Q and A – Too Much Protein?

Monday, January 23, 2012
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Question: I've heard that some protein-based products can actually make your hair brittle. Is this true?

Answer: The short answer is yes, this is true. Breakage is caused by an imbalance in hair's elasticity. For "normal" elasticity, there must be a balance between protein content and moisture content. Adding too much protein to your regime can, in essence, make your hair too strong and it will become brittle. Conversely, too much moisture creates hair that is too soft. It will stretch and stretch without breaking and will not bounce back to it's previous shape. Hair with balanced elasticity will stretch up to 50% when wet and return to it's normal size.

Protein is a wonderful ingredient in products for hair that has been damaged through chemical processing, heat styling, or other abuse. Hair is primarily composed of protein, keratin to be specific, so replacing it can truly help rebuild hair that has been stripped of some of it's natural strength. However, products containing protein should not be over used and frequency depends on hair's condition.

If you aren't sure whether or not your hair has normal elasticity, it's easy to do a pull test. Try gently stretching a few strands while they are wet. If they stretch and return to their original length, you have good elasticity. If the hair snaps and breaks quickly, your hair has too much protein and you should seek out a moisturizing treatment. If the hair just stretches quite far before breaking and never retains it's shape, your hair needs protein and you should seek a keratin-based treatment. Your best bet is to always purchase your products at the salon under the guidance of your stylist. We are trained to know which products are appropriate for each hair type and the frequency that they should be used.

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13 Responses

  1. A week ago I had keratin treatment done at a very high end salon, along with color over $200 total. They recommended it. Not the straightening kind— at the shampoo bowl.
    My hair is like straw. I can barely get a comb thru it. I’m really scared of it breaking off. What can I do? Thanks!

    Julie Piel
  2. Great post. There are a lot of confusing things regarding protein and hair. I worked in a beauty supply years ago and, at that time, it was all the rage to have human hair keratin in your shampoos and conditioners, regardless if the hair was virgin or chemically processed. What that did, was make a lot of heads of hair brittle. We know better now. Thank you :)

    Lisa Brown
  3. I’ve used anti snap protein treatment on my hair for months thinking it would make my hair stronger my hair just breaks when wet and I’ve now relised I’ve overloaded with protein

    michelle stevens
  4. Yes, if it feels brittle, you are overloading it with protein. Anti-snap is formulated for hair that is VERY weak, usually from chemical treatments. Get some moisturizing or hydrating conditioner for balance!

  5. As my hair is bleached thought more protein was good for it! Used a very good mositure conditioner 2day and feels much better never thought you could ruin your hair with to much protein until I read these comments

    michelle stevens
  6. Help!!! I think I’ve over-everythinged my fine, thin hair and now it’s breaking off and strands are just falling out in larger than normal amounts!!! I did the Keratin straightening treatment, have been using their supplied protein-enriched shampoo/conditioner, plus gotten highlights all in the last year but about 5 weeks ago all hell broke loose. My hair is literally falling out. What can I do??????

  7. Kate… The exact same thing has happened to me, I was using Keratin shampoo and now 1/2 of my hair is gone! It all broke and fell off. I hope anyone can provide good advice on how to help stop the breakage and regrow the hair! Please…. anyone?

  8. Kate and Reen – I wrote a response to Kate’s question here: http://parlordiary.com/2012/10/17/q-a-post-straightening-treatment-breakage/ Hope it helps!

  9. I just saw this article. I realize I’m commenting at a later date, however perhaps it will help someone who is in a tough situation with their hair.
    Too much protein is awful for the hair. My hair in particular, being curly, detests protein….and LOVES moisture. I never do protein, and my hair is thick, healthy, and strong. Some people’s hair does need some protein from time to time. You have to learn your hair and pay attention to how much processimg you do.

    However for those who have over proteined themselves and that’s why there here, here’s my hair protein story. Hope it helps. About 4-5 years ago, I went through an awful situation where I was using a very expensive deep mositurizing product DAILY to counter a heavy chemical treatment of platinum blonde. Not my first time platinum blonde and I never had trouble in the past, but this particular colorist said this treatment would be healthy. She was very ignorant and wrong.
    Little did I know but this deep moisture treatment she told me to use daily also contained protein, and I couldn’t figure out why even after 2 weeks, my hair wasn’t settling. And in fact, it was breaking and getting very thin! I never had breakage before and I ended up losing about half my long length. It was very sad.
    Word of wisdom: Realized that even if your hair was damaged, it should reach a place where is “settles in” to what it will be. If it’s not, you are doing something wrong in regards to the products or treatments.
    So if in this situation, HERE IS what you do. You stop all protein for the hair. Look for moisture rich ONLY conditioners. Shampoo as well. Read the labels. Understand that if you had a chemical process, like color or bleach or straightening, then protein enhancement was built into that treatment formula. It is par for the course. This is why you need mositure for awhile, not protein. You hair structure was blasted open and protein was built into the chemical process to help it during the “blasting”. Do not give it more. Give it mositure.
    Also give it a rest from blow drying, curling, heat. Or do this sparingly….like if you ahve a date or something special.
    After moisturizing in the shower, do a final rinse with cold water. Cold is shrinking on the cells.
    Take baths. Water is the best moisturzers. People forget this. Pure water. No pools.
    AND, …and I hope this goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, Stop processing your hair for now.
    This may be the hardest, especially if you dislike were it’s at. But you must just leave it be. Do not believe ANYONE who will touch you’re hair if it’s currently damaged, saying they can more process to it. This is unethical. Unless they are straight-forward with you and saying something like, we can do this, but you will have to go shorter, or you will loose some more hair, or it will be very flat and dry….etc. If anyone tells you they are do anything with no damage…..get up and get out of the chair. Even virgin hair is damaged by one chemical process. That is a FACT.
    Stay positive.
    And keep in mind. Roots grow 1/2 inches every month. It’s actually pretty fast. To help past the time, focus on your root health and on your natural hair growing in while simultanously maintaining you weakened hair. Massage your scalp. Keep the pores open. Eat well. Eat protein, raspberries, and avocados. (eating protein is different than treatments on the hair….I won’t give the biology lesson. Just trust me.) Take a B-complex vitamin. And exercise. Cardio. Sweating is wonderful for dry hair as it gets oils through the hair. And overall, activity stimulates the growth processes in the body and the metabolism, so you’re hair may grow faster.
    Have fun and good luck.
    After 3 months, you’ll start to see the light. At 6 months, you’ll be looking at some strong natural hair, and by the years end, this damage will all be a faint memory….and you’ll have lived and learned. Good luck. ; )

  10. someone help me!! today i did a hair mask with egg yolk and soybean oil and only left it in for like 15 minutes, and when i rinsed it out my hair is snapping on like crazy, een with gentle tugs, its like i washed my hair with nair! and this was my first time doing this! please help! :'(

  11. Oh wow! I’ve never heard of this. What was your hair like before? Was it brittle to the touch?

  12. I have been trying to build mussel for about 1 year now. I have been consuming a lot of protein to do this. My hair seems to be taking the brunt of it. I have cut back on the protein and I hope it helps. My hair breaks all the time it hurts when my kids hug me. I’ve tried everything but it just seems to make it worse. I’ve tried the egg and honey, the egg alone, and avocado. I used to use Pantien sleek and smooth with the vo5 hair dress for years and then stopped. My hair looked its best during that time. I’m going to try and go back to that.

  13. Hope this helps, over a year ago after mine started breakage from over processing, not understanding too much protein in hair products ( was on high protein diet too!). Did same exact things! You’re putting protein on it, eggs, I did mine with olive oil which can mimic protein. I had hair stylists tell me to put Morton salt of all things to stop the breakage! A year later still on a quest basically going bald. All the research gets me nowhere, have the best of best products as an former esthetics graduate. Problem being all the moisture shampoos and conditioners contain protein! Pretty sure the vo5 has protein. I’ve tried cheap stuff honey suckle rose with coconut, and so one only to lose more! Good luck, unfortunately can’t find a stylist to touch mine it’s so damaged. Was using an alterna moisture shampoo and conditioner, all the amino acids, rice protein, hydrolyzed soy, it’s endless so is the hair loss and the money spent!


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