If you’ve been following along (which I hope you have) I recently had my first professional haircut in five years. It is also my first professional haircut as a natural. When Vincenzo examined my hair, washed and treated he came to the final consensus that I was experiencing protein overload. Now I knew about protein overload but never thought that the breakage/dryness that I was experiencing was due to an imbalance in protein/moisture in my hair.  Before I tackle how I was told to correct the issue let me first fully explain what protein overload is exactly.

Protein Overload: Protein overload is when the moisture/protein balance in your hair has pretty much come unbalanced. With too much protein in your hair your hair feels coated/dry and brittle. It is also more susceptible to shedding and breakage.

Identifying Protein Overload:  First you’re going to need to pay close attention to what I like to call “your hair acting up”. When you just cant put a finger on why your hair is reacting differently and feeling differently you are going to want to pay closer attention. If you’re noticing your hair is dryer than usual, your texture has changed/altered drastically, your’re having breakage and excessive shedding all without really changing your regimen then something is up. I don’t dye or straighten my hair so to have that amount of shedding and breakage was strange. That is why I decided to head to a professional before it was too late. There are a few specific things you are going to want to check/ test to identify whether you have protein overload or just dry hair due to a lack of proper moisturizing techniques (IE: The LOC Method).

  1. Your hair snaps off when you do the hair strand test
  2. Unusually dry/lifeless and brittle
  3. lacking the natural shine/luster that it used to have
  4. Heavy shedding and tangles
  5. Feels very straw like and stiff.

Out of these five identifying signs I was experiencing FOUR! I also had a change in my hair texture and curl pattern due to the constant dryness despite my many efforts to moisturize. My hair was falling out rapidly (excessive shedding) and was breaking off at the nape on the left hand side. I was dealing with one half of my hair  growing twice as fast as the other side as well.

How To Recover: In order to recover from protein overload you are going to have to take very precise steps in your regimen and it will not be an over night process. It actually can take anywhere from 4 weeks to 6 months depending on how severe the protein overload is. What you’re going to want to start off by doing? Focusing on MOISTURE! And to do so you are going to have to head to your product junkie stash (which we all have) and toss/sell or give away some products that are doing you more harm than good.

You are going to want to get rid of any products that contain any proteins in the ingredients. Even if the product claims to be moisturizing there could be proteins hidden in there that will continue to cause damage. It is extremely tricky because proteins can come in many different names/categories on the bottle. Here are a few common protein names that are found in many hair care brands/products on the market.

  • Hydrolyzed collagen
  • Wheat protein
  • Quinoa protein
  • Soy protein
  • Rice protein
  • Silk protein
  • Keratin
  • Oat flour
  • Amino acids

I was shocked to see that according to this list I would be tossing or getting rid of 80 percent of my stash and have to pretty much start from scratch to rebuild my product stash. Now I don’t recommend getting rid of ALL of your products that contain proteins as you are going to want to still use them on occasion to balance out the moisture in your hair (to avoid moisture overload which is also a negative in your hair). However for right now your main focus will be moisturizing products with moisturizing ingredients until you get the balance right.

So where does this leave me?: Going back to my roots in my transitioning days. My regimen will consist of the following until I get my hair back to a state where it is healthy and balanced.
Cleanse: With protein overload you are going to want to use a cleansing/clarifying shampoo. I’m not a shampooer so I will add this back into my regimen but after a few weeks I may go back to my co-wash and Bentonite clay methods of cleansing. Cleaning will help get rid of the excess build up of protein I have on the surface.

Deep Condition: I’m going to steer clear of products for deep conditioning for now and just simply use a moisturizing DIY recipe: Avocado+EVOO+ Honey. Honey as a humectant will help draw the moisture into my hair. I’ll be alternating between a steamer and a hooded dryer to add to the mix of my deep conditioning.

Leave In Conditioner: A Moisture based leave in conditioner is necessary & crucial to my overnight regimen as well as the first step in the LOC method. Adding that leave in between wash periods as well as a quick steaming session with my Q-Redew will help me moisturize during the week.

Styling: Any stylers or creams will have to be protein free obviously. I am also going for a more hands off/ low manipulation style for the first few weeks. With protein overload your hair is sensitive and trying to find the right balance. Therefore too much manipulation will just cause it to snap off and break even more.

Moisturize & Seal: With my moisturizing cream added I must seal the moisture in and focus on the ends that are old and fragile. I’m going to be avoiding coconut oil during this detox process as well (including products that include coconut oil which can be tough since natural hair products are usually drenched in it). Instead I’ll be focusing on using products with aloe vera gel/juice or honey in them.

It will take lots of work to choose the right products to use and lots of reading in the aisles of the beauty supply store. However it will be worth it to get my hair back to the way it used to be in its healthiest natural state. It is also vital to take note that proteins can be very well hidden in the ingredient list for example “soy” or “soybean”, or aspartic acid are types of amino acids which are proteins.

Have you experienced protein overload? If so how did you cope/deal or manage? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

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Hey there! I’m Melissa, co-founder of Trials n Tresses, natural hair and beauty lover, binge tv watcher and lover of life. When I am not creating content for TNT, I’m busy teaching the future of society.

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33 Responses to Protein Overload: What Is It & How To Correct It

  1. This was a great article! Also as the cooler temps come nearer a good rule that I use when using honey is, if the water outside freezes so will the water in your hair.

  2. Great informative article MJB. I’m experiencing protein overload for the first time EVER … these steps you’ve outlined will be very very helpful in getting my moisture-protein balance back. I’ll be packing my “patience” for sure. Keep these awesome articles coming.

  3. You described EXACTLY what I’ve been going through even down to stunted growth at left nape ofneck. Thanks for the article looks like I have work to do

    • OMG! It can be so annoying. Glad I could help and hope your journey takes a turn for the better. Please don’t be afraid to come back and keep us updated.

  4. I had used coconut oil in my hair (to try something new)– WORST mistake of my life. My hair has been coming out in clumps for 5 months straight and it seems nothing helps until I found this article just now. I just have once question: with the avocado, honey, EVOO mixture, how many times a week should this be done? and for how many months? My hair now has less than 40% of my usual volume and thickness left at this point. It is VERY THIN. Like I said, it’s been coming out in clumps everyday for 5 months. Please help? Thanks.

  5. Thank you so much for this! Like for real. This really made me understood what my hair has been going through.

  6. Thanks so much I just had a baby and thought my hair was acting strange because of that. I knew it was more more to that it just isn’t right so did so reach and came across this article and all the same. Thanks

    • Congrats on the new baby!!!! And we’re glad you found us and we could help!! Thanks for stopping by! Let us know how your hair journey transforms !

  7. I am suffering from protein overload and I tried to put avocado in my hair and it dried my hair even worse. I didn’t know it had a lot of protein in it. I know it’s good for low pro girls so I will eventually try it again once my hair is balanced.

  8. My hair stylist uses Paul Mitchell products. Whenever she puts color on my hair, the roots are very dark (almost black) for the first two weeks. It then fades somewhat and becomes more like the rest of my hair color. When I asked her about this, she said I had too much keratin in my hair. This keeps happening. What can I do to get rid of the keratin? Is it the same as too much protein? Thanks for any help you can offer.

  9. Hello, what products do you recommend for protein overload? Especially a daily moisturizer: I can’t find anything (affordable) that doesn’t have protein. Since I would be using it everyday, I prefer something not too expensive because I use a lot of product and would be going through it quickly. I have fine hair. Thank you.

  10. Unfortunately i’m experiencing protein overload all because I used the aphogee hair treatment and now it’s shedding to the point where I might as well cut it off. Do you know any specific hair products in mind (shampoo & conditioner) that I can use???? I really wanna get my hair back. And will it grow back more fuller?

    • Oh my the same thing happened to me with the same product! You are going to have to use cleansing shampoo and protein free products.

  11. What a great article!!! I’m a hairstylist and know what protein overload looks like but didn’t think it could happen to me. I thought it was post-pregnancy juju but then I read your article. I’ve been loading my hair with protein not thinking twice about the damage. My poor hair. Thank u so much for this information. I’ll be redirecting my clients to this article. It’s hard trying to explain to ppl what protein overload is and how it effects the hair (and how they have to get rid of some of their beloved stash lol) MANY THANKS!!!

  12. Hi, found your website while looking for info on how to tell if hair has too much protein. I was shocked to find out that you mention one section of your hair not growing at the rate of the rest. I have a batch of hair on the left that is at least six inches shorter than the right. Couldn’t figure out why. Fortunately enough hairs are growing long so it doesn’t look odd (hair is mid-back).

    My blonde (colored) hair breaks off anywhere along the shaft. The ends are crinkled and feel like brillo, even after a recent trim. I could go on but you get the idea.

    My question to you is that I hesitate in using a clarifying shampoo more than once as these are often used to remove unwanted artificial color from the hair shaft (I want to keep mine). It sounds like you used a lot especially in the beginning. Also, would you say that I would need intense hydrating–I am confused because my hair is just so dry.

    Great article and any ideas would help….
    Sharon

  13. Hi Melissa, thank you so much for this article, I lucked out on it as I was googling how to recover from protein overload. I was using avocado oil for almost two months and learned the hard way that this oil does have some protein and now my crown and top half of my hair is dry, brittle, has lost its curls and breaking. I stopped using the oil and replaced it with evoo about two weeks ago and have been using Aussie Mega Moist conditioner. I know it has dimethicone but it’s all I can afford at the moment and because it contains Aloe vera as well as jojoba oil. I use it as a leave-in followed by evoo in hopes that it helps repair my hair. And I might use acv rinses to clarify vs clarifying shampoos. What is your opinion on my recovery plan, I would love your input.?

  14. Came back across a YouTube video on this subject. I believe you all finally answered my problem! Now I understand why my hair behaved and was softer and didn’t shed for a couple of weeks when my beautician did it. She reversed the symptoms & damage with her products. But I could never get her to tell me what products she used. She refilled her bottles so it didn’t help to take pics when she left the room. She only told me you use creme of nature conditioner\shampoo. I use to use creme of nature setting lotion. But it makes my ponys hard. I only wear ponys now to not manipulate my hair too much. I can’t do much styling of my own with carpal tunnel now. My hair is so dry, damaged, brittle, and sheds so bad. and the severe itching alone! Has been enough to make me almost cut my hair off myself. That I have places there are barely 1 in long. While the overall length is nape of the neck almost chin length. I stopped relaxing my hair. But have wasted so much money trying to “fix” my hair. I’ve been using shea moisture curl & shine shampoo, CD’s Sacred tiare shampoo , black vanilla hydrating conditioner, Cantu leave in conditioner, shea moisture Shea butter deep mask, CD’s black vanilla hair sheen, mimosa clarifying scalp treatment, calming tension spray, and nioxin shampoo\conditioner for the unbearable itching.
    I do remember I used dove shampoo & only Cantu leave in conditioner in 09. My hair was to bottom of my neck. I only shampooed every 2 wks or so and wore a ponytail. I flat ironed my hair every so often. It was shedding then. But nowhere near as bad now. I thought it was just my blood pressure meds. But my hair was not dry or brittle at all then….Thanks so much for anyone who posts their issues. Now I wish I could take all these products back. I have over $200 worth of products that seem to be the cause of my hair issues. Smh These companies hear reviews or go by sales and everyone released the same type of products that may not work for all hair types. I never used ampro protein gel much. I wonder is that why those girls didn’t have any edges or very thin hair on top of a relaxer? Never had this issue with olive oil out of the grocery store. Protein seems to act as an acid to make the hair weak enough to break & become brittle. Never happened to me using pure Shea butter either. Just didn’t like the process of melting it. And it alone was heavy. I have coarse thick hair.

    • Hi I had Radiation for cancer and my hair look so good till I star putting different products and now I see dry I don’t know I think I should overload protein is any faster solution to this my hair is breaking thank you so much for the information

  15. This post was helpful. I am learning my natural hair type and how to care for it since I am new to the natural hair process; it’s just been since January of this year. I will be mindful to avoid an excess of protein in the products I use. Thank you for the tips.

  16. Hey there, I have experienced cruel protein damage from joico kpak & anti snap protein … I had such beautiful hair , and now it’s falling out like crazy ! And it’s thin… I’m at the point I no longer feel pretty.

  17. pff so i made a mask with my conditioner, coconut oi, yoghurt, olive oil and banan
    just to try something new… WORST MISTAKE I4VE EVER MADE
    my curls are so wavy and they used to be curly ;((((((
    i hope i will recover fast grom this mistake, i want my curls back
    which products do you recommend?
    xx

  18. Wow, this is actually a pretty old article…but could you share what products you used? I’m having the same issue right now!

  19. Thank you for this article and simply stating the facts. I couldn’t figure out what was going on with my hair and it was rather concerning to me. I was conditioning it more with a protein recontructor which worked for a few days and then it would be in worse shape than it was before I did the treatment. In the shower it felt like the water was just running off and not really wetting the hair shaft. Your article makes perfect sense.
    Thank you so much!

  20. Thank you for this help! I have just come to realize that my hair is in protein overload. I’m looking forward to following your steps! I bought avocados today to use as a deep conditioner, but I got to thinking that THEY have protein in them. However, when I saw your recipe with the EVOO, I knew my instinct was right!