Moisture & Protein: Finding the Balance

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Tips & Tricks: Number Ten

via The Science of Black Hair

The unique relationship that exists between the protein and moisture balances within the hair strand is not simply a case of balancing opposing forces one over the other to prevent hair breakage. These two components work together synergistically to produce a healthy head of hair, and neither can work well without the other. Keeping the hair balanced between these two entities is very important.

Over the last couple of months, a few of you have expressed concerns about excessive breakage and how to address it. In addition, I myself had begun to experience it and set about diagnosing the root cause. What I realized about two months ago was that my hair might be over-conditioned/over-moisturized. “What did you say?!?! Over-CONDITIONED? Natural hair?? HERESY!!”

LOL! But seriously, about a year ago, I read about the delicate balance between protein and moisture and “filed” it in the tombs. You see, I kept my distance … a very far distance … from protein. However, I was using henna on the regular and, although I couldn’t find an authoritative source that stated it was an effective alternative to protein, it seemed to work just fine for me as a strengthening treatment.

The problem? At the beginning of 2011, I started to perform roots only applications of henna to eliminate the problem I had with henna build-up causing excessive curl loosening. I would do a bit of a henna gloss on the length, but that was it. It never occurred to me that the length of my hair was no longer getting its regular dose of strengthening henna resin due to my regimen adjustment. So, I went about my merry way until about October of this year when I realized that the length of my hair was very soft, shedding like crazy and also breaking far more than normal. That’s when the article that I read about a year ago came out of the memory catacombs and I started to think that my hair might be over-moisturized and in need of protein.

Most of us think of breakage as related to the lack of moisture. But, in fact, it can be the complete opposite and diagnosing the source of the problem is necessary in order to select the correct solution.

What can cause over-moisturized hair?

via The Science of Black Hair

  • overzealous “baggying”
  • back-to-back conditioner washes that don’t allow the hair to ever dry
  • regular lengthy/overnight deep conditionings
  • keeping the hair wet in general (water or oil) for extended periods of time without a break
  • the complete elimination of protein products altogether

Well, I’ve definitely been known to sleep in a DC overnight and to leave a Vatika oil pre-poo in my hair for multiple days … more out of laziness than a desire to get “extra conditioning.” Also, given that I leave these treatments in so long, I find that I don’t need to co-wash at all during the week or re-wet my hair to maintain it in a moisturized state. Rather, I usually only need to apply a little cream moisturizer and an oil to seal a couple of times between weekly wash sessions. Anywho, the potential that my hair was over-moisturized/conditioned seemed strong.

So, what do you do if you are experiencing an excessive amount of breakage and aren’t sure of whether you need moisture or protein? Begin with a wet hair assessment and determine how your hair responds in the normal course of combing or finger-handling.

via The Science of Black Hair

  • (When Wet or Dry) Stretches slightly and returns to its original length without breaking, you are balanced! Stick with maintaining!
  • (When Wet or Dry) Stretches a little more than normal then breaks, you need more protein in your regimen.
  • (When Wet or Dry)Stretches, stretches, stretches with no significant breakage yet, add a bit more protein to your regimen.
  • (Wet)- Feels weak, gummy, mushy, or limp, you need to add more protein to your regimen.
  • (Wet or Dry) Experiences very little to no stretching, and simply snaps or breaks, you need to increase the moisture in your regimen.
  • (Dry) Feels rough, tough, hard, dry, tangly, brittle, or any combination of those, you need more moisture in your regimen.
  • Unsure? Err on the side of caution and give your hair more moisture. So now that you have figured out what type of hair breakage you have, what should you do?

If it turns out that your hair is over-moisturized, a protein treatment is in order. Fortunately, over-conditioned hair is pretty easily corrected with a single protein treatment. The strength of the protein treatment should be determined by the amount of breakage. A heavy duty treatment like the ApHogee 2-Step is recommended for severe breakage, whereas a lighter protein, like the ApHogee Keratin 2 Minute Reconstructor, is recommended for more typical breakage. Heavy duty protein treatments should be followed by a moisturizing conditioner to restore elasticity as protein “hardens” the hair by “patching” gaps in the cuticle. Also, it is usually recommended that they not be performed more than once every six to eight weeks.

Now, on the other hand, if you hair has too much protein, a moisturizing regimen will be necessary. A protein overload is not as easily and quickly remedied as over-moisturized hair and may take several weeks to rectify. If this is the source of your breakage, the following steps are recommended by The Science of Black Hair:

  • Clarify to remove any excess product buildup.
  • Deep condition for 30-45 minutes (with heat) once or twice a week with a thick, creamy moisturizing deep conditioner.
  • Apply a water-based moisturizer to your hair daily, concentrating on the ends.
  • Avoid excess protein in common products like leave-in conditioners, moisturizers, gels, and instant conditioners.

As to my hairstory, I saw a vast improvement after my first protein treatment (which was followed with a moisturizing deep treatment … ummm, why didn’t they say so?). My hair felt harder than normal, but I’ve come to realize that that feeling also signifies resilience and strength and the softness that I thought of as a good thing, was actually too much of one! So, you know, I’m learning to find the balance ;).

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Do you consider the moisture/protein balance in caring for your hair? How do you incorporate it into  your regimen? 

26 responses »

  1. I feel like I’ve been screaming this from the rooftops for the last few years yet many naturals didn’t want to hear it. They would rather stick with the “protein sensitivity” theory instead of embracing the fact that since your hair is protein, it needs protein to help maintain it’s strength. Then, the moisture…well you read it in my post so it’s nothing new.

    Unfortunately, folks will still hold on to the notion that protein in a hair care regimen is not necessary. Many will continue to do their baggying and moisturizing without regard for protein so oh well.

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    • Well, all you can do is try to inform. People have to research and accept on their own and in their own time. But, I (bold that;) thank you for sharing the information that you shared with me that led me to try it:)!!

      Question though … how do you feel about henna as a protein replacement given how it bonds to the cuticle to strengthen it?

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  2. This is a great post. I’m transitioning (10 months post), and I actually tried the Aphogee 2-minute Reconstructor based on your original post about how well the full-strength Aphogee treatment went for you. I really like the results of the 2-minute Reconstructor. I noticed less shedding/breakage from the first use. I will definitely keep it in my regimen about every 6 weeks, just to make sure that I’m getting the protein that I need. I already know that I’m good with the moisture side of things. I also do henna gloss treatments as well. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE henna. :)

    Thanks so much for providing this great information. I really don’t think I’d make it through my transition without the helpful tips/advice that you all share so willingly.

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    • Actually Nancy, I used the 2 Minute Reconstructor too :)! I wasn’t ready to go for the heavy duty stuff and didn’t think I had breakage to the extent that I needed to for the severe breakage formula. I’m happy that it worked for you too and you are very much welcome:)!! Thank you for following:)!!

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  3. I have a difficult time determining with my hair if it has protein or moisture issues just by looking at the wet or dry issues. I may try to look a little harder this week as I am straightening my hair for a trim and cut so I will really examine the hair.

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    • Toya, you can try it with some shed strands … but, the article above (if you check out the entire post via the link) said that’s not a very realistic test as tugging on opposing ends of one strand is undue stress and not the norm. However, you can try it and if it snaps quickly, it needs moisture, if it stretches and retracts, you probably have a balanced strand, if it stretches but doesn’t retract, then you need protein. I wouldn’t pull the shed strand too hard, just enough (maybe an inch pull) to see how it reacts and maybe hold a few in your fingers instead of just one strand. Hope that helps!

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  4. I’m in the same boat as Toya. I can’t tell by the descriptions whether I need more moisture or protein. The other question I have is whether or not I can use full Henna treatments on the length of my hair rather than protein treatments. I’m also curious as to how much adding protein to our diets will help improve our hair. I eat lean meats and enjoy flavored almonds on a regular basis. If so, how much protein do we need to ingest in order to maintain healthy hair. I do know that I need more moisture due to hair color that I had put in back in July of this year, so that is a factor that is affecting my hair that may be throwing my assessment off. Also, that dry path at the crown of my head can also be throwing me off. It’ll always be dry and I’m constantly reminding myself not to use that hair to assess the health of my hair overall.

    Thanks for the great post.

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    • I believe that the ingested protein is supposed to help because hair is mostly made of protein and it produces the necessary building blocks for your hair to maintain protein stocked hair. I don’t think you’d have to eat more protein then you already do, just make sure that you are getting the daily recommended value.

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      • I agree with Tai. As long as you are getting the recommended amount, you should be fine. You don’t want to overdo protein as it can cause liver problems (I believe. I’m sure one of our nurses will correct me if I’m wrong;).

        As to using henna, as I indicated above, this seemed to work as a fine replacement for me when I was doing full strength henna treatments on my length. So, I think that’s what you have to evaluate. If you are using henna and aren’t seeing any breakage problems and your hair’s elasticity is fine (not brittle or stretching without retracting), then you are most likely good. As the protein in protein treatments is a temporary bond and not something that actually increases the protein in your hair, it stands to reason that the way henna works by bonding to the cuticle and “filling” gaps is serving the same function. Again though, I would only rely on this if all measurable factors support that henna is fulfilling the same role and you aren’t experiencing breakage.

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        • Thanks Shelli. I will continue with my Henna treatments. I just don’t want to buy more products without first “playing” scientist and testing my (and your) hypothesis first. I love science. Might was well test these theories out on my hair and diet :-) It won’t be the end of the world if they don’t produce the results I’m looking for.

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      • Thank you for your reply. I will be sure to watch my diet to make sure that I am eating the right amount of protein. I tend to rely on carbs (bread/cereal) because they are easy and convenient, so maybe I’m not getting what need. I love eggs and have begun having them for breakfast more often. Maybe I’ll notice a difference in the next few months.

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  5. I’ve been using the Aphogee 2 step (heavy duty) protein treatment for just over a year. I hate the smell & the texture, so I mix it with conditioner before applying it to my hair & HE loves it!

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      • Yeah Sham … do you use heat (I assume you do as that seems to be the catalyst for the hydrolized protein to bond to hair) and, I’ll add, does it still dry hard when you add conditioner? I wonder if an EO like lavender or cedarwood would help with the smell without altering the composition and “reaction?”

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  6. Last week I used Aphrogee 2-Step and it stopped my breakage in its tracks. Its my second time using it in 6 weeks and I am completely sold. I recently purchased Aubrey Organics GPB Conditioner which I will probably use bi-weekly or as needed. I have aplenty of moisturizing conditioners that I use weekly.

    I’m just not sure where henna will fit into this…I guess I will have to focus on henna glosses for moisture as apposed to full henna treatments.

    Like

    • Is GPB a moisturizing or protein conditioner Carla? How was the 2 step process for you? I was a bit intimidated by it as it seems you could do more damage than good if you aren’t super careful about rinsing it! But, when I get these twists removed at the end of January (that’s the plan), I was thinking of doing the 2 step (I’d probably wait a week or two after I remove them though). Ooooh, send me a review and a blow-by-blow of the process if you would!! I’m sure there are many who would be interested in it!

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      • @Skills – GPB is a moisturizing protein conditioner. Its like a natural version of Joico K-Pax Reconstruct line. The protein used is glycoprotein and milk protein. You don’t need to use a separate conditioner after that so its like a 2-in-1 maintenance product.

        The 2-Step is a little scary but easy to use. I pretty much left on my hair for about 10 minutes until I was able to dry it with the hand dryer. Before rinsing it out, I sprayed my hair with water to soften it up so I wont break it (it makes your hair hard as a rock!). I drowned my hair with conditioner for a while.

        I will update my GOC with a review of it – thanks for the idea!

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  7. I started doing protein treatments about 4 or 5 months ago when I noticed that my hair was uber mushy. I was really scared of the protein sensitivity thing but even more scared of loosing all my hair! I think it’s way easier to moisturize now and I like to do a protein treatment one month and a DC the next month with lots of coconut oil in between to prevent protein loss. If the PJ in you is ever interested in trying out other protein treatments I suggest checking out Curl Junkie’s “Repair Me!” I LOVE this treatment. It works in a quick 5 minutes and I don’t feel like I need to DC afterwards. My hair feels strong and not dry at all. I just load up on leave-in and shea butter afterwards!

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    • Looking you trying to incite my inner PJ!! You’re wrong for that Tai;)!! LOL! Okay, again, review please!!! Send me one please!! Blow by blow and, do you use heat? Use a moisturizing conditioner after it or no, only in the alternate month? You can put all of that in the review that you’re going to e-mail me;)!

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