer the same results, and they are
  • C12-C15 alkyl benzoate
  • Cetyl lactate
  • Cetyl palmitate
  • Cetyl alcohol
  • Cetearyl alcohol
  • Squalene

Note: Some animal source ingredients are also commonly used, which are lanolin and its derivatives.

Generally, a hair care formulation aiming to hydrate hair fibers is a combination of humectants and emollients, which are designed to employ strategies to accelerate hair moisturization.


We hope this blog post has given you some ideas for how to approach your hair care routine. Protein is used in most treatments to restore the mechanical strength of the hair, but excessive and repeated use can lead to protein sensitivity or build-up.

Moisturizers work to prevent water molecules from escaping the shaft of the hair, which helps keep it hydrated.

We hope this blog post has helped to answer some of the questions you may have about protein and moisturizers in haircare products and how to identify them.

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