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Shampoo and conditioner are staples in a standard beauty routine, but a protein treatment should be, too. This product can give your hair the strength it needs for long-term health. Ahead, experts share everything you need to know about protein treatments and how you can best work them into your hair regimen.
What's the purpose of a protein treatment?
It has been long understood that eating protein-rich foods can help strengthen hair. Protein treatments themselves accomplish this and more, says Joy Williams, executive master educator and master artist for CHI Haircare. "A great protein treatment can help to repair severely damaged hair, encourage hair growth, and penetrate and heal a dry, flaky scalp," she says. One major thing she says to remember is that your hair still needs a good balance of moisture—which allows your hair to stretch without breaking—along with all that protein—which strengthens hair from the inside, out). An over-treatment of protein treatment can make hair lose its elasticity, rendering it dry and brittle. But how can you know if your hair is in need of this treatment type? Ayo Ogun, founder and CEO of Soultanicals, says a lack of protein in your diet (or a natural deficiency in your hair) and heat damage are two common factors.
How will this treatment impact your hair?
Williams also says that protein treatments serve different purposes depending on your hair texture: "For straight and wavy hair types, a protein treatment helps to retain moisture and strengthen from within, while also giving a healthy natural shine to the hair. This prevents the hair from appearing dull and lifeless." For those with curly and coily textures, she adds that protein treatments are essential in breakage prevention and keeping curl patterns strong by treating the hair internally. And for chemically treated hair, protein treatments serve as the extra protection needed to maintain its health. "Chemical relaxers break textured hair bonds so that the hair can be straightened," says Ogun. "This process weakens strands and leaves it vulnerable to severe chemical damage." She recommends Soultanicals Afrotastic Curl Elastic Deep Conditioning Treatment ($16, sallybeauty.com), which replenishes relaxed hair with essential nutrients and keeps natural curls healthy.
What goes into a protein treatment?
For those thinking about making a protein treatment at home, you're in luck: There are plenty of all-natural ingredients that you can use to do just that. Our experts share that these treatments should act as a protective barrier for the hair and include essential fatty acids, vitamin E, amino acids, minerals, and hydrolyzed proteins. "A great homemade treatment is a mixture of eggs (pure protein), yogurt (protein and lactic acid, which helps to cleanse deeply while maintaining moisture), and avocado or coconut oil (which contains those fatty acids we need)," Williams adds. But she also notes that there are salon-quality products that do the work for you, too, like the CHI Deep Brilliance Protein Masque Strengthening Treatment ($16.87, amazon.com); this uses essential oils, botanicals, herbs, and vitamins to reconstruct dry, damaged hair.
How often should you use a protein treatment?
When your hair starts shedding more often than normal, it feels limp or dull, and it breaks every time you brush or comb, Williams says it's likely time for you to start using a protein treatment. If you are making your own at home, she says to apply it once or twice each month, and adds that you'll want to make sure you're getting your ends trimmed regularly. However, she says you should switch up the timeframe if you are going to a salon. "Professional protein treatments can be more intensive and only need to be used once every four to six weeks. We recommend that you see a licensed professional in this case," she adds.
Ogun notes that textured hair can often feel hard if it is in need of a protein treatment and agrees that timing is everything. "Protein treatments benefit textured hair specifically due to the tightness of the curl pattern. The tighter the curl pattern, the greater the need for hair hydration," she says. "Moisture is key in maintaining healthy and strong, textured strands. Protein treatments works in lieu of moisture to help reconstruct and strengthen hair strands."
What's the right way to use a protein treatment?
To add protein treatments into your hair care routine, apply yours on clean, conditioned hair and then wash it out. "If you have fine hair, you may just shampoo and then use the protein treatment so that your hair is not too weighed down," Williams notes. "Generally, you would leave a protein treatment on the hair for 20 to 30 minutes before rinsing. Once rinsed, style as desired." In addition, it's always important to use products that complement this treatment. "Protein imbalances can be corrected with the aid of moisturizing hair products," Ogun says. "Making informed hair product selections in order for the moisture and protein balancing process to work is key!"