Is a Protein Shampoo Right for Your Hair?

Rebecca Wiseman
Woman reading shampoo label

There is dry hair and there is damaged hair. Damaged hair needs special attention to restore it and a protein shampoo may be the best first step.

Signs You Need a Protein Shampoo

The trend of hair color and chemicals, as well as high heat irons and hair dryers, can cause serious damage to your hair. Natural environmental weathering and exposure can damage hair as well. The stress we put on our hair can strip it of its natural proteins and vitamins. Before using a protein shampoo, find out if protein is what your hair is actually lacking by doing a strand test:

  1. Take a strand of hair and wet it.
  2. Gently stretch the hair between your fingers.

If your hair stretches and returns easily, your hair is healthy and does not need a protein shampoo. Continue with your regular hair regimen. However, if your hair stretches more than it should and then breaks, this is a sign that you might need a protein shampoo. If your hair has very little stretch and then breaks, however, you may need to add moisture to your hair instead of protein.

If the strand test is unclear, observe your hair for a few days both while it's wet and dry. More signs you need a protein shampoo are if your wet hair feels gooey, gummy, sticky, stringy, limp, or will not dry easily. When your hair is dry, it may look frizzy, thin, dull, or break easily.

Frizzy Hair

Frizzy hair is a common complaint among those with natural curls and those that have used chemicals on their hair. Frizz is caused by the hair cuticle being lifted or broken instead of laying flat and smooth. Hydrolyzed protein can help fill and smooth the lifted and broken hair cuticle, restoring the hair's luster.

Weak or Thin Hair

Weak or thin hair is commonly caused by the environment and using harsh chemicals on your hair. To remedy hair's fragility, protein needs to be added back into the hair. Glycoprotein or keratin will help strengthen the hair shaft. Keratin is the strongest protein because it is what hair is made of and will therefore help your hair regain its strength and thickness.

Dull, Lifeless Hair

There are several factors that can cause dull, lifeless hair, such as aging, medication, and product build-up, as well as chemical and environmental stress. If your hair refuses to hold a style and has no natural shine to it, you can restore your hair's natural lustrous beauty by using hydrolyzed soy protein or milk protein shampoo. Both hydrolyzed soy and milk protein will help your hair absorb and hold the moisture it needs and will also restore shine to your hair by mending the hair fibers.

Hair That Breaks Easily

Hair that breaks easily can be attributed to excessive high heat styling, chemicals such as bleach or perms, and even a poor diet. The weakened, damaged hair can be repaired and have elasticity restored by using a hydrolyzed silk protein or keratin and collagen protein shampoo. Silk is one of the strongest natural fibers in the world, and hydrolyzed silk protein shampoo coats the hair with a crystalline barrier while keratin and collagen add strength, using the same natural proteins found in the hair.

Curly Hair

Curly hair can also benefit from using a shampoo that contains a protein. Natural curls leave a broken hair cuticle that can cause hair to be dry and frizzy. A hydrolyzed protein shampoo can help smooth the cuticle of natural curls and bring them back to life.

When to Avoid a Protein Shampoo

Protein shampoos are wonderful, healing products for distressed hair. However, if you have only a few split ends or your hair is dull from product build-up, then you do not need a protein shampoo. It will only add to the build-up and make your hair feel slick. It can also cause your hair to not dry or style correctly because of build-up. If your hair is dull from product build-up, get a clarifying shampoo instead of a protein shampoo - and if you have split ends, the only remedy is a haircut.

Hair that feels brittle, hard, extremely dry, tangled, or weak needs moisture instead of protein. This could be as simple as adding a weekly deep conditioning treatment or switching to a moisturizing shampoo and conditioner.

What is Protein Shampoo?

Woman washing hair

Protein shampoos contain added proteins that are found in the hair, such as keratin and collagen, as well as plant and animal proteins. It is designed to cleanse and strengthen damaged hair while helping to restore the hair's elasticity. It can also contain a combination of amino acids and moisturizing ingredients to help nourish the hair. The additional plant and animal proteins help to smooth the hair cuticle as well as strengthen the hair. Other proteins that can be used in shampoos are:

  • Hydrolyzed wheat protein is a water soluble protein derived from wheat that penetrates the hair's cortex to strengthen and moisturize the hair. Hydrolyzed means it is broken down into small particles to penetrate the hair.
  • Hydrolyzed silk protein is a protein derived from silk that forms a protective barrier on the hair to improve elasticity, resiliency, and shine.
  • Hydrolyzed soy protein is a water soluble protein made from soy that strengthens and mends the hair. It also smoothes the hair cuticle and increases the hair's ability to hold moisture.
  • Glycoprotein is derived from oyster shells and contains sugars and amino acids that help to strengthen hair.
  • Milk protein is high in lactic acid and amino acids that are great for dry and damaged hair.
  • Keratin and collagen are natural proteins already in your hair. Using a shampoo with these will strengthen your damaged hair best.

Tips for Choosing the Right Shampoo

Whether you choose a salon brand, an organic brand, or one that is readily available at most stores, find a protein shampoo that does not contain harsh surfactants. Surfactants are detergents such parabens and sulfates that can be considered toxic. If you like making your own soap, try making your own organic protein shampoo. If you are concerned that your hair is beyond the help of a protein shampoo, consult your stylist. You may be surprised at the difference it makes to simply switch shampoos.

Is a Protein Shampoo Right for Your Hair?