The moisture-protein balance is one of the most important lessons you can learn when you’re caring for natural hair. Alongside mechanical damage, when the balance between moisture and protein is out of sync, it’s one of the biggest causes of breakage.
Black Hair Moisture Protein Balance Summed Up
Hair is mostly made up of protein. Approximately 70%, according to some sources. Others say 91%. I guess it doesn’t really matter for these purposes. All you have to remember is that the building blocks of your hair is a protein called keratin.
It’s the protein that gives the hair its structure and all those lovely curls. But your hair’s also made up of moisture, and it’s this moisture that gives the hair strand its elasticity. Elasticity is key to healthy hair.
But if there’s too much elasticity – moisture – your hair will stretch and break. And if there’s too much protein, you hair will snap and break. Two different causes, same end result – tears.
So if you’re trying to grow black hair, getting the balance right between moisture and protein is essential. Your hair is always in delicate balance and when that balance goes awry is when you’ll start to experience breakage.
Unfortunately, like so many things where natural hair is concerned, there are no hard and fast rules to getting the moisture-protein balance right. It’s based on the condition of your hair, its structure and other individual characteristics.
And to make things even harder, your hair’s protein-moisture balance needs can change over time so even if you’ve read up about the moisture and protein balance in black hair, it’s always worth revisiting the subject.
Facts and Tips for Protein Balanced Black Hair
There are lots of great articles on moisture/protein balancing in black hair, including this one from The Science of Black Hair. And this fantastic article on using protein at Radiant Brown Beauty.com. So I won’t harp on too much about it.
I’ll just give you a few facts and tips that have helped me:
1. Don’t overdo the protein. Too much of it can lead to even more breakage problems. If you lean too far towards protein you’ll just send the protein moisture balance completely out of whack. A great tip I picked up is to use a moisturising conditioner immediately after my protein treatment to regain the elasticity – I find that this works a treat.
2. Check the ingredients on your hair products. It’s not just your conditioner that contains protein. If you’re also adding leave-ins and moisturising products and they contain proteins too, you may be overloading your hair. Some people call it being protein sensitive when their hair reacts badly to a protein treatment. I just think that you can overdo it.
The ingredients in a product are usually listed in order from the highest to the lowest quantity that the product contains. Put another way, if an ingredient’s listed first, then that’s the main ingredient in your hair product. And vice versa. At the bottom of the list is the ingredient that the product contains least of. If your favourite hair moisturiser contains too much protein and you use it every day, you could be giving your hair too much protein. Try leaving it out for a couple of days. Remember, even if your product says it’s moisturising, it could still contain protein.
3. Do the test. Check how your hair feels and how it breaks. If your hair feels limp and mushy, you’ve probably overdone the moisture – best reach for a protein conditioner. If your hair feels hard and snaps off easily, it could be time for a moisturising treatment.
4. If you have colour treated hair (or if you’ve relaxed it), you may need to treat yourself to an extra protein treatment. Colouring or chemically treating your hair deconstructs the protein structure of the hair – or in other words, it damages your hair. Damaged hair loses moisture more readily. Moisture or more correctly, water molecules, grip on to the protein structure of your hair. So give your hair some extra TLC with a protein treatment if you’ve applied colour or other chemicals so that it can still retain moisture. This rule also applies if you use heat tools on your hair as heat tools will leave it with moisture-stripping damage. After any treatment, show your hair lots of love. You may need to up your moisturising regimen.
5. Getting protein into your hair is an inside job too. It’s not just about the hair products you use. If your diet is low in protein, this can show in the health of your hair and you may need to make up for it with more protein treatments.
6. Your hair’s needs change over time. Protein conditioners are useful for combating breakage temporarily – you can’t repair damaged hair permanently. But you can use protein to reinforce and strengthen the strands and help reduce breakage. The healthier your hair becomes, the less protein you may need to use. So instead of sticking rigidly to a moisture protein regimen, try to react to what your hair needs at the time.
7. When you see the word hydrolyzed in front of a protein, the protein will probably have a more potent effect on your hair. That’s because hydrolyzed proteins have been chemically broken down so they penetrate your hair more effectively. So using a hydrolyzed wheat protein will often have a much greater effect on your hair than just a wheat protein. Bear this in mind because you may be using a ‘stronger’ protein than you think.
8. A protein conditioner may not be labelled as such. Bear in mind that most conditioners will have an amount of protein in them. You’ll have to test different conditioners to see if they really have the moisturising or hair rebuilding properties they say they have on the bottle.
9. Some people use protein treatments every four to six weeks, but others use protein every two or three weeks. How often you use protein in your hair is an individual choice based on the health of your hair and how it responds to protein. You’ll have to figure out for yourself how often you should use protein treatments.
10. Did you know that not all proteins are made equal? Different proteins act differently on your hair. This is a great little fact I learned that made a big difference to how I use proteins on my hair. There’s no point in my blogging about it myself when Urban Bush Babes wrote such a great article on different proteins and their qualities.
Hope that helps, please leave your comments below…and don’t forget to sign up for free membership to the Natural Hair Forum UK – we’ve moved home!
You’ll find the Natural Hair Forum UK at www.thenaturalhairforum.co.uk from now on.