Monday, 1 August 2011

Protein Treatments, Coconut Oil and Natural Hair

Taking on a few more questions from you and there is a lot of buzzing about protein treatments and what they can do for hair.

To summarise it, protein treatments are known to temporarily repair and strengthen hair. They do this by filling up gaps in the cuticle and if of a sufficiently small size can also penetrate to the cortex.(Journal of Cosmetic Science, pg69-87, 1993).

For natural hair damage tends to come from normal weathering - washing, drying, combing, heat use etc.  Colour treated natural hair and relaxed hair can suffer from more cuticle damage.

Specific questions:

1. Is a plant based protein source lighter than an animal based source?

No. It is more important to assess how the conditioner makes your hair feel. Many bloggers, vloggers etc warn people on how to spot protein but forget to mention that you should really look for where it is on the list. If if is after the first five ingredients there is probably not much in the bottle.

Additionally there are no products that tell you how hydrolysed the protein is (read this post to find out why protein has to be broken up - or hydrolysed to be useful). In short , pun intended, if the protein is not of the right small size (and it does vary according to protein) it may not give your hair the desired effect.

Therefore, comparing Aphogee with its keratin protein in the first 5 ingredients to Giovanni with its soy protein listed as the 17th ingredient is just unrealistic. Use the product and if you don't like it either on its own or in combination (For example a follow up conditioner or leave in or oil) then just try something else.

2. Does coconut oil contain protein

No it does not.  I repeat, no coconut oil does not contain protein. Oils are pressed out of seeds, in the case of coconut oil, heating up the flesh and straining it out. The oil is very easily separated from the flesh once heated using a sieve.

The straw like feel some people find with coconut oil is usually related to using too much product because coconut oil is not as viscous as other oils . Hardening of the hair is related usually to temperature because coconut oil solidifies at a fairly low temperature so a cold winter breeze can stiffen hair very fast.

Some people (like me) love coconut oil, other people just do not. It is a bit like marmite, if you find that even using less does not help ( see the fingertip tip ), just leave it!

3. Does coconut milk contain protein?

Yes coconut milk does contain protein. Coconut milk is made from suspending the flesh in water and may contain bits of the flesh. However this protein is usually not hydrolysed (yep hydrolysed again). Pretty much like eggs, it is unlikely to be as effective as a hydrolysed protein.

It is the marmite story for coconut milk - if you like its effect use it, if you don't just leave it!

4. Do protein treatments stop hair shedding?

No,  there is a difference between hair shedding (i.e hair with a bulb coming out of the follicle) and breakage (i.e hair breaking off  due to handling). At times you can confuse the two but looking for a bulb is always the way to tell the difference. Hair shedding is a programmed event it is not changed by protein treatments. Breakage on the other hand can be stopped temporarily.

5. Does natural hair require protein treatment?

There is no harm in trying it out if you want to. The worst thing that can happen is that you hate it and have to wash your hair all over again.

If you use heat frequently, regularly wear your hair in styles that require combing or colour treat your hair, a protein treatment may be quite useful.


  1. Good post. Very interesting especially about the coconut milk and protein.

  2. I am glad you posted this. Now I understand better. Especially the difference between shedding hair and breakage. Personally, I use coconut oil myself. I get very good results using coconut oil on my hair. I wear my hair natural and I do use protein treatments on my hair too. I get good results using protein treatments on my natural hair also. Works for me!


  3. Awesome info as usual! I have color treated hair and have for years. I just used my first protein treatment a few weeks ago. Thanks!

  4. Thanks for the very useful information. I have been planning to use a protein treatment for a while. Actually bought Aphogee but just never got round to using it. I will definitely give it a go now.

  5. I just discovered this blog last month and I love the great information provided :) I am not sure if you talked about this already but since this post is about protein I think this is my chance to ask this question. Why do protein treatments, or any products with protein, make some naturals' hair feel hard and crunchy? Is it because of the type of protein or the size?

  6. Thank you all for your comments!

    Anon - Protein treatments such as aphogee do not ave the moisturising ingredients such as cetyl alcohol or BTMs. The product is basically a very concentrated protein formulation. The hard feeling is actually just the product drying onto the hair. A simple experiment you can do is to apply a little bit of egg white to your skin and let it dry. You will see that it will make the skin feel quite hard and stiff.

    I think where people go wrong with aphogee is failing to listen to the instructions. The product is not intended to be combed through hair once it begins to dry. Once it dries on it just needs rinsing away and then a regular conditioner to deposit softeners (BTMS, cetyl alcohol) which give hair the soft feeling that many desire.

    It is not strictly true that any product with protein will make hair feel hard and crunchy. Some people simply do not like the formulation of a particular conditioner. For example, I do not like organix but aveda and giovanni which both have a little protein are fine. The protein is not the problem, my hair does not respond well to the ingredient combination in organix

  7. Great post! Super informative as usual.

    I have always considered shedding normal, but started panicking recently reading all the posts on preventing shedding. I understand there is excess shedding, but I don't understand why people try to prevent normal shedding. Doesn't that affect hair health/growth in some way?

  8. This was so informative. Thank you! I'm glad I found your blog.

  9. thanks Morgan :)

    Jane - shedding is normal and in general changes according to weather and hormones (in pregnancy for example. If hair is shedding excessively (where tufts of hair are falling out) this is serious and needs to looked at by a doctor. However a loss of upto 100 hair shafts per day is actually normal. Additionally, if hair is kept in a low manipulation style and say combed once a week, there could be 700 individual hair shafts to remove.

    Breakage is a different ball game. Shed hair comes out with the bulb intact, but broken hair has no bulb. I would say looking out for the bulb is very important.

  10. Hi Jc, thanks for the info on protein treatments. I know you mentioned in your post that protein treatments do not prevent and/or stop shedding. I do have a question though, how come when I deep condition once a week (for at least 6 hours) with a protein enriched conditioner, I notice little to no strands coming out afterward upon rinsing, but with a regular deep conditioner there is a lot more noticeable hair afterwards? I assumed it was because of the protein that there was less hair coming out. Your expertise would be appreciated, thanks!

  11. Hey JC, just wondering where does Mayonnaise fall where protein is concerned?

  12. "Marmite. You either love it, or you don't!" Count me with the US Marmite lovers!

  13. I am praying that you are still answering questions on this post because I've only now found it. Please answer this question: Is it possible to have over- moisturized hair on one part of the hair and the protein content good on another or vice versa? I have read and read on how to know whether the hair has a good moisture/protein balance then did the stretch test on both dry and clean wet hair. Some parts stretched then bounced back, other parts stretched then stay stretched, others still didn't stretch at all ( as if the hair was stretched anad detangled by some specific stretching method) Pieces of hair break off in SOME areas but not all over the hair. Thanks for any reply you give . (I don't know if you use hair typing but just incase you needed to know my hair type in order to answer more specifically for me; its extremely kinky i'll say 4c/d))

  14. HI JC,

    Grea website. I'm just wondering if it matters what type of coconut oil you use, for example, refined, fractionated, virgin. I would like to use some as a hair treatment and I know I can buy the brand KTC often use in cooking for £2.00 ish OR I could pay up to £7 for coconut oil marketed as organic, virgin and unrefined. My preference would be the cheap option (!) just wondering if this does no pun intended...come at a price, i.e refined = reduction in conditioning abilities?


    Hay x

    1. Any coconut oil is fine and I also pick coconut oil used for cooking. I think the only one that I am not sure about is the fractionated form which has some oils taken out to keep it liquid at room temperature. Because different manufacturers take out different fractions, it is not clear if some will remove the oils which actually penetrate hair (the medium to smaller oils are targetted and these are the ones that are thought to penetrate hair).

  15. Hi JC,

    I have naturally curly hair but I've been getting it pressed for years. I've always used heat to style it, sometimes, a lot of heat. I don't do that anymore but lately it seems to breaking off and I have lots of split ends. I've tried coconut oil but it doesnt seem any different. Can I use olive oil as a leave in for my ends?

    1. Lots of women like olive oil so I do not see why not. I think though that your issue with breakage may come from the previous heat styling. Stopping the heat will be very helpful for you.

  16. Coconut oil contains only mcg of protein per ml, but it does contain protein. I thought it didn't contain protein and I was giving it to my son who develops sensitivities to all high protein foods if he has them regularly. Now he has started reacting to coconut oil; he has been having a lot, about 6 tablespoons a day because he is underweight, so I checked online and sure enough, coconut oil does have a very small amount of protein in it, so people who are sensitive or who tend to become sensitive to nuts should take care. But it probably doesn't matter if you are just putting it on your hair and not eating it. Virgin coconut oil has more protein in it than refined, but it is still under a mg per ml.

    1. I just discovered this blog today and wanted to say that my daughter and I are both allergic to olive and we do not use it on our skin and hair nor do we consume it. So be careful ...

    2. Just to say that with food sensitives, to be honest, all oils are a danger because they will have trace amounts of proteins. Trace amounts mean that the volume is low enough to be regarded as insignificant. A few micro or nanograms is not substantial to those without food allergies and is unlikely to actually help. There is a clear note on the blog advising everyone to never substitute any information in here for medical advice.

  17. Once again, late to the party :) I had a different experience, but maybe it wasn't the protein that caused it? I was experiencing a lot more shedding than I normally do for an extended period of time. I saw some where that protein treatments could help. I did a Aphogee 2-Step treatment (followed instructions to a 'T' lol) and followed up with a DC. I don't know what made it stop but my excessive shedding stopped in its tracks.


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