Between hair growth pills, hair growth oils* and pomades that tingle when you apply them to your scalp, we are aware of how the black hair industry has dazzled us with their marketing hype and promises of miraculous hair growth.
So much so that they have made us believe for years that you need certain products in order to grow your hair long.
It’s along the same lines as the diet and supplement industry blinding us every few months with miraculous fruits or herbs presumably consumed by the people of some remote Peruvian tribe for thousands of years which helped keep them trim. Yeah right.
We instinctively know when we are being sold a story when we listen to this hype. We know that African Mango, gogi berries and hoodia gordonii won’t make us any slimmer yet we can’t resist the pull of the story.
Trust me I’m no better and I get sucked into the story just as much as everybody else and only tear my eyes off the screen long enough to liberate my credit card and order a two month supply of acai berry extract. Oh the shame!
No ladies, those African bushmen are not thin because of all the hoodia they are eating but because of the fact that they are starving for a couple of days until they hunt and kill their next antelope. Yet the most common question in the diet industry remains What should I eat in order to lose weight?
Alas it doesn’t look better in the hair industry, the most common question from newbies starting out in hair care is inevitably What product should I use in order to grow my hair long? a question that completely misses the point of course and is (hopefully) soon corrected by getting the right advice.
But here’s the thing, even though we have become a bit more sophisticated in our pursuit of long hair, we ask the right questions and want to make our hair regimens as great as they can possibly be, many of us still don’t understand the role that protein plays in getting us to our goals.
Being a huge fan of protein myself of course in that regard I am forced to come out in staunch defense of the products. I would hazard that some of us simply don’t understand why or in which situations protein is needed in a hair regimen.
I promise I won’t go into a science lesson about hair today, I think we have covered that sufficiently on this site already (please read here, here, here and here if you don’t know what I am talking about) but allow me to paraphrase a bit.
Hair is made up of a hard protein called keratin, essentially it makes up the structure of our hair and nails. Unlike the protein that makes up our skin cells for instance which get replaced periodically, hair and nails once destroyed cannot be fixed.
Think of it this way, if you cut yourself by accident, give it a bit of time and your skin eventually mends itself. On the other hand if you crack your nail, the nail won’t mend itself, you basically have to wait for a new nail to grow in.
So how do you lose protein from your hair?
Losing protein is something that happens to everyone every single time you comb, brush, braid, twist, flat iron* or in any way handle your hair. When a piece of hair breaks, you have lost protein, when you comb your hair you cause friction in the strands and lose some cuticles (the shingle like structures that cover the hair) which is also losing protein.
What do protein treatments and conditioners do?
They help your hair by plugging the gaps and cracks in your hair, areas in which you have lost protein and temporarily strengthening them. The active word here is temporarily because regardless how good our hair research is, we cannot replace a hair cuticle with an identical one.
All the protein treatments do is pave over damaged areas keeping your strands from buckling under minor damage which prevents breakage, keeps strands on your head longer which as a result allows you to grow your hair longer. Not all that mysterious.
Now the trick to getting an effective protein treatment is picking one with hydrolyzed protein. These are protein molecules that are small enough to actually penetrate the hair strand to pave over the damage.
Can Some People Have Successful Hair Journeys Without Protein Treatments?
Of course! We are all unique and our hair strands are no exception. There is a huge variance in the kind of trauma that a strand of hair can withstand before breaking. Thicker coarser strands would naturally be able to withstand more damage than thinner finer ones.
Your personal protein requirements are also closely tied into how often you style your hair. Someone who washes and styles her hair once a month with little to no manipulation in between would have much lower protein requirements than someone who does a wash and go and uses a Denman brush* every day. It’s all relative.
As you become more adept at handling your own hair you will instinctively start to feel when your hair needs a protein treatment. For me this usually happens following a few weeks of intensive styling sessions so if you are not quite attuned to your hair’s needs yet then I would suggest that you use protein conditioners according to your hair type and styling regimen.
For many of us who are washing, deep conditioning* and styling every week then a protein conditioner every two to three weeks would be a good place to start including a full on hard protein treatment every couple of months or so. If you have thick coarse strands then it makes sense to reduce the protein conditioners further unless you have an intense styling schedule of course.
So are protein treatment really necessary? Well yes and no. The best answer to this would be to say that protein treatments allow you to continue styling your hair often while keeping it healthy so they are necessary for those of us who style often but less so for those of us who don’t.
Happy hair growing!