What really has protein in it?
After finding out you have protein-sensitive hair, one of the first things you get sick of is the restrictive diet of products you now have to adhere to, all for the good of your hair. But in addition to the proteins, there is something else you really ought to steer clear of: the widespread misconception as to what products actually contain protein.
First off: oils are 100% fat. They contain no protein. Here's an example of what a protein molecule looks like. Next to it is a fat molecule:
The basic structure of fats is three fatty acids (a combination of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen) attached to a glycerol backbone. Proteins, in contrast, are made from a combination of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen atoms (in the case of hair protein, there's some sulphur in there, too). Plus, complex proteins like keratin have four different structural levels, from the basic sequence of amino acids, to the folding of the molecule itself.
In short, very different things. Bar contamination (unlikely to be at a high enough concentration to affect even the most Princess-and-the-Pea type hair) your bottle of oil is not going to contain protein, even if that oil comes from a protein-rich fruit. Like one of these:
So feel free to experiment with oils like macadamia, almond and coconut; although they are derived from fruits with protein in them, they themselves are protein-free. (Coconut is not even that concentrated a source of protein, by the way). If you do find that your hair is not compatible with these oils, it's not because of protein. The real answer is probably something a lot more nebulous and a lot less satisfactory: Every head of hair is different and will thus react differently to different products for different reasons.
And there's another reason not to eschew certain oils because of anti-protein hysteria: Even if your hair can't stand proteins, you probably still need the reinforcement proteins give. You just have to get it from somewhere else. Certain oils can provide some strength-enhancing benefits, and, in some cases, largely replace the use of proteins.
Coconut oil and olive oil in particular have been proven to strengthen the hair from the inside out, whereas protein treatments, because of the size of the molecules, work only on the outside of the hair shaft – they're just too big to get inside. (Amino acids, the basic components of proteins are a little different, due to their small size.)
If you can't use additional proteins, and your hair needs strength, then you really need to be holding on to the natural proteins you already have – the keratin your hair is made from. Olive and coconut oil help with that by actually preventing protein loss. And don't forget – hair is not only made of protein. Lipids – oils and fats – are naturally present in the hair, and have their role to play in keeping the hair strong, too.
So protein-sensitive heads can benefit greatly from leaving in these lipids overnight (the oils take long to penetrate) on a regular basis, to get the protection they offer from the cuticle down to the cortex.
And don't sleep on oils that don't permeate the hair shaft, either. Part of the role of the naturally-occurring lipids on the surface of your strands is to confer strength, a job with which these non-penetrating oils can assist.
The moral of the story. . .
Just because your hair spurns protein-rich products, does not mean you have to shun the oils derived from them, too. These separate substances are protein-free and can have a lot to offer your hair, particularly if you can't benefit from the heavy-duty protection proteins provide.
|Jeff Carson |Wikimedia Commons| G W Fabian |Healthalicious |Tobias Myrstrand Leander|
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Dominican Hair Alliance