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- Best treatment for increasing shine: Ouai Hair Treatment Mask
- Best rinse-out protein treatment: OGX Extra Strength Hydrate and Repair
- Best hair mask treatment: Shea Moisture Manuka Honey & Yogurt
- Best protein treatment for damaged hair: Hi-Pro-Pac Extremely Intense Protein Treatment
- Best leave-in protein treatment: It’s a 10 Miracle Leave-in Plus Keratin
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.
Protein treatments are over-the-counter (OTC) or professional products you can apply to your hair to restore strength while providing protection against further damage.
You may find keratin and collagen in these types of products. These ingredients help restore hair’s structure and the oils to help replenish moisture.
While anyone with dry, damaged hair could benefit from an occasional protein treatment, OTC products may also help maintain your results if you regularly use heated styling tools or chemical treatments.
Protein treatments consist of specialized hair products intended to restore hydration while also treating and protecting from further damage.
They are available in three main formulas:
- deep treatments you leave in for several minutes
- rinse-out treatments you can use during a shower
- leave-in treatments for after you wash your hair
In addition to proteins such as keratin and collagen, you may consider looking for products that contain either natural or synthetic oils, such as argan oil or silicone, respectively. These ingredients
If you have a hairstylist, they may recommend applying a professional-grade protein treatment to your hair while you’re in the salon.
In general, a protein treatment can restore strength in your hair. This can translate to numerous benefits, including:
- increased hydration
- less frizz
- more luster and shine
- reduced breakage
- less split ends
- $ = under $10
- $$ = $11–$20
- $$$ = over $20
Best protein treatment for increasing shine
- Price: $$$
- How to use: Use once a week. Apply a quarter-size amount to hair, starting from the ends and working up to the roots. Let sit for 5 minutes, then rinse with cool water. Can also use as an overnight mask.
With options for both thick and fine to medium hair, the Ouai Hair Treatment Mask can help improve hair with split ends, dryness, and frizz. It also provides moisture and shine to hair after use.
Some of its key ingredients include illipe butter, shea butter, a blend of oils, and hydrolyzed keratin.
The illipe butter, rich with vitamins A and E, and olive oil combination help hydrate and shine your hair. The keratin treatment helps reduce frizz and any flyaways.
Ingredients: Aqua (Water, Aqua, Cetyl Alcohol, Behentrimonium Chloride (Anti-Static Agent / Agent Antistatique), Cetearyl Alcohol, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter, Amodimethicone, Behentrimonium Methosulfate, Hydrogenated Castor Oil/Sebacic Acid Copolymer, Stearamidopropyl Dimethylamine, Cetyl Esters, Quaternium-87, C18-38 Alkyl Hydroxystearoyl Stearate, Olea Europaea (Olive) Fruit Oil, Propylene Glycol Dibenzoate, Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis (Sweet Almond) Oil, Macadamia Ternifolia Seed Oil, Keratin, Hydrolyzed Keratin, Hydrolyzed Pea Protein, Hydrolyzed Adansonia Digitata Seed Extract, Shorea Stenoptera Seed Butter, Tocopherol, C10-40 Isoalkylamidopropyl- Ethyldimonium Ethosulfate, Ascorbyl Palmitate, Caprylyl Glycol, Bht, Trideceth-3, Trideceth-15, Acetic Acid, Dimethicone, Laureth-23, Laureth-4, Salicylic Acid, Divinyldimethicone/Dimethicone Copolymer, C12-13 Pareth-23, C12-13 Pareth-3, Sodium Hydroxide, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Disodium Phosphate, Sodium Phosphate, Polysorbate 60, Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride, Citric Acid, Disodium Edta, Cetrimonium Chloride (Anti-Static Agent / Agent Antistatique), Sodium Chloride, Isopropyl Alcohol, Potassium Sorbate, Benzyl Alcohol, Sodium Benzoate, Phenoxyethanol, Parfum (Fragrance), Linalool, Citronellol.
- reviewers love the smell of the product
- great for hydration
- good for curls
- may be costlier than other treatments
- some reviewers report they saw little difference after using the mask
Best rinse-out protein treatment
- Price: $
- How to use: After shampooing, apply generously to hair, working through to ends. Leave on 3 to 5 minutes. Rinse hair thoroughly.
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)
- 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
Best hair mask protein treatment
- Price: $$
- 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.
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
- 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
Best protein treatment for damaged hair
- Price: $$
- How to use: Apply evenly on wet hair, massaging through to the ends. Leave on hair for 2 to 5 minutes. Rinse thoroughly.
If you’re looking for more strength than shine from added oils, the Hi-Pro-Pac Extremely Intense Protein Treatment may be worth considering. This collagen-based hair mask is designed as a preventive measure against damage.
Ingredients: Water (Aqua), Glycerin, Cetrimonium Chloride, Cyclopentasiloxane, Cetyl Alcohol, Behentrimonium Methosulfate, Butylene Glycol, Stearyl Alcohol, Fragrance (Parfum), Dimethiconol, TEA-Dodecylbenzenesulfonate, Hydrolyzed Collagen, Hydroxyethylcellulose, DMDM Hydantoin, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone, Wheat Amino Acids, Disodium EDTA, Yellow 6 (CI 15985), Yellow 5 (CI 19140), Amyl Cinnamic Aldehyde, Benzyl Alcohol, Benzyl Benzoate, Benzyl Salicylate, Citronellol, Coumarin, D-Limonene, Eugenol, Geraniol, Hydroxycitronellal, Lilial, Linalool, Methyl Ionone Gamma
- contains collagen to strengthen hair and prevent split ends
- contains wheat-derived amino acids for added moisture
- is safe for all hair types, but may be especially helpful for thinning or frizzy hair
- doesn’t provide shine as other oil-based protein masks do
- may not be safe if you have wheat allergies
Best leave-in protein treatment
- Price: $$$
- How to use: Shampoo and condition hair, towel dry, spray product all over hair and comb through. Don’t rinse.
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
- 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:
|Name||Price||Best for||How often to use||Other features|
|Ouai Hair Mask Treatment||$$$||increasing shine and hydration||once a week||good for curly hair; illipe butter and olive oil ingredients are good for hydration and shine|
|OGX Extra Strength Hydrate & Repair||$||rinse-out treatment|
|whenever you shower||good for dry and damaged hair|
use for soft and shinier hair
|Shea Moisture Manuka Honey & Yogurt||$$||hair mask|
|once a week, or personal preference||shea butter and manuka honey provide ample moisture for hair|
|Hi-Pro-Pac Extremely Intense Protein Treatment||$$||damaged hair|
thinning or frizzy hair
|once a week, or personal preference||strengthening|
|It’s a 10 Miracle Leave-in Plus Keratin||$$$||leave-in treatment||daily||rebuilds protein|
detangles and reduces frizz
“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. But some also contain strong ingredients that shouldn’t be combined with heat or other salon products. 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.
Other protein treatments are applied or sprayed onto your hair after shampooing and conditioning. Once you apply the leave-in product, you may style your hair as usual.
If you’re still deciding on a brand to try, consider keeping the following ingredients in mind when shopping for the right protein treatment:
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
How do I know if my hair needs protein treatments?
Dry, frizzy, and brittle hair can all be signs that you could need a protein treatment. Other possible signs include hair breakage, or if your hair lacks its usual shine and luster.
Are protein hair treatments safe to use long-term?
Protein hair treatments may be safe to use over the long term, as long as you follow the product recommendations.
OTC treatments, such as leave-in versions, may typically be used more often, while professional-grade versions are only used occasionally because of their strength.
How often should you use protein treatments in your hair?
Follow all product instructions carefully. While some OTC products may be used as often as every day, professional versions are recommended for use only on a monthly or bi-monthly basis.
Can you use too much of a protein treatment?
Yes. Overuse of a protein treatment — especially stronger, professional-grade versions — may lead to brittle and damaged hair.
Which hair type benefits from protein treatments?
While any hair type experiencing excessive damage, dryness, or brittleness can benefit from protein treatments, they tend to be best for people who frequently use heated styling tools or chemical treatments.
Additionally, curly hair types may benefit from protein treatments since the hair naturally tends to be on the drier side.
Can you use heat with protein treatments?
You can, but again, this depends on the product you’re using.
Some manufacturers recommend rinsing out the treatment in the shower, while others are leave-in protein treatments that are intended to stay on your hair before styling.
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.