Check out your hair for a sec. Is it looking dry, frizzy, or dull—or even breaking in some spots? You might have a protein problem. 90% of your hair is made up of protein—but a constant barrage of styling and treatments (like that summer you decided to go platinum blonde) can sap away at hair's natural protein levels to leave behind damaged locks.
That's why stylists and dermatologists (and even Kim Kardashian!) are obsessed with protein treatments. “They strengthen hair, protect it from excessive moisture loss, make it feel thicker and look shinier and, to an extent, repair damage,” says dermatologist Dr Francesca Fusco. They usually come in the form of conditioners, serums or masks containing high levels of proteins to help repair broken proteins in your hair to make it stronger and healthier.
Protein treatments aren’t necessarily new—but the formulas have been refined and improved in recent years to deliver the best possible results. And, depending on your level of hair damage, you may need a different intensity. If you overdo it on the protein, your hair can become stiff and, ironically enough, prone to breakage. So we’re breaking down what type of protein treatment is best for you—and how to avoid going overboard.
Best for: Naturally fine or slightly damaged hair.
Search for “DIY protein treatments” on the Internet and prepare to feel overwhelmed—because there are a lot to choose from.
These are your best bet if you have minor hair damage because a formula whipped up in your kitchen can only do so much.
Fair warning: Many recipes rely on eggs, egg whites or a combo of both—so expect it to get messy. Try a recipe that incorporates a protein with some sort of conditioning oil so you can restore both protein and hydration to your locks. This one pairs olive oil and egg yolks, and while messy, can help make hair feel almost instantly softer. You can also mix up Greek yoghurt with honey and coconut oil to make a deeply conditioning hair mask. (Just be sure to use plain, unflavoured yoghurt—you don't want blueberry or strawberry chunks lingering in your hair!)
"Remember to rinse thoroughly or hair will feel rough, stiff or tangled from the protein residue,” says Fusco.
Best for: Hair moderately damaged by colour and bleach
A protein pack is basically a souped-up hair mask. These often have a blend of ingredients like keratin and silk protein, that gives your hair an extra repairing boost. If you intend to keep colouring your hair, try this once a month.
Deep penetrating treatment
Best for: Serious hair damage from years of bleaching to daily straightening
These treatments are all about the protein and they're intense. Used weekly, it'll help repair and fortify hair. Don't forget to factor in the aftercare, too. "For any at-home treatments, a thorough rinsing followed by a deep conditioner is best," says Fusco.