How to Balance Protein and Moisture in Natural Hair, Part 1

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By Audrey Sivasothy, author of Hair Care Rehab

Do you find random hairs in your comb, on your shirt, on your sinks and on your bathroom floors? Are you finding hair everywhere but securely upon your head? What is going on? You may have a problem with hair breakage. For black hair in particular, hair breakage is typically a result of an imbalance of important forces within the hair strand: moisture and protein levels.

Moisture

Hair needs water to maintain its elasticity, or ability to stretch. Since water is the ultimate moisturizer, water-based products are best for really getting the greatest moisture benefit.

Moisturizers are simply products that are water-based and nourish your hair deep within the strand. Products with moisturizing properties tend to be your conditioners and other specific moisturizer sprays or creams. Moisturizers may also contain large amounts of protein, but these protein based moisturizers do not have the moisturizing benefit that moisture-based moisturizers have. Check labels to gauge protein content. Good moisturizers will not contain cheap, filler ingredients like petrolatum, mineral oil, or lanolin. Avoid products that claim moisturizing benefits and contain these ingredients. There is nothing moisturizing about them! Petrolatum and mineral oil are sealants that seal out the precious moisture our hair needs.

Sealing in your Moisturizers:

Our hair naturally contains moisture, but because our hair is also naturally porous, keeping the moisture inside is a difficult task. Providing additional sources of outside moisture, or external moisture supplementation, is a must for black hair care. Water molecules and moisture from these supplemental moisturizing products easily pass into the hair shaft, but they pass out just as easily. The moisture you apply needs to held in by something. Oil.

Natural oils like jojoba, olive, carrot, or coconut oil seem to work best.

A light coating of oil after your daily moisturizer will help seal the moisture inside. Oils are made of large molecules. These molecules are too large to absorbed by the hair strand. Applying oils to the hair and scalp will coat them and trap the moisture that is inside on the inside and the moisture that is outside on the outside. The key is to use the oil to “lock in the moisture.” If you use oils without a moisturizer or before one, the oil will seal the moisture out of the hair strand and lead to a coated feel and eventual dryness. This technique of moisturizing and sealing has really been helpful to me and is a resonating hallmark of my regimen. Fighting hair breakage and achieving moisturizing success is all in the order in which you apply your products.

REMEMBER! Oils DO NOT Moisturize

Perhaps a words like “nourish” would be better than moisturize. Oil alone will not and cannot moisturize within the hair shaft. An oil (grease) can only coat the outside of the strand, and give it shine- the illusion of moisture. Oil molecules are hydrophobic which means they repel and do not readily mix with water. Remember, if you apply an oil product to your hair before you have added a moisturizing product, you have created a seal on your hair strand that water and moisture cannot penetrate.

Protein

Protein is what gives the hair its strength and structure. Hair is about 70% keratin protein by nature. There are a wide variety of proteins that serve different functions and roles in hair care. Some enhance elasticity, while others reduce it. These proteins bind to the hair cuticle and help temporarily rebuild any weakened areas. Protein-based products reinforce the hair shaft, and help it remain strong enough to fight breakage.

Some proteins are stronger than others, but 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. This is where product percent composition really plays an important role. For example, every product that contains keratin protein is not going to feel the same way across the board, and every product that contains glycerin or water is not going to feel the same either! The protein in question could make up 30% of the product or 0.3%! Who knows! You have to play around with different products to know how strong they are on your particular 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 (bargain brands like Suave and V05), leave-in conditioners, protein reconstructor conditioner treatments, and even some moisturizers.

Women with relaxed or color treated hair need more protein than others. If you are relaxed or color treated, those processes have compromised the protein structure of your hair. Relaxing and coloring breaks protein bonds, and depending on the type and strength of the relaxer, and level of bond breakage you incur, you will need more or less protein than someone else. There are also some people whose hair is more protein deficient by nature (genetics, low protein dietary intake), so they require more regular protein than others to keep the balance intact. At the end of the day, you must experiment and get to know your own head of hair.

You Can’t Have one Without the other!

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. Protein loss from chemical treatments is almost always followed by a moisture loss of some degree. Hair that is properly proteinated absorbs moisture more efficiently because water molecules bind easily to a sound protein structure within the hair. Achieving the proper balance involves using the right combinations of protein and moisture based products for your hair type. Consider the following scenarios:

Scenario 1: Kim’s hair is breaking like crazy and feels like a brillo pad. It is just plain crunchy and dry! Every time she touches it, pieces seem to just pop right off. Snap, crackle, pop. Combing is impossible without tons of little hairs covering her sink and back. Her hair feels hard and rough even when wet. She’s given it protein treatments because the product says it is supposed to stop breakage in its tracks and rebuild the hair. But so far, nothing is working and her problem is getting worse.

Scenario 2: Trina’s hair is breaking like crazy as well. Her hair feels dry, looks dull, and is very weak. Her hair is too weak to withstand simple combing. It feels extra stretchy when wet and almost follows the comb as she pulls through to detangle. Her hair is just limp and has no life. She’s deep conditioned and done hot oil treatments on her hair once a week. Since her breakage began, she has stepped up the conditioning but her problem has gotten worse.

Same Problem- Different Solutions

Both of these women have issues with hair breakage, but the solutions to their individual problems require two very different approaches. The two scenarios above perfectly illustrate what happens when the balance between protein and moisture is tipped too far in either direction. This article will teach you to effectively recognize the difference between protein based and moisture based hair problems and help you can organize your hair regimen to effectively combat these issues as they arise.

We will bring you part 2 very soon! In the meanwhile, let us know: Do you actively try to balance protein and moisture in your hair? How do you do this?

Audrey Davis-Sivasothy is a Houston-based freelance writer, publisher and longtime, healthy hair care advocate and enthusiast. Sivasothy holds a degree in health science and has written extensively on the science of caring for hair at home. She is the author of “Hair Care Rehab,” (www.haircarerehab.com)

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Black Girl With Long Hair

Black Girl With Long Hair

Leila, founding editor of Black Girl with Long Hair (April 2008), social media and black beauty enthusiast. When I'm not here, I'm moderating a Facebook group for black mothers called Black Moms Connect.

 
  • Yvette

    I deep condition every wash (which is 7 – 10/14 days), & every other month, I do a protein treatment. Hopefully, I’ll learn when to recognize which type of treatment I need more of and when.

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  • AnonSince87

    Interesting article.

    How does moisturising several times a week work? On Monday I put oil over my moisturiser, does it stop moisture getting through when I need to spirit on Tuesday?

    Also, what are people’s experiences with hair mayonnaise as a protein treatment?

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    • caribbeancurl

      An excellent question. I would say if u plan to moisturize EVEERYDAY then sealing with oil will be null and void. Or at the very most one should LIGHTLY seal with light oil (if at all).
      My humble advise is moisturize, seal and leave the hair until it needs moisturizing again. The hair will tell you so. I used to moisturise everyday until I found out the hard way that hair can be overmoisturized. If you are confident you moisturised well and when u put your hand in your hair and you can still feel the sealant then just let it be,its still doing its job.
      As for the hair mayonnaise, AN EXCELLENT product. I used it religiously every 2-3 weeks and my hair was happy. Hope this helps.

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      • AnonSince87

        Thank you! :-)

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      • Ugonna Wosu

        as a person who sometimes moisturizes and seals everyday, the oil does NOT block off the moisture for the next day. You’re supposed to put very little of it per day anyway.

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    • http://yahoo awesome

      i used mayonnaise and at first the results were brittle because i used too much protien, but then i added moisture and it was sooo soft,almost like blowdried

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  • Caramelcurls

    I wash my hair 4a/b natural hair every two weeks, so I end up using Aubrey Organics GBP once a month for protein. The ingredients strengthen my hair without drying it out. I do always follow up with a moisturizing conditioner. So far, so good!

    As far as moisture, a spritz mix of water, aloe vera juice, and EVOO, sealed with grapeseed oil keeps my hair super soft and moisturized without weighing it down.

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  • KARAJW

    I try to wash my hair Friday night or Saturday morning, I pre-poo with coconut oil to detangle, then I shampoo and condition my hair. I don’t normally deep condition everytime I wash since I cut off my color. I have really been trying to keep my hair moisturized, I had to learn the hard way about how to moisturize, I use to oil then use a moisturizer and my hair was so ruff. However now that I have put it in the right order my hair as really improved.

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  • LAURA NOGUEIRA

    This is an excellent and informative article. Thank you very much.

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  • BOLANLE

    There is so much useful information in this article, it is the answer my hair needs. Thank u so muchhhhh God bless.

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  • BabyBoo

    Thank you for all this great information.

    Is it too much to apply Megatek (protein) then water base moisturizer then coconut oil and jbco to the scalp for growth?

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  • Nicole

    I’m still learning on how to properly take care of my natural hair. There is soo much information out there! How often should one do a Protein treatment? At least once a month?

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  • Gwen Woodall

    I use aloe vera gel 2-3 x a week to give my hair moisture, a leave in conditioner 1x bi- weekly but my hair lacks shine and luster. How can I solve this problem?

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    Rattling good visual appeal on this web site , I’d price it 10 10.

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