How to Fix Protein Overload in Hair – 11 Easy Solutions

Written by Shehnaz Shirazi

Updated on

This post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, we may earn from qualifying purchases.

fix protein overload hair

Protein overload in hair occurs when you use too many protein-rich products, including protein treatments in your hair care routine. This excessive protein can strip away your hair’s natural shine and luster, leaving it feeling dull, dry, stiff, brittle, and straw-like. Protein overload can also make your hair less manageable, difficult to style, and more prone to breakage.

If you are experiencing signs of protein overload in your hair and are certain you have this condition, here are a few solutions to fix the problem and restore your hair’s natural balance.

 how to fix protein overload in hair

1. Use a Clarifying Shampoo

A clarifying shampoo is a highly effective solution for breaking apart excess proteins bonded to the hair shaft. Also known as a deep cleansing shampoo, a clarifying shampoo has intensive cleansing properties that strip the excess protein that has adhered to the hair shaft and accumulated within the hair cuticles.

Clarifying shampoos remove protein buildup and clear away other residue and impurities, resulting in a thorough cleanse of the hair shaft and the scalp.

Following up with a hydrating conditioner can replenish moisture, ensuring the hair does not become excessively dry from the clarifying process.

A clarifying shampoo can act as a reset button for your hair, removing excess protein and restoring the hair’s natural balance.

Best Clarifying Shampoo to fix Protein Overload:

SheaMoisture Hydrate & Repair Moisture Shampoo for Damaged Hair

The SheaMoisture Hydrate & Repair Moisture Shampoo is a high-quality clarifying shampoo that delivers a moisturizing cleanse. Its sulfate-free formula is designed to gently strip excess protein and product buildup from the hair shaft, making it a potent solution to protein overload in hair.

It contains manuka honey, yogurt extract, mafura oil and sheaMoisture’s certified organic fair trade shea butter working together to break apart proteins bonded to the hair and remove them effectively. Not only does the SheaMoisture shampoo strip excess protein, but it also serves to hydrate the hair, promoting manageability, reducing frizz, and leaving the hair feeling supple and tangle-free. This clarifying shampoo works by cleaning and prepping the hair, giving it a fresh start free from excess protein and ready to absorb the hydration it needs.

2. Switch to Protein Free Hair Products

Protein-free hair products do not contain keratin or other protein ingredients that can bond to the hair shaft. While keratin is a vital protein for hair health, its overuse in hair care products can lead to too much keratin buildup, resulting in hardened hair strands that deviate from their natural texture.

Switching to non-protein products allows your hair to gradually shed the excess protein buildup, returning to its natural state.

Avoid hair products that contain the following types of protein ingredients:

  • Hydrolyzed keratin
  • Hydrolyzed rice protein
  • Hydrolyzed collagen
  • Wheat
  • Amino acids
  • Soy protein
  • Silk proteins

3. Use Moisturizing Products to Restore Protein-Moisture Balance

Moisturizing products can fix protein overload in hair by restoring the balance between protein and moisture levels.

Moisture and protein are two critical components that maintain the health and integrity of the hair. Each serves a distinct purpose, and a good balance between the two is necessary for optimal hair health.

Protein forms the structural backbone of hair. Hair is primarily made up of a protein called keratin. This protein gives hair its strength and resilience, protecting it from damage. Hair lacking protein can weaken, leading to breakage and lack of elasticity.

Moisture is vital for hair’s flexibility and elasticity. Moisture helps keep hair soft, pliable, and manageable. When hair lacks moisture, it can become dry, frizzy, and prone to breakage.

Maintaining a balance between protein and moisture is crucial. This balance is not a one-size-fits-all ratio and can vary based on hair type, environment, and individual hair needs. When hair is balanced, it has enough protein for strength and structure and enough moisture to maintain flexibility and softness.

Protein overload occurs when the hair has too much protein and not enough moisture (moisture deficiency), resulting in hair that feels dry, brittle, and prone to breakage.

Increasing the use of moisturizing products in your hair care routine help to rebalance the protein-moisture levels, thus alleviating excess protein damage to the hair.

4. Do Deep Conditioning Treatments

Deep conditioning treatments can help fix protein overload by adding moisture back to the hair and balancing the protein-moisture levels. Deep conditioning treatments, which often come in the form of hair masks, contain moisturizing ingredients like shea butter, argan oil, avocado oil, jojoba oil, aloe vera, and honey.

By infusing the hair with moisture, deep conditioning treatments restore softness and flexibility, reducing breakage and improving the overall look and feel of the hair.

Deep conditioning treatments also form a protective layer around the hair shaft to protect it from further protein overload and other types of damage.

It’s important to note that a deep conditioning treatment needs to be used consistently over time to see results. Also, some deep conditioners may contain protein or protein derivatives and moisturizing ingredients. Check the ingredients list carefully to ensure the product does not contain keratin, wheat proteins, collagen, silk protein, soy protein, or rice protein.

Best Protein Free Deep Conditioner

CURLSMITH - Double Cream Deep Quencher

The Curlsmith Double Cream Deep Quencher is a highly recommended protein-free deep conditioner for managing protein-overloaded hair. It is created specifically for ultra-dry and dull hair.

This nourishing mask has a thick, buttery texture that delivers intense moisture without weighing the hair down. Its formula is designed to melt onto every strand, leaving hair shiny, silky-soft, and completely transformed. The product is well-loved by customers, with one review stating that after leaving the mask on for 10-15 minutes, their hair became soft and moisturized, demonstrating the product’s effectiveness in reversing excess protein treatment hair damage.

5. Do Apple Cider Vinegar Rinses

Apple cider vinegar (ACV) contains proteases or peptidases, which are enzymes that can break down proteins, aiding in removing excess protein from the hair.

Proteolytic enzymes facilitate the breakdown of proteins into their constituent amino acids and peptides. They do this by catalyzing (speeding up) the hydrolysis of peptide bonds, which are the bonds that link amino acids together in a protein.

The acidity of apple cider vinegar provides an optimal environment for these proteases. When applied to hair that is oversaturated with protein, these enzymes assist in breaking down the excess protein, aiding its removal from the hair shaft. Though not as powerful as specialized protein-removal products, apple cider vinegar offers a gentle, natural approach to addressing protein buildup in the hair.

ACV is rich in acetic acid, which has a lower pH than most shampoos. The acidity of apple cider vinegar helps contract the hair shaft’s cuticle layer, making it lie flatter. A flatter cuticle layer means less space for protein to adhere to the hair shaft, helping to remove excess protein buildup.

Apple cider vinegar’s protein-breaking ability and capacity to flatten the cuticle layer make ACV a potentially effective treatment for protein overload.

How to use apple cider vinegar to fix protein overload:

  1. Dilute apple cider vinegar with water (1 part ACV to 3 parts water).
  2. Wash your hair with shampoo first.
  3. Apply it to soaking wet hair after washing.
  4. Let it sit for a few minutes.
  5. Rinse thoroughly.

While ACV can help, it’s not a complete solution for protein overload and should be used in conjunction with other measures like adjusting your hair care routine to include fewer protein-rich products.

Related: The apple cider vinegar quick fix for protein overload in hair.

6. Use Aloe Vera

Aloe vera contains polysaccharides, which are moisturizing agents that can help to balance the protein-moisture levels in your hair. Aloe vera does not strip protein from the hair shaft, unlike a clarifying shampoo. Instead, Aloe Vera helps manage protein overload by improving moisture balance and overall hair health.

When your hair has an overabundance of protein, the excess protein creates a coating around the hair shaft that prevents moisture from penetrating.

When moisture cannot penetrate the hair shaft, the hair can become dry, frizzy, and hard to style and manage.

Aloe Vera is rich in nutrients and water and can help to hydrate the hair and scalp. It can penetrate the hair shaft and provide much-needed moisture, helping balance the excess protein.

Aloe Vera can help to balance the pH of the scalp and hair. A balanced pH can help the hair’s cuticle (the outermost layer) lay flat, allowing for better moisture retention.

7. Use Moisturizing Oils

Moisturizing oils can address protein overload problems in hair by restoring the balance between protein and moisture.

Some oils, especially those with heavier consistencies like coconut oil or olive oil, have excellent emollient properties. They are nourishing oils that can lock in moisture and help keep hair hydrated, which is crucial in addressing protein overload.

While oils can help manage and mitigate the effects of protein overload, they’re part of a broader approach that should include a balanced hair care regimen. If you’re dealing with severe protein overload, it’s a good idea to consult with a hair care professional for personalized advice.

Moisturizing oils to consider for protein sensitive hair:

1. Viva Naturals Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil

natural oils for protein sensitive damaged hair

Coconut oil is loaded with lauric acid, which can deeply penetrate the hair shaft to infuse moisture.


2. ORS Olive Oil Incredibly Rich Oil Moisturizing Hair Lotion

highly moisturizing natural oil for human hair

Olive oil can penetrate your hair’s fibers thanks to its abundance of monounsaturated fats.


3. Josie Maran Argan Oil

argan oil is rich in vitamin e and can help nourish the hair follicles

Argan oil is rich in fatty acids that can make hair more manageable. It’s particularly beneficial for frizzy, coarse, and brittle hair.


8. Trim Your Hair Regularly

Visiting a stylist regularly for trims helps remove the most damaged sections, often the ends where the protein overload has mostly impacted. Trimming the damaged hair can immediately improve the overall look and feel of your hair, making it seem less dry and brittle.

Trimming off the most damaged parts of your tresses prevents them from affecting the whole length of the hair strands, preventing further breakage and split ends.

9. Limit Heat Styling

When your hair is already suffering from protein overload, its shafts are coated with excess protein, making them stiff and reducing its ability to retain moisture. Adding heat to this situation exacerbates the problem. The heat can further dehydrate the hair, making it even more brittle and prone to breakage.

Heat styling tools such as flat irons, curling irons, and hair dryers can cause denaturation, which alters the protein’s structure. Denaturation can make the hair more brittle, less elastic, and more prone to damage. In the context of protein overload, the overuse of heat styling tools can exacerbate the problem by causing more damage to the hair and making it harder for the hair to retain moisture, a key aspect of addressing protein overload.

If you’re addicted to styling your hair with heat tools, you might want to take a break from them during the protein overload stage because you will only postpone the results.

Learn to style your hair without heat during this period. Heatless hairstyles are low maintenance and won’t stress your hair, preventing further damage and denaturation.

If you have to use heat on your hair, then use a heat protectant.

10. Limit Chemical Treatments

Chemical treatments such as hair coloring, perming, relaxing, or keratin treatments can significantly alter the structure and health of your hair. These processes work by breaking down the hair’s protein structure, then reforming it to create a desired effect, such as straightening, curling, or changing the color of the hair.

When you expose your hair to these chemical processes, you’re essentially causing damage to the hair’s protein structure. This damage is usually counteracted by using protein-based products that help repair and rebuild the hair after the treatment.

However, if your hair already suffers from protein overload, additional protein from these treatments can exacerbate the problem. The hair becomes stiffer and more prone to breakage while also struggling to retain moisture.

While limiting chemical treatments doesn’t directly remove excess protein from your hair, it reduces further protein exposure and damage, which can aid in resolving protein overload. It also helps your hair retain more natural moisture, counteracting the dryness and brittleness caused by protein overload.

11. Consult a Hair Professional

A hair care professional can provide expert advice tailored to your hair type and condition, recommend suitable products or treatments, and monitor your progress.

There are two types of professionals that you might consider consulting: a hairstylist or a trichologist.

A skilled hairstylist can assess the condition of your hair and provide recommendations for care and treatment. The process might involve using specific moisturizing shampoos, conditioners, and treatments or avoiding certain products high in protein. They can also suggest a hair care regimen that will help restore balance to your hair over time.
A trichologist is a specialist in hair and scalp disorders. They have a more in-depth understanding of the structure of the hair, the causes of hair damage, and the ways to treat it. Consulting a trichologist might be particularly beneficial if your hair is severely damaged or if you’ve been unable to restore balance to your hair on your own.

Here are some of the things a professional might do to help fix protein overload in your hair:

  1. Assessment: First, the professional will assess the condition of your hair to determine the extent of the protein overload. The consultation might involve asking about your hair care routine, your products, and any changes you’ve noticed in your hair.
  2. Product Recommendations: Based on their assessment, the professional will recommend products that can help restore moisture to your hair. For example, moisturizing shampoos and conditioners, deep conditioning treatments, and leave-in conditioners. They might also advise you to avoid products that contain protein.
  3. Treatments: In some cases, the professional might recommend in-salon treatments designed to restore moisture to your hair. These treatments can provide an intense dose of hydration that can help rebalance your hair more quickly.
  4. Routine Adjustments: The professional might also suggest changes to your hair care routine like using less heat on your hair, reducing the frequency of washing, or changing the way you style your hair.
  5. Monitoring Progress: If you’re working with a professional over time, they will monitor the condition of your hair to ensure that the treatments and products are working and make any necessary adjustments.

Remember that while a professional can provide guidance and treatment, restoring balance to your hair after protein overload will likely take some time and patience. Maintaining a balanced hair care routine is crucial to prevent protein overload in the future.

How Long Does It Take to Reverse Protein Overload in Hair?

It can take 4 to 8 weeks to reverse protein overload in hair. The result can vary depending on the severity of the overload and the individual’s hair type. If you don’t see any improvement after 8 weeks, you may want to consult with a hair professional for further advice.

Common Signs of Protein Overload in Hair

Here are the common signs and symptoms of protein overload in hair to check for:

  • Hair feels stringy.
  • Dry hair feels that feels brittle and straw-like.
  • Hair tangles a lot.
  • Hair showing signs of breakage and damage.
  • Split ends.
  • Loss of natural curl pattern.
  • Change in hair texture.
  • Dull hair with heavy buildup.
  • Frizzy and hard-to-style hair.

How to Prevent Protein Overload in Hair?

To prevent protein buildup and overload in your hair, it’s important to understand your hair’s unique texture and how it responds to various treatments.

Here are a few guidelines to follow to prevent protein overload in your hair:

  1. Identify your Hair’s Porosity: Hair with high porosity is generally more prone to protein overload.
  2. Assess your Hair’s Protein Sensitivity: Check if your hair becomes stiff, dry, and brittle after protein treatments.
  3. Use Balanced Hair Products: Aim to balance protein and moisture in your hair care regimen.
  4. Limit Protein Treatments: Limit protein treatments to once or twice a month.
  5. Monitor Your Hair’s Health: Regularly check your hair’s health and adjust your hair care regimen.
  6. Protein-Free Days: Include days in your hair care routine where you do not use protein-based products.
  7. Consult a Hair Professional: Get personalized advice and treatment options for your hair type.

The Key to Fixing Protein Overload Is Moisture

Protein and moisture are the yin and yang of hair health. They are both necessary components, yet they represent different aspects of hair care.

Protein (Yang): Protein, or keratin, is a fundamental building block of hair. It provides strength and structure to the hair strands, representing the yang aspect – strong, dynamic, but potentially harsh without balance. Hair treatments and products often contain protein to help repair damage and fortify the hair. However, too much protein can make the hair stiff, brittle, and prone to breakage, like an overly rigid structure.

Moisture (Yin): Moisture, on the other hand, provides softness, flexibility, and elasticity to the hair, representing the yin aspect – soft, nurturing, and necessary for balance. It prevents the hair from becoming dry and brittle and allows it to bend and move without breaking.

Like yin and yang, protein and moisture in hair care must maintain a perpetual balance for healthy hair. When there is too much protein, the hair can become overly hard and brittle, like an excess of yang. The key to fixing this is restoring balance by introducing more moisture (yin) into the hair care routine. This can be done by using hydrating hair products, reducing the use of protein-rich hair products, and possibly seeking professional treatments that deeply moisturize the hair.

To summarize: Moisture is key to fixing protein overload because it counterbalances the hardness and rigidity caused by excessive protein. By restoring the yin-yang balance – or in this case, the protein-moisture balance – you can bring your hair back to a state of health and resilience.

About the Author

Shehnaz ShiraziShehnaz Shirazi

Shehnaz Shirazi has been writing in the beauty and cosmetics industry for over 8 years, sharing her expansive hair care and beauty knowledge. Shehnaz researches and tests new hair care trends and publishes her insights here.