The difference between protein and moisturizing conditioners

     It’s so important to use conditioners on your hair to replace moisture and/or protein. Black hair is the driest of all hair types and needs moisture more than other hair types. If you live in a very humid environment like I do, you may not need to moisturize everyday. I usually go with the flow when I moisturize my hair. With that said, one important way of adding moisture back to is by deep conditioning it at least once a week with a moisturizing conditioner.

   Proteins are an integral part of your hair structure and to maintain healthy hair, you also need to add protein back to it by ingesting adequate proteins internally and using protein conditioners externally. Simply put, a protein conditioner contains proteins while a moisturizing conditioner does not.

     Common types of proteins found in hair products include:

  • Keratin
  • Collagen
  • Amino acids
  • Eggs
  • Hydrolyzed wheat protein (this is actually more of a moisturizer. If you see this in your conditioner but there is no other protein, consider that conditioner to be a moisturizing conditioner).
  • Rice protein
  • Oat protein

The next question you might ask me is so how do I add moisture AND protein to my hair? How much protein or moisture do I need? This is what I call the ‘balancing act’.

   It’s so important to balance the protein and moisture because excessive proteins lead to a condition called protein overload and excessive moisture causes extra soft, mushy hair. For black hair, I would say that you should tip the balance in favor of moisture if you don’t know what to do. It requires practice to learn how to strike this balance. When you start handling your hair personally, you’ll learn the difference.

You can balance your protein/moisture needs in different ways. 3 ways I suggest are:

 1. Prepoo with light protein weekly

  • prepoo with a light protein conditioner weekly (Light protein please)
  • shampoo your hair.
  • deep condition with a good moisturizing conditioner.

2. Deep condition with a light protein conditioner

  • Wash
  • Apply your light protein conditioner. Leave it in for as long as you wish, maybe 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Rinse it out
  • Follow with a moisturizing (protein-free) deep conditioner (optional)
  • Use a protein-free leave-in conditioner if you skipped using a moisturizing deep conditioner.

 3. Use a moderate to heavy protein conditioner once a month

  • once a week, deep condition with a good moisturizing conditioner
  • once a month, use a moderate to heavy protein conditioner
  • follow it up immediately with your moisturizing conditioner to soften your hair. Proteins make hair hard so don’t miss this step or you might end up with hard, unmanageable hair.
If you were to ask me, my first choice would be option two.You could also do a combination of options one and three OR a combination of options two and three
Before I end, I just want to remind you that too much of either protein or moisture can cause hair breakage and it takes a while to learn the balancing act but like I said before, when in doubt, go with moisture.

Suggestions for protein and moisturizing conditioners

*Updated 25th November 2012*

About the author
Dr Fomsky

Nigerian-born Dr Fomsky is a God-lover, a wife, a mom of three and a medical doctor by day. She is very passionate about hair, skin and weight management. Since she had babies, she's been struggling to keep her weight and her tummy down!
At night, she likes to read books, write blog posts and leave comments on other blogs. She lives in Paris, France and is also the author of Solving your relaxed hair breakage book
HAIR TYPE: 'Texlaxed' hair, High porosity, Fine hair strands, low to moderate density
CURRENT LENGTH: Between shoulder and armpit length
LOVING: Argan oil for sealing, Brown Butter Beauty Love Deep conditioner, Shescentit Blueberry Co-wash conditioner and Hairveda Red Tea Satin Moisturizer
LONG-TERM PLAN: Trim off bone-straight ends (6 inches left) over time

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23 Comments to The difference between protein and moisturizing conditioners

  1. cathy says:

    foms; wassup? i’ve read all ur hair stuff a couple of times, ive tried following some of the guidelines but frankly i’m still clueless. i still have frizzy, thinning, unmanageable hair. cant u pls pls pls just give me a list of what to buy and when to use it and so on that i can at least try to follow religiously? ps: i’m almost always on weave-ons cause my hair in so terible. also its harmattan season which is very dry. again, i cant do braids cause it chops all my front hair. help!!

    • Dr_fomsky says:

      I’m fine dear. Will do just that.. Constant weaveon will worsen the condition: it’s only a quick fix. And harmattan doesn’t help matters. I will do a write-up and send it to you in an e-mail. Take care

  2. […] The difference between protein and moisturizing conditioners […]

  3. Veronica says:

    Hi dr fomsky, thank you for all the wonderful information but I am a wee bit confused. I jus started a hair journey and started of by trimmin my hair and because I had bad split ends I decided to buy the tresemme split remedy for my hair which grows quite quickly but breaks a the same or slightly slower pace as I generally wld wash it mayb once a month n not really moisturise it that often anyway my question is the tresemme split end remedy has hydrolyzed keratin and stearamidopropyl dimethylamine would it then be considered as a protein conditioner or a moisturing conditioner because I had purchased it with the hope I could use it as a moisturising conditioner that I cld cowash with. I’m so confused and think I’m suffering from information overload.

  4. Dr Fomsky says:

    I think any conditioner that has any amount of protein is a protein conditioner. It might be a light, moderate or heavy protein conditioner depending on how much protein it contains. Where is the position of the keratin on the ingredient list. If it is among the first 5, I would say it is a heavy protein. if it is somewhere in the middle, I’d consider it a moderate protein. If it us among the last few ingredients, I would think it were a light protein conditioner.
    You can use light protein conditioners to co-wash.
    With that said, I know what u mean by information overload. I had a similar problem when I started taking better care of my hair.

  5. Veronica says:

    Thanx for the super quick reply, ok now I’m abit stuck hahaahaa I literally have organics replenishing conditioner in my hair right now n thought I wld let it stand for an hour or 2 before doing a co-wash with the tresemme, but passed by your site while I was waiting for magic to happen and with new discoveries, I thought wait a min are my signals crossed. So now that iv found out my tresemme is actually a moderate to high protein (as its 7th on a list of about 37 ingredients) what do I do now? And dr please help me figure out a regimen for my hair. I rarely used to wash it mayb once a month and even more rarely used to treat it wit any kind of treatment (as in 3times a year) I’d moisturise mayb twice a week. (If I had a weave on mayb once or twice during the 1.5 to 2 month period) I had plenty of split ends and my hair wld constantly break which I thought was due to too much heat so I long lessened d use of my ceramic flat iron. Its gotten better but I definitely want long lavish hair like you and dabs. Whoop whoop. Your my hair journey role models 😉

    • Dr_fomsky says:

      Thanks for your compliments. I also admire Dabs’ hair! You can still use the Tresemme conditioner but if you do, you should ensure that your leave-in does not contain any protein. Also watch your hair: if it feels hard, then reduce the frequency of using it
      A regimen I can recommend is:
      Wash your hair once a week. Prepoo with coconut oil first. After washing your hair, deep condition.
      Apply your leave-in conditioner and air dry or roller set your hair.
      During the week, you can moisturize your hair every evening or every other evening.
      If your hair feels dry in the middle of the week, you can apply your co-wash conditioner. Leave it on your hair for at least 15 minutes. Rinse it off. Apply your leave-ins and let it dry as you feel like.
      What products are you using?

      • Veronica says:

        Thanx dr, I had jus washed it out and co wash’d and I realised my leave in conditioner had keratin as well so I didn’t use it because I thought that just might be too much protein, good to know I was right. Thanx for the assistance I’ll def try that regimen out and let you know how it goes but when you say deep condition should I use a light protein based conditioner or a moisturising one? The products I got to start my journey are castor oil, coconut oil-as scalp oils and sealants, ors hair repair intense creme as my moisturiser also got ors carrot oil which I plan to use once the intense repair is finished), tresemme split end remedy shampoo and conditioner, motions leave in conditioner which unfortunately has protein,ors replenishing conditioner as my light protein, ors hair mayo which I thought was a heavy protein, n I planned to use that once a month, I also got sum biotin of which I’m aprntly to take 1200micrograms minimum daily and drink plenty of water daily atleast 1.5litres to prevent skin side effects and a zinc supplement to also aprntly balance the biotin.

        • Dr_fomsky says:

          Sorry that I’m just replying. I’ve been busy with Christmas. I was able to publish posts because I had already scheduled them beforehand. Anyways, now to answer your questions.
          To deep condition, you can either use a light protein base conditioner or a moisturizing one. It depends on the one your hair responds to. In my personal experience, when you start your hair journey, you might do a lot of trial and error till you find the products that your hair likes.
          Castor oil, coconut oil are good sealants.
          Ors hair repair intense creme is a protein-based moisturizer so you should use with caution. ORS carrot oil has no protein so theoretically, it will make for a better moisturizer. In the long. It all depends on what your hair responds better to.
          You can use the Tresemme split remedy shampoo and conditioner plus the Motions leave-in conditioner but as I said just watch your hair to see how it feels. If it feels too dry or breaks with slightest touch, then you probably have too much protein. If this happens, you might have to look into buying a leave-in conditioner with little or no protein.
          ORS replenishing is a great light protein conditioner while ORS mayo is mostly a heavy to moderate protein conditioner: Hydrolyzed collagen is among the first five ingredients. So you can use it monthly as you already planned to.
          Biotin is also good for strong healthy hair.

          • Veronica says:

            Thanx for the reply doc, its ok I’m sure the festive season brought with it a lot of commitments so thanx for still taking the tym to reply. I think I will simply take ur advice and just watch what my hair responds to. I’m learning to read ingredient lists better now though so I know what to stay away from. Happy holidays and I know I aint alone when I say I appreciate all the festive posts 😉

          • Dr_fomsky says:

            Happy holidays to you and I’m glad you appreciate all the festive posts. 🙂

  6. […] Pick one that is mostly moisturizing or a very light protein. Please read The Difference beteen protein and moisturizing conditioners. […]

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  8. […] The difference between protein and moisturizing conditioners […]

  9. Michelle says:

    I have been reading your blog a few days now, I love what I’m seeing. I am taking your advice and figuring out my hair probelms and building a regimen.
    Is it ok if I do a green house in the night, prepoo in the morning, then off to the salon to relax my hair?

  10. […] Difference between protein and moisturizing conditioners […]

  11. […] Save time. For example, if I want to use  protein conditioner on my hair but I don’t want to apply the protein conditioner first, rinse it out and then use a moisturizing conditioner, I might sometimes just mix the protein conditioner and moisturizing conditioner together. I do this by adding only a little of the protein conditioner to the moisturizing conditioner.  This essentially dilutes the heavy protein conditioner to make it a light protein conditioner. PLUS I get the benefits of moisturization in addition to the protein. If you do have time, it is usually better to do the protein conditioner and then the moisturizing conditioner. The difference between moisturizing and protein conditioners  […]

  12. […] that you should buy 2 conditioners: a moisturizing conditioner and a protein conditioner.     The difference between protein and moisturizing conditioners        When you are shopping for a good conditioner, it is important to look out for several […]

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  14. […] Protein conditioner (optional) – Learn more about protein conditioners HERE. […]

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