Protein treatments are an essential part of maintaining the health of curly and coily hair. They strengthen, help prevent breakage, repair damage, and restore elasticity. These treatments are especially helpful on chemically treated tresses, including color-treated or relaxed hair.
All protein treatments are not created equal, though. You want to ensure you're choosing the right one to develop and maintain a healthy head of hair. Ahead, experts break down everything you need to know about selecting the proper protein treatment.
Meet the Expert
- Larry Sims is the co-founder of Flawless by Gabrielle Union and a celebrity hairstylist.
- Starr Mason is a Hair Cuttery Family of Brands field education leader and stylist with over 30 years of experience.
Protein molecules contain amino acids and are essential to the human body. Hair is primarily comprised of proteins, most of which are keratin.
When hair is exposed to things like the sun, wind, pollutants, heat, and chemicals, the proteins can break down. If your hair is chemically treated with color, relaxers, or straighteners, or if you use heated styling tools, your hair is more susceptible to damage. This damage causes hair to lose elasticity and become dry and brittle. Over time, this may cause breakage.
Protein treatments are designed to create a protective barrier for your hair. The additional proteins are meant to grab onto the hair follicle and fill any holes or gaps within the cuticle. The result should be stronger hair that has an extra layer of protection from damaging elements. It may also look and feel healthier. "Coily and curly hair tend to be drier than other textures, so those with this hair texture can benefit from protein treatments," Sims points out.
However, a protein treatment is only a temporary fix, and it's important not to go overboard.
Mason recommends proceeding with caution before using a protein treatment for the first time. "Be sure to consult with a salon professional to determine if your hair needs protein, moisture, or both before starting a treatment program," she explains.
If you decide to move forward with a protein treatment, use them sparingly. "When it comes to using protein treatments, you want to make sure you don't overuse them," Sims notes. "Protein build-up can cause stiff hair that can break off easily."
You should always follow up protein treatments with moisturizing conditioners, preferably a deep conditioning treatment. It's also very important to ensure you're using the right treatment for your needs and following the instructions carefully. You don't want to use an intense product if you're only trying to maintain your color-treated tresses. As long as you stick to a treatment that's a good fit for your particular needs, you should be able to keep your mane healthy and strong.
Light Protein Treatments
For routine care, look for reconstructing treatments that contain protein. Many include some form of the word "keratin." These are helpful for relaxed and color-treated hair or any hair that has not reached the point of breakage but could use a boost.
You can apply these treatments two to three times per month, but they must be balanced with moisturizing conditioners to prevent dryness and breakage.
For a good at-home regimen to control breakage—particularly if you color, relax, texturize, or heat-style your hair regularly—try the ApHogee Keratin 2 Minute Reconstructor or Nexxus Keraphix Protein Conditioner. "My favorite is the cibu Repair + Protect Strengthening Mask," Mason adds.
Sims loves the Flawless Deep Repairing Conditioning Mask. "It's infused with biotin, creatine, and rice oil complex, so it's great for restoring and rebuilding dry, brittle hair," he says.
Alternate using these protein treatments with a deep conditioner. If your hair is really breaking off, use a treatment after every shampoo until your hair has more elasticity and you're experiencing less breakage. Once it shows signs of restoration, return to a treatment every couple of weeks.
Intense Protein Treatments
If your hair is breaking off due to severe chemical damage, you'll need an intensive protein treatment to save what you can. This will probably require a salon visit, where a stylist may need to use a product like ApHogee Two-Step Protein Treatment. For at-home protein treatments, try a product like Nexxus Emergencee Shampoo.
These treatments are designed for severe breakage. Therefore, they should not be used more than once every six to eight weeks. Do not be tempted to do it more often because they will likely only damage your hair more. Instead, track your treatments on a calendar and be patient. You should see some improvement with proper maintenance.
When used properly, these intense treatments should halt most breakage. However, your hair may still be too damaged to save.
It can be tough to face the fact that you need a major cut, but it's important to get rid of as much damage as possible as soon as you can. Not only will your hair look better, but it also gives you a fresh start. It's a chance to improve your mane's health with proactive care, and you will likely be happier with it in the end.
The Final Takeaway
As Mason explains, protein treatments "add strength and elasticity, preventing breakage, but most importantly, they add bounce to put the spring back into curls." You can easily do a protein treatment at home using lighter protein options or turn to salon professionals for a more intense treatment. However, it's important not to overdo it to avoid making your hair brittle and stiff.
Basit A, Asghar F, Sadaf S, Akhtar MW. Health improvement of human hair and their reshaping using recombinant keratin K31. Biotechnol Rep (Amst). 2018;20:e00288. doi:10.1016/j.btre.2018.e00288