Healthy hair needs to retain moisturise in order to not become too dry and damaged. Most hair conditioners are designed to moisturise the hair to keep it in good condition.
But did you know that hair also needs protein to maintain a good porosity? Hair that is too porous allows moisture to escape and go to waste. Getting the right amount of moisture and protein into your hair when conditioning it is a balancing act. Both are important if you want to have healthy hair.
A healthy cuticle equals healthy, shiny hair
Healthy hair has an outer layer, or cuticle, that is smooth and reflects the light. This is what makes it appear shiny. The cuticle has a strong resemblance to microscopic roof tiles. In healthy hair the cuticle sits flat but slightly raised – just enough to let moisture in that the hair needs. When the cuticle is raised too much, you get what is known as porous hair.
Moisture and protein in your hair care
Moisture keeps your hair elasticated so that it doesn’t snap off under pressure. Moisture should ideally seep under the cuticle without causing the cuticle to swell too much. If it does and too much water gets in, the cuticle swells, becomes porous and then feels damaged and rough.
Protein ingredients help to strengthen the hair by sitting on top of the cuticle and coating it with a film. It fills in any unwanted gaps in the cuticle that are causing moisture to leak out. This is because protein is similar to keratin, and keratin is what our hair is naturally made of.
Protein and moisturising ingredients are usually included in a lot of hair care products in varying quantities. Either one of them can build up too much, over time, causing the levels to become unbalanced.
Too much of a good thing can sometimes lead to hair problems.
When protein builds up in the hair
If too much protein builds up, the hair almost becomes too strong. It stiffens, becomes brittle and 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 usually happens in 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 as an ingredient 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. The problem is that over time, these protein-rich products can build up, especially when using several products at a time.
The tell-tale signs of protein buildup
1. Hair breaking or snapping easily when wet or dry
2. 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 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 could be the culprit.
How to maintain a protein and moisture balance
If you use Hairy Jayne shampoos and conditioners, a protein buildup is very unlikely. Our shampoos, hair care oils or sprays don't contain any protein – there is only protein (in well-balanced amounts) of in our range of conditioners.
We use hydrolysed wheat protein in our conditioners at around 2-3% of the whole formulation. Hydrolysed proteins are small enough to soak into the cuticle. This type of protein, in these quantities, balances nicely with the moisturising ingredients we use. Which gives a good, healthy dose of both strength and moisture when our conditioners are used regularly.
Protein and hair porosity
Not all heads of hair are the same. Some hair is more sensitive to protein than others. Low porosity hair has a closed cuticle, meaning the "roof tiles" have no gap underneath. Protein sits on top of non-porous hair which makes it appear greasy, even though it’s just been washed. The same goes for oils and waxes.
If you 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. Proteins but don’t have “protein” in their 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 neat 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.