Here's the Deal With Protein Treatments for Black Hair

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Photo by Jessica Felicio on Unsplash

While you're trying to maintain healthy hair, moisture is one of your top priorities. And you’re probably on top of it. Co-washing: check. Deep-conditioning hair masks: check. Leave-in conditioners and oils: check. But what about protein treatments? They promise to strengthen hair, which almost sounds too good to be true—so are they legit?

Benefits of Protein Treatments on Black Hair

Whether you actually need a protein treatment depends on how you treat your hair on a day-to-day basis. If you routinely color, relax, texturize, or heat style your tresses, then replenishing them with protein could be a game changer for you.

Chemical processes and direct heat can both chip away at the hair's outer layer, leaving gaps in the cuticle. Protein treatments help to fill in those gaps, revitalizing areas that have been weakened. The result: your hair shaft looks and feels smooth, instead of beaten up and rough to the touch. When your hair looks brittle and frizzes easily, chances are protein is what it's been lacking.

Even if your curls seem healthy enough despite being subjected to damaging processes, investing in a monthly or bi-monthly protein treatment will help keep your curl pattern strong.

Signs That You Need Protein ASAP

Try a protein treatment if you have any of these signs.

  • Loss of elasticity: Hair in good condition can stretch under normal conditions without breaking. Here's how to test elasticity: Stretch your wet hair out a little and see if it easily snaps back into shape without breaking. If it does, you’re good. If it breaks easily, you need to increase how often you apply a protein mask.
  • Serious damage: When hair has been over-processed with chemicals, it can feel and look like seaweed when it's wet. When dry, it may feel extremely rough. This isn't regular dryness that black hair is prone to. This is damage. Although black hair is textured, when it's healthy, it's still soft to the touch.
  • Severe breakage: Every single person sheds, on a daily basis. But when your curls are extremely damage due to weakness, you'll find strands of it everywhere—not just on your comb or brush but also on your pillow, on the back of your car seat, on your shirt, on the bathroom floor, and so on. It might even make a snapping or popping sound when you comb it.

Does Natural, Virgin Hair Need Protein Treatments?

Let's say you have virgin hair, completely natural in texture and color. Do you still need any additional protein?

Even if you already steer clear of chemicals and heat, properly administered protein treatments probably won't hurt your hair. You do have to balance protein with moisture, though, because too much protein eventually dries out your hair. Treatments do come in various strengths, so all-natural types can stick to only occasionally using a very mild product, and avoid the more intense ones designed for serious issues.

For curly hair that’s been severely damaged, an intense protein treatment may save the day—but only for the interim. The truth is, you're only delaying the inevitable. It can help, but it can't reverse anything that has been done. Eventually, you'll need to get a haircut or trim to take care of your fried ends, but that’s not a bad thing! Removing all split ends can help you take another step toward a healthy hair journey. In lieu of a protein treatment, you can start fresh by growing new, healthy hair. It might take a whole lot of patience, but it's definitely worth the wait.

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