In recent conversations with naturals, I've discovered that little seems to be known about the importance of protein in a hair care regimen. This concerned me because for most naturals protein is a necessary component for healthy hair, especially if the goal is to retain length for the purpose of having longer hair. If your hair doesn't seem to be growing (meaning you aren't retaining length because our hair is always growing) then you may need to add protein to your wash day routine.
A good, solid regimen provides a balance of protein and moisture. Too much moisture will lead to mushy hair, while too much protein will lead to weak, brittle hair. When I think of protein versus moisture, I think of it this way:
protein = strength & structure
moisture = elasticity
Our hair is made up of over 90% protein. Therefore it is important that our hair is treated with protein products at some point during our regimen - even if it's only once a month. Your hair's protein needs are different from anyone else's, so you have to figure out what's best for you through trial and error. Narrowing down which product(s) are right for your hair is also a process.
If you're wondering how to identify protein in your products, you're not alone. Ingredient lists can be overwhelming. But here are some commonly used proteins in hair products:
- hydrolyzed protein
- wheat protein
- soy protein
- silk protein
- plant proteins
There are several options for working protein into your regimen. Which type of protein product you use and how frequently you use it will entirely depend on your hair's needs, your current regimen, your diet, your styling habits (i.e. how often you're using heat), whether you're using chemical processes in your hair...there are a lot of factors to consider. In my mind, protein products fall into three categories:
Protein Conditioners - these are regular conditioners with protein in them; the bottle will often have words like "strengthening" on the front
Light Protein Treatments - these are usually rinsed off a few minutes after application
Intensive Protein Treatments - these are left on the hair and can become hardened if heat is applied; they are then rinsed out and followed by a moisturizing deep conditioner
If you're looking for a protein treatment of any kind, you'll want to make sure at least one protein is within the first five ingredients. Why the first five? These are typically the ingredients that make up most of a product. If your goal is to simply incorporate a protein conditioner into your regimen, then I usually like to look for proteins somewhere in the middle of the ingredient list. This tells me that there is probably an equal balance of protein and moisture ingredients in a product and most likely won't laden my hair with too much protein. But pay attention to your hair! If over time you begin to notice that a protein conditioner is making your hair dry and brittle, then remove it from your regimen until you've restored the moisture-protein balance of your hair.
When it comes to protein treatments, one of the most common mistakes is that a moisturizing conditioner/deep conditioner is not used immediately following the treatment. This is the most important point when it comes to using protein products:
always follow protein with moisture!
If you're doing a light protein treatment - such as ApHogee's Two-Minute Reconstructor - then it is a good idea to follow this up with a rinse-out moisturizing conditioner. If you're doing an intensive protein treatment - think ApHogee's Two-Step Protein Treatment - then you MUST follow this with a moisturizing DEEP conditioner that remains on the hair for at least a half hour after your protein treatment has been rinsed out. A good rule of thumb: the length of time you keep the protein treatment in should be the same as or less than the length of time you leave your follow-up moisturizing (deep) conditioner in.
When moisturizing conditioners aren't used after protein treatments, that is when you'll encounter dry, brittle hair. If this mistake happens repeatedly, your hair will become much more susceptible to breakage and it won't feel soft and manageable.
What Do You Use?
Since I've gone the more natural route, I use henna to strengthen my hair, which is similar to a protein treatment. Go here for more info on henna. Prior to my natural regimen, I experienced very good results with ApHogee's Two-Minute Reconstructor and used it every wash day for a period of time. I saw decreased shedding and softer, stronger hair. I only recall using ApHogee's Two-Step Protein Treatment once because it was more involved and I didn't care for the smell. Plus when I saw the results I was getting from using their Reconstructor, I realized I didn't need an intense protein treatment.
The body art quality henna I buy from my local Indian store. It costs less than $2 and works great.
I really hope this helps clear up any confusion or concerns regarding protein! Hit me up on Facebook - Forhisglory Natural - and let me know what protein treatment works best for you.