Natural girls know how crucial it is to incorporate a hardworking hair mask into your routine. But if you've used every moisturizing mask and deep conditioner under the sun to no avail you may want to try out a protein treatment. Good protein treatments for natural hair use botanical-rich ingredients, vitamins, and oils to restore moisture, promote growth, and—if used regularly—make for stronger and healthier hair.
If you're transitioning from chemically processed hair or recovering from damage that's caused your hair to become brittle, protein treatments are like giving your curls their own spa day. Skip a visit to the salon and use these deeply penetrating protein treatments on your hair for the best at-home results. When used in moderation, protein treatments can help mend breakage, split ends, and/or dryness.
Find our favorites ahead.
Aphogee Two-Step Protein Treatment
Hair feels soft and silky
Fresh, clean scent
Process can take getting used to
This heavy-duty hair mask is no joke. It's relied on as one of the most hardworking hair masks in the game because of its blend of magnesium and protein-rich vitamins that help salvage damaged hair like no other. Known to prevent future breakage and deliver pillow-soft strands, this formula hardens in your hair after you apply it. Don't fret, though—that means it's working. Next, sit underneath a hooded dryer, rinse, then follow up with the brand's Balancing Moisturizer to make sure your hair isn't severely dry after.
Price at time of publish: $27
Active Ingredients: Hydrolyzed animal protein, magnesium sulfate | Hair Type: Dry, damaged | Free of: Parabens, alcohol, silicone | Size: 16 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Mielle Organics Babassu Oil Mint Deep Conditioner
Tamps down frizz
Helps boost curls
Doesn't work for all hair types
This award-winning conditioner has a reputation for bringing curls back to life with its star ingredient of babassu oil, which is from an Amazonian palm fruit packed with sterols and tocopherols known for restoring hair and scalp health. You'll also find that its amino acids and botanical oils will help perfect your curl pattern, smooth frizz, and bring an undeniable softness to your strands.
Price at time of publish: $14
Active Ingredients: Babassu nut oil, amino acids | Hair Type: Curly, coily | Free of: Parabens, silicone | Size: 8 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best for Buildup
tgin Miracle RepaiRx Curl Protein Reconstructor
Doesn't weigh hair down
Not for those seeking a heavy protein treatment
Not just a strengthening product, this protein cream fortified with black honey also works to remove buildup from the strands and scalp, helping the protein better penetrate the hair.
Price at time of publish: $15
Active Ingredients: Avocado oil, biotin, hydrolyzed wheat protein | Hair Type: Dry, damaged | Free of: Parabens, silicone | Size: 12 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best for Over-Processed Hair
Briogeo Don’t Despair, Repair! Deep Conditioning Mask
Rich, creamy texture
Can be used regularly
I've kept this deep conditioning mask in rotation for the longest. It's an all-time favorite of mine because, in just five minutes, I notice a dramatic difference in my hair. Using B vitamins, rose-hip oil, argan oil, collagen, and silk, this creamy mask transforms dry and brittle hair. If you're dealing with over-processed hair during your transition phase, this is an ideal mask to revert your curls to their natural state.
Price at time of publish: $39
Active Ingredients: Algae extract, B vitamins, argan oil | Hair Type: Dry, damaged | Free of: Parabens, silicone | Size: 8 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Hair Mask
SheaMoisture Strengthen and Restore Treatment Masque
Helps relieve an itchy scalp
Scent may not be for some
Consider this restorative mask a recipe for success when it comes to popping curls. If you're overcoming chemically processed hair or in need of some serious moisture-boosting, this formula of Jamaican black castor oil, organic shea butter, and peppermint works to eliminate shedding and promotes hair growth and elasticity. You'll feel a sensation on your scalp from the peppermint, which will leave your hair feeling like it just did a 180.
Price at time of publish: $14
Active Ingredients: Shea butter, black castor oil | Hair Type: Dry, damaged | Free of: Parabens, silicone | Size: 12 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best for Dry Hair
Cantu Shea Butter Deep Treatment Masque
Can be heavy on fine hair
You can thank the organic shea butter in this mask for being a miracle-working ingredient. Its whipped formula will lock in moisture bonds on your hair shafts and bring back the bounce in your curls you've been looking for. Simply massage this into your hair and your scalp, put on a plastic cap, and let it work its magic for about 15 minutes.
Price at time of publish: $10
Active Ingredients: Shea butter, coconut oil, mango seed butter | Hair Type: Dry, damaged | Free of: Parabens, silicone | Size: 12 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Runner-Up, Best for Dry Hair
Tropic Isle Jamaican Black Castor Oil Protein Hair Conditioner
Made with simple ingredients
If you're not hip to the tried-and-true benefit of Jamaican black castor oil yet, let this protein conditioner be your introduction. Jamaican black castor oil may help with sealing and hydrating the hair. Lather this natural conditioner on your hair, which also contains grape-seed, avocado, mustard, lavender, and pimento oils along with vitamin E once a week, and feel the moisturizing benefits.
Price at time of publish: $12
Active Ingredients: Mayonnaise, black castor oil | Hair Type: Dry, damaged | Free of: Parabens, alcohol, silicone | Size: 8 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
What to Look For in a Protein Treatment
Typically, overprocessed hair is dry and brittle so you’re going to want to choose a protein treatment that contains moisturizing ingredients as you make the transition to natural hair. These conditioning ingredients can include plant-based butters and oils such as shea butter and coconut, olive, and castor oils.
For the best results, you’re going to want to look out for ingredients that are organic, without parabens, or anything that’s unnatural. While there isn't one specific ingredient to scout for, several natural ingredients are known to help repair, strengthen, nourish, and promote elasticity.
Always read the label before purchasing a new beauty product! The last thing you want to do is burn the scalp by keeping a product in for too long or rinse a product out before it had a chance to work. While most protein treatments can be left in overnight, some need to be rinsed out quickly, so it’s important to follow the instructions.
How often should you use a protein treatment?
Using too much protein can actually leave you with dry, brittle, and dull hair so it’s important to find a happy medium that works for you. As a general rule, stick to using a protein treatment one or two times a month max.
What does a protein treatment do for natural hair?
Protein treatments help protect your hair by filling any holes or gaps within the hair’s cuticle. If you’re dealing with breakage, split ends, and/or dryness from heat styling, hair color, or constant manipulation then a protein treatment may be the perfect treatment for you.
How can I tell if my hair needs protein?
The key is to take an inch of your hair and stretch it — if it stretches far and doesn’t break yet feels gummy, you likely need a protein treatment. If your hair breaks and/or feels brittle and damaged you probably need a moisture treatment.
How We Researched
To compile this list, our team of editors and contributors spent hours researching the best products on the market in this category, evaluating their key features—like ingredients, shade range, or design—in addition to reviews from customers and other trusted sources. We then used this research to assign a star rating from one to five (five being the best; one being the worst) to certain products on the list.