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If a hair genie magically landed on top of my conditioner and granted me three wishes, my first would be a law that requires all of my favorite hair brands to make protein-free hair products. I know it’s a sort-of weird request, but anyone with low-porosity hair understands my conundrum. Unless you read and research the ingredients list of all your hair care products, chances are you didn’t know that a large majority of products have protein in them.
For me, this was an eye-opening moment at the beginning of my current hair growth routine. Initially, I took the wrong approach by simply drowning my hair in products that claimed to help promote quicker growth instead of slowing down and getting reacquainted with my hair first. First, I perused the drugstore and local beauty supply for nourishing and strengthening hair masks. I immediately started using them a couple days a week. Next, I started incorporating protein powder (if you want longer, stronger nails: it works!) into my morning smoothie. Every. Single. Day. I also re-upped on a daily conditioner and went through a revolving door of daily moisturizers. Oh, and I started a hair vitamin, too.
In hindsight, wow, it was too much, too fast. But after years of being generally impatient with my routine, stay-at-home orders and a renewed mindset forced me to realize that I was long overdue for a change. After about a month of doing all of this (along with not trimming my hair—big no-no) and realizing that my hair was in progressively worse shape, I knew something was amiss. So I started with reading my hair product labels. And this is when my journey took a turn for the better.
Being that most salons are closed and YouTuber advice is hit-or-miss, I decided to go the long way around and start Googling every single ingredient on the back of the bottle. Soon enough, I learned two things: protein is in everything and protein has more than one name to look out for. Of course, the most obvious ingredients are ones that include the word “protein,” but there’s also “amino acids,” “hydrolyzed” anything, “wheat,” and “collagen.” Here are the ones I encountered the most:
-Silk Amino Acids
There are so many more, but the takeaway here is that you shouldn’t put a product in your hair until you one, understand how your hair’s behavior, and two, know the ingredients inside the product. (Beginner tip: the first five ingredients on a label are the ones to pay the most attention to because ingredients are listed according to the amount, from most to least.) I’m also not bashing protein. Protein is good! Our hair needs it to stay strong and shiny. However, the way each of us uses it depends on our individual hair needs, so take the time to test and observe what you’re threshold is. Generally speaking, those with low porosity hair (or hair that struggles to retain water) can’t use protein as aggressively as others.
To get my hair back into fighting shape, I had to ban protein products completely for a couple of weeks. Once conditions improved, I put together a routine that isn’t completely protein-free, but doesn’t include a lot of it either. If you find that protein-rich products leave your hair brittle, dry, and matted, here are some of my favorite protein-free products (including one exception) for nursing your hair strands back to health.
My Exception: The Doux One Love Co-Wash
I stick to this clarifying shampoo for my weekly cleanse but during weeks when my hair is especially dirty, I use this multiuse product for a mini, mid-week wash day. It contains Silk Amino Acid but is listed near the very bottom of the ingredient list which means there probably isn’t an overabundance for me to worry about. Plus, it has amazing slip, leaves my hair feeling clean and soft, and smells amazing.
Hairizon Aloe Water
I discovered this Black-owned brand after experimenting with aloe vera gel. I loved using it, but realized my hair would respond better if it weren’t so heavy. This spray has become my daily go-to in the middle of the day after my hair has dried down and is in need of some refreshment. It’s non-greasy, lightweight, and helps keep my curls defined.
As I Am Moisture Milk
The entire As I Am range is a low porosity hair type’s dream. There are multiple products that don’t overload on protein and this daily moisturizer is by far my favorite. It’s rich in plant-derived oils as well as betaine, a coconut-derived fatty acid that increases hair strength.
Kinky Curly Come Clean Shampoo
This gunk-blasting shampoo is made with Mandarin orange extract to get rid of buildup and phytic acid to remove hard water minerals.
Mielle Organics Mongongo Oil Protein-Free Hydrating Conditioner
If your hair is both protein-sensitive and dry, this fan-favorite conditioner doubles up on hydration thanks to its start ingredient: mongongo oil.
TGIN Honey Miracle Hair Mask
Raw honey and multiple oils are why naturalistas have long raved about this rich and creamy deep conditioner.
Vanicream Free & Clear Shampoo
Giovanni 50:50 Balanced Hydrating-Calming Conditioner
Several people I follow on Instagram routinely recommend this budget-friendly, botanical-based conditioner for everyday use as a rinse-out or leave-in treatment.
Briogeo Rosarco Milk Reparative Leave-In Conditioning Spray
This no-frills daily refresher provides rinse-free conditioning benefits and protection from the elements without overloading the hair with protein.
Lotta Body Moisturize Me Curl & Style Milk
Curls Blueberry Bliss Twist-N-Shout Cream
For guaranteed definition and shine after removing a braid-out or twist-out, add this moisturizing curl definer to your regimen.
Alikay Naturals Avocado Cream Moisture Repairing Mask
This weekly treatment is a must-have for those who rely on protective styling as its mostly botanical (and incredibly rich) formula helps prevent breakage.
Yes To Tea Tree Pre-Shampoo Scalp Scrub
If your scalp is covered in buildup, this clarifying scalp treatment will ensure you don’t miss any spots when you shampoo.
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