Protein Treatments: Do You Really Need Them?

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There really is no easy way to answer this question, but for most people, the answer is, yes. Here’s why. Hair is primarily made up of a protein called keratin. Keratin is also the main component of nails, so if you have hair problems, it’s likely that you have nail problems as well. Most of us get far more protein that we really need, however, we often choose the wrong type of protein (those high in fats) or do not obtain proteins from a variety of sources, in order to ensure that our bodies get all the essential amino acids (building blocks of proteins) that our bodies need.

Many hair products also contain proteins. Conditioners, leave in conditioners and even some styling products frequently contain protein(s). Despite this, many of us continue to experience excessive breakage and split ends. Our hair’s protein structure may be weakened by dietary deficiency and/or mechanical damage and/or heat damage. Once hair is damaged, true repair may be difficult, but topical protein treatments will temporarily fill in weak points in the hair’s cuticle, thereby strengthening the hair. If we repeat the practices that weaken our hair, to begin with, it means we are forever in the cycle of creating the damage and then trying to fix it. Therefore, any plan to undo hair damage must include not only a plan for treatment and repair but also a plan for prevention.


So, while the majority of us do need protein treatments, we can use less of them by engaging in practices that minimize damage to our hair. For example, we can

  • Reduce the frequency with which we use heat
  • Lower the temperatures when we do use heat
  • Use heat protectants whenever we do apply heat to our hair
  • Deep condition frequently
  • Utilize protective or low manipulation styling
  • Allow appropriate recovery times between chemical processing. You really shouldn’t be dyeing your hair every two weeks.

If you have normal porosity hair and use heat responsibly and sparingly, you are unlikely to need protein treatments especially since so many of our frequently used hair products contain protein. It doesn’t hurt, however, to prep your hair for heat styling with both strengthening and moisturizing treatments. If your hair seems slow to revert, then a post heat styling treatment might also be necessary, otherwise, any reinforcement you might need is readily available from your conditioners, etc. Low porosity hair is even more unlikely to need protein treatments under normal conditions ( no heat, no chemical treatments) because the cuticles of the hair are so tightly sealed.

It is very important to be able to identify when your hair needs protein or moisture or both. Truly healthy hair requires a balance of protein and moisture and too much of either can be very harmful to your hair. If your hair is chemically altered, i.e. colored or relaxed, you will definitely need protein treatments. The frequency and strength of the treatments will depend on the overall health of your hair. Moisture treatments are also required for color treated hair due to increased moisture loss than results from the change in porosity of the hair caused by the coloring process.

A quick way to tell if a product contains protein is to look for the words  "Deep Conditioning", “intensive”, “repair” or “restorative” in the name and or description of the product. It’s also pertinent to check the ingredients list to identify the particular protein or proteins in your hair product in order to know the likely benefits to your hair. Some of the most common proteins used in hair products and their benefits to the hair are shown below.



What it does


Strengthen the hair shaft. Prevents breakage. Reduces frizz. Smooths the cuticle of the hair. Makes hair shinier and softer.


Hydrates the hair. Great for repairing porous hair, damaged hair and split ends.


Increases the elasticity of the hair.

Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein

Penetrates the cortex of the hair. Strengthens hair. Moisturizes hair.

Hydrolyzed Silk Protein

Increases the shine of hair. Increases the hair’s elasticity.

Hydrolyzed Soy Protein

Smooths hair. Adds shine. Strengthen and repairs the hair.



Here are some guidelines to help with determining if and when your hair needs protein.

Hair features/characteristics

Needs protein?

High porosity hair


Color treated or relaxed


Thick strands

Sparingly!  thick strands need less protein, but more moisture than thin strands. I recommend using a protein treatment once a month at most for preventative maintenance.

Thin strands

Yes! thin strands need more protein, but less moisture than thick strands.

Hair hangs limply when pulled instead of returning to its original shape


As always, it is very important to pay attention to your hair and what it is trying to tell you. If you are vigilant, over time you’ll be able to tell what your hair needs and when it needs it in much the same way that mothers can tell if a baby is hungry or sleepy or wet or wants to be held by the difference in the way he or she cries. Your hair is your baby. Treat it well.



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