You may have heard about protein treatments, but may not know what they are and when they are needed. Here are three facts you should know about protein treatment for hair:
Hair is Mostly Protein
A protein called keratin makes up the bulk of a hair's structure. Hair has three sections:
- The outer section is called the cuticle. The cuticle is composed of a layer of keratinized protein cells that are arranged like the overlapping shingles on your home's roof. The cuticle protects the other layers and gives hair its strength and shine.
- The middle section is called the cortex. The cortex is composed of long, twisty keratin chains held together with fats. The cortex gives hair its elasticity.
- The core is called the medulla. The medulla is a spongy, oily material. The medulla does not contribute to the structure of hair, except that coarse hair has a medulla and fine hair often lacks a medulla.
The cuticle can become damaged due to many causes. Heat (such as the heat of curling irons or flat irons), chemicals (such as hair dyes and perms), and environment (such as chlorinated swimming pools and sun) can all damage the cuticle. Chemicals can be especially damaging to hair. Common cleaning chemicals not only damage hair, but can release nearly 500 chemicals into the air that are linked to asthma, reproductive toxicity, cancer, neurotoxins, and worse.
When the cuticle is damaged, it is called an “open cuticle.” This means there are missing “shingles” in the cuticle or the “shingles” have been deformed so they do not overlap tightly enough to protect the cortex. An open cuticle allows the cuticle to dry out. Some symptoms of an open cuticle include:
- Split ends
- Frizzy hair
- Dull hair
- Weak hair that breaks easily
Protein Treatments Can Reinforce Hair
A protein treatment is a natural way to restore damaged hair structure. Specifically, a DIY protein treatment for hair can coat the cuticle with proteins and amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) to fill in gaps in the cuticle. This can restore the sheen and strength of the hair. Moreover, when used in combination with moisturizing conditioner and shampoo recipes, a homemade protein treatment for hair can seal in the moisture delivered to the cortex, to thereby refresh curly hair and straight hair alike.
Since hair is only built at the root and grows out from the hair follicle, the cuticle cannot be regrown by a DIY protein treatment for natural hair. However, a DIY protein treatment for natural hair can provide a coating on the hair that mimics the cuticle.
Many Natural Substances Can Be Used as a DIY Protein Treatment for Natural Hair
There are many safe and natural products that contain protein and have a consistency that coat the hair shaft. These include:
- Nut oils: Almond oil, macadamia oil, and other nut oils contain natural protein and stick to the hair easily. They restore the shine to damaged hair and protect the cortex. However, be aware that if you have nut allergies, it is the nut proteins that cause the allergic reaction. Therefore, people with nut allergies should avoid using nut oils as a DIY protein treatment for natural hair.
- Rice water: The water produced from soaking or rinsing rice contains both proteins and amino acids. Rinsing with rice water has been used as a DIY protein treatment for natural hair throughout Asia for centuries. In addition to restoring your hair's shine and strength, rice water can moisturize a dry, flaky, or itchy scalp.
- Other oils: Argan oil, Jamaican black castor oil, and avocado oil have all been promoted as a DIY protein treatment for natural hair. All of these are used in commercial beauty products as well.
Protein treatments can help restore the shine and strength to damaged hair. Moreover, they can protect the cortex, which gives hair its elasticity. When combined with moisturizing conditioners and shampoos, both the cortex and cuticle can be restored to something close to an undamaged state.