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Sun exposure, heated tools, diet, and chemical treatments can all take their toll on your hair. Dry, damaged hair can benefit from minimizing items in your environment that strip away natural moisture and damage its inner protein structure, called keratin.
For extremely dry and damaged hair, protein treatments can help restore overall hair structure.
Dr. Sapna Palep, board-certified dermatologist for Spring Street Dermatology in New York City, explains that protein hair treatments repair your hair by “attaching hydrolyzed proteins to the hair cuticle,” which then hardens it and prevents further damage.
In this article, we review five hair protein treatment products. Our selections are based on professional recommendations as well as research into their active ingredients.
Keep reading to learn more about these products and how best to use them.
For dry, damaged hair, Palep recommends Bumble and Bumble Mending Masque. “This mask is formulated with pro-vitamin B-5, which helps maintain moisture balance,” she explains. In turn, the mask may help boost shine and overall manageability.
Ingredients: Water, Cetearyl Alcohol, Dimethicone, Distearyldimonium Chloride, Cetyl Esters, Hordeum Vulgare (Barley) Extract\Extrait D’Orge, Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein PG-Propyl Silanetriol, Panthenol*, Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein, Triticum Vulgare (Wheat) Germ Extract, Hydrolyzed Wheat Starch, Stearalkonium Chloride, Creatine, Behentrimonium Chloride, Pantethine, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Cholesterol, Linoleic Acid, PPG-3 Benzyl Ether Myristate, Squalane, Adenosine Phosphate, Phospholipids, Phytantriol, Panthenyl Ethyl Ether, Cetrimonium Chloride, Tocopheryl Acetate, Disodium Cocoamphodiacetate, Citric Acid, Phenoxyethanol, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone, Butylphenyl Methylpropional, Linalool, Limonene, Fragrance (Parfum), Pro-Vitamin *B5
How to use: Use once a week. Distribute evenly throughout hair and massage. Let sit for 10 minutes, then rinse.
- creatine helps increase strength to help rebuild cuticle
- vitamin B-5 increases moisture
- ideal for hair that’s regularly treated with color or heated tools
- may be costlier than other treatments
- some users have complained about a lack of conditioning properties
Dry and damaged hair can benefit from both protein and natural oils. This hair mask from OGX contains a combination of silk proteins and argan oil to help correct damage while making your hair softer. It’s an especially good choice for curly hair.
Ingredients: Water, Cetearyl Alcohol, Behentrimonium Chloride, Cetyl Alcohol, Glycerin, Ceteareth-20, Argania Spinosa (Argan) Kernel Oil, Silk Amino Acids, Dimethicone, Cyclopentasiloxane, Dimethiconol, Glycol Distearate, Glycol Stearate, Isopropyl Alcohol, DMDM Hydantoin, Diazolidinyl Urea, Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone, Magnesium Chloride, Magnesium Nitrate, Fragrance, Red 40 (CI 16035), Yellow 5 (CI 19140)
How to use: After shampooing, apply generously to hair, working through to ends. Leave on 3 to 5 minutes. Rinse hair thoroughly.
- argan oil makes hair softer and shinier
- silk proteins help provide protective binding capabilities in the hair shaft while also producing shine
- may be used for color-treated hair
- is budget-friendly
- may be too oily if you already have excess oil from the scalp
- may be too thick for thin hair types
- contains silicon
Like OGX, Shea Moisture Manuka Honey & Yogurt is a hair mask designed to replenish moisture in your hair. However, you may be able to reverse hair damage with this hair mask, too.
Shea Moisture’s version is ideal for brittle hair that may occur in all hair types.
Ingredients: Water (Aqua), Cetyl Alcohol, Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil, Behentrimonium Methosulfate, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter, Glycerin (Vegetable), Stearyl Alcohol, Behentrimonium Chloride, Panthenol, Trichilia Emetica (Mafura) Seed Oil, Honey, Hydrolyzed Rice Protein, Fragrance (Essential Oil Blend), Adansonia Digitata (Baobab) Seed Oil, Cetrimonium Chloride, Persea Gratissma (Avocado) Oil, Ficus (Fig) Extract, Mangifera Indica (Mango) Seed Butter, Tocopherol, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract, Caprylhydroxamic Acid, Caprylyl Glycol, Butylene Glycol Butter, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract, Capryhydroxamic Acid, Caprylyl Glycol, Butylene Glycol
How to use: Section clean, wet hair. Apply generously, using a wide tooth comb to distribute evenly from roots to ends of hair. Leave in for 5 minutes. For extra conditioning, cover hair with plastic cap. Apply moderate heat for up to 30 minutes. Rinse thoroughly.
- shea butter and manuka honey deliver ample moisture for dry hair
- yogurt helps replenish protein to strengthen damage
- brand promises reduced breakage up to 76 percent
- is ideal for over-processed hair from heated tools and chemical-based products
- doesn’t specify if it’s safe for color-treated hair
- some users complain about the product’s scent
If you’re looking for more strength than shine from added oils, the Hi-Pro-Pac Extremely Intense Protein Treatment may be worth considering. This collagen-based hair mask is designed as a preventive measure against damage.
Ingredients: Water (Aqua), Glycerin, Cetrimonium Chloride, Cyclopentasiloxane, Cetyl Alcohol, Behentrimonium Methosulfate, Butylene Glycol, Stearyl Alcohol, Fragrance (Parfum), Dimethiconol, TEA-Dodecylbenzenesulfonate, Hydrolyzed Collagen, Hydroxyethylcellulose, DMDM Hydantoin, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone, Wheat Amino Acids, Disodium EDTA, Yellow 6 (CI 15985), Yellow 5 (CI 19140), Amyl Cinnamic Aldehyde, Benzyl Alcohol, Benzyl Benzoate, Benzyl Salicylate, Citronellol, Coumarin, D-Limonene, Eugenol, Geraniol, Hydroxycitronellal, Lilial, Linalool, Methyl Ionone Gamma
How to use: Apply evenly on wet hair, massaging through to the ends. Leave on hair for 2 to 5 minutes. Rinse thoroughly.
- contains collagen to strengthen hair and prevent split ends
- contains wheat-derived amino acids for added moisture
- is safe for all hair types, but may be especially helpful for thinning or frizzy hair
- doesn’t provide shine as other oil-based protein masks do
- may not be safe if you have wheat allergies
If you’re looking for a daily treatment, consider It’s a 10 Miracle Leave-in product. This spray contains “natural” ingredients to help rebuild hair proteins in addition to other hair-healthy ingredients suitable for all hair types.
Ingredients: Water/Aqua/Eau, Cetearyl Alcohol, Behentrimonium Chloride, Propylene Glycol, Cyclomethicone, Fragrance/Parfum, Panthenol, Silk Amino Acids, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Extract, Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract, Quaternium-80, Methylparaben, Propylparaben, Eugenol, Coumarin, Cinnamal, Linalool, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone
How to use: Shampoo and condition hair, towel dry, spray product all over hair and comb through. Don’t rinse.
- contains silk-derived amino acids safe for daily use
- detangles and reduces frizz
- contains vitamin C and aloe vera to prevent damage from the sun
- protects from color fading and brassiness with sunflower seed extract, making it ideal for gray hair tones and color-treated hair
- may not be strong enough for extremely dry and damaged hair
- some users describe a lack of moisture from the product
Another method is to use natural ingredients to make a DIY protein treatment at home. However, keep in mind that you may not get the same results as a professional treatment.
Consider the following DIY options to discuss with your dermatologist:
“Signs that you need a hair treatment are if your hair is breaking, limp and stringy, tangled, frizzy, shedding, color-treated, or losing elasticity,” explains Palep.
Most professional-grade protein treatments are intended to use once every month or so. Daily leave-in hair products are safe for everyday use. When in doubt, follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
Many protein treatments come in the form of a mask. These are applied after you shampoo and are left in for a few minutes before you rinse off and apply conditioner.
If you’re still deciding on a brand to try, consider keeping the following ingredients in mind when shopping for the right protein treatment:
- vitamin B-5 (pantothenic acid)
Since hair is also a sign of your overall health, you may consider talking to your doctor about your diet. “Because maintaining a balanced, protein-rich diet is essential for healthy hair growth, not consuming enough protein can contribute to hair loss,” says Palep.
“Maintaining a balanced, protein-rich diet is essential for healthy hair growth; not consuming enough protein can contribute to hair loss.”
— Dr. Sapna Palep, board-certified dermatologist
Ironically, one thing you should avoid is doing protein treatments too often. “People with dry, brittle hair should avoid excessive amounts of protein, and pair with a deep conditioning treatment,” Palep recommends.
She also advises that you avoid the following:
- cocamide DEA
- isopropyl alcohol
- polyethylene glycol
Protein treatments, when used in moderation, may provide the strength your hair needs to minimize dryness and damage. However, these treatments should only be used as directed.
Using a protein treatment every day will add too much weight to your hair and end up causing even more damage.
Our five recommended protein treatments are a starting point if you’re considering a therapy for damaged hair. Talk with a stylist if you have extremely damaged hair — especially if it’s also fine or color-treated.
To avoid dry, damaged hair:
- Minimize the factors that cause damage.
- Make sure you wear a protective spray that prevents damage from the sun and other environmental factors.
- Take it easy on heat-styling tools.
- Try to go as long as you can between color treatments.
You can also try these 10 tips for stronger, healthier hair.