Protein and moisture balance

So, we know that the hair needs moisture too make sure that it doesn´t become too dry and brittle and break off too easy (click here for more info on moisturizing the hair).

But what about protein? What is it and why does our hair need it? How much does it need and how do I give it what it needs? Can you over do it with protein and what does it mean when people say that their hair is protein sensitive? These where the questions I had when I first learned about this topic. I will try to explain it as much and as simple as I can.

Your hair consists of three layers. Think of the hair as a straw with three layers:

  • The innermost layer is called the medulla (is only present in thick, coarse hair).
  • Second layer (in thin, fine hair where the medulla is absent it would be the innermost layer) is the cortex. The cortex is what gives the hair its strength, color and elasticity and is made up of fibrous chains of protein. This is where the moisture “is soaked up and contained” in the hair.
  • The third and external layer of the hair is called the cuticle. It is the hairs outer protective layer that works as a shield to the environment and consists of fatty acids and proteins.The cuticle layer is made up of several overlapping sheaths. Like the scales on a fish or tiles on a roof. This shield is what keeps moisture in the strands and prevents it from evaporating right out of the strands.

Are you experiencing severe breakage?

If you are experiencing a lot of breakage it could be because the hair is out of balance with its moisture and protein content.

Lack of moisture is the most common reason for breakage. Tightly curly hair is naturally dry, but did you know that a lack of protein can “push it over the edge” and cause severe breakage?

If the hair lacks protein it will become very weak, break easy and not be able to hold moisture very well.

If it is having an overload of moisture (from over conditioning without balancing it up with protein), it will loose it´s strenght, become super stretchy, feel ” limp and soggy” and may not hold styles or curls very well. It will also loose that elasticity that lets it ”bounce back” when you put tension on it and break off easier.

The most common reason for lack of protein is chemical treatments such as coloring or relaxing the hair. Excessive sun exposure can also cause a lack of protein in the hair (not that we have to worry about that very often in Sweden…).

Too much of a good thing can also be bad…

This is also the case with protein in the hair. If you use too much protein rich products or treatments for your hair, it can become overloaded. The excess protein that clings to the cuticle layer will then actually prevent that precious moisture from entering the hair strands, causing the hair to become very dry, brittle, ”straw like”, “hard”,  inelastic and therefor easily break off.

Be careful when you use protein rich products

It is easier to add more protein to the hair than it is to “remove” too much protein from the hair. Only use enough to fulfill the need of your hair. If you are suffering from protein overload you need to get that moisture back in the hair to regain the balance. You do this by deep conditioning the hair and staying away from further protein rich products until the balance has been restored. Some people are ”protein sensitive”, meaning that it is very easy to get an overload of protein in the hair.

So how do you know if your hair is balanced?

There is a “do it yourself test” that you can try to see if your hair needs more moisture or protein:

Take a strand of hair that is wet. You don´t need to pull one out, just wait until you have a shed hair. Then gently pull on it from both sides until it brakes. If it stretches very much before breaking (feels almost like pulling on chewing gum), then you need more protein in your hair. If it breaks without much stretching at all, you need more moisture in your hair. Remember, you need both to have healthy hair.


Do this test once in a while to get a feel for how your hair feels when it is balanced and healthy. This will help you to know when something is out of balance. Healthy balanced hair should be a little elastic, meaning it should stretch a bit and then bounce back when you release the tension.

Everyone is different

Everyone’s hair is different and will react differently to products and treatments. Get to know your hair. Depending on your hair texture and the condition that your hair is in, your moisture and protein needs will change. Just because someone is doing a protein treatment every week doesn´t mean that that would be good for your hair.

The texture of your hair can also play a big role in how much protein it needs. Fine or thin hair may need more protein than coarse or thick hair that naturally contains more protein on its own. Protein will give the fine hair more weight and strength that it needs. For coarse thick hair that already contains a lot of protein, it might be easier to get protein overload in the hair. But once again, listen to your hair. It will let you know what it needs if you just pay attention.

Inside and out

What you eat and how your body brakes down the protein also plays a role. If you have strong fingernails and they grow really fast and so does your hair. That is a sign that you have a good amount of protein in your hair already. If you have week fingernails and they and your hair doesn´t grow that fast, there is a good chance that protein will benefit you.

What you eat also plays a big role. Make sure to eat a balanced and healthy diet and drink enough water to keep you well hydrated. You will notice the difference in your overall wellbeing as well as your hair, nails and skin.



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