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Protein overload: what is it and how can you fix it?

Do you suffer from hair that is dry, lifeless, doesn’t shine and feels like straw? Then you probably have a protein overload, or a lack of hydration. The balance between protein and moisture is very important for healthy hair. In this article we’ll share what a protein overload is, how you can get rid of it and how to prevent it in the future.

Also read: How to start the Curly Girl Method: steps for beginners

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In this article:

What is protein?

Protein, also called keratin, is one of the most important building blocks of your hair. It’s found in a certain balance in the innermost layer of your hair, along with moisture.

Protein is used for strength, hydration, shine and to reduce breakage. It helps temporarily repair damaged areas in hair, by filling in gaps in the cuticle.

Thanks to protein, your hair will regain shine, feel more bouncy and define your curls better.

Protein also ensures growth of the hair and determines its elasticity.

As a Curly Girl, it’s very important that your hair has the correct elasticity, because you want your curl to bounce back when you pull it.

What products contain protein?

How do you know whether a hair product has protein? Look at the ingredient list, and look for ingredients like grains and vegetables, such as quinoa, rice, oatmeal, wheat, corn, and soy. You can also recognize it by the following terms:

  • Protein
  • Keratin or hydrolyzed keratin
  • Amino acids
  • Cocodimonium hydroxypropyl hydrolyzed casein
  • Cocodimonium hydroxypropyl hydrolyzed collagen
  • Cocodimonium hydroxypropyl hydrolyzed hair keratin
  • Cocodimonium hydroxypropyl hydrolyzed keratin
  • Cocodimonium hydroxypropyl hydrolyzed rice protein
  • Cocodimonium hydroxypropyl hydrolyzed silk
  • Cocodimonium hydroxypropyl hydrolyzed soy protein
  • Cocodimonium hydroxypropyl hydrolyzed wheat protein
  • Cocodimonium hydroxypropyl silk amino acids
  • Cocoyl hydrolyzed collagen
  • Cocoyl hydrolyzed keratin
  • Hydrolyzed keratin
  • Hydrolyzed oat flour
  • Hydrolyzed silk
  • Hydrolyzed silk protein
  • Hydrolyzed soy protein
  • Hydrolyzed wheat protein
  • Hydrolyzed wheat protein
  • Potassium cocoyl hydrolyzed collagen
  • TEA-cocoyl hydrolyzed collagen
  • TEA-cocoyl hydrolyzed soy protein

You can also recognize it on the packaging, due terms such as: strengthening, firming and repairing. 

Just like food ingredient lists, cosmetics have their ingredients listed in the order of concentration. So the higher the ingredient is placed on the ingredient list, the more there is in it. 

This way you can find out whether a hair product is high or low in protein.

Shower, drying, protein

What is protein overload?

For strong and healthy curls, protein and moisture must be in balance. 

You will get a protein overload if you use too many hair products containing protein and too little moisturizing products.

There are a few signs that indicate that you have a protein overload.

Your hair is:

  • Lifeless
  • Dry
  • Frizzy
  • Brittle feeling
  • Does not shine
  • Gets tangled faster
  • Feel like straw

Also read: This is how to treat frizzy hair

How to fix a protein overload?

With a protein overload it’s best to start with a clarify. This removes build-up from your hair, allowing you to start your hair routine with a clean slate.

Then you can do a deep conditioning treatment.

This is a treatment method for your hair, which is aimed at nourishing your hair by means of a deep conditioner or hair mask.

It’s a way to bring nourishment, hydration and strengthening to the hair. 

With this treatment, use heat by means of a shower cap, so that the hair cuticles of your hair open and your hair can really absorb the nourishing ingredients instead of remaining on your hair.

It’s also important to lighten up on styling products that are high on protein. You don’t necessarily have to cut them out completely, but cut down on them or rotate your stylers for a bit.

Check out our favorite deep conditioners without protein

Add in some more moisturizing stylers, such as a leave-in conditioner or cream. 

Applying an oil or butter on top of a product that is water-based also helps with this, because the moisture that the product adds to the hair stays in the hair longer.

The oil forms a film over the hair strand, so that the moisture can leave the hair strand less quickly. This way your curls are hydrated longer, so will stay soft and shiny for longer.

The balance between moisture and protein

For naturally curly hair, it’s important to find the balance between protein and moisture. You can imagine this as a scale: on one side there is moisture and on the other side protein.

If it’s balanced, your hair is happy. If you have a bad hair day or a hair product suddenly stops working, your protein/moisture balance probably is off.

Every time you use a hair product, the balance of your hair changes. Especially the hair products with which you style your hair, which you don’t wash out, affect this.

If you don’t pay attention to what your hair needs or the ingredients of the hair products you use, it’s easy to throw your hair out of balance.

And hair that is off balance, is not going to get better right away: it might take a few washes.

In the future you naturally want to prevent your hair from having a moisture or protein overload.

You do this by paying close attention to which hair products you use, and keeping a close eye on the moisture and protein balance.

Hopefully everything about a protein overload is clear to you now! If you have any questions, feel free to ask us on Instagram!


  1. Please my hair is jelly curl and I’m almost losing all . I read on my hair products and find out that the the six products I’m using contain protein. Also the hair get tangle easily. Please I do not want to cut down my hair. Please help me out. I’m from Ghana

    • Hi Zipporah!

      Thank you for your comment😊. You may want to lessen your protein usage. It is possible that you’re experiencing protein overload. I suggest for you to read the paragraph under the header ‘How to fix a protein overload?’. We explain here how you can restore your curls!

      Hope this helps☺️,

      Team Kurlify💜

  2. I am a new user of this site so here i saw multiple articles and posts posted by this site,I curious more interest in some of them hope you will give more information on this topics in your next articles.

    • Hi,

      Thank you for your comment! We’re glad that you’re excited about our articles 😊.

      Stay tuned for more!

      Team Kurlify💜

  3. Found this all very interesting.

  4. I did aphogee treatment on my low porosity hair 3 months ago. It made my hair dry, brittle, tangled and break soooo much I’m sure it’s thinner now. I didn’t know what protein overload was or what a protein treatment was, I just heard everyone saying it was good. I’ve switched to no protein products after a month I did the treatment not realizing I might’ve had protein overload. I did a clarifying shampoo maybe 3 times since then. My hair is still dry and shedding, after i did the treatment it’s like water makes my hair feel even worse. What could I be doing wrong? I shampoo, deep condition, leave in, and twist my hair but it seems like it is not enough.

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