How to Tell If Your Hair Has Protein Buildup (and How to Fix It)

Though protein is essential for hair to remain strong and resilient, too much of it can have the opposite effect on your hair, making it fragile and stiff. Protein overload is often the culprit when your hair is acting up but you can’t quite figure out why. If you’ve been giving your hair lots of attention with new shampoo, moisturising masks, or treatments, but your hair STILL feels straw-like, chances are you have too much protein buildup.

So, if your hair just doesn’t feel the way it use to, but you can’t find a solution, you could be dealing with excess protein. Here’s how to identify protein buildup and how to treat it!

Know the signs of Protein Buildup:

You’ll need to be able to tell the difference between hair that’s dry and hasn’t been moisturised properly and hair that has too much protein. A tell-tale sign is that all the efforts you make to moisturise seem or have no effect, (or even make it worse, depending on if the moisturiser you’re using contains protein). Here are some other signs to check:

    • Your hair snaps off more easily
    • Your hair feels straw-like and stiff
    • Your hair is unusually dry, lifeless, and brittle
    • No longer has natural shine/luster that it used to have
    • More tangles and strands that look “angry’


How to fix hair overloaded with protein:

Recovering from protein overload isn’t an overnight process, but after taking a few important steps you won’t have to wait long before noticing improvement. However, depending on the severity of your protein buildup, it can take a few months to see results.

You’ll need to focus on how you’re moisturising your hair. This means going through your product stash and getting rid of moisturisers that are adding protein and switching to ones that don’t contain any.

Proteins come in many forms and under many names, so getting rid of it can be tricky. Carefully read through the ingredients of your current products or any you plan to buy and check for these common names for protein.

Here is a list of protein ingredients:

    • Hydrolyzed collagen
    • Wheat, quinoa, or soy protein
    • Silk protein
    • Keratin
    • Oat flour
    • Amino acids

You might be surprised how many of your products contain one or more of these ingredients, but during your recovery period, you should avoid all protein-boosting products to bring your hair back into balance.

There are also some natural products that are known to do more harm than good for protein-sensitive hair, such as coconut oil. If you’ve ever noticed your hair feels “crunchy” after applying coconut oil, you have too much protein on your strands.

So what comes next?

Cleanse: Cleansing does help get rid of excess protein on the surface of hair, but you don’t want to overdo it by washing excessively. By using a cleansing/clarifying shampoo, you can gradually reduce the protein buildup on your hair until it becomes softer and more manageable.

Deep Condition: Unless you can find a protein-free deep conditioner, you might want to skip the deep conditioning treatments. Jojoba conditioners are good for protein-sensitive hair, or you can use other oils such as pumpkin or argan oil.

Styling: While your hair is dealing with protein overload, it’s best not to do any aggressive styling to avoid breakage. Also, any creams or other styling aids will have to be protein free, though because your hair is trying to regain its balance, its best to go light with products or hold off on them for awhile. Stick with cleansing and moisturizing so you can really tell when your hair starts to feel different.

While all hair needs protein to stay strong and resilient, it can definitely become “too much of a good thing” for your hair. With time, cleansing, and protein-free moisturization, your hair should regain it’s former texture.