Why Your Protein-Moisture Ratio Is The Key To Nailing Your Natural Hair Routine

Jan 28, 2021

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As naturals, we’re told to do so many things.

We’re supposed to deep condition weekly, do a protein treatment monthly, keep our hair in protective styles, trim our ends when needed – and that isn’t even the half of it. Being natural seems like a full-time job!

When being natural starts to get overwhelming, it’s best to just take it back to the basics.

And learning about your protein-moisture balance for natural hair is as basic as you can get.

This ratio, when balanced, ensures your coils are bouncy, your strands are moisturized, and will overall facilitate responsive, healthy, and happy hair.

It means you can relax knowing that, if you forget to deep condition here or there (don’t lie, we’ve all done it!), it isn’t the end of the world.

Here’s the real tea on your protein-moisture balance for natural hair!

Protein-Moisture Balance for Natural Hair: A Guide

The Importance of Protein

Our hair is made out of a protein called keratin, a heavily-bonded protein that keeps our curls bouncy and elastic. It’s also abundant in other areas of our bodies such as our skin and nails.

Because keratin is a protein, it’s made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein.

In particular, keratin is rich in a particular kind of amino acid called cysteine, which is made up of tiny sulfur bonds in the hair’s cortex, the layer right underneath your cuticle.

These sulfur bonds are very strong and contribute to the inherent strength and impermeability of our beautiful hair.

To be clear: these sulfur bonds are the building blocks of healthy hair. If they weaken, you’ll notice brittle, limp, and lifeless natural hair.

Thus, it’s imperative we keep these bonds strong and secure by handling our curls with care, eating right, and using the right protein treatments.

image of a hair fibre

Protein treatments are amazing at replenishing protein levels in our hair. They temporarily fill in the cracks in our hair cuticles’ from damage, minimizing breakage and encouraging our hair to retain more water.

 

Here is a microscopic look at how a protein treatment will fill in gaps and cracks. The blue line represents the gaps where the protein treatment will fill.

A healthy and solid natural hair routine should include a monthly protein treatment.

However, too much protein can result in protein overload, which bombards our hair with so much protein particles that we end up with very stiff coils that are prone to breakage and shedding.

Not fun.

We’ll discuss how to keep protein overload at bay (and how to fix it should you be experiencing it).

The Importance of Moisture

The angularity of our coils pose a unique problem in our fight against dryness: sebum, our body’s natural moisturizer, cannot travel down the length of our hair.

In straight hair, sebum can travel down the length of the hair to moisturize the ends. In curly hair, it gets stuck within the curls, leaving our ends high and dry (pun intended!).

This is a universal problem for all naturals, and a fundamental reasons why natural hair is always dry. It’s so important for naturals to manually apply moisture (via water and products).

The key to moisturizing natural hair, however, is more than just applying a leave-in.

It’s about leveraging your porosity.

Natural Hair Porosity

Natural hair porosity is the ability of your hair to absorb water and/products.

Low porosity natural hair has a low absorption rate, because the cuticles are stubbornly closed. It is difficult for this hair porosity to absorb moisture.

High porosity natural hair has a high absorption rate, because the cuticles are always open. It is difficult for this hair porosity to retain moisture.

Each porosity has its benefits and drawbacks, but there are techniques we can employ to make our porosity work with us, not against us. Please ensure that you look into your porosity using the links above to know how to leverage your porosity.

Just like protein overload, it’s possible to experience moisture overload, also known as hygral fatigue.

High porosity natural hair is at a greater risk for experiencing moisture overload. Because high porosity cuticles have holes/cracks in the cuticle layer, the hair soaks up too much water, too fast, resulting in damage in the cuticle barrier.

This makes the hair limp, too soft, and gummy. We’ll talk about how to keep this from happening shortly.

How To Read Your Protein Moisture Balance for Natural Hair

As mentioned, when your protein moisture levels aren’t balanced, they’re either skewed too much to protein (protein overload) or to moisture (hygral fatigue).

Generally speaking, you should be deep conditioning weekly and doing a monthly protein treatment. Deviating from this (i.e. deep conditioning with zero protein treatments or too many protein treatments back to back) can result in moisture or protein overload, respectively.

Here’s how to know whether you have protein or moisture overload:

Protein OverloadMoisture Overload
Your hair is extremely dry to the touch, even with product in itHair feels like seaweed when wet (very gummy)
Lack of curl definition and frizz No elasticity (i.e. when you pull a curl, it stays stretched and doesn’t bounce back)
Hair feels straw-like and stiffYour hair breaks very easily
Products/water sit atop of the hairYou have high-porosity hair

How To Fix Protein Overload

To fix protein overload, it’s important to reduce your exposure to proteins.

Reduce the number of protein treatments you do – instead of monthly, do them every 3 months until you get your protein levels under control.

Take stock of the current products you’re using. Pesky proteins run rampant in natural hair products and can inadvertently cause protein overload if you’re not careful.

Look for protein-free leave-in conditioners and deep conditioners that provide ample moisture without any of the added proteins. In general, avoid products that have these ingredients:

  • Hydrolyzed proteins
  • Hydrolyzed silk/wheat/keratin/rice protein
  • Collagen
  • Peptides
  • Amino acids

Best Products to Deeply Moisturize Natural Hair and Fix Protein Overload

TGIN Honey Miracle Mask

Best for TYPE 4

One of the most superior ingredient list of any deep conditioner on the market. The ingredient list is short and simple and formulated with primarily juicy plant-based ingredients. Honey is the SECOND ingredient, meaning that you’ll truly feel the softening effects from the honey after rinsing. Jojoba oil and aloe vera, the third and fourth ingredients respectively, are incredibly beneficial for moisturizing natural hair. A must have for coilier textures!

•	Camille Rose Curl Love Leave-In

Camille Rose Curl Love Moisture Milk

Best for TYPE 3c- 4, low porosity

This protein-free leave-in conditioner is just what the doctor ordered for protein overload. Incredibly moisturizing and creamy, this leave-in is great for low porosity naturals who are protein sensitive. The rice milk in this formula provides additional hydration, perfect for twistouts and braidouts!

Earthtones Naturals Curl Enhancing Jelly

Best for TYPE 4

A Canadian-based brand, Earthtones Naturals focuses on holistic, natural ingredients – and this gel is no exception. Its formulated with some ingredients such as aloe leaf juice, panthenol and sea kelp!

How To Fix Moisture Overload

Limp and lifeless curls aren’t fun, but thankfully it’s a quick fix to relieve moisture overload. A month of the below routine should get your curls back on track!

Use a medium protein treatment every 3 weeks, deep conditioning in between. Couple this with using a leave in conditioner with small-sized proteins that can penetrate into your cuticles and bring your curls back to life.

an image of mielle babassu and mint deep conditioner

Mielle Babassu & Mint Deep Conditioner

Best for Type 4

One of Mielle’s most popular products, the active ingredient in this mask is babassu seed oil, a significant source of Vitamin E and fatty lipids. Other rockstar ingredients like acai, rosemary leaf oil and small-sized amino acids will strengthen your coils from the inside out. A staple deep conditioner to keep your protein-moisture balance in check.

a photo showing aphogee two minute reconstructor how to take care of natural hair monthly

Aphogee Keratin 2 Minute Reconstructor

Best for All Naturals

This protein treatment is AMAZING for a protein up-keep, reversing heat damage and healing moisture overload. Your hair will be defined and bouncy immediately after washing it out. 

For looser curls and waves – apply in the shower every 3 months for 2 minutes. Only apply where your curls are most pronounced. For Type 3c-4c, use on a monthly basis for 15 minutes.

an image of the shea moisture jamaican black castor oil leave-in conditioner

Shea Moisture Jamaican Black Castor Oil Leave-in Conditioner

Best for TYPE 3-4; high porosity

A fan favourite amongst high porosity and protein-loving naturals. If you’re experiencing moisture overload, this leave-in treatment will assist in rebuilding your protein stores and re-strengthening your hair. The proteins in this formulation are small enough to fit into your cuticles, reducing frizz and increasing moisture absorption. A win-win!

Final Thoughts on Balancing Your Moisture/Protein Levels

Your moisture/protein balance is sensitive, yet critical to ensuring healthy, balanced curls and coils.

If you are experiencing either, follow the above steps to get your coils back on track!

How do you maintain your moisture/protein levels? Share down below!

The Curl Market is a natural hair blog catered to helping black naturals grow their curls into a long, luscious manes.

We use the latest evidence-based scientific research to provide you with the top tips on growing your curls, regardless of hair type.

We also provide lifestyle tips, both self care and mental care, to ensure you are optimizing your body’s natural hair growth cycle – because you can’t grow natural hair if you’re stressed out!

Come as you are.

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WRITTEN BY

Ayana Aden

Ayana is The Curl Market’s brand founder. When she’s not deep in natural hair research or creating content, she’s hanging on the couch with her husband and her cat, reading a book or scrolling through TikTok. Follow her on Instagram at @tothecurlmarket.

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