For porous or damaged hair, protein treatments are often prescribed. But sometimes there is some confusion about the different types and forms of protein. There is keratin, eggs, silk protein, re-constructors, etc. Some products are called "light" protein treatments, while others are labeled "intensive." Just what is the difference in terms of the effect on the hair? And how do you know exactly how much you need?
First of all, any protein that is animal-based or that has the prefix "hydrolyzed" in front of it is a stronger protein; those such as natural "wheat" or "soy" are the proteins that are lighter. "Keratin" is the natural protein from which your hair is made. Your hair's condition and texture is a great baseline to determine how much and what type of protein you need. If you want to add protein simply because you have a fine texture and you need the extra support, a light protein treatment is fine. If, however, you have damage from sun, chlorine or chemical processes, a heavier protein reconstruction will then be necessary for any real effectiveness.
Another question I've been asked in the past about protein treatments: is it true that some protein has molecules small enough to penetrate the hair and be more effective and, if so, what kind of protein is that?
Proteins with smaller molecules are not necessarily more effective than those with larger molecules. While it's true smaller molecules can penetrate into the cortex--or inner layer of the hair--more easily, this really only becomes a consideration when you are effecting a chemical change in the hair, such as with color or texturizing. Proteins with larger molecules may take a slightly longer time to penetrate into the cortex, but they will be just as effective as those with smaller molecules once they get in there.
It is also vitally important you pay attention to your hair's texture when deciding to do a protein treatment. Fine hair is a hair type that typically needs more protein on a regular basis since it is fragile and doesn't have the support and structure of other hair types. If you are fine-haired, incorporating a protein pack or daily light protein into your routine is a good idea.
Not so for coarse hair, however. Coarse hair has so much protein in it naturally, applying any product with protein on top of it can spell disaster--resulting in a strawlike, wicked dry mess. Protein-free deep treatments with a heavy emollient base, which we will address in a future article, are a far more effective treatment type for those with coarse hair!