all things modern, bougie & millennial

Protein Overload: What Is It & How To Correct It

Written by Millennial In debt on October 6, 2015

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.

If you loved what you read sign up for our mailing list here and never miss a post. Also get your hands on our free protective styling ebook: Protective Styling Like A Pro Maximum Growth & Length Retention. 

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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  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

    1. 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.

    1. I am wondering about coconut oil. I purchased biolage raw conditioner the nourishing. But it has coconut oil in it. No protein. Why is coconut bad? I need moisture and everything for moisture contained coconut.

  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

    1. 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?

    1. 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.

    2. Hello there,

      I had the same bad experience with Aphogee 🙁

      Is your hair getting any better?

      Thenk you

    3. I also use the aphogee protein treatment. I paid $25 for the bottle! I used it 4 times and now my hair feels like straw. I have been doing deep moisture but I can hardly get anything to absorb into my hair period. My shampoo will hardly even lather. My hair has broken off and I have bald spots in my hair. If I had known this would happen, I never would have wasted my $25 on it. My hairdresser came up with the idea of using a hair stripper butI am scared to try it 🙁

  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....

  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.

    1. 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?

  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!

  21. Hello! I have recently discovered the cause of my repetitive hair breakage, and dryness is due to protein overload. What products do you recommend to get hair back on the right track since like you said majority of natural haircare products have protein in them.

  22. Omgosh!! This all sounds like what has been happening to my hair. My hair is wavy curly and I learned a long time ago not to use sulphates or silicones. My hair is waist length (was butt length, sigh). My hair has been splitting and snapping off up to six inches from the ends! I started getting highlights a couple years ago. I go in every six weeks. My stylist always recommends we do a “chemistry shot”. I always thought, “cool, we’ll be restoring ph and moisture”. Turns out chem shots are protein treatments! I was so dumb.... I had told her in the beginning that too much protein is bad for curly hair. I love her to death, but none of the stylists in my salon know how to care for curly hair. I’m glad I found this info! Thank you!

  23. I’m in tears, I’ve been suffering from protein sensitivity/ overload for months. I have done everything there is to do benetonite clay treatments, deep conditioning with tgin honey mask, using moisturizing products ! I have some good days but it’s everytime I buy a styler or leave in my hair reverts back to the same state! Please may you give me specific stylers and leave in that contain NO PROTEINS I’m struggling so much trying to find items but as you said most of them contain coconut oil and my hair hates it. I’m on the verge of chopping off my hair and I’ve work so hard to get it to this length and state?

    1. Curl Junkie has protein free products on there website with a list under there frequently asked questions. Sunny Isles leave in conditioner is also protein free.

    2. Shea Moisture has a line that is called “protein-free” they have protein free shampoo, conditioner and leave-in! It’s amazing, and can be found at your local beauty supply, and if not buy it online!

  24. This is exactly what I've been going through I've been trying to look for answers for 6 months. I was doing the keto diet and I had hair past my shoulders and now it's to my chin and shorter. Nothing I was doing was working. If you could give me information or links I'd be very very thankful for any information.

  25. Hi, are you using a low poo shampoo to clarify your hair, or a regular one with sulfate to get the overload of protien out?

    1. Does your diet also affect the protein overload of your hair or just what your putting on your hair? If so, how much protein in a day is to much protein to consume?

  26. I am going through this right now!!!I am down to shampoo and conditioner and that is it. My hair looks awful and this is the second round in 6 months of this. I am 2 seconds away from shaving my head and buying a wig, However, thank you for your article! I had 4 of the 5 as well and now I know what to look for in products and know to avoid protein.

  27. Hi
    I’m a 48 yr old Caucasian woman who is experiencing as of late about a quarter size hair loss every time I shower. Even more when I blow dry my hair. You’ve described my symptoms perfectly. I’ve also been losing a lot of hair at the name of my neck, and my hair has breakage all over. Ive also sought out a hair loss specialist who is an expert and said in his 40 years he’s never heard of this. I’m also wondering if this is caused due to premenopause which I’m also investigating and will be doing some hormonal lab work.

    What shampoo and conditioner and deep leave in conditioner have you found that don’t have any type of protein in them?
    I’m also wondering if there are other Caucasian women out there that this is happening too because in my research this seems this happens to a lot of black women due to their hair texture. Do you know?

    Thanks much

  28. Great info! I do have a question though.

    So during the summer I used protein treatments on my hair too often, like once a week, and In return I noticed shedding and breakage. I now use protein treatments less frequently, like once a month. Should I completely stop using protein treatments or continue with them once a month until my hair recovers? I used a diy rice water protein treatment.

  29. i have been using rice water rinses for the past month. It did strengthen my hair. But latey ive been noticing alot of shedding. My hair normally doesn't shed so i figured it was from the rice water treatments that I've been doing weekly. All the research i have done praise rice water. My hair is fine and high prosperity. I dont know if i should quit it all together or cut back on how often use the rinse.

  30. Hello, so I have a question about my hair. Over the summer I used a protein treatment once every week for about 1 month or so. My hair has the signs of protein overload, you can see the thinning and breakage in some of my hair. The thing is it curls up fine like nothing is wrong. What can I do to thicken my hair back up, is it possible to not cut it? I limited my protein treatments to once a month or so. It’s been like this for a few months, I do protective styling.

  31. I have been using nexxus shampoo and conditioner for decades. Some yrs ago they added a cavier protein. Maybe two years ago I noticed my bangs were broken on the left side. Now all of my bangs are broken. My hair feels fragile when it is wet and when dry it is limp and a bit crunchy on the ends. My hair doesn't looks dry to me. i don't know if I need protein or have too much. I do not it doesn't feel strong like it used to. Some advice would be great before I get rid of or add more protein.

  32. Hello,

    My name is Elsie and I just tried a new item in my hair, I did a rice water regimen yesterday.

    It went as follows.
    1. Drenched hair in fermented rice water - twice
    Did it once, waited for roots to dry, than repeated.
    2. I left it in for about 1 hour, than added olive oil in, all over drenched the hair with it. Placed a plastic cap and went about doing chores. Later in the day I used a dryer to complete my hot oil treatment.
    3. I had made a herbal treatment with oils & extracts, I added that on top of everything, Went back under the dryer for about 15min.
    4. Washed with shampoo and added s conditioner and left and plastic cap and left that in until I finished washing up.
    5. Rinsed hair, now I am noticing the hair is acting different so I added in a detangler couldn’t find a leave in conditioner.
    6. Did a roller set and went under the dryer.

    So I am wondering did I overload my hair with the fermented rice water? .

    Thank you
    Elsie Limage

  33. After I repairs. Mmy hair from protein overload, when and how should I introduce protein back into my routine?

  34. OK, we all know "what to do" to recovery from protein overload, which is: Avoid protein products...... but do you have any recommendation on which products can we use? protein free clarifying shampoo, protein free regular/sulfate shampoo,, protein free conditioner, , protein free deep conditioning / moisturizer treatment, protein free leave in conditioner, protein free styling gel?...oh and they also need to be silicone free..... as I see it, this mission looks like almost impossible ??

    1. It is very difficult to find stuff CG and protein free. Here is what I settled on. Suave essentials strawberry cond., GVP conditioning balm (matrix cond balm) and Kinky Curly come clean shampoo, Vo5 kiwi lime clarifying shampoo (has sulfates). good luck.

  35. I'm going through this right now.. It all happened because I use As I'am coconut cowash and I knew nothing about the protein in my hair and it's so frustrating because I just got my hair to the healthiest it's been in 15 years ! 🙁

    1. I think I used that last year. It did not cause breakage but extreme dryness. I went to empire beauty school and had them apply a deep conditioning treatment and it helped revert my curls.

  36. My hair is breaking off sooo bad. I’m pretty sure it’s protein over load. I don’t know what shampoo to use.

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