Protein treatments for hair are not the first thing that comes to mind, when dealing with damaged hair – but maybe they should be?
Whenever people face different hair issues, my first instinct is to suggest moisturization, whether with hair conditioners, masks or hair oils. Protein hair treatments, however, also have their place in treating damaged hair. To find out if your hair needs a protein hair treatment, whether in the form of shampoo, conditioner, or dedicated cream, read on!
In this article, I explain what protein treatments for hair are, and what they’re made up of. I’ll help you figure out if your hair needs a protein hair treatment, and if so how often. If you’re the do-it-yourself type, there are two protein treatment recipes you can try, or you can buy a dedicated treatment from my list of the best protein hair treatments on the market.
Guide to Protein Hair Treatments: Contents
• What Are Protein Hair Treatments?
• Signs That You Need a Protein Hair Treatment
• What Kind of Proteins Are Used in Protein Hair Treatments?
• Are There Any Drawbacks or Risks to Using Protein Hair Products?
• How Often Should I Use Protein Hair Treatments to Avoid Bad Results?
• Dos & Don’ts of Protein Hair Treatments
• DIY Protein Hair Treatments
• Best Protein Hair Treatments
Protein hair treatments (although you can also get this magic in the form of a shampoo or conditioner) are hair products loaded with a kind of protein that the hair can absorb. Hair protein treatments strengthen the hair, restore it if it’s been damaged, and fill in gaps between the cuticles thereby supporting the integrity of the hair shaft.
Proteins for hair slow water loss, and can help keep the hair moisturized. Emollients will also help slow down water loss, so keep reading to figure out which type of ingredient would be better for you – the health of your hair depends on making the right choice!
So was it a protein treatment your hair needed all this time?
• Dry hair on its own is not enough to justify a protein hair treatment, because switching to a richer hair conditioner, or adding regular masking with emollients should always be the first step in treating dryness. If you try emollient-based treatments and they don’t work well enough on their own, then it is definitely time to give protein hair treatments a try.
• You should try protein hair treatments if your hair is more porous due to damage caused by bleaching, over-chlorination from the pool, or permanent chemical hair treatments like relaxing or perming. All of these circumstances can cause the hair to lose proteins.
To figure out if your hair is porous, you can do a strand test. Place a strand of your hair in a shallow bowl of water. If the hair sinks immediately, then your hair is very porous.
• Protein hair treatments are, in general, more appropriate for those who do not have very thick hair strands (i.e. anyone referred to as having fine or medium hair), because it’ll add strength and rigidity.
• If you are just about to undergo a serious hair treatment like bleaching or perming, doing a protein hair treatment first is a good idea. It will help to mitigate some of the damage the dyeing or perming will cause.
• If you have noticed a lot of hair breakage, and conditioning treatments haven’t helped, then give a protein hair treatment a try.
• If your hair is very flat, and has a difficult time achieving voluminous styles like curls or waves.
• If you are really unsure, you can give this strand test a try: wet a strand of hair with water, and then stretch it. If it stretches easily, but then breaks, it is a sign that your hair needs protein. If it doesn’t stretch much at all, your hair likely needs more moisturizing treatments.
The most frequent proteins you’ll see show up in protein hair treatments are keratin, collagen, oat, rice, wheat, and silk. They will normally be preceded by the word “hydrolyzed”, meaning that the protein has been broken down into a smaller molecule that is able to penetrate through the layers of keratin that make up the hair more easily.
The words “amino acid” and “protein” in the ingredients list are also a good sign for a protein hair treatment, since hair proteins can come from so many different kinds of natural sources. Speaking of, you want to make sure these ingredients show up as one of the first 6 ingredients on the list, to know that there is a significant amount of protein in the formula.
There is obviously a reason as to why I’m so cautious in urging my readers to try emollient hair treatments before the option for protein hair treatments. Using protein on hair that doesn’t need it, or simply using too much protein can cause the exact opposite of the effects you want.
The hair can become overly stiff, which can lead to it breaking more easily. It can also become sticky and easily tangled. While protein is supposed to fight dryness, too much protein can actually lead to the hair feeling dry!
On the other hand, protein hair treatments can cause seemingly opposite problems. They can cause the hair to become too soft, to the point that it looks limp, flat, and lifeless. It is difficult to predict who will have which results, but generally, it is best to avoid the risk of using too much hair protein.
The frequency with which you use hair proteins totally depends on your hair type. You can experiment by introducing hair proteins slowly into your routine, and slowly working your way up until you find the sweet spot.
On the lower end of the scale, you can introduce a product with a fairly low amount of protein (a hair conditioner or shampoo), and only use it once a month or so. This is a good choice if your hair is naturally a little coarser, or if your main concern is just a small amount of damage.
If you feel like your hair would benefit from more protein, you can work your way up to using a wash-off protein product as often as once or twice a week, or you can introduce a hair mask with protein on a regular basis.
If you’re starting off with a few factors that would make protein great for your hair (and your initial results with it are promising), like having hair that is both bleached and very fine, you don’t have to be as cautious, and you can immediately start using a lot of protein.
• Do only use one type of protein hair treatments. You can opt for a protein-enriched shampoo, conditioner, hair mask, or leave-in cream.
• If your hair requires more protein, use the product of choice more often, rather than using more products with protein.
• Another way to increase the absorption of protein hair treatments is by applying heat to them. This can be done with a blowdryer, or by simply leaving the hair treatment in the hair during a hot shower.
• If, after using a protein hair treatment, your hair feels too stiff, you can follow it up with a moisturizing treatment. Simply soak your hair with coconut oil, or with a protein-free hair conditioner. Make sure your hair is completely saturated, and allow it to sit for a few minutes. Once you rinse it out, the stiffness should be gone.
• You can use a protein-enriched hair conditioner as though it were a mask, by leaving it in your hair for up to an hour before washing. This will give you nearly as strong of a result as using a protein hair mask!
So now that you know you need hair proteins…
While I usually urge people to be cautious with making their own beauty products, these recipes for a DIY protein hair treatment are one-use, so it is perfectly safe! Keep in mind that since the first recipe uses gelatin, it is not vegetarian. Your hair will absorb much more protein with it than with the second recipe which uses eggs, but being a vegetarian I would personally stay away from it.
Gelatin DIY Protein Hair Mask
This is by far the best way to get the effects of a protein hair treatment at home. However, be warned, plain gelatin is not the nicest smelling thing around. There is also coconut oil in this recipe as an emollient for extra moisturization.
Bring the water to a boil, and remove it from the heat. Dissolve the gelatin powder in the hot water by pouring it in slowly and stirring constantly – this will allow the gelatin to dissolve easily without any clumps.
Next stir into the mixture the vinegar and oil. Wait until the mixture cools down before you use it – you can leave it in the fridge for a couple of minutes to speed up the cooling process.
Once you’re ready to use it, prep your hair by getting it wet (you can even shampoo it first if you like). Squeeze out excess water from your hair, but let it remain damp.
Apply the gelatin mixture to your hair in sections, making sure to evenly coat every strand. Allow it to sit in your hair for anywhere between 3 minutes and one hour (the longer it sits in your hair, the more potent the treatment will be).
If you’re finding the mixture a little messy, you can wrap up your hair in a plastic bag to avoid a mess.
Rinse the mixture out of your hair – make sure it is thoroughly washed out, and then apply a generous amount of conditioner. Let the conditioner sit in your hair for a few minutes, and then rinse it away as well. Enjoy the feel of having soft and strong hair!
Vegetarian DIY Protein Hair Mask
This mask is great because in addition to the hair proteins from the egg it also includes deeply penetrative coconut oil to moisturize, and humectant honey which attracts water to the hair.
• 1 egg
• 1 tablespoon coconut oil
• 1 tablespoon honey
Mix all of the ingredients in a bowl, and then apply to your hair in sections. It is best applied to damp hair.
Leave it on for about an hour or two, and then rinse off with cool water, and follow with shampoo and conditioner. Avoid rinsing with hot water, as it will cook the egg and make the whole concoction very difficult to remove.
If ready-made hair proteins are what you are looking for, below you’ll find the best protein hair treatments to try!
Best Protein Shampoos & Protein Conditioners
1. Redken All Soft Shampoo & Conditioner
This creamy set of shampoo and conditioner is an excellent light dose of vegan hair proteins and nourishing oils, to moisturize and strengthen the hair. It’s an excellent choice for anyone who needs just a hint of protein to fortify their hair. You can purchase both the shampoo and conditioner at Ulta.
2. Ouidad Curl Quencher Moisturizing Shampoo & Conditioner
Curly hair tends to be the most at-need for protein hair treatments, so it is no surprise that this set from Ouidad does the trick. Both the shampoo and conditioner keep the hair moisturized and strengthened with vegan hair proteins and no sodium laureth sulfate. The shampoo and conditioner are both available at Nordstrom.
3. Amika Nice Cream Cleansing Conditioner
If you’re a minimalist, this is the best protein hair treatment for you! It cleanses, moisturizes, and treats all in one, and it includes some really luxurious oils and extracts to boot. It features vegan hair proteins from wheat, oats, and soy, so it is the perfect hair-repairing product. It is available for sale at Sephora.
4. Kiehl’s Amino Acid Shampoo & Conditioner
This protein-based set of products is also loaded with moisturizing coconut oil, for a phenomenal treat to the hair. They also smell like coconut, so if you’re addicted to that smell the way I am they’re a must. The shampoo is sulfate-free, so it is great for dyed hair. Both shampoo and conditioner can be purchased at Nordstrom.
5. OGX Anti-Breakage Keratin Oil Shampoo & Conditioner
It is great to see that some of the best protein hair products are actually quite affordable. Featuring a very respectable amount of keratin, this sulfate-free oil shampoo and conditioner are perfect for anyone with extremely fine hair. These formulas also feature vitamin-E rich argan oil, for a softening and protecting effect. You can pick up the shampoo and conditioner at Ulta.
Best Leave-In Protein Hair Treatments & Masks
1. Alterna HairCare Caviar Repair RX Re-Texturizing Protein Cream
This rich cream is one of the best protein hair treatments for those with heavily damaged or extremely fine hair. It is loaded with many different kinds of hair proteins that penetrate into the hair at different depths, meaning it provides serious strength and fortification.
If you opt for this hair treatment, be careful not to over-do it, because the results are extreme. This hair cream is available for sale at Sephora.
2. It’s a 10 Miracle Leave-in Plus Keratin
This take on one of the best protein hair treatments also doubles as a styling product. You simply apply it to your hair while it is wet, and style it as you normally would. It is a great way to protect the hair and prevent damage right before heat-styling, just like heat protectants, so it is an absolute must for anyone who straightens or curls their hair on a daily basis. It can be purchased directly from Ulta.
3. Oribe Bright Blonde Radiance & Repair Treatment
This treatment from Oribe is perfect for those bleach blondes that need some damage-control. This treatment, in addition to fortifying the hair with a dose of proteins, also moisturizes the hair with some delicious beauty oils, and some violet pigment to prevent the blonde hair from becoming brassy. You can buy a bottle of this treatment at Nordstrom.
4. Bumble and Bumble Mending Masque
This incredible protein hair mask is positively loaded with both nourishing essential fatty acids and various forms of wheat protein, to repair and restore all kinds of damaged hair. All it takes is ten minutes, and this protein hair mask works magic. You can get yourself a tube of it at Sephora.
5. CHI Silk Infusion Silk Reconstructing Complex
This leave-in product contains a very respectable amount of all different kinds of protein, to support the hair, fight frizz, and maintain softness and strength. A quick application to damp hair is all it takes, and as a bonus it’ll infuse the hair with a marvelous scent. This product is available for sale through Ulta.
Have you tried protein hair treatments? What was your experience? Let us know!
Photos via @beckym_hair, @kiehls, @nanysklozet, @raycout_