Protein and moisture balance explained


What’s all the fuss about protein and moisture balance? you ask. As I mentioned in a previous post, our hair is mainly made up of protein. The slightest change in the hair’s protein structure and components can greatly alter the hair’s properties.

Our hair exhibits great resilience and durability in its natural state because no significant change in its structure has occurred unlike relaxed hair which has undergone a chemical change. The disulfide bonds are broken during a chemical treatment; this change is irreversible. Once these bonds are broken, they cannot be formed again. The downside of this process is that it makes hair dryer and less resilient, that is why chemically treated hair is more prone to breakage as opposed to natural hair.

The two main reasons why hair breaks are moisture deficiency and protein deficiency. When there is an imbalance in these two components, hair breakage occurs.

How moisture deficiency occurs

Excessive sun exposure, use of harsh shampoos containing sulphates,use of heavy oil containing petrolatum (mostly hair oils that come in a jar and look like vaseline) and the overuse of heat styling methods such as blow-drying and flat ironing can all bring about moisture deficiency in the hair. Precious moisture is evaporated from the hair shaft or when the heavy oils are applied, they tend to seal the shaft preventing any moisture from penetrating the shaft. I cannot stress enough, OIL IS NOT A MOISTURIZER! The overuse of products rich in protein such as conditioners , reconstructors and gels can also trigger moisture deficiency in the hair thus brittle hair, moderation is key.

How protein deficiency occurs

Excessive sun exposure and the overuse of styling techniques such as hair colouring chemical relaxing are the main causes of  protein deficiency in hair. These processes destroy the hair’s natural protein structure. Over-conditioning hair that is not sufficiently balanced with protein-rebuilding products can also throw the protein/moisture balance off.

So how do you tell if your hair is either protein or moisture deficient? Hair that is lacking in protein (too much moisture) will be super elastic,too soft and gummy and stretchy when wet. It lacks structure and does not hold curls well. Think of protein as a skeleton that gives your hair shape and structure, without it it will just plop and lay there like a wet sock.

Hair that is moisture deficient (too much protein) on the other hand is hard, inelastic and brittle even when wet. It breaks off and snaps easily. Think of a dried up sponge, it is brittle and breaks off easily, but as soon as it has moisture in it, it becomes strong and doesn’t snap unless you use force to tear it.

Well balanced hair is very strong. The hair feels great, moves well and has a nice sheen to it. The hair feels soft and supple, yet strong whether wet or dry.

A good hair care regimen should include a moisturizing conditioner and a protein conditioner, and for relaxed and damaged hair a protein reconstructor is recommended. I like to use a leave-in conditioner every morning on my hair while it is still damp, then seal in the moisture using oils such as olive oil and coconut oil. Since my hair is at its healthiest, I only use a protein conditioner once a month. This helps to maintain a good balance in my hair.

How do you tackle your hair issues?

Reference: The Science of Black Hair by Audrey Davis-Sivasothy

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20 Responses to Protein and moisture balance explained

  1. Regarding your last question, I’ve noticed that when I don’t wash my hair everyday, less falls out, and it looks terrific! Is natural hair sebum a moisturizer?

    • Sebum is absolutely the best moisturizer and the best part is that it is absolutely free! That is why it is not advisable to wash your hair with harsh shampoos too often since they tend to strip the scalp of the precious oil. I wash my hair everyday, but I wash it with a conditioner, and that seems to do the trick, my hair loves it and my scalp never dries out. You can use cheap conditioners like Suave or VO5 for this.By the way jojoba oil is the closest in composition to sebum, you could also use it to moisturize your scalp if you notice it drying out.

      • Washing hair with conditioner? I had not tried that before! That makes sense because conditioner is not as harsh as shampoo!

        • You can totally use conditioner to wash your hair, but it’s best to use a light conditioner, this will cause considerably less buildup. Most conditioners do contain gentle cleansers, so if you wash your hair often, conditioner is your best bet. Let me know how it goes!

  2. great post! it is so hard to find good hair info. My hair seems healthier when it is relaxed, why is that? my afro hair is really dry but strong at the same time. It is really strange…

    • If your hair seems healthy when relaxed, it means you are doing something right, so keep it up! Afro hair is naturally dry, that is why we need to keep it moisturized at all times. The natural oils our scalp produces have a hard time going down the hair shaft due to all the coils and kinks. People with naturally straight hair don’t have a problem of dry hair because the sebum goes right down the hair shaft moisturizing it. Congrats on your healthy hair!

  3. Pingback: Moisturizing Your Natural Hair

  4. Anonymous says:

    I have very dry hair at my ends and decided to purchase Redken anti snap leave in and it’s butter treat smooth down conditioner. I am not too sure if I shld alternate my use of these two products as I know that Redken has much protein in it. When I do add it to my ends, it tends to get hard/crisp.

    How should I use it? =( Is this a case of too much protein. Fyi – I use matrix biolage ultra hydrating shampoo and conditioner.

  5. Since Redken Anti Snap is a protein rich leave in conditioner, I would recommend alternating it with the other leave in conditioner that you bought since it is protein free. You could use the Anti Snap 2-3 times a week and make note of the hair texture and condition after a week of alternating the two products.
    It is not advisable to use a protein rich conditioner everyday.There is such a thing as too much of a good thing 😉

  6. Jessica says:

    The moisture protein thing is so confusing haha I am getting ready to start my hair care journey and trying to gather as mush info as possibke . I understand the alternate moisture and protein products, do you know if the creme of nature shampoo have protein in it? Also of a conditioner that do no not have protein in it?

    Thanks in advance 🙂

  7. Hello Jessica, I am not sure about Creme of Nature shampoo containing any protein, you might want to have a look at the label. If you are looking for a good protein shampoo I would recommend C.O.Bigelow Protein Shampoo. I use it every two weeks and I absolutely love it.
    Some good moisturizing conditioners include: Kenra Moisturizing Conditioner, Elucence Moisture Benefits conditioner, Creme of Nature Nourishing Conditioner, Herbal Essences Replenishing conditioner, Dove Intense Moisture Conditioner, AtOne Botanicals conditioner, Nexxus HydraSleek Conditioner, KeraCare Humecto Conditioner, Infusium Moisturizing conditioner.

  8. carrie says:

    Hi, I have been natural for the past two years and loving it !! I recently found beautiful glycerine & aloe vera which I mix with water 4 to1. It adds amazing moisture to my hairI use it every 3 – 4 days. Question: Lately, my hair has been breaking and seems fragile sounds like too much moisture — could using too much glycerine and aloe vera cause this ?

    • violet wangu says:

      Dear Carrie,
      Glycerine is hygroscopic in nature, which means it draws moisture from its surrounding, so it makes sense that your hair feels very moisturized when you use it in your hair. The downside is that you are risking throwing your protein/moisture balance off if you are not putting protein in your hair.
      Does your hair feel “stretchy” and “sticky” when wet? I would suggest you try and balance your hair by using a heavy duty protein treatment in your hair like Aphogee Two Step Treatment (available at Sally’s Beauty)
      This treatment will reconstruct your hair and give it strength from within. Let me know how it goes! 😉

  9. Pingback: Protein + Moisture = Happy Hair! « ROOTS TO TIPS

  10. CC says:

    Great article! Just what I was looking for. I’m a little confused tho. In the beginning of the article you informed us of oils NOT serving as a moisturizer. Saying they can hinder penetration to the hair shaft. Then, you said you like to use an oil after moisturizing yor hair. So, Is it good to use an oil only AFTER you moisturize ensuring proper moisture penetration to the hair shaft?

  11. violet wangu says:

    Thanks, glad you found the article informative. True, while oil is not a moisturizer,it is a great sealant. After moisturizing your hair it is recommended to seal in the moisture using an oil so as to keep the moisture in the hair longer. Hope this answers your question.

    • CC says:

      Yes. Perfect. I just used Redken extreme strength builder plus. Once! Amazing when you finally know how to balance out your hair. Everybody should know this:) Your blog just saved another head! Thanks!

  12. daphne says:

    My ends keep breaking. I just started using Aphogee protein Reconstructer 2 step. Can I use the Aphogee Reconstructer every 2 weeks? Also I have a texturizer in my hair, and I work out and sweat 3-4 times a week, will wetting texturized hair or having my hair blow dried and flat ironed every week cause my ends to split?

  13. violet wangu says:

    Aphogee Reconstructor is quite a strong protein treatment, I wouldn’t use it more than once a month otherwise you will end up with brittle hair which will cause breakage, instead use a lighter protein treatment like Joico K-pak.In your case I would recommend trimming the ends and then laying off heat for a while (blow dry and flat iron). Heat always causes damage to hair.Wetting hair doesn’t cause breakage as our hair needs moisture anyway. Make sure you use a leave in conditioner everyday and seal it with a light natural oil like coconut oil or grapeseed oil. Also spread out your texturizer touch ups, wait at least 3 months before you touch it up again so it can regain strength. Hope this answers your question!

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