Protein Treatment for Hair: How It Works & Signs You Need It

Although not physically painful, hair fall can make anyone feel miserable. Thick, lustrous hair is a sign of vitality and health. And if this isn’t the case with you, it might be that your hair needs some extra nourishment or some other treatment. One that can help boost the volume of your hair while making it look healthy is protein treatment for hair.

From shampoos, lotions, conditioners, creams, and masks, you’ll quite likely find ‘something protein’ in most of them. It’s advertised to add that extra strength and shine to hair. Moreover, it can treat damaged hair. However, what exactly are protein treatments, how do they work, and when do you know you need one?

What Is Protein Treatment for Hair?

Human hair is primarily composed of keratin protein. The outermost cuticle and innermost medulla surround the layer called the cortex, which contains this protein. 

Naturally, two types of keratin occur in our hair. There is Type I, which consists of acidic amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) and Type II is composed of basic amino acids. Together, these two fold over each other in a complex manner to form our hair. Needless to say, protein deficiency will lead to hair loss.

If not for the poor diet, many environmental factors can stress your hair shaft. Sun, wind, dyes, air, and chemical pollutants, can cause wear and tear to your hair. There’s no escaping these.

Protein treatments work to repair that damage. They are topically applied, but the proteins present in them can easily penetrate the innermost layers. This will heal your hair from within. It will, of course, help strengthen them. It can even take care of those split ends. 

Protein treatment for hair is made of hydrolyzing proteins (where protein is broken down into its components amino acids). By binding to the cuticle, they help nourish the hair.

However, you should keep in mind that this treatment does not give permanent results. So, if you continue to lose hair despite the application of this protein hair treatment, you might be dealing with an underlying health condition. 

As far as the availability of these protein treatments is concerned, you can get them at stores or have your hair treated at a salon. It is also possible for you to make these at home for yourself.  

The frequency of usage of protein hair products depends on the kind of treatment that you’re using. If it’s a professional in-salon treatment, once every few months (seasonal changes) would be enough. However, usually, people end up buying a protein hair mask for use at home. These can be applied more frequently. 

Is Whey Protein Good For Hair?

It is extremely popular among athletes and gym-goers. Drinking protein shakes is supposed to deliver amino acids directly to the muscles after vigorous exercise. This is what helps increase muscle mass. It takes lesser time to circulate because the powdered form doesn’t require further breakdown.

Whey is essentially a type of protein one can obtain from curdled milk. Therefore, many people believe that it can promote hair growth. Since our hair is 85% protein, whey would add to its strength. However, whey protein for hair has found itself in a whirl of controversies. Many people are wondering, “does whey protein cause hair loss?”

One side does claim that whey protein is harmless, but the other believes that whey protein might cause hair loss, especially in those with a history of pattern baldness. It’s believed to do so by increasing testosterone levels. However, according to research, it is still unclear whether there’s any correlation between male sex hormones and whey supplements.  

Does Protein Cause Hair Loss?

Just like everything, you should practice moderation when it comes to protein treatments. You might think that they’re only proteins. But their overdose would not make your hair super strong. It will have the exact opposite impact. Your hair will become crunchy and stiff. Protein overload will cause breakage. So, your hair volume will go down rather than up.

If your hair’s already in perfect condition, there’s no need for this treatment. It’s recommended for those whose hair is damaged and breaking. You have to be even more careful if you’re getting protein treatment for curly hair. That’s because your hair will already be on the drier side. If you use too much protein on it, it’s likely to cause more damage and hair loss. Use as much as has been advised on the packaging of the product that you’re using. 

When Does My Hair Need Protein?

There are several ways by which you can see that for yourself. If you feel all these things are true for you, then a protein treatment might be a good idea. You should look out for the signs of the following things in your hair:

Low Elasticity & Brittleness  

While it may seem to be a consequence of a lack of moisturization, that may not always be the case. There’s another reason why your hair might’ve lost its elasticity and is breaking easily. Elasticity here means that on stretching, your hair bounces back to its natural state. So, on stretching if you notice that your hair stays in that same ‘stretched shape,’ you can consider getting this hair treatment. 

Frequent Breakage

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, it is normal if you lose 50 to 100 strands of hair in one day. So, you shouldn’t get alarmed every time some strands of your hair wash down the drain. It is most likely nothing problematic. 

However, if it’s shedding excessively, you should take a closer look at them. It might be happening because of protein deficiency. If after you’ve gotten the treatment, and your hair continues to fall, then you need to consult a doctor. 

Chemical Damage 

The damaging effects of hair colouring are well-known. At one time, they even used to carry carcinogens (cancer-causing substances) in them. They can cause allergic reactions, asthma and balding. Chemicals such as ammonia present in dyes can damage the cuticle.

It can make it more porous, which makes it difficult to entrap moisture. This can also make your hair more frizzy and tangly. It’s because your hair strands are getting in more water than they usually do. Proteins can help fill these gaps and make your hair healthier.

Hair is Dull and Gummy 

Dull, stringy hair is another telltale sign of protein-deficient hair. As far as the gumminess is concerned, that means that you’ve over-moisturized your hair. In this, the cuticle is damaged due to moisture entering and leaving the hair. It is known as hygral fatigue. Here too, protein treatment can help restore balance to your hair and make them better.

Does My Hair Need Protein or Moisture?

Before getting a protein treatment, you must know whether or not the problems are arising due to protein. It may just as well be the lack of moisture that’s making your hair break. Even over-moisturizing your hair can also make them lose its elasticity. There’s a wet stretch test to find out if your hair needs moisture or protein. You do it the following way: 

  • Take at least 10 strands of your hair 
  • Wet the bunch
  • Hold it tight and then pull

No stretch means a lack of moisture. Also, it will break very easily. However, if it does stretch and doesn’t bounce back, you may need some protein to boost your hair volume. Moreover, in contrast to having dry hair due to lack of moisture, your hair will have a gummy texture to it. 

Is There any Alternative to Protein Treatment? 

Hair proteins are a topical treatment. If you want to nourish your hair from the inside, then you need to make your food a little more protein-based. That’ll guarantee you that thick hair volume and lustre. There are also protein supplements available out there. But you should consult a medical professional on their intake. 

Eggs, milk, chicken, turkey, fish, cheese, yoghurt, nuts, beans and some green vegetables are good sources of protein. According to Harvard Health, you need 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of your body weight. The average adult man needs 56 grams per day, while the average adult woman should consume 46 grams per day. You can find out how much you need using a DRI calculator

You can also consider getting PRP therapy. It mainly works by extracting platelets from the blood and then injecting them into the affected area. That’s not all, though. It does contain proteins (which makes it kind of a protein treatment) and growth factors. This also helps repair the hair. 

From Where to Get The Best Protein Treatment for Hair? 

One option is to get it from a salon. However, it may be too expensive, since it can cost a couple of hundred pounds. A comparatively less cheap option is to go for treatments that you can buy at the stores. Usually, these come as hair masks that you need to put on your head after shampooing and wash off after 10-15 minutes. 

They’re easier to use in that you don’t have to prepare them. In addition, the good ones not only contain proteins like keratin, or collagen but also other hydrating ingredients like vitamins, oils, shea butter, honey, ceramides, fruit extracts and green tea extract. Together, these can give the extra boost that your hair needs to grow normally and healthily. Other than hair masks, you can also find hair sprays. 

However, they, too, have their problems. A lot of these products obtain keratin not from humans but rather from animals. Usually, it is chicken feathers or sheep wool. If you have used such products before, you know that they leave something to be desired. 

One reason, according to research, is that the sequence of amino acids in these proteins differs from that found in human hair. This makes them less effective. Of the types of keratins mentioned above, K31 (acidic) is most abundantly found in the middle layer of hair. This contributes to its greater strength. This research conducted showed that K31 obtained from E.coli helped increase the diameter, strength and smoothness of damaged hair. It even straightened curly hair.

The cheapest option is to DIY. For that, you can prepare a mask using ingredients like egg yolk, yoghurt, coconut oil, almond oil, argan oil, avocados and milk. Once you mix it up, it’ll form a paste that you can apply on your head for 15-20 minutes, after which you can rinse it off with your shampoo. 

Concluding Remarks 

Protein treatment for hair is a good idea if your hair’s suffering from protein deficiency. You can perform a test at home to find out if the hair loss is truly due to proteins or lack of moisture. In any case, it’s best to get the advice of a medical professional before proceeding with any kind of treatment. However, be careful as too much of it can also harm your hair.

Reviewed and Approved by Dr. Cagla Yuksel.

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