Home Cosmetic Science Talk Formulating Hair Protein

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  • Protein

    Posted by Susie on June 22, 2020 at 1:23 am

    Today, I wanted to ask about protein. I am a person who uses both store-bought products and homemade DIY projects. Though, I am mindful that there are a lot of DIY projects on the web that shouldn’t be recommended. 
    I do a lot of research on hair care ingredients, and I find that some ingredients naturally have protein, for example, eggs. I know eggs ingested provide protein for the body. Though, when I look at the back of protein products, the protein is usually some type of “hydrolyzed” protein. I read somewhere that the protein in regular DIY projects, are considered unmodified and they do not work the same way as protein formulated for store-brought products do. Eggs are often used in DIY hair masks and are said to “strengthen the hair because of their protein”. 
    My question is, these unmodified forms of protein when applied topically to the hair, do they act the same way? what is the difference? Because of this confusion, I have always regarded egg treatments, sort of like cholesterol treatments for the hair instead (please let me know if that is an accurate understanding too). 
    Thank you so much.

    chemicalmatt replied 4 years ago 3 Members · 2 Replies
  • 2 Replies
  • OldPerry

    June 22, 2020 at 1:21 pm

    To understand protein in hair treatments you first have to know a little bit about proteins.

    1. Proteins aren’t all the same. You can think of the word ‘protein’ as similar to the word ‘animal.’  Things like elephants, mice, tigers, fish, lobsters, birds, and snakes are all animals. But there are significant differences. Just like there are significant differences between proteins like collagen, keratin, hemoglobin, albumin, and polymerase.    

    2. Proteins are made up of amino acids. There are 20 different types of amino acids. The amino acids are strung together and the order of those amino acids is what determines the structure and function of the protein. So different proteins will look, feel, and behave in vastly different ways. Think of amino acids like the alphabet & proteins are the different words you can make from that alphabet.   

    3. Different proteins have different structures. While proteins are all made from the same types of amino acids, the order in which these are put together affects the way the protein molecule folds. It twists back on itself, forms loops, and sheets, and physically looks different. We call this the secondary structures. Hair is protein but it is a thin fiber. Nails are protein but it is a flat sheet. They have different secondary structures.

    4. Hydrolyzed proteins break down the structure. When you hydrolyze a protein essentially you chemically chop it up into shorter fragments and destroy the secondary structures. So, hydrolyzed proteins behave much more like each other than non-hydrolyzed proteins. It’s like if you take a frog and a mouse and put them each in separate blenders. Before blending they are very different. After blending, they are pretty much the same type of liquidy, mass of goo. This is essentially what happens when you hydrolyze a protein.

    5. Effect of hydrolyzed protein in hair - Other formulators may disagree with me, but I’m not convinced proteins have much effect in rinse-off products. Hydrolyzed proteins are water soluble so I think they mostly get rinsed down the drain. Leave-in products with protein may form a film which may protect hair from damage and make it a bit less brittle. I don’t think the type of hydrolyzed protein matters at all. Protein does not strengthen or repair hair.   

    6. Effect of non-hydrolyzed protein - Egg protein (albumin) put directly on hair will likely form a sticky film. Once you rinse hair though it just rinses away without doing much. No, it does not strengthen hair.

    I don’t think protein in hair has any real beneficial effect that you couldn’t get with some other, better performing ingredient. But it does make for a nicer marketing story so you’ll continue to see it put in products.

  • chemicalmatt

    June 23, 2020 at 2:23 pm

    Proteins (or amino acid arrays as Perry points out) do have electrostatic affinity with hair keratin and are useful in hair care. Also as Perry points out, different proteins carry different arrays. therefore have less/more keratin affinities. For veggies, soy and wheat hold on the best. The earliest hair styling gels (pre-PVP) used gelatin to hold the hair shape. Gelatin is a hydrolyzed animal protein, not halal either. Ironically, the most substantive protein of all is hydrolyzed collagen (animal) but most folks don’t use it anymore since it is derived from critters. Too bad, it works really well at interstitial cuticle strengthening and gloss finish. Quinoa doesn’t squeal when you kill it though. 

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