Protein and Hair


Proteins are necessary for the construction of new tissue and for tissue repair. Every cell needs protein to maintain its life. Protein is also the primary substance used to “replace” worn out or dead cells. Your muscles, hair, nails, skin, and eyes are made of protein. Next to water, protein is the most plentiful substance in your body. My anatomy and physiology instructor at university once jokingly told the class that we are made up of water and protein. She was right!

Protein is what gives the hair its strength and structure. Hair is about 70% keratin protein by nature, L-Cysteine and L-Methionine are the sulfur amino acids that form “keratin,” which is the protein structure of hair, egg yolk contains the highest amount of these two amino acids naturally.

Studies have shown that supplementing your diet with L-cysteine may prevent hair from falling out, as well as increase the diameter of the hair shaft. These amino acids have been found to increase hair growth by as much as 100 percent.

There are several types of proteins that carry out different functions in hair care. These proteins bind to the hair cuticle and help to temporarily rebuild any weakened areas. Protein-based products reinforce the hair shaft, and fills in the gaps or nicks that occurs along the shaft of the hair. It does this particularly well because the hair and protein are very similar in structure.

Women with relaxed or color treated hair need more protein than women with natural or unprocessed hair. Relaxing or color treating your hair compromises the protein structure of the hair and weakens it by breaking the protein bonds in your hair shaft. The stronger the relaxer or dye and the longer it is left on the hair the more breaking down of hair bonds will occur and the weaker will be the hair shaft. For this reason, ladies who are desirous of keeping a full head of healthy hair for longer should consider lengthening their times between relaxers or shortening the length of the time that the relaxer stays on your hair.

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Some proteins are stronger than others. Daily or even weekly use of even the milder protein treatments may result in an imbalance between the protein and moisture levels within the hair strands in some people. You have to experiment with different products to know how strong they are on your particular hair if you are going to use protein regularly on your hair. Your hair protein tolerance will vary from product to product, not necessarily protein to protein.

Protein is found most prevalently in products like instant conditioners, leave-in conditioners, protein re-constructor conditioner treatments, and some moisturizers.

Conditioners Which Are Protein Based

Infusium 23 Leave In Conditioner, Motions Moisture Silk Protein Conditioner, Aphogee 2 Minute Keratin Reconstructor, Aphogee Treatment for Damaged Hair, Nexxus Emergencee, Nexxus Keraphix, Motions CPR, Cantu Shea Butter BreakCure, Cantu Shea Butter GrowStrong, Profectiv Breakfree Moisturizer, Profectiv Megagrowth Moisturizer, Elasta QP Mango Butter Moisturizer, Garnier Fructis Long and Strong, Organic Root Stimulator (ORS) Hair Mayo, ORS replenishing pak.

Make Your Own

Of course, you can make your own protein treatments and avoid using commercial preparations if you so desire. For a simple  yet effective protein treatment you can try adding 2 eggs to a regular moisturizing conditioner. Other protein recipes listed on the site are:

Hair Growth Deep Conditioner Recipe

Tutti Frutti Deep Conditioner Recipe

Protein Sensitivity

Protein is very good for hair, however, there are some persons whose hair cannot stand added protein, I say ‘added’ because the hair is 70% protein, in these cases after adding protein the hair gets dried out and hard. There are two main reasons why a hair could be protein sensitive, these are:

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1)      When a person is getting sufficient protein from their diet and their body is using it efficiently, in this case there is no reason to add any protein to hair. As a matter of fact, additional protein is toxic for hair, nails and skin. How to tell? Nails will break with the added protein, skin will crack and hair will shed and break like crazy.

2)      Doubling up on the addition of protein to hair over a period of time can throw off the protein- moisture balance that is important for healthy hair growth. Unwittingly, several persons use protein products on a regular basis not knowing that their hair is being ‘over-proteinized’ (my word) and under-moisturized.


Unless you fall into category one, your hair needs added protein especially if it is chemically altered in any way. The best solution is to use moisturizing conditioners and maybe once per month add some light natural protein treatments like yoghurt or molasses or an egg yolk.

There are products on the market that will exacerbate the protein sensitivity problem because there is really no way to know how much protein is added to a commercially prepared product even those that purport to be ‘moisturizing’. So you can make your own protein treatments and see what the results are. How often you add protein to your hair is really up to you and your knowledge of your hair and what its needs are. The standard recommendation is every six weeks. I do a protein treatment every three weeks without any ill-effects to my hair.

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  1. Smith, Nicole Elizabeth, Healthy Black Hair: Step-By-Step Instructions For Growing Longer, Stronger Hair, 2003, Panacea Publishing.
  2. Alma, How to tell if your hair is protein sensitive,, Feb 20, 2010  

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