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In the ingredient descriptions: Good means that I like to see this in a product's list of ingredients. Okay means this product appears safe for a curly person like me to use. Caution means that this ingredient may not be good in some hair care products, or for some people. Avoid means this ingredient may hurt your hair. If you see this ingredient in a hair product, it's best to put it down and walk away.

Please select a letter to search for ingredients:

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Proteins mostly function as humectants, and as emollients and moisturizers. These can give a smooth feel to hair and skin, but they can't repair hair. They also are too big to be absorbed into the hair shaft, but are often processed to make them small enough to cling better to the hair.

Proteins work by coating the outside of your hair, filling in any gaps in the cuticles. This can make your hair feel softer. However, even though proteins are building blocks to our hair and bodies, it can't repair our hair. —This is the same thing as dumping yarn on a wool sweater and expecting your sweater to be repaired—T Protein in no way can permanently attach to hair, and in no way can repair hair. To say otherwise is purely magical thinking [Begoun (Hair) pg 83].

Used for conditioning, and many believe it can repair hair. Protein is known to improve hair gloss, give hair body, moisturizer, and even make hair easier to comb. It may even help reduce some irritation from harsher surfactants. Because they are film forming, they temporarily can “glue” together split ends. They also can make hair feel better after damaging treatments such as bleaching, perming, and rough combing. Proteins are often put in products because of their marketing appeal.

Protein is derived from animal sources, such as collagen, elastin, milk, and keratin or from silk, soy, vegetables, yeasts, and even marine animals. Interestingly, egg, beer or milk conditioners are usually not marketed as protein conditioners, even though they actually do contain true proteins.

Some studies have found that protein can actually penetrate hair and deposit on the cortex (though nothing can bring back severely damaged hair once it has been damaged-—T). The more damaged your hair, the more protein it absorbs. What most affects how much protein is absorbed into the hair is the damage in the hair (the more damaged, the more porous, so the more it can soak up), the size of the molecules, the pH, how long the protein has been left in the hair, and the concentration of the protein being used. The most absorption occurs within 15 minutes. Concentrations up to 5% seem to work best on damaged hair.

Sometimes proteins may contain Sodium chloride (salt). This happens during the chemical reaction of breaking them down to make them water-soluble. The high salt content may mess up the stability of the products they are used in. The good news is that salt free versions are available. (The trick is finding out which variety is in a product-—T).

When proteins are used in a product, it’s actually a broken-down form of protein (peptides). The protein is able to dissolve in water only after it’s gone through a process that breaks it down (by hydrolysis). However, so long as the form of protein used doesn’t fall below a certain size, it still qualifies as protein (if the protein keeps getting broken down, eventually it becomes the amino acids that compose it. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein—long chains of amino acids are what make proteins. However, these are no longer considered proteins, and have different properties). First the protein is broken down into somewhat smaller chains of amino acids known as polypeptides. When the chains are further broken down, then they are amino acids.

When proteins are broken down by hydrolysis, they become water-soluble. This is necessary because if they are still made up of the long chains of amino acids, they are too big to really be of any use to hair. They are too big to stick to the hair. The molecules work best between a very narrow range of sizes, smaller generally being better. There is an optimum protein size that sticks best to hair (but they can’t get too small because then they no longer qualify as protein, but are now amino acids) [Hunting (Conditioning) Pages 349-352].
See also: Amino acids Keratin Keratin amino acids Hydrolyzed elastin Collagen Hydrolyzed
Source(s): Begoun Hunting


Applewhite, Thomas H., ed. Proceedings of the World Conference on Lauric Oils: Sources, Processing, and Applications
AOCS Publishing, 1994.

Barel, André O., Marc Paye, and Howard I. Maibach., eds. Handbook of Cosmetic Science and Technology, Second Edition
Marcel Dekker, Inc., 2001.

Begoun, Paula. Don’t Go Shopping for Hair-Care Products Without Me. 3rd Edition.
Renton: Beginning Press, 2005.

Begoun, Paula. The Beauty Bible.
Renton: Beginning Press, 2002.

Begoun, Paula. Don’t Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me.
Renton: Beginning Press, 2003.

Bellum, Sarah, ed. The Beauty Brains: Real Scientists Answer Your Beauty Questions
New York: Brains Publishing, 2008.

Gottschalk, Tari E. and McEwen, Gerald N, Jr. PhD, eds. International Cosmetic Ingredient Dictionary and Handbook, Tenth Edition 2004, Volumes 1-4.
Washington D. C.: The Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragance Association, 2004.

Halal, John Hair Structure and Chemistry Simplified, Fifth Edition
Albany: Milady, 2002.

Hunting, Anthony L.L. Encyclopedia of Conditioning Rinse Ingredients.
Cranford, NJ: Micelle Press, Inc., 1987.

Hunting, Anthony L.L. Encyclopedia of Shampoo Ingredients.
Cranford, NJ: Micelle Press, Inc., 1983.

Johnson, Dale H. (Ed.). Hair and Hair Care, Cosmetic Science and Technology Series. Vol. 17.
New York: Marcel Dekker, 1997. Print.

Nnanna, Ifendu A. and Jiding Xia., eds. Protein-Based Surfactants: Synthesis: Physicochemical Properties, and Applications (Surfactant Science)
Madison Heights: CRC, 2001.

Quadflieg, Jutta Maria. Fundamental properties of Afro-American hair as related to their straightening/relaxing behaviour.
Diss. U of Rheinisch-Westfälischen Technischen Hochschule Aachen, 2003.

Schueller, Randy and Perry Romanowski, eds. Conditioning Agents for Hair and Skin.
New York: Marcel Dekker, Inc., 1999.

Winter, Ruth M.S. A Consumer's Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients: Complete Information About the Harmful and Desirable Ingredients Found in Cosmetics and Cosmeceuticals
New York: Three Rivers Press, 2005.

Zviak, Charles., ed. The Science of Hair Care (Dermatology)
New York: Marcel Dekker, Inc., 1986.


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