We all know that dry hair needs moisturise in order to not be dry. And that most hair conditioners are designed to moisturise the hair to keep it in good condition.
But did you know that hair also needs a little hit of protein, so that the moisture doesn't go to waste? Getting the right amount of moisture and protein into your hair is a balancing act. Both are very important if you want to have healthy hair.
A healthy cuticle equals healthy hair
Healthy hair has a cuticle layer that is smooth enough to reflect the light. This is what makes it appear shiny. The cuticle is the outer layer of the hair shaft. Cuticles have a strong resemblance to microscopic roof tiles. Healthy hair has the cuticles sitting flat but slightly raised – just enough to let moisture in.
Moisture and protein in your hair care
Moisture boosting ingredients keep your hair elasticated so that it doesn’t snap off under pressure. Moisture should ideally seep under the cuticle, the hair’s outer layer, without causing the cuticle to swell. If the cuticle is too far open and lots of water gets in, it swells and becomes damaged and rough.
Protein ingredients help strengthen the hair. Protein sits on top of the cuticle, coating the hair. It fills in any unwanted gaps in the cuticle that are causing moisture to leak out, leaving the hair dry and damaged. This is because protein is very similar to keratin, which is what our hair is made up of.
Protein and moisturising ingredients are in a lot of hair care products, in varying quantities. Either one can build up, over time, to unbalanced levels.
Too much of a good thing can lead to all sorts of hair problems.
When protein builds up in the hair
Over time, if protein builds up, the hair almost becomes too strong. The hair stiffens, it becomes brittle and it loses elasticity. Hair elasticity is important because your hair needs to be able to be pulled to a certain degree (through brushing etc) without it breaking or snapping off.
Protein overload happens especially in more porous types of hair like curly, coarse and colour damaged hair. These hair types have more cuticle gaps to fill in, so protein appears more often in hair care products formulated especially for them.
Protein is very helpful with curl definition too, so it is often featured in hair products formulated for curly hair. Anyone with curly hair knows that usually several products are recommended when it comes to caring for and styling it.
The tell-tale signs of protein buildup
1. Hair breaks or snaps easily when wet or dry
2. Noticing excess hair shedding
3. Hair looks dull and lacks shine
4. Hair feels brittle and rough to touch
5. Strands tangle very easily
6. The ends are straighter than the midlengths
Aren’t these just signs of a lack of moisture?
These can indeed be signs that your hair is just very dry. Or that you need a haircut. But if you have had a trim recently and upped your conditioner to a more deeply moisturising one, protein build up might be the culprit.
How to maintain a protein and moisture balance
If you use Hairy Jayne shampoos and conditioners (and no other hair products), you’ll be pleased to know that a protein buildup is very unlikely. There isn’t any protein in any of our shampoos, hair care oils or sprays – there is just a well balanced amount of protein in our range of conditioners.
We use hydrolysed wheat protein in our conditioners at around 2-3% of the whole formulation. Hydrolysed proteins have been made small enough (in a lab) to soak into the cuticle. This type of protein, in these quantities, balances nicely with the moisturising ingredients we use (aloe vera, panthenol and vegetable glycerine). Which gives a good, healthy dose of both strength and moisture when our conditioners are used regularly.
Protein and hair porosity
It’s worth bearing in mind, that not all heads of hair are the same. Some hair is more sensitive to protein than others. Non-porous hair has a completely closed cuticle, meaning the roof tiles have no gap underneath at all. Protein will sit on top of non-porous hair and make it appear greasy, even though it’s just been washed.
(If you're not sure about your hair, we have an easy hair porosity test in our Instagram post found here.)
If you have very porous hair and are using multiple leave-in and styling products, check the ingredients list and see how far up the list the protein is. The earlier in the list, the higher the concentration of protein. Ingredients that are proteins but don’t have “protein” in the name include keratin, amino acids and biotin. Be aware that the more hair products you’re using, the more protein you could potentially be adding to your hair.
What to do if you have overdone it with the protein
To reverse the effects of protein build up in your hair, you can try the following steps.
1. Look at at the labels of all the hair styling products you’re using and stop using any with protein in.
2. Avoid using coconut oil in your hair as it slows down protein loss, making the protein build up reversal process harder.
3. Clarify your hair by giving it a wash with washing up liquid. Not normally recommended as it is very harsh on your hair, but washing up liquid has enzymes in it that break down protein. Only do this once and for this purpose only. If you have colour treated hair, skip this step as it will strip out some of your hair colour, especially semi permanent colours.
4. Deep condition your hair with a protein free or very low protein hair mask. If you only have our Hairy Jayne Cream or Treatment conditioner to hand, you could make an almost protein free leave in hair mask by mixing a tiny dollop of our conditioner with about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Apply it generously to your hair and gently comb it right through, starting from the ends of the hair and working up. Wrap your hair in a towel or hair wrap, and leave for 30 minutes.
5. Use a Hairy Jayne Shampoo Bar to gently wash the treatment from your hair. Our sulphate free shampoo bars are protein free and contain aloe vera and mango butter which help to replenish the hair’s moisture levels.
7. Depending on how overloaded with protein your hair is, repeat steps 4-6 for a few weeks to several months until it starts to feel softer and healthier.
Hair elasticity strand test
If you’re unsure about your hair’s health and elasticity, there is a small test you can perform. Firmly hold a strand of your wet hair between your two index fingers and gently try to stretch it.
If it breaks quickly, it’s a sign of protein overload. If it stretches without breaking straight away it has good elasticity it is well balanced. If it is overly stretchy then it has too much moisture and not enough protein.
If you’re concerned that your hair is damaged and has become too elasticised, use our Treatment Conditioner whenever you shampoo and weekly as a treatment masque.