By Folakemi Emem-Akpan
Perhaps your curls are feeling and looking lifeless, mushy, and just uninspiring, and you don’t know what to do, have you considered protein treatments? What most people don’t know is that protein treatments are an important part of the hair care routine. They become even more important if your hair is colour treated or damaged.
Here is why.
Protein treatments rebuild the hair shaft from within. Doing this strengthens your hair mechanically, improves hydration, and reduces breakage. Protein treatments also temporarily fill the gaps in the outer layer of your hair caused by environmental factors such as the wind or sun, heat styling, mechanical stress and chemical treatments. As protein treatments fill in these gaps, it reduces frizz and rejuvenates your curls to feel smoother, stronger and more defined.
We are all aware of how important moisture is for curly hair. What most of us also don’t know is that protein and moisture cannot work well without each other. You need a strong protein structure if water molecules are to bind with your hair strands and keep moisture locked inside.
Curly hair particularly needs protein because of its corkscrew shape. Each human hair strand has a protective layer of overlapping cells; this is called the cuticle. Because of curly hair’s corkscrew shape, the cuticle is constantly lifted, and it is very easy for nutrients and moisture to escape, ultimately weakening the protein chains inside the hair.
Protein-based deep hair treatments help to replenish the moisture and nutrients that curly hair loses on a daily basis. This reconnects the protein chains inside the hair to strengthen each strand.
Whose hair needs protein treatment?
Some hair types need protein treatments more than others. For instance, low-porosity hair strands or hair with healthy cuticles do not need so much protein molecules, because proteins, in this case, will pile up on the outside of the hair. Applying too much protein to this kind of hair will leave it dry, stiff, and brittle, leading to breakage.
You can do a simple test to determine if your hair is lacking in protein. Simply stretch a strand of your hair down towards the ground and see how far it extends before it snaps and breaks. If your hair is balanced and healthy, your strand will stretch a little and then bounce back to its original length without snapping. If your hair lacks protein, the strand will keep stretching without breaking, but it will feel weak, limp and mushy. If your hair has too much protein and not enough moisture, it will stretch and break, and will feel brittle, stiff and dry.
How to improve your curl definition through proteins
You can definitely improve the state of your hair through your intake of protein. Eat protein-rich foods like lean meats (beef, lamb, veal, pork), dairy products (cheese, milk, yoghurt), eggs, poultry (chicken, duck, turkey), and fish/seafood (fish, clams, prawns, lobster, mussels, crab, oysters, scallops).
However, protein intake through food can only do so much to help improve curl definition. Yes, it will definitely help with healthy hair growth, but it might not necessarily help to define your curl.
To add protein to your hair routine, use products with light protein about once a week to reinforce the strength of your strands. For hair that is already compromised through chemical treatments, colour treatments and environmental issues, you will need to go for a deeper protein treatment to repair and restore your curls. Use hair products that are protein-forward, with words such as rebuilding, restoring, strengthening or repairing. Also, use a deep conditioner to boost moisture and stop your hair from becoming brittle.
But what if your hair has too much protein?
Overusing protein products can lead to a build-up of protein on your hair cuticle, weakening the hair shaft because it makes the hair heavier, leading to brittleness, breakage, and split ends, which was exactly the reason you wanted to use protein treatment in the first place.
If you find out that your hair has too much protein, cut back on or remove all products that contain protein. Go for extra moisture-boosting products instead. Also use clarifying shampoo to clear away protein product build-up.
If you have low porosity hair or fine hair, you should definitely avoid protein treatments. However, if you have high porosity hair or colour-treated or damaged hair, you should consider going for protein treatments. Get yourself shampoos, conditioners and stylers with protein, and you use them as often as is recommended.
We, however, recommend that you have a chat with your stylist before commencing with deep protein treatments. At the end of the day, we all want healthy, beautiful hair. So, here is a toast to your head of beautiful, healthy hair.
Are you interested in learning more about the science and management of afro curly hair? Check out our afro curly hair courses below