Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Basics: Protein Overload: Too Much of a Good Thing

The hair is composed  mostly of interlocking layers of keratin protein (Bertolino & Cruin, 1994; Robbins, 1979). Because the hair is made of proteins, adding protein to your hair products or treatments can strengthen your hair and make it resistant to breakage. Unfortunately, having too much protein can lead to protein overload.

Possible Causes of Protein Overload:
  • Unintentionally using products with proteins
  • Doing protein treatments too often
Symptoms of Protein Overload: 
  • Easily tangled hair
  • Dry, brittle hair
  • Unusually hard hair
  • Hair breakage cause by minimal force
  • Hair looses moisture easily
Preventing Protein Overload: 

Protein overload is no joke! While trying to perfect my leave-in moisturizer recipe, I used Giovanni's Direct Leave-In as one of the ingredients. It was not a good idea!! The leave- in didn't have a lot of protein, but I used it twice a day and the protein caught up with me! Below are tips to prevent overload:
  • Space out your protein treatments: this will be trial and error as everyone's hair is different. My hair doesn't like protein at all so I do treatments once a year. A mild protein treatment once every 6-8 weeks is a safe bet to start and you can fluctuate to suit you
  • Learn to recognize proteins: The number one cause of protein overload is not recognizing that you are using protein based products. If you want to avoid overusing proteins, use discretion when using products containing: Soy Protein, Hydrolyzed Soy Protein, Hydrolyzed Silk Protein, Collagen, Hydrolyzed Collagen Protein, Keratin, Keratin Amino Acids, Wheat Protein, Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein, Hydrolyzed Silk Protein, Silk Amino Acid, Silk Protein. There are more, but these are some popular ones. A good tip is to look for the words hydrolyzed, amino, and/or protein

How to Recover from Protein Overload:
  • Clarify your hair with a sulfate free shampoo. Clarifying shampoos can be drying to the hair and using a clarifying shampoo with sulfates may only exacerbate the situation. A clarifying shampoo should remove all the extra protein and give you a clean slate.
  •  Deep condition your hair with a protein free conditioner. 
  • Do more moisturizing treatments
  • Use protein free daily moisturizers.  
 Note: It will take time to recover from protein overload, but it is possible with diligent care. 

  • Bertolino, A., O'Cruin, W. Differentiation of the hair shaft. Disorders of hair growth. New York: McGraw-Hill, (1994), 21-37
  • Robbins, C. Chemical and physical behavior of human hair. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1979


  1. Im using shea Moistener curl enhancing smooth.after using it everyday for 5 days. Once my hair dried it started breaking off once i combed/ after reading ur post i came up with the idea of only using this once a week. since it keeps my hair soft for days. I figure maybe i used it to much.

    what do u think??

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  3. Your article is so helpful because I highly suspect that this is what's going on with my hair. This year I had become overly zealous in a quest to restore the health of my hair but it started breaking. The first thing is that I suspect it started off being too dry, that was due to my hair being low porosity and my not knowing. Secondly, when I attempted the low porosity routines and products my hair seemed to get worse. So then I started doing braid out's and wearing buns, and that triggered the onset of breakage. Every time I took my bun loose my hair looked smothered, and yet I had moisturized it twice a day. Finally, I started trying all of these conditioners for low porosity hair and came to the conclusion that my hair either refuses conditioner or the protein in the conditioners is drying my hair out. I also learned that because I eat Paleo, my hair is likely getting tons of protein from the inside, and so adding products that contain proteins could be detrimental. I was baffled at the lack of elasticity in my hair when my bloodwork looked so great! Finally, no matter what anyone says, I consistently find that water spritzing my hair and layering oils on top just leads to overly moisturized hair that dries out faster, and it never does me any good to put on a water based product and seal with oil either. So instead I just hydrate my low po hair with warm water every two to three days and all I put on my hair now is grapeseed oil and a small amount of honey. Now my hair seems very happy, but we shall see.

  4. Thanks for this post, I recently got a keratin treatment and now going into week three it seems that my hair is breaking to the touch! What makes me feel even worse is that I allowed the stylist to convince me that keeping my hair natural was too much work and that I needed the treatment. Never again!!!!