4 Ways to Manage Protein Sensitive Hair


Some naturals report that using any type of protein or protein containing product can lead them to have dry, hard and brittle hair that feels like straw. Searching within science journals has not yielded an explanation for this but it is well reported so here is my theory on dealing with protein sensitive hair.

1. Know proteins in your products
Protein can appear in different forms and in order to pinpoint it as the cause of your dry hair woes, you should be able to identify if it is in your product. Here is a list:

-Hydrolysed/hydrolyzed/hydrosylates: In general you will find labels with ingredients such as hydrolyzed keratin or wheat hydrosylates or hydrolysed collagen etc. The process by which proteins are broken up into smaller pieces is known as hydrolysis. If you do not know your proteins by name e.g keratin, collagen etc, then just look out for the word hydrolysed.
-Amino acids: If you are ingredient aware, you will know that amino acids are the basic building blocks that can be strung together to make proteins. Some manufacturers use words such as silk amino acids while some may specifically name the amino acid, some common ones are glutamic acid, cysteine and arginine
-Peptides: These are small strings of 5 or so amino acids.
– Mayonnaise: It is actually the egg yolk that is used to make mayonnaise. The egg white is the part with the most protein, so mayonnaise is not a major source of protein but can have trace amounts
– Whole eggs/egg white/albumin/egg albumin, avocado, bananas, aloe vera: These are all sources of whole protein. The large whole form of protein actually does not tend to behave in the same way as hydrolysed protein, amino acids or peptides. Some people with protein sensitive hair will find all of these perfectly fine to use. It should also be noted avocado, bananas and aloe vera do contain very small amounts of protein.

2. Distinguish between an intended effect and actual sensitivity

If you use a protein treatment such as Aphogee Two Step or Komaza Protein Strengthener and you follow the instructions to allow the product to dry under a hair dryer, most hair will feel somewhat straw like immediately after rinsing. A moisturising conditioner is normally required to help hair go back to its normal feel.

For protein sensitive hair, moisturising products with even small amounts of protein cause hair to feel brittle. For example, Giovanni leave in with small amounts of wheat protein or the Herbal Essences conditioner range which by and large contain glutamic acid.

3.Be aware of products that may help hair retain protein e.g coconut oil, henna, clay or mud washes
If your hair is protein sensitive, products such as coconut oil and henna which help protect hair from loosing protein when washed may produce the same straw-like feel that a protein containing product will do. Many times, protein sensitive hair will also be sensitive to natural oils and butters as many of these are thought to be able to penetrate hair. Oils that do not penetrate hair e.g sunflower oil or mineral oil may be preferred by protein sensitive hair.

4. Be aware of protein allergies.
Some people are actually allergic to hydrolysed proteins in hair products. Applying a protein containing product can lead to an itchy skin rash (medically known as contact urticaria). If a certain product causes your scalp to itch, you should avoid using it again and try to determine which ingredient you are allergic to.

Is your hair protein sensitive? If so, how do you manage it?

The Natural Haven

The Natural Haven

Scientist on a hairy mission!


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30 thoughts on “4 Ways to Manage Protein Sensitive Hair

  1. Excellent Article!!!! It all makes perfect sense. My youngest daughter is protein sensitive which I started to notice when she 1 (she is now 3). Over the years, I have learned what proteins I can use sparingly and which ones to stay away from altogether. I have recently been using the Terressentials Mud Wash which did great the first several times and then her hair started feeling dry after rinsing (so I put that away for now). I also got this same reaction using AVJ frequently. Not to mention I pre-poo w/ coconut oil (but I knew all about coconut oil but all of that together can explain the dryness)…so this explains a lot! Thx!

  2. JC – How exactly do clay or mud washes help hair retain protein?

    I read the “Clay Science: Bentonite and Rhassoul” post on your blog but it doesn’t mention protein retention.

    • Bentonite clay is not researched for use on hair but it is extensively used in the wine making industry. In winemaking it is used to selectively filter out proteins because some proteins can be attracted to it depending on their charge. Some proteins therefore remain in the wine while others are washed away with the clay. From this I can assume that bentonite clay may have a similar interaction with protein in hair or in a hair product, filtering some off and allowing some to be retained.

      I will update my article on the blog, thanks for letting me know :)

  3. I would also add that we may need to look at our diet because while protein is great for building muscles. How much we consume may be overloading our natural hair.

    • Great question! Anything in excess is not good but it is not really possible to overload your hair from dietary protein. Your hair will only take what it needs and no more (i.e eating more protein will not make your hair thicker or grow faster). Similarly, consuming a lot of protein will not make your muscles grow bigger, stronger or get more toned. You have to include a proper exercise routine for that protein to be effective.

  4. Being protein sensitive is just like having an allergy or following a gluten free diet.
    That means:
    Spending alot of your life reading the back of bottles and understanding the labels.
    Smiling as you try to explain to the shop assistant why you are spending so much time standing in the store and smiling even harder when they start spouting nonsense because they have no idea what you are talking about.

    Accepting that nearly every hair product which spouts itself as the holy grail of all hair products tends to contain coconut or some high concn of amino acid.

    That being protein sensitive means that you have enough protein in your own hair and that you don’t need anymore. That’s an advantage!!!

    That you were so glad you paid attention in Chemistry Class…or not as the case maybe.

    Bingo. You are not going mad, that even though you can eat protein and you can put coconut oil on your skin, you hair is not impressed!!! If you are truly protein sensitive, its not, just about,not putting coconut oil on your hair. It also means that you cannot use sometimes whole ranges of hair products because alot of beauty companies use coconut oil because it penetrates the hair shaft and that it is cheap and plentiful.
    Yes,your choice is much limited but you will have much happier hair.And happier hair means Rapunzel type hair!

    • YESSSSSSS and it might take you a LONG TIME to find your arsenal of products but when you do, your hair will be happy because you will be consistent with how you take care of your hair. It only took me *ahem* 2 years but I’m almost done assembling my hair care arsenal. All that is missing is a really moisturizing deep conditioner (my hair laughs at oil DC’s and rhassoul clay is not enough) and I have a feeling it has not been created yet LOL…

  5. I just figured out why my hair has been straw like for years! I am Protein sensitive and even mousse, serums and most oils make my hair feel dry.. You would think the oil rinse method or an oil treatment would soften my porous hair but in fact it made it worse! My hair was snapping off! So I did some research and found TRESemme Naturals Nourishing Moisture Conditioner With Aloe Vera & Avocado. I used the shampoo version of this product and then I used the conditioner and I immediately noticed my hair was baby soft!I added a tablespoon of this conditioner to my spray bottle and filled it half way with water and soaked my hair, combed it and let it air dry. It was so silky once it dried, I am use to next day dryness/disappointment so I wanted to be absolutely sure this was the solution.. This morning my hair was still silky!! I know this sounds like drama but I am close to tears!!! Years of brittle hair and Thousands of dollars in expensive products and all I needed was this cheap Protein free conditioner??? Are you kidding me??!!! Thank you for all the wonderful info!I And ladies if you have porous straw like hair please try my method at least once! This is truly life changing!! Great article!!!

  6. Laura, the Tresemme Naturals Moisture Conditioner has the same effect on my hair which is driving me to distraction with all of its ‘dislikes’ (any oil, protein, aloe, blah blah blah…). However, whilst I am sooh grateful for the silkiness that the shampoo and conditioner give, would love to know what you seal in the moisture with or as a styler? The conditioner as a leave-in alone doesn’t have enough hold for my hair and it turns into a frizz ball or I get overload if I leave too much in.

    • Teentine – I know this reply is really late, but I hope you receive this. I use the Tresemme Naturals Moisture Conditioner as my leave in as well. To seal in the moisture, I use olive oil. I really hope that’s not one of the oils that your hair dislikes. Let me just tell you, my dry, finicky hair fell in LOVE with the Tresemme Naturals/olive oil combination. After washing, I just sectioned my hair off, slathered the section with conditioner, then put olive oil on top to seal and twisted it up. My hair is very thick, so I think I had about 12 to 14 large twists by the time I was done. I let my hair air dry for a short while, but it was late so I just put my scarf on and went to bed. When I woke up the next day, my hair was incredibly soft and moisturized. In fact, it was so moisturized that I thought it hadn’t dried all the way since I put the scarf on while it was still damp. So I unraveled a few of the twists. They were indeed dry, just very plump and moist. I had finally found something that works for me! Unfortunately, I can’t help when it comes to finding something with hold. I keep my hair in twists, so I’ve never been too concerned about hold, I just had a heck of a time retaining moisture. But I hope this was at least a little helpful to you or anyone else who may be having difficult retaining moisture. Best of luck!

  7. Great information!!! My hair is protein sensitive and hates aloe vera. Do you have a diy protein free conditioner recipe?

  8. Here are some recommendations for products for really protein sensitive hair from my experience. These have no coconut oil, proteins, aloe vera, nut oils or avocado oil. PLEASE add yours for future reference for our fellow protein sensitive heads!

    *(Some of these products have extracts which my hair is fine with but even extracts make some people’s hair brittle so just an FYI)*

    Shampoo: Mop C-System Hydrating Shampoo (CRAZY moisturizing and cleans well)

    Leave Ins: Qhemet Cocoa Tree Detangling Ghee
    Curl Junkie Beauticurls Leave-In Conditioner
    OGX Kukui Oil Conditioner

    Oils: EVOO
    Emu Oil (very, very rich and moisturizing)
    Argan Oil
    Grapeseed Oil

    Hope this helps. Hopefully someone can add a DC without all the stuff we need to avoid.

  9. THANK YOU! I have been going crazy trying to understand why my hair is so dry and straw-like, even with all the coconut oil treatments I have been doing. I didn’t even know protein-sensitive hair was a thing until now.

  10. I love that there are informed discussions happening on the topic of hair protein sensitivity. I have grown so frustrated with the search for the holy hair grail of protein free products that I started working on creating my own. I am perfecting them but my wash out conditioner and my leave-in have now replaced all others on my shelf and I am beyond happy with the results. I NEVER really understood what a good conditioner was supposed to do for my hair until now. I hope to soon be at the point when I can offer this to others but for now, I am happy to see women understanding the struggle.

    The truth of the matter is that companies are not listening to us. There are countless hair forums with protein sensitivity topics being discussed at length yet all the major products companies still ignorantly use proteins like it’s a cure all.

    Necessity is the mother of invention and it certainly fueled my quest and I’m elated with the results. Stay tuned…

  11. I used to use shea butter on my hair when it was relaxed and transistioning then when i bc’d and put that my hair with coconut oil, and a whole lot of other things ( that cost me about fifty dollars) it made my hair so crunchy that my hair would crumble in my hand. yes crumble. i made this huge batch that i had to give to my husband and son, so i was left with no way to moisturise. i just learned to use conditioner but that doesnt really work all the time, i’m still looking for a good moisturiser.

    • Olive oil? I find that it softens my hair although it’s a new experiment. I moisturise my hair with a bath powder that’s used to de-acidify the body mixed with water and then I put the olive oil (from my kitchen) in my hair. My hair does feel softer, but let’s see if it’s stops breaking and I retain a bit more length than usual. Just trying to keep it simple.

        • I thought it was working with me cause the de-acidifying liquid alkalised my hair therefore lifted the cuticles and allowed the water and then the oil in. That’s my theory. Maybe you can put something alkalising in your hair first (baking soda in solution?) and then try another oil, perhaps argan oil. Good luck! :)

  12. This is really helpful. Keratin treatments ruined my hair and the dr said avoid products that mimic it, which can be natural and organic. I do think coconut oil dries my hair out and I will pay really good attention now. I’ve been using a protein mask that’s all natural but maybe the ingredients are drying out my hair. Thanks!

  13. Recently, I’ve tried not using a wash out conditioner at all & my hair responded well. The only dilemma is detangling. Sometimes I can detangle pretty easily with water only but other times I need a little help. For now, my solution is to apply a protein free or almost protein free detangling conditioner in the shower to detangle then follow with an ACV cleanse (1 part ACV to 3 parts water in a spray bottle). I think my hair hates proteins & emulsifiers, which are basically the waxy substance in ALL hair creams/lotions that are used to bind the water soluble & oil soluble ingredients into a smooth lotion or cream. After using the ACV rinse after detangling, I am removing any mild proteins & the emulsifiers from my strands and my hair seems to really like it. I have also started incorporating a little of the water only wash technique of smoothing my sebum onto my strains a little to act as a bit of a conditioner. When your ACV rinse is mixed properly, you do not strip away the sebum from your scalp.

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