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Protein:moisture balance, what you need to know

protein:moisture balance

[Editor’s Story] I have been natural for just over 5 years and for most of it I have successfully avoided (not recommended) learning anything about natural hair topics like protein:moisture treatments, until type4girl. I hate it here. But I lowkey love it because I owe it to my hair to do what’s best for it. Being able to recognise what it needs is important to its health, and for my sanity, the type4 gods know I can’t cut my hair until I’m 36 so I have no choice really. 

In this article:

  1. Why protein matters
  2. Moisture overload and treatment
  3. Protein overload and treatment
  4. My final thoughts

On a serious note though, most things in the natural hair community seem so complicated and useless until you actually take the time to understand it and realise you knew most of the stuff just by interacting with your hair. I’m sure you’ll go through most of this article going ‘ohhh.’

There are two extremes on the protein:moisture spectrum, there’s protein overload and moisture overload. If you find yourself on either point, something in your routine has upset the protein:moisture balance of your hair, which means you need to do more of one and less of the other – easy right?

Why protein matters

I know you’re not reading this completely clueless to why you need to moisturise, that’s why we’re only talking about why protein is so important for hair. Our bodies use proteins to build our skin, hair and nail tissue cells. Hair itself is almost entirely (80-85%) composed of a protein known as keratin. Eating foods that contain protein contribute to the building of your hair cells and help it grow strong and healthily. 

Just like we learned in primary school, basic food products like fish, eggs and red meat are all great sources of protein.

Now that we know why we should be worried if our hair is protein-starved, let’s talk semantics – just what happens when you screw with your hair’s protein:moisture balance?

Moisture overload

Too much moisture in your hair means your hair isn’t getting enough protein. A few telling signs of moisture overload include but are not limited to the following:

  • Your hair is overly soft (this sounds weird but you’ll know it when you feel it)
  • It feels mushy or gummy
  • Your hair is limp when wet
  • Your hair has low elasticity
  • It surprisingly feels wet even when it’s dry

If you experience the above, then your hair has more moisture than it needs. To correct this, you need to add protein to your routine.

TREATMENT: You need a protein treatment. Invest in a protein deep conditioner and other products like oils and butters that contain keratin, amino acids or other protein ingredients. I know you can be tempted to go overboard with the protein goodies! But be careful not to drive your hair straight into a protein overload trying to escape moisture overload.

Another widely praised protein treatment that won’t cost you an arm and a leg is rice water. Do it for a few days or a week while very slowly re-introducing one or two  moisturising products back into your routine. You might want to re-evaluate just how many different moisturising agents you ‘dump’ into your hair. I know, a bad word but I need to make sure you never find yourself here again. 

Protein overload

You watched a few videos on how Noni’s hair grew 6inches after one week of rice water. So you decided you needed two full months of drinking the Cool Aid in order to achieve those waist-length goals. Now you’re here and I’m sighing…

Too much protein in your hair’s diet means you’re not moisturing right (but you’re obviously unstoppable with the protein). Common signs of a protein overload include:

  • Excessive shedding that you cannot attribute to anything else like post-partum shedding or a new medication treatment for instance
  • Your hair suddenly loses its shine
  • Unusually dry and brittle hair

TREATMENT: Flip the script, focus on hydrating and moisturising deep conditioners and products and cut the protein out for a while. This means you need to stash away all the products that I mentioned are for handling a moisture overload.

The LCO/LOC method needs to be your BFF – it will help make sure you are not only getting moisture into your hair, but that you’re doing what you need to do to keep it there. 

Remember to monitor your hair very closely. If you stop the treatment too soon you might find yourself back where you started. And if you carry on too long and neglect the other side of the equation, you will set yourself up for another protein:moisture imbalance situation.

Final thoughts

DISCLAIMER: First of all of them. I’m not a natural hair professional or guru, I do my 4c hair how I do my 4c hair. So please do your own research before taking me seriously okay? Okay.

Recovering from a protein:moisture imbalance is a difficult process that can take a while. I myself suffered both back to back just two years (give or take a few months) into my journey. The sad part was I didn’t even know it. When the moisture overload hit me first, I had no clue what I was doing wrong. I just thought my wash days were simply too far apart and the build up from all the product in my hair wanted out so for a while I REALLY washed my hair. I kept stripping my hair of moisture as I eliminated almost all of my moisturisers from my hair cabinet then continued this until the the dryness and shedding finally hit. My hair lost its liveliness and elasticity and just like that I found myself in hell again.

I had no idea about these overload concepts at the time. I didn’t even know YouTube was for people like me (neurotic raccoons that can’t explain why they thought something wasn’t for them). So I was on my own, stuck. In all honesty I have close to no idea how I eventually got out of that stupor except for getting braids as a last ditch effort, staying away from heat and hoping for the best. The story of me and my fro is so convoluted sometimes I wonder if I could’ve snuck in a haircut and forgotten all about it. The reality is my hair journey only gets clearer late in year 3 and here I am now, thriving.

This is all a learning curve, and I hope that every issue you encounter, you handle and never have to stress over again. I’m so glad I get to redo my journey in a sense, here, with you fabulous type4girls. I can’t wait to see more, learn more and celebrate more kinks and more coils.

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