Believe it or not, you could be weakening your hair without even knowing it.
Hair is made of a strong protein known as keratin, but acts of manipulation such as shampooing, combing, and heat styling erode that protein on a daily basis. Unless you’re protective styling, you need protein replenishment.
Essentially, a chemical relaxer breaks the hair’s bonds so that hair can lay straight. Even when applied by a professional, this stripping leaves our crowns weak and vulnerable to breakage and further damage. This is where protein treatments come in.
“Protein-enriched conditioners act as fillers for the hair,” says Brooklyn, New York-based stylist Gillian Garcia. “Imagine pot holes in your hair shaft and the protein is filling these holes, thus strengthening the hair almost immediately.”
Here are five tips to keep in mind if you’re curious about protein treatments on your relaxed hair:
1. Determine whether your hair needs protein or moisture.
Don’t just take swing in the dark; pay attention to your hair! Nadege, founder of the popular blog Relaxed Hair Health, says it’s important to ask yourself what kind of breakage you are experiencing.
“I call it ‘chipping.’ If I notice little tiny broken pieces of hair that I know are just the ends, I go for moisture,” Nadege explains. “When I see long strands from the scalp, I add protein for more elasticity.”
2. Do not double up! 
Both Nadege and Garcia agree that protein treatments cannot be applied at the same time as a chemical relaxer.
Protein treatments leave the hair stiff and hard. This would have an adverse effect on freshly relaxed tresses. Instead, moisturizing treatments are recommended after all chemical processes, including perms and coloring, says Garcia, owner of Gillian Garcia Artistry.
Nadege says she does a heavier treatment post touch-up to restore strength to her strands — not along with the touch-up. And because balance is key, “I go more for moisture more towards the end of the stretch. I don’t want a lot of stiffness when I have a lot of new growth,” she explains.
3. Know that one size doesn’t fit all. 
There are different kinds of protein. Hydrolyzed wheat, hydrolyzed soy, collagen, milk, vegetable, animal, keratin, and hydrolyzed silk are just a few of the available options. Nadege recommends experimenting with various types and methods, then carefully assessing what your hair responds to.
On her blog, Nadege shares that one of her favorite things to do is lace her moisturizing conditioner with a few drops of a liquid protein called Pure Protein, allowing her to add just enough. Sometimes pre-pooing with coconut oil is enough to preserve her elasticity. And other times, she finds that she needs a full-blown, intense treatment, such as Dudley’s DRC 28.
4. Apply protein treatments properly.
Garcia advises applying a protein treatment for 15 minutes, then piggybacking with moisturizing conditioner for five minutes.
Heat is a must for better penetration, she says, because it opens the cuticle, allowing the treatments to get deep into the hair.
“Be mindful that protein treatments leave the hair hard, so you must apply moisturizing conditioner to the hair after,” Garcia warns. She recommends a cold rinse to seal the cuticle after each treatment, which also gives the hair a great shine.
When applying a treatment at home, it is critical to follow the instructions to the T. Garcia cites Nexxus Emergencée Reconstructing Treatment as one that has saved her hair quite a few times.
5. It is possible to overprocess your hair. But don’t fret!
Nadege admits she initially shied away from protein treatments because she was scared of protein overload. Protein overload is when the moisture to protein ratio in the hair has become unbalanced. With too much protein in the hair, you may notice a feeling of the strands being coated, much like the feeling of product buildup, along with dryness and brittleness.
When Nadege’s fears were realized, she brought her hair back from the brink by babying it with moisture. “What I do is I co-wash my hair again in a couple of days, with steam. I give it a few days and assess it,” she reveals. “Then I do it again as needed to bring the balance back.”
Another way of hydrating the hair is to air dry it, which allows water to absorb into the strands. And never forget, your hair grows from your scalp, meaning it absolutely can be nourished from the inside out.
“A healthy diet is important,” Garcia says. “Exercise, taking your vitamins, massaging your scalp, and calming your mind is recommended!”
Stay tuned…we’ve got the sequel for our natural-wearing lovelies coming up.
Driadonna Roland is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor who’s always the realest in the room. Follow her @DreeTV.