Why Is It So Important to Balance Protein and Moisture for Naturally Curly Hair?


I was not paid to promote anyone mentioned in this post, nor was I paid to promote any product mentioned in this post. I found all information and videos from my own research and bought all products mentioned with my own money. I am not affiliated with anyone mentioned nor am I affiliated with any company or product mentioned. I just want to pass on what I have learnt and discovered to you, my valuable reader.

When it comes to curly hair, I think general knowledge is ‘apply moisture’. And you wouldn’t be wrong. Natural curls, coils and natural textures can be very rough and dry and do require moisture to maintain them.

Throughout most of my life I was told that if I just apply moisture to my curls, they would look and feel great and it would all be pretty low maintenance.

How wrong I was. Well… not wrong. I just didn’t have all the information.

So, almost 2 years into my natural hair journey I’ve learnt a lot, but I think arguably the most important thing I’ve learnt is that you need to balance the amount of protein in your hair, with the amount of moisture in your hair.

Now, let’s dive into the specifics of what I researched.

(If you want to check out the sources where I got the information, the list is at the bottom of this post. Just click the link and away you’ll go)

Why is Moisture Good for Naturally Curly Hair?

We know this.

“Moisture is good for curly hair”. It’s one of the first things we learn as people with naturally curly hair. Like I said in the beginning, naturally curly hair is naturally more dry, coarse, rough and prone to breakage if not properly looked after. So of course the remedy to this would be to inject some much needed moisture.

But why?

It’s actually pretty obvious and the answer you already know from a science class you went to in school.

The body needs water to survive and since your hair is part of your body, it too needs some agua. You’re literally keeping it alive by hydrating it.

By moisturising your hair it will be a lot softer and smoother. It may be easier to detangle in the shower, you will have less breakage, your hair will clump into juicy curls much more easily, your scalp will feel a lot less itchy and you will experience less flaking.

However, if your scalp or hair don’t get enough moisture or hydration, you can experience a tight scalp, flaking, it can be difficult to grow new hair and your hair may be weaker.

Other Signs your Hair May Need Moisture

  • Overly dry
  • Brittle
  • Rough
  • Excess shedding
  • Breakage is easier
  • Hair is weak
  • Lot more tangles

How to Get Moisture Back into your Hair. What Do You Do?

I would say the quickest way is to spray your hair with water and smooth it down. You could mix some leave-in conditioner with water in a spray bottle, spray it onto your hair and smooth for an extra injection of moisture.

Drinking water helps too. That of course has overall body and health benefits.

When you deep condition, put your hair into a shower cap and then place some kind of thermal cap over it. The heat from the cap allows the cuticle to open which makes it easier for moisture to seep into your hair strands.

You can either buy a Hot Head Thermal Cap which you heat in the microwave, or a cheaper option are these self-heating caps which trap the heat radiated from your head to create a little greenhouse for you hair.

Also, in the morning I like to apply a little bit of oil to my hair. (I have 2C/3A hair, so this is what works for me. You may want to trial and error for what works for you). I apply 1 drop of Curls Blueberry Bliss Hair Growth Oil and massage it into my palms. Then I flip my hair forward and smooth the oil all over the body of my hair.

I try and coat my lower layers with the most oil and then use the residue left on my hands on my top layers so as not to weigh my hair down at the top of my head. I then massage my scalp to add moisture, to stimulate its natural oil production and to add volume.

There are also different hydration techniques you can try too.

Gabriella who runs the blog Curly Cailín recommends several different methods such as:

What Products Can I Use?

Another thing I do is use conditioning and styling products that contain moisturisers and hydrators. Some key ingredients in these moisturising products would be Fruit or Plant extracts (Mango fruit extract, Slippery Elm, Marshmallow root) Aloe, Glycerin, butters, oils. Anything that will nourish your hair.

The moisturising products in my current rotation are:

These are honestly some great moisturising products that work really well for my hair type and I highly recommend them.

We’ve discussed moisturising curly hair, why is it so important to have protein in your hair?

Like moisture, protein is another key ingredient to ultimate hair health. When I learnt about this, it was a big gap filled in my curly hair knowledge.

Let’s explore.

Why is Protein Good for Naturally Curly Hair?

Protein is an important component of the body. You hair, skin, nails, muscle, bones and more are all made and built from protein. Hair is made up of 90-91% protein, so if you don’t feed protein to your hair, how can you expect it to grow, flourish and live its best life.

Specifically, protein is essential for hair growth, it helps repair damage by rebuilding the cuticle, it actually helps your hair to retain the moisture you add to it and it helps to prevent damage to your hair in the long term.

Essentially it is the building blocks of your hair. It is what gives your hair structure and strength. On a molecular level, what protein does is help repair the hair cuticle by strengthening the inner cortex.

There are different sizes of protein molecule, and it’s the smallest sizes that are able to reach the inner cortex and strengthen and condition from within to increase the elasticity (bounce) in your hair.

So when you pull on your curls and they spring back to normal, that’s the protein in your hair working.

Adrienne Monroe from Red Carpet Curls recommends Amino Acids as a superior protein. Amino Acids are small enough to reach the cortex still intact and strong enough to deposit their strengthening and conditioning goodness.

But how do you know if and when to add more protein to your hair?

Signs Your Hair May Need Protein

Like I mentioned before, all our lives we curly girls and guys have been told that moisture is the key to amazing hair. However, you can actually over moisturise your hair believe it or not.

Some of the causes of over moisturised hair may be that you wash it too much, or you co-wash too much, you use too much conditioner, you leave your hair wet for too long, you sleep with wet hair, you don’t use ANY proteins in your routine or maybe you have poor quality ingredients.

If any of this seems like you, then perhaps you may be experiencing the following:

  • Hair is fine or thin
  • Hair may be limp
  • Hair is soft and mushy
  • It looks very lacklustre
  • It stretches but doesn’t return back to normal
  • Breaks easily

I’ve mentioned this earlier in the post, but if hair doesn’t get enough protein it will lack structure, bounce, it won’t be able to grow properly, it won’t be able to hold onto moisture for the long term and its ability to withstand long term damage will be significantly lower.

How to Get Protein Back into your Hair. What Do You Do?

Internally the best way you can do this is through your diet. When you eat protein the body knows to deposit it in the places which need protein most. Since hair is 90-91% protein, of course a good amount of protein will be directed here first.

You can also supplement your hair with protein treatments once every 4-6 weeks. Protein treatments will act like spackle and fill in the gaps in your hair cuticle that have been damaged by heat, UV rays, pollution or over styling. Protein treatments are able to repair the hair on the surface and also penetrate into the cortex to repair from within.

If you are consistanly getting poor results or your hair just isn’t as shiny, bouncy or voluminous as before, you may want to press the reset button and completely clean your hair of everything.

This is called ‘clarifying’.

This will strip any moisture and product build-up/film from your hair so it is able to breathe and better absorb the products you put onto it next, be it a moisturising product or a product with protein.

Other handy tips I can offer you are:

  • Go longer between washes or co-washes (I actually only wash my hair once a week).
  • Skip leave in conditioner (and even regular conditioner) until your hair has balanced out, and then reintroduce.
  • Squeeze out as much excess water as possible before or after styling.
  • Diffuse hair until fully dry.

What Products Can I Use?

With regards to the products that you’re using, you’re going to want to check the ingredient list to see if the product has protein in it.

Some common proteins to look out for:

  • Keratin (the protein that our hair is mostly made of)
  • Collagen
  • Amino Acids
  • Vegetable
  • Soy
  • Corn
  • Quinoa
  • Wheat
  • Silk
  • Rice
  • Whey

More often than not, on the bottle you will see the listed protein type followed by the word ‘Protein’ which makes it a lot easier to spot when you are scanning through that long ingredient list.

From my experience the most common type of proteins companies seem to put into their products are Hydrolysed Proteins. Hydrolysed Proteins are actually great because they provide strength and moisture at the same time.

Remember Amino Acids? They are a type of Hydrolysed Protein.

Hydrolysed Proteins can help you retain the results of a protein treatment for longer, they are considered conditioning agents (Hydro = Hydrate/Water) and they help your hair to increase its water retention levels over time.

What’s not to love?

Here are the products in my current rotation that contain protein:

I’ve found that these products work really well for my hair type (2C/3A) but depending on your personal hair type you may need to find what works for you.

Perhaps keep this in mind when you are trying to find the products that work for you:

Gabriella of Curly Cailín has observed that looser curl patterns tend to be more prone to moisture overload and tighter curl patterns tend to be more prone to protein overload. However, all curls are different and you are the one who knows your curls best.

Just look to see what they need.

Why do you Need to Balance Moisture and Protein in your Hair?

FINALLY! We made it.

Well, what have we learnt?

We know that there’s such a thing as moisture overload which is when your hair is holding too much moisture. Here you would need to add protein to it by following some of the steps mentioned earlier.

We also know that there’s something called protein overload when your hair has too much protein in it. In this situation you would balance it out by adding moisture to it, again by following some of the steps laid out above. People with low porosity hair may be more prone to experiencing protein overload, or people whose hair is sensitive to protein.

If your hair is sensitive to protein or if like me, you have low porosity hair, I wouldn’t actually advise completely cutting protein out of your hair care routine. Remember, hair is 90-91% protein, so it’s going to need more protein at some point. Instead, find the balance that works for you.

I wouldn’t advise completely cutting moisture out of your hair routine either. As mentioned earlier hair needs water to survive otherwise you will experience flaking, much slower hair growth and generally dry and rough hair. Curly hair is already dry and rough, don’t give it more of a reason to misbehave.

So why do we need this balance? Well, too much of a good thing can actually be bad in the long term, and that’s the scale we’re thinking on here. The long term. You need to balance protein and moisture so you are consistently treating your hair with the correct amount of ingredients it can handle and wants.

Consistency is key.

And when you show consistency your curl pattern will start to become much more prominent, your hair will grow well, you will be able to sustain long term healthy hair instead of having to baby it all the time and treat it every which way. Like anything, if you treat it right it will be able to flourish and grow.

And don’t we all want that.

Signs your Hair is Balanced

I have gone into some detail about how your hair might look when it is suffering from Protein Overload or Moisture Overload, but I have not yet mentioned what your hair should look like when you’ve struck this balance and your hair is healthy.

Here’s some things to look out for:

  • Increased and stable curl definition.
  • Less/no frizz
  • Volume
  • Bounce
  • Natural shine
  • Increased elasticity without losing curl shape
  • When hair is stretched, wet or dry, the curl stretches and returns back

The most important thing to look at is the consistency of your results. If your results are consistent, then it’s most likely your hair is balanced.

Striking a protein/moisture balance is different for every head of hair. You’ll need a different ratio of protein to moisture compared to your curly haired friends, and they’ll need a different ratio compared to your favourite naturally curly influencers.

Learn what amounts of protein and moisture work for you, and you’re guaranteed to have a much higher chance of a good hair day.

Now it is up to you. Get to know what ingredients your hair loves and what it doesn’t love so much. It’s going to take a few tries to get your balance right, so don’t expect results overnight. What I’ve learnt from my curly hair journey is that patience and persistence are the keys to understanding your hair and for achieving consistently amazing long term results. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Good luck and most importantly, have fun.

Jess x


The information mentioned in this post came from these resources:

Curly Girl Method Science: Protein 101 by Adrienne Monroe at Red Carpet Curls .

Protein V.S. Moisture Balance: How to Know What My Hair Needs? – by Adrienne Monroe at Red Carpet Curls.

Protein Moisture Balance – by Gabriella at Curly Cailín

There IS Such a Thing as Over-Moisturizing Your Hair – by Vanessa Osbourne at NaturallyCurly

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