Everyone tells us to do this protein treatment and that protein treatment. But many fail to mention that there is definitely something called hair protein overload!
(Keep in mind that this is strictly about protein treatments that you put ON your hair. Your hair can’t get protein overload from eating too much protein.)
Like any hair problem, protein overload can lead to some serious damage, and you definitely want to do something about it.
But let’s get started by finding out what exactly happens when you put too much protein in your hair and how you can recognize it!
In this article:
- What happens if you put too much protein in your hair?
- How to recognize protein overload
- How to get rid of protein buildup
- Protein sensitive hair
- Protein-free hair products
Disclosure: Some of the links below are so-called provision links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I can earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
What happens if you put too much protein in your hair?
Any protein treatment attaches itself to the hair, hardening it, and thereby protecting it from damage. But when you plaster your hair with too much protein, it will become weirdly dry, brittle and kind of stiff over time.
As always with dry hair, it breaks really easily, leading to lots of damage even from the usual hair care activities, like washing your hair, combing it, braiding it and so on.
In short, protein overload is one of the worst states of hair: looking dull and dry while breaking like there’s no tomorrow.
How to recognize a protein overload
So now you might be thinking: “All well and good, but how do I know that I actually have protein overload and not just REALLY dry hair?”
Well, the characteristic stiffness is only one of the warning signs of too much protein on your hair.
You’ll notice several changes in your hair structure. Your hair will tangle and matt like crazy, and a lot of people experience heavy shedding as well.
Even though you changed nothing in your hair care routine, your hair won’t seem to like your hair care products anymore. Instead of being shiny after washing it, it’ll feel like straw and look unusually dull.
If all these signs are there, you only need to take the “hair strand test”. For that, you try to stretch a clean hair of yours. Hair with protein overload doesn’t stretch at all. Instead, it immediately snaps.
Sounds familiar? Then it’s time to bring your hair back to balance!
How do I get rid of protein buildup in my hair?
First of all, have a good, detailed look at your hair products. Many products, especially those for curly hair, contain proteins even if they don’t advertise it.
Paste the ingredients into an online tool like “Is it CG?“. The result will tell you if there is any protein in your hair product.
If that’s the case, you will need to get new products. (Look below for some ideas.) When your hair has protein overload, you want to avoid any proteins for a while.
Your second step will be to focus on moisturizing your hair heavily. I like to start either with a thorough hair oiling (on damp hair, not dry!), or with my favorite hair mask for dry hair.
If you opt for the oiling, make sure to avoid coconut oil. Coconut oil actually prevents protein loss from your hair. Not what we want for our protein overload!
Related: The 11 best oils for your hair
Generally, incorporate lots of moisturizing elements into your hair care. Aloe vera and honey are two very good candidates for this. Simply put a little bit into your shampoo or conditioner on every wash. (Get 100% pure Aloe vera gel here*!)
Related: 8 ways to use Aloe vera gel for hair
Protein sensitive hair
Some people have hair that’s naturally more sensitive to protein treatments. Instead of getting protein overload from too much protein over time, they only need to use a protein-containing product once and will already have all the warning signs.
You might be one of those if you’ve always gotten stiff and dry hair from any products with protein in it.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that you can never ever use products like that, but it does mean that you’ll always have to balance it well with moisturizing, protein-free treatments.
Protein-free hair products
If you are here, you probably need some protein-free hair products now. I know, because I’ve been there.
And you know what? They are surprisingly difficult to find! Almost everything has either silk or wheat protein in it!
So to shorten your timespan from stiff hair to healthy mane, I found some protein-free hair products for you.
This shampoo by Shea Moisture* is protein-free. Additionally, it contains several moisturizing elements, like Glycerin and Aloe Vera juice. Perfect for dealing with protein overload!
Like all Shea Moisture products, it’s free of any harmful chemicals. And it’s curly girl-approved. What more could you want?
Protein-free deep conditioner
This protein-free deep conditioner* has “moisturizing” written all over it. It contains argan oil, which is one of my favorite hair oils for dry hair.
While it contains silicones and therefore isn’t a fit for followers of the curly girl method, it will help you balance out your protein overload.
If you want a protein-free AND curly-girl approved deep conditioner, this product by
Protein-free leave-in conditioner
This organic conditioner* is perfect if you have protein overload. Not only is it protein-free
And the best thing about it? It functions as both a leave-in conditioner and a styling gel!
By the way, all
This olive oil and mango butter leave-in conditioner* will also help to moisturize your hair and prevent frizz. Reviewers applaud it for softening their hair without adding to much weight or shine to it. Perfect for a leave-in conditioner!
Protein-free oils for hair
If you’re using hair oils in your hair care (as you should!), you’ll probably wonder at this point, which oils you can use safely when you’re avoiding protein.
Generally, any pure oils are fine, as they don’t contain any protein. (Find a list of my favorite oils for hair here!)
Yes, not even coconut oil is a protein source for hair! That’s a common misconception. But, as I wrote above, coconut oil helps your hair retain protein, so you might want to skip it until your hair is balanced again.
Good luck with battling your protein overload!
If you’ve read till here: congrats! You now know everything you need to know to balance your hairs protein and moisture again. While it can be frustrating to deal with this problem, it is absolutely possible to get things back under control.
If you have any more questions, drop them in the comments below and make sure to pin this to your hair care board!
*These links are so-called provision links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I can earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.