What Protein Overload Is And How To Fix It

Many times when you read about people's experiences on their healthy hair journey they may mention that they had a hair setback. Something that messed up their hair and caused them to have to restart their hair journey.

I’ve been on a healthy relaxed hair journey for over 5 years and have been able to avoid having a setback until now.

This setback caused me to go into a panic. I thought I had ruined my hair to the brink of no return and seriously was considering cutting it all off and starting over again.

What Protein Overload Is And How To Fix It | A Relaxed Gal
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My relaxed hair is high porosity which means it likes and accepts protein. In fact, some of my best hair days were because I was including some protein in my hair regimen.

Our hair is made up mostly of protein and due to the use of chemicals or manipulation, we tend to strip away some of that protein. When our hair lacks protein it gets weak and tends to break. That can be fixed by adding some protein back to our hair because the protein helps to add some strength back and fill in any weak areas. We can add some protein back to our hair by using hair products that have protein ingredients in them.

Some of the shampoos and conditioners I used on my hair had protein ingredients and talked about strengthening hair. I selected those products for that purpose. What I didn’t realize is that pretty much every hair product I used had protein ingredients. The majority of my shampoos, my deep conditioners, and some of my leave-in conditioners had protein ingredients, even the ones that talked about moisturizing or hydrating hair.

By using all of those products I was giving my hair protein but I was giving it so much that it was too much. I was overloading my hair with protein.

What is protein overload?

Simply put it’s when the hair has too much protein so the moisture and protein levels are unbalanced. What is too much protein varies from head to head. Some people have protein-sensitive hair so using even a little bit of protein on their hair can push them to the brink of overload.

For others like me, protein overload can happen little by little, without you even realizing it. What I found tricky about protein overload is some of the symptoms mimic other hair issues such as dry hair.
  • Dry and brittle hair so it breaks easily
  • Hair feels rough, almost straw-like
  • Extra shedding
  • More tangles than normal
  • Hair is stiff and overall lifeless
  • It lacks shine

My hair had five of the six symptoms mentioned above so I was noticing changes in my hair but I thought it was going through a dry patch and the breakage was due to over-processed relaxed hair. Some of that was true but the main cause was protein overload.

How to fix protein overload

Protein overload is easy to get but not so easy to fix. It takes some persistence, consistency, and patience. In fact, as I’m writing this post I’m still working on fixing or correcting my protein overload. It’s been about a month and I’ve made some great progress but I still have a ways to go. Depending on how overloaded your hair got it can take a few weeks or months to fix it.

I’ve been working to reverse my protein overload for about a month now and have been doing a few things that have been working and getting my hair back to normal. Here are my four tips for reversing protein overload.

1. Stop using hair products with protein

The first thing you need to do is identify the products you’ve been using that have protein and remove them from your hair regimen. Most protein-based ingredients have the word protein in them. Others don’t, ones like keratin, yogurt, and amino acids. While not comprehensive, here’s a list of protein ingredients I see a lot in hair products
  • Keratin
  • Amino acids
  • Yogurt
  • Biotin
  • Hydrolyzed wheat protein
  • Hydrolyzed rice protein
  • Silk protein
  • Soy protein

While it’s not technically a protein you’ll also want to avoid coconut oil because it helps to slow down protein loss. This makes your reversal of protein overload harder.

One thing to keep in mind is that typically the first 10 ingredients listed have the highest concentration. So if the protein is down near the bottom of the list there’s less of it. But that still doesn’t mean it won’t make your protein overload worse. I noticed that some of my hair products had the protein listed near the bottom but I didn’t want to take any chances so I still set them aside.

2. Get protein-free hair products

This sounds easier than it actually is. I had to do a lot of searching on several sites online to find some products for my hair. During my search, I was not only looking for hair products that didn’t have protein, or coconut oil but were moisturizing.

So I started reading the ingredient lists thoroughly and looked to see if the product talked about strengthening the hair which is a key indicator it has protein.

Here are some lists of protein-free hair products I've put together

3. Clarify your hair

One of the protein-free products you should get is a good clarifying or deep cleansing shampoo. It will help to remove some of the excess protein from your hair as well as any build-up.

This isn’t a shampoo that you should use on a regular basis but is good to use for that initial shampoo and then as needed going forward.

4. Focus on moisture

The focus should not only be on moisturizing products but also on moisturizing techniques. In addition to the clarifying shampoo, you’ll want to have a moisturizing shampoo as well as a moisturizing deep conditioner and leave-in conditioner that are protein-free.

Some other things you can do to add moisture to your hair is
  • Try to alternate between co-washing and shampooing
  • Deep condition with heat to help the deep conditioner penetrate your hair better
  • Moisturize your hair multiple times during the week
  • After moisturizing seal your hair with a natural oil or serum
  • Try steaming your hair. You can do this by buying a steamer or doing a DIY steam like this one I did
  • Do the baggy method. This is when you moisturize and seal your ends then cover them with a plastic bag overnight. In the morning your ends should feel nice and hydrated

As I mentioned before fixing or reversing protein overload can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months. It all depends on how overloaded your hair is, how quickly you recognize the problem, and how aggressively you work to reverse it. 

You do have to be careful though that you don’t go overboard and end up with moisture overload. At some point, you’ll need to start rotating back in some protein so you have a moisture and protein balance.

Have you ever experienced protein overload?

What protein overload is and how you can fix it. | A Relaxed Gal


  1. Okay the info was much appreciated. What are some specific products that are useful? Are there any I could get from my local pharmacy?

  2. Thank you for making this article!!!!!


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