Keeping your hair healthy requires quite a few steps. Using the right shampoo and conditioner, protecting it from heat, and limiting your washes, to name a few. But while these elements are important, they’re all for naught if your hair doesn’t have enough protein. “When it comes to hair health, protein is important because hair is made up of 90 to 95 percent protein, called keratin, which keeps hair healthy with great elasticity,” says Patricia Williams, the brand ambassador of education at hair-care brand Lottabody. “Protein strengthens and gives the hair structure.” Because of this, and despite best efforts in your routine, your strands may be begging for a protein treatment.
To find out why your hair may need some extra protein—plus how to add it seamlessly into your routine—check out the pro-approved tips below.
The benefits of a hair protein treatment
Hair protein treatments are particularly important for anyone who experiences breakage or anyone who has dyed their hair. “When you see that cuticle [the outermost part of a strand] up close, such as under a microscope, you’ll see more holes in the hair [if it’s been dyed] because the hair isn’t able to hold onto moisture as easily as it would have if it wasn’t colored,” says April Kayganich, owner of The Curl Whisperer salon in Austin and hair-care expert for Puracy. Adding protein into your routine will help to strengthen the strands, and help with breakage, damage, and shedding. Even if you’ve got virgin hair, doing protein treatments once a month or once every other month can also help keep hair healthy.
How to tell if you need a hair protein treatment
1. The porosity test: When your hair lacks protein, it will be more porous, which means that it absorbs water more easily (and this, in turn, can lead to breakage). To test your hair’s porosity, take a few strands and place them in a glass of water. “If the strands sink to the bottom, it means you have highly porous hair, because holes in the cuticle allow water in to sink the hair,” says Williams, adding that this is a surefire sign that you need a hair protein treatment. “Protein treatments will fill the holes and [produce] hair strands that float, which [means they are] low porosity,” she says.
2. The elasticity test: The other way to test your hair’s protein levels is through the “elasticity test,” which tests your hair’s ability to stretch and return without breaking. Hold a single strand of hair between your thumb and forefinger, and gently stretch it. “A lack of protein in the hair can cause the hair to break easily or the hair stretches but does not return,” says Williams.
How to integrate a hair protein treatment into your routine
Your hair protein treatment should function as a middle step between shampooing and conditioning. “Because it’s best to do treatments or masks on hair that is cleansed and doesn’t have any build-up on it, after you shampoo it is the best way to start,” says Kayganich. Just be sure to read the instructions and don’t over-do it, because leaving a treatment on for too long can do more harm than good. “You do not want to leave protein in your hair longer than what’s recommended because you run the risk of ‘over-proteinized’ hair, which means the hair can become brittle, break, or even fall out,” says Kayganich. So please: Follow the directions. Then, follow up with a protein-enriched conditioner, like LottaBody Milk & Honey Restore Me Cream Conditioner ($6).
How to make a DIY hair protein treatment
According to Kayganich, one of the best hair protein treatments can be whipped up in your kitchen using the below:
1 egg, whisked
1-2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp honey
1. Use a whisk or an immersion blender to mix all of the ingredients together (because the last thing you want is chunks of avocado—which can be hard to remove—sitting in your hair).
2. After blending well, apply the treatment to your clean, slightly damp hair.
3. Leave in for 10 minutes and rinse completely.
The best hair protein treatments on the market
If DIY isn’t your thing, there are plenty of pre-bottled hair protein treatments on the market that will save you some time in the kitchen. Williams suggests looking for ingredients like silk protein, keratin, biotin, hydrolyzed collagen, and silk amino acids, all of which make for great supplements to the naturally-occurring proteins in your hair. You can also look for buzzwords like “reparative,” “fortified,” “reconstruct,” and “strengthening,” which will tip you off to the fact that a product’s packed with protein.
To make the shopping process as painless as possible, we rounded up a few of our favorites worth slicking through your strands.
1. Verb Reset Repairing Mask, $18
With a combo of quinoa protein, antioxidant-packed green tea, and honey, this formula strengthens and protects hair while also locking in moisture. Apply post-shampoo and leave on for five to seven minutes for best results.
Shop now: Verb Reset Repairing Mask, $18
2. SheaMoisture Manuka Honey & Yogurt Hydrate + Repair Protein-Strong Treatment, $11
Think of this mask as a protein smoothie for your hair. Power-packed ingredients like yogurt and manuka honey work to fortify your strands, leaving them strong, smooth, and shiny.
Shop now: SheaMoisture Manuka Honey & Yogurt Hydrate + Repair Protein-Strong Treatment, $11
3. Olaplex Hair Perfector No 3 Repairing Treatment, $28
There’s a reason why Olaplex has become the go-to for taking care of color-treated hair. This treatment uses protein to rebuild broken bonds in your strands, keeping them healthy until your next trip to the salon.
Shop now: Olaplex Hair Perfector No 3 Repairing Treatment, $28
4. Alterna Haircare CAVIAR Anti-Aging Restructuring Bond Repair Leave-In Protein Cream, $37
Fight thinning hair with this caviar-infused formula, which delivers keratin and peptides that help rebuild the internal structure of your hair. It will totally refurbish dry, coarse, brittle strands, adding lightweight hydration that won’t weigh down your style.
Shop now: Alterna Haircare CAVIAR Anti-Aging Restructuring Bond Repair Leave-In Protein Cream, $37
5. Aveda Damage Remedy Intensive Restructuring Treatment, $40
The quinoa protein in this salon-quality treatment is a savior for damaged hair. It’s also got other A-plus hydrators, like squalane and glycerin, that will feel like a big gulp of moisture for dry, dehydrated strands.
Shop now: Aveda Damage Remedy Intensive Restructuring Treatment, $40
For more intel on how to keep your hair healthy, check out the video below.
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