Moisture/Protein Balance: the Key to Optimum Hair Health

Hair needs two things to thrive: protein and water. Depending on your hair type — especially its porosity and density — it may have too much or too little protein or moisture.

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The key is striking the healthy balance of protein and moisture for your hair.

What your hair’s elasticity tells you

Your hair’s elasticity is its ability to stretch and snap back. In theory, healthy hair should stretch roughly 30% to 50% while wet without breaking. That’s because of the disulphide and hydrogen bonds.

Disulphide bonds  hold in place the keratin structure and amino acids inside the cortex.  They maintain the shape of your hair as it grows out of the follicle. According to Curly Nikki, hydrogen bonds bind water molecules and Keratin strands within the cortex.

Why is that important?

The strength of these bonds depend on moisture to maintain hair’s suppleness and protein to maintain its strength. Ideally, you should be able to brush or comb your hair and the strands will give and bounce back into shape without breakage, according to world-renown London-based stylist Philip Kingsley.  But, for people with thin hair strands or hair that’s naturally more porous, having hair that elastic is a fairytale.

Fact is, some of us are born with hair that’s more fragile than others. I’m one of them!

The hair strand elasticity test

One great way to discover your hair’s protein/moisture balance is by testing its elasticity. The test is simple:

1. Separate a single strand from four regions of your head: nape, crown, sides and front. It’s easier if you snip the strand or use shed hair but the sample can also be taken from hair on the head. You can test both wet and dry strands.

2. With both hands, pinch about an inch of the hair strand. If its curly, coily or kinky make sure you hold it gently with give. Don’t stretch out the curl pattern.

3. Slowly stretch, taking note of how far the hair stretches.

4. If the hair doesn’t break but continues to stretch, release it with one hand to see if it snaps back into shape.

What did your hair do?

Here are some possible scenarios:

Your hair is healthy if it:

  • Stretched a little and snapped back into shape

Your hair needs protein if it:

  • Stretches about 15% to 20% than breaks
  • Stretches more than 20% without breaking but doesn’t snap back into shape
  • When it breaks “silently” without a “snap” — almost as if it fell apart

It’s also:

  • Limp and lifeless
  • Mushy, sticky or gummy
  • Loses its curl definition

It’s possible to over-hydrate and stress your hair. In fact, women with textured or chemically processed hair can misjudge the amount of moisture they need and go overboard to combat dryness. So, before you condition or moisturize, take a quick elasticity test. If you’ve over-moisturized, better pull out the protein!

Your hair needs moisture if it:

  • Hardly stretches at all before it breaks
  • Breaks with a definite “snap”

It also:

  • Tends to be frizzy
  • Feels dry, rough, straw-like, brittle, crunchy and is prone to tangling

If your individual hair strands are thick and your hair has low porosity, chances are your not lacking protein. If your hair is fine, textured or low in porosity, you are susceptible to dry ends that tend to snap and fall in the sink when you brush, comb or otherwise touch your hair.

You can over-use protein as much as you can over-use moisturizers. So be careful. It’s best to give yourself a protein treatment no more than once or twice a month if you tend to be protein deficient.

Armed and ready!

Knowing your hair’s porosity and moisture/protein ratio is absolutely essential to feeding your hair. Now, your armed and ready to learn about the best organic ingredients for your hair.



“Hair Breakage 101: Protein and Moisture,”

“Moisture and Protein: Maintaining the Balance,” Black Hair 101,

“Hair Breakage,” Philip Kingsley,

“Frizzy Hair,”  Philip Kingsley,

Elasticity and Healthy Natural Hair, Curly Nikki,