Moisture Issue: Proteins and moisture levels!

The final part of this series covers a quite unexpected water helper - hydrolysed protein. Please remember that hydrolysed protein is quite special. Do see this previous post which describes the difference between amino acids, proteins and hydrolysed protein (click here).

So on to the main course - In one particular experiment, hair treated with hydrolysed wheat protein and then immersed in water, took several hours to dry back to its 'normal' water level compared to untreated hair which took just 4 minutes (J Cosmet Sci, pg 69-87, 1993).

What does this mean? In moisture terms, it means that

1. Hydrolysed protein delays the exit of water from hair
2. Hair treated with hydrolysed protein will retain moisture for longer

Further studies revealed that hydrolysed protein can actually penetrate hair (J Cosmet Sci, pg 193-203, 2000). The extent of this penetration varies with how damaged the hair is. Damage could mean old hair at the tip or damage due to bleaching/relaxing. The more damaged the hair, the more the penetration of the hydrolysed protein.

I have not read the curly girl book by Lorraine Massey but I did read a review somewhere (can't remember where) which was critical of the inclusion of protein as a necessary conditioner ingredient. Looks like it may be quite useful! (Any curly girl readers who actually have the book - do let me know if this was actually stated in the book!)

Also, because I don't like to waste research, the same effect has been found with hydrolysed keratin (wool) on skin.(Skin Res Technol, pg 243-248, 2008 and J Cosmet Sci, pg 99-107, 2007).

I have never really been a huge protein fan because my hair never feels any different. Having done this research, I think I might start addding a few drops of hydrolysed protein in my conditioner. How about you, do you love protein or hate it? Would you consider adding it to your routine knowing it might help moisturise your hair for a little longer?


  1. JC - I promise to figure out how to become a "follower", so that I can stop posting as Anon. I want to support your blog, but I don't know how as of yet.

    Thanks so much for this post! I added hydrolyzed protein to my routine after your other protein post, but I wasn't sure if it was a necessary step. I'll definitiely keep doing it!
    The big question is how often? I'm still not clear on how long protein can stick after the original adsorption. 1-2 washes perhaps?

    Also, I am really pleased with the Kenra Color Maintenance Conditioner. It has hydrolyzed silk protein as the 3rd ingredient. It also has Squalane and Coconut Oil in the top 5. My hair feels amazing after I use it!

  2. lol Anon - I'm happy you like the blog - becoming a follower is a way to get updates on the blog. You can also subscribe in a reader if that is more convenient.

    Your question is good and I agree that 1-2 washes is probably about right. It does depend on how much damage the hair has as more damaged hair can take up more protein into the cortex of hair where it is less accessible.

    I have never heard of Kenra but those are ingredients to die for!! Protein, squalane and coconut oil all in the top 5! I'm off to do research.

  3. Thank you JC. Is there a place where i can find hydrolysed protein or do i always have to get it from a conditioner ?

  4. Hey JC!

    Does the type of hydrolyzed protein matter in terms of maintaining the moisture? For instance some of my conditioners have hydrolyzed soy, wheat, silk, etc...

  5. Kadiane - I have read before that some body building protein powders are hydrolysed protein. I don't know if this is true or if they are in the right range for hair either. However if anyone else knows another source - please add your comment!

    Nappy Rina - The types of protein I've seen tested are wheat and keratin (wool). The studies were very separate so I cannot compare the results. I'm certain there would be differences depending on the type of protein however I do think the benefit of moisturising would still be present regardless because the effect is derived from
    1. The proteins which can hold water
    2. The proteins being hydrolysed meaning they can adsorb and/or penetrate hair better.

    Therefore provided these two characteristics are present then the benefit of added moisture should be there.

  6. What's so good about squalane? What is it?

    Is hydrolysed protein something that can be used on a daily/weekly basis? Or when your hair needs it?

  7. Squalane is similar to squalene which is used to mimic natural hair oil (sebum). If you search squalene on this blog, you will find a post about this.

  8. I have been using SCHWARZKOPF BONACURE MOISTURE KICK SPRAY conditioner - which is leave in for dry frizzy hair and it is fortified with amino acids & milk protein.. (or so the package says).. & it has really helped my hair become more smoother and easier to comb & control.. (though it also seems to make it oily faster)

    But yea, thks to yr post I now know why the protein is thr.. earlier i thought it was just a marketing gimmick..

    U have a gr8 blog here & i love reading yr well researched posts :D

  9. I am an avid Keratin, silk amino acids, and collagen user which I buy from a soap making merchant. I add them to all my hair products especially my pre-poo conditioning treatment I mix up every week. You have to replace what the hair loses through daily wear and tear. Hair is made up of Keratin, collagen and amino acids.

  10. I don't quite agree with you anon since amino acids are the basic group that bond together to make proteins such as keratin.

    Amino acids are quite water soluble and are easily washed off. They would be ok in a leave in but perhaps not so so much as a conditioner.

    However, if it works for you, keep doing it. Thanks for the info on buying from soap makers.

  11. Hi, just found your blog and as a hair addict (82 cm/32 inch now and still growing) I love your scientific approach. In daily life I'm a professional soapmaker (busy setting up my own business that is) and I can agree that, well, not the soapers themselves but their ingredient suppliers, offer a wide range of interesting hair goodies like hydrolised proteins, conditioning agents, oils and even all ingredients to make your own quality shampoos and conditioners. I do it all the time and love it because I can choose my own ingredients.
    I could name some of them, but I don't know if i'm allowed to do so here. But if you google 'soapmaking supplies' it must be easy to find several.
    You can email me privately, if you prefer, so I can give you some reliable suggestions in the USA or Europe. I myself am from The Netherlands. Zala:

  12. Thank you Zala. I appreciate that you gave the information without links as I prefer not to have advertising. Thanks again for your input

  13. I can totally understand that, Jc. Scientific also means: as objective as possible...So I think that is a very wise choise for your blog.

  14. Nice post and good comoment.
    I get because it.

    Thank you so much Zala :)

  15. This is an old thread, but I'll add my two cents anyway. The key to formulating with protein is to find the appropriate particle size for your targeted audience. Coarser textures of hair are naturally porous and require a larger molecular weight (another way of saying particle size) protein. That's generally what you would find in the health store muscle powders (along with a ton of other binders). As the hair gets finer, curlier and or straighter, you need either smaller weight proteins or with very fine hair, forget the full protein because nothing willwork short of Amino Acids which are use to build proteins.

    One caveat. If using larger molecular weight proteins beware of using them without some kind of sealing agent to buffer moisture loss. Once protein dries out, it can dry your hair out. Protein is much like a sponge. It readily absorbs ,moisture, but it can also give it up very fast. The proper path to long lasting moisture is to fill with protein, then seal with a cream or gel.

  16. From extracts I saw online, the first edition of Curly Girl does list protein as something to look for in a conditioner. Lorraine Massey may have changed her thinking on this though - I have the second edition of Curly Girl by Lorraine Massey, which doesn't list protein as one of the desired ingredients in conditioners, but doesn't really address the issue. I have seen interviews with Lorraine Massey where she said, if I remember right, that she wasn't keen on protein as it made hair hard. However, I don't think all the products in her line are protein free. I like the Curly Girl book but the books/interviews etc don't always go into detail scientifically or really make sense as a whole regarding how ingredients work. That isn't really a criticism, it is just that online I have seen more detail and clarity; I'd go to the CG books and method for a different kind of information.

    Anyway this post is very helpful!

  17. Hi,
    Where can i get the product in UK?


Post a Comment

I love comments! All comments are moderated so they will only appear on the blog once I approve them.

Popular Posts