Moisture and Protein Maintaining the Balance

If we were in a classroom and black hair was our course title this topic would be the most important one for the semester. Why? Because this particular topic may be the answer to most of our hair problems.

There are two important words when it comes to hair care, moisture and protein. Above all, if we understand how to balance the act between these two, most hair battles would be won and dreams of healthy hair would not just be dreams anymore for most people.

There is a co-dependent relationship that exists between protein and moisture within the hair strand. The two components work together to produce a healthy head of hair and to promote hair growth. They are co-dependent and neither of the two can work on its own well without the other. The balancing act between moisture and protein is the real key to getting the hair to be the best it can be.

Water molecules bind easily to a sound protein structure within the hair. Hence, moisture is absorbed better when the hair’s protein needs are sufficiently looked after. Consider your hair to be a garden and the hair a plant. Moisture would be the water and protein the dirt. If for any reason there is too much dirt and no water the plant can’t grow. If there is too much water and not enough dirt the plant can’t grow either. It’s the same synergistic relationship that moisture and protein have together, and keeping the hair balanced between the two is very important. It is the most important thing that you can do for your hair.

How To Achieve The Right Balance

Achieving the right balance involves using the right combination of moisture and protein on your hair. Which means you have to get acquainted with your personal hair needs. No hairdresser or casual friend or even an author of a black hair site knows your hair better than yourself. Hair breakage is the result of being off balance with either protein or moisture. When my hair starts to break I question what is it that I am doing wrong, am I starving my hair of protein or moisture? When the hair chemistry is thrown off balance there has to be some assessment on your part. Don’t just jump to treat your hair not knowing what is wrong or which part of the equation is off balance.

The Equation (Moisture + Protein = Healthy Hair)

When hair is in its wet state it provides an opportunity to do a test to see how healthy the hair is. Though this test can be performed on dry hair, it is better to do a hair test when hair is in a wet state. Frequent wet assessments will help you to monitor your hair needs as you go along. Hair in a good balanced condition will not break when wet unless it is stressed unduly, like brushing, aggressive combing and pulling. Balanced hair will feel soft and supple, yet strong while wet.

Performing A Wet Assessment

Have you ever heard of the test where you hold a single strand of hair and pull on both ends to see if your hair is strong or not? Tugging the hair gently in both directions can give you an indication of the tensile strength of the hair. However the test does not really tell you anything much if you tug the hair under undue pressure, whether the hair is healthy or brittle it will break based on the  pressure that the strand is put under. To test hair to see whether it needs more protein or moisture can be as simple as doing a comb test or touch test. Here are the various ways that you can tell what your hair is needing.

If when wet or dry your hair:
Stretches slightly and returns to its original length without breaking, it is balanced! Stick with your regimen of balancing protein with moisture and continue to get your great results.

Gets just a little or no stretching, and just snaps like a brittle twig; you need to turn up the moisture in your regimen.

Stretches like an elastic band and then breaks, more protein is needed in your regimen.

Feels rough, dry, hard, tough, tangled and brittle, then you definitely need more moisture in your regimen.

Stretches, very far  like an elastic band with no significant breakage then you need to add some light protein to your regimen.

Feels mushy, limp, soft and sticky you need to add more protein to your regimen.

Too Much Moisture Will:

Make the hair extremely elastic. I was once caught up in the moisture craze and I overdid it on my hair. I combined oils, deep conditioner, and vegetable glycerin for weeks because I thought  I was ‘treating’ my hair to a smorgasbord of moisture and that it was impossible to be over-moisturized. My hair ended up looking like a very mushy, soft mess and it could not hold any curls whatsoever. This kind of hair has a weak, limp, spongy feel to it. Protein deficient hair will tend to pull and stretch along with the comb and then break. It will always stretch first then break because of the low structural protein stores, and overabundance of moisture.

Solution:

Protein. If your hair is  stretching and looks too elastic, its telling you to apply some structure/protein. Protein will be needed to give the hair the structure it so desperately needs. This can be solved in one session with a mild to medium protein deep conditioner such as Aphogee 2 minute keratin constructor or ORS Hair Mayo. Heavier proteins like Aphogee Treatment for Damaged Hair would only be necessary for a serious long -term moisture breakage problem. This is when moisture abuse is taken to a serious level and your hair stretches to ad-nauseum and then pops like an elastic band.

Another suggestion is to clarify hair with Apple Cider Vinegar Rinse and then follow up with a medium protein deep conditioner.

Too Much Protein Will…

Leave your hair hard and unmanageable and tough like a brillo pad. Moisture offers elasticity to the hair and allows it to be more manageable when combing, lack of moisture is very easy to spot. Hair that breaks with very little tension or stretching is a sign of an overabundance of protein, and a deficiency of moisture. Remember protein adds structure and moisture elasticity, too much structure makes the hair hard and rigid and in some cases tough.

Solution

Luckily if you find that your hair is dry and brittle you can start a dry hair regimen with a moisture rich deep conditioner treatment every week along with a very moisture rich light protein treatment every other week. It is much easier to overload your hair with protein and cause breakage, than to overload your hair with moisture and cause breakage. When in doubt of what exactly is causing your hair breakage err on the side of moisture.

There are several commercial hair products that have added protein. If you are not careful these added proteins can cause hair to break especially if your hair is already dry and pleading with you for moisture. See Moisture for Hair and Protein for Hair for more on these two properties.

Source:

  1. Burch Coren,   Wet Assessment- http://www.sistersofthefaith.com/beauty/the-fine-art-of-protein-and-moisture-balancing-for-black-hair-care-pt-2/
  2. Howse Cathy, Ultra black hair growth 2, UBH Publications, 2000
  3. Moss, Cheryl Talley , Healthy Hair Care Tips for Today’s Black Woman,  Talley Publishing, 1999
  4. Shamboosie, Beautiful black hair: real solutions to real problems, Amber Books, 2002

25 Comments »

  • azeezah said:

    Hi,

    I have a serious problem, I bleached my entire head (DIY) about 2months ago, my hair became very strechy n brittle, I could not even comb it coz it would jus strech n pop back up like elastic leavin my hair badly tangled. Today I decided to straighten my hair using mediscalp straightener to try to get more control of my hair,now its even more strechy n breaks,I am scared, please help me,what can I do to fix this mess?

    Thank you

    • Brenda Barrett said:

      Hi Azeezah,

      Sorry to hear about this, this sounds like DIY gone wrong on both occasions. I could suggest a load of solutions but I am really concerned about your hair situation. Please, go see a reputable stylist, somebody who can feel and see your hair in person and can offer assistance.

  • Jasmine Jemerigbe said:

    Hi my name is Jasmine I am transitioning relaxed to natural and I don’t how to start? I am also still having a hard time choosing which hair products I should use. Maybe you can give me some tips on what to do with natural hair.

  • lovely said:

    hey i hear of a prduct call milk protein and olive oil and i was wondering is this product is good cause it has both moisture and protein

  • shonte lee said:

    Hi my name is shonte and i have been natural for a yeari never did a protein treatment on my hair but i feel like i need it csuse my hair shade alot and break alot and my hair to me dont hold alot of moisture i can put oil in it but my hair is very dry my groots are oily but the rest is dry so with that being said i want to do a protein and hot iol treatment can i do them one after the other

    • Brenda Barrett said:

      Hi Shonte,
      I would recommend that you do a hot oil treatment every week until your hair starts feeling normal again. Do the protein treatment only occasionally.

  • Rubais said:

    hi
    i dont know how to say about my hair.. my hair is like so soft and not at all combable.. i need a rough and hard hair hair so that i can comb it.. its flying when i am going out.. i make it long to comb.. but still i cant comb it.. some one plese please reply for my comment how i can mak my hair to hard and combable..

    • Brenda Barrett said:

      Hi Rubais,
      Protein can make your hair ‘hard’ or strengthen the hair bonds giving it a stronger feel. Check out some protein hair treatments under hair recipes. All the best.

  • Sherry said:

    HEYY! so i recently found out i was suffering from moisture overload , i did a henna treatnent & my hair feels soo much stronger & better. Is the balance corrected?
    2ndly , i have very fine hair (relaxed) & even as a natural too.
    i think my hair ranges between 3c-4b (not sure)
    i have been staying away from protein because it always has a negative light on it but recently ive been finding through research that protein is actually great for fine hair & can make it stronger, fuller & thicker! what are your thoughts on this?
    also how do i balance a protein based shampoo & cond. like Mane n tail with the rest of my regimen to make sure the balance is maintained?
    sorry for so much questions :$ thanks in advance!

    • Brenda Barrett said:

      Hi Sherry,
      If it feels better and stronger after the henna treatment I think you corrected the moisture imbalance.
      I have several thoughts on protein. Here’s a link to the article- Protein and Hair
      Its easy to get your hair pH balanced, after a shampoo wash, you can balance with Apple Cider Vinegar as a final rinse. Condition as usual.

  • Ieashia said:

    Not only do you give great hair tips but GIRLLL I am in love with your books. You getting all my money over on amazon..lol. You are amazingly talented, and I am officially hooked. Your word play is amazing and makes for great “page turning, can’t put this book down even at 1 am and even though I have to be at work in 8 hours” reading. Keep up the excellent work! I will be reading!

    Once again thanks for the hair tips. I could not figure out whyn my hair was breaking and kept piling on the protein. After one moisture treatment it is a lot better. Now I just have to find the right moisturizer for me.

  • Deborah said:

    Hey, just found your article after several months of searching for something to help with my brittle hair that has stopped growing, but continues to break and shed, for over a year and a half. For last 9 months, i used ORS oil moisturizer with a sealant every night and hair seemed healthier. Then it went back to breaking and shedding to the point I had to sweep it up from the floor each morning. I went from having shoulder length to hardly any length. I thought it could be my meds (blood pressure and water pills) but I have been on those 25 years. Then I thought menopause (52 years old), but no other symptoms. I thought it could only be hormone replacement, but I have been off those for well over a year. I included ORS hair mayonnaise to my ORS shampoo and replenishing regimen and if I rub my hand across my hair when wet, hair comes off in my hand. I just don’t know what else to do. I have relaxed hair which I get touch ups every six weeks and have been doing since I was 24 years old. (Now I am adding Jamaican BCO daily). Any advice will be appreciated. Stylist says she may try fermadyl with next retouch.

  • Ada said:

    Hello, I just BC’d my hair 2 weeks ago because I had so much new growth and I fell in love with my curls so I cut off the permed ends. Now I just really want to grow my hair and get length, but I’m afraid I’ll over-moisturize my hair and then my curls won’t hold! What I do is: every night I sleep in conditioner and rinse it out in the morning. then I apply olive oil in the morning then seal it. Then once a week a do a protein treatment with hair mayonnaise and I add egg to it. Will this keep a good balance or should I stop this immediately? suggestions?

    • Brenda Barrett said:

      Hi Ada,
      How does your hair feel? If this is working for you and your feels great not too mushy and soft and it is thriving then continue with your regimen. My only change to your regimen would be not to add egg to the Hair Mayonnaise, it already has enough protein. And I would do a protein treatment only once a month. However, if this is working for you, don’t stop.

  • Darlaine said:

    Hi I’m Darlaine and I can’t figure out what my hair needs. 10 weeks ago I had protein overload and my hair was breaking a lot I stayed away from protein and stepped up my moisturising. But then my hair started to feel mushy and was breaking a little. But when I did the wet test it was still breaking without stretching at all! But I did a light protein anyway with aphogee 2 minutes. Now my hair kind off feels soft when I touch it but its a little hard @ the same time still breaking a little and still snapping on the wet test. I’m really confused! What should I do? I need help. I’ m relaxed BTW. Tks for answering me

  • Jordyn said:

    I use this homemade deep conditioner where you mix mayonnaise, eggs, vitamin E oil, coconut oil, and olive oil up in a bowl, put it through your hair, put a plastic wrap over your head and let it sit for an hour or so, then rinse with normal conditioner. I had read about it on the Internet and decided to give it a try, the next time I went to my hairdresser she said that my hair felt much better than it normally did, so I guess it’s working.

    I guess I was just wondering, is that giving my hair protein & moisturizing, like does anyone know exactly what it does?
    And is it somthing anyone has heard of or tried at any point in time?

    I try to do it at least once a week, I always do it after I swim and my hair feels gross an I like the way it makes my hair feel.

    • Brenda Barrett said:

      Hi Jordyn,
      That recipe works! Except I don’t use the mayonnaise because the eggs are already enough protein. The oils add moisture that penetrates and the egg/mayo protein. Its a pretty good balance of protein and moisture.

  • Samantha said:

    Do I need to condition after a keratin treatment??

  • Kara said:

    I have two questions:

    If I stick with a daily moisturizing regimen, how long before typically hair starts to improve?

    Also, the moisurizers I’ve found are water based, but also contain oil. Do I need to use a sealant in addition?

    Thanks!

    • Brenda Barrett said:

      Hi Kara,
      Does your hair need the moisturizing daily? If it does, you should see results when you start feeding it, very soon. Maybe a week or less, it will definitely start feeling much better, more pliable.

      Water as first ingredient is a good thing. I doubt you’ll need to use an oil if the moisturizer already has one, your hair may feel and look greasy.

  • Ada said:

    Hi, I have a problem! :( my hair won’t take moisture! It’s been about a month and I’ve tried everything: deep conditioning, co-washing, honey with olive oil… nothing works. With my water based moisturizer on it still feels dry and hard. Even though I use the moisturizer everyday, my hair remains unmoisturized. (I use olive oil after it too). When rubbed together, the strands make a lot of noise, and I know moisturized hair should be noiseless. It’s very frustrating, idk what to do, please help.

  • Anna said:

    Hi ,

    I am black but have no clue on Hair. Everytime my Hair is wet i even don’t comb just by fingers combing i have lots of Hair on my hand.When i Washing my Hair i got lots of breakage to i don’t l know why.

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