The 10 Best Protein Treatments For Natural Hair

Your hair, only stronger.

view of woman with natural hair from behind, over the shoulder
(Image credit: Getty)

We all know that taking care of your hair involves far more than simply choosing the right shampoo and conditioner—particularly when you have natural hair. When you have textured hair, it's particularly important to choose leave-in conditioners, shampoos, masks, and scalp treatments that moisture and clarify your strands so that your hair can look its bounciest and healthiest. And in addition to moisture, your hair also needs protein to look its very best—something that should be addressed in your diet, but can also be supplemented through the use of a protein treatment (keratin, for instance, is a well-known protein). 

"Hair is naturally made of protein, so when your hair lacks it, it's important to restore it with the protein it needs," says Kiara Brumfield, a chemist and cosmetologist who works in Product Development at Universal Beauty Products. "Protein treatments are a great way to repair hair strength and prevent breakage, which in turn can contribute to hair retention."

She adds that protein treatments can be the perfect pick-me-up for tired, over-treated, or damaged hair. 

"Everyone needs protein but those who often chemically treat their hair, use excessive heat, or cause damage from constant style manipulation may need protein treatments more often," she explains. 

Protein treatments are also great products for natural hair and curly hair, particularly if you're experiencing dryness, frizz, dull hair, or weighed-down curls. 

"Healthy natural or curly hair, with the proper amount of protein, has great elasticity, shine, and strength," she says. "But if there is a lack of protein it can cause curls to loosen and hair strand breakage, affecting the overall appearance."

If you're new to the world of protein treatments, or simply don't know where to begin, you may be wondering when, how, and what to do from here. So I asked Brumfield to break down all there is to know about protein treatments—what to use, how to use it, and when. 

When and How To Use a Protein Treatment

Incorporating new products into one's well-established routine is never easy or intuitive. Lucky for us, many protein treatments are created with ease of use in mind, so adding a new step can be quick and seamless rather than complicated and time-consuming. Brumfield breaks it down for us.

First things first, she says, "make sure your hair is clean and free of any build-up before applying a protein treatment." Otherwise, "your hair will not be able to absorb any proteins from the treatment."

When in doubt? "Protein treatments should be applied and by following the manufacturer’s instructions," she advises. So if the bottle says it should be applied to clean, build-up-free hair, be sure to cleanse before use. Then leave the treatment on for the time specified in the product's instructions, and wash out. 

As for how often you should break out your go-to protein treatment, Brumfield advises, "Protein treatments should only be used when your hair needs it. Using protein treatments when your hair doesn’t need it will not have any benefits for your hair. You should only use protein treatments if you experience symptoms like breakage when combing, loose curl definition, or low elasticity."

Unlike deep conditioners, which can be incorporated weekly or even bi-weekly into your routine for maintenance, these treatments are more like triages for your curl woes.

Below, some of the most effective protein treatments money can buy, as recommended by hair experts and reviewers alike. 

Shop The Best Protein Treatments for Natural Hair

Meet the Expert

Kiara Brumfield
Kiara Brumfield

Kiara Brumfield is a chemist and licensed cosmetologist. A graduate of Howard University, she currently works in product development at Universal Beauty Products and is based in greater Chicago. 

Gabrielle Ulubay
E-Commerce Writer

Gabrielle Ulubay is an E-Commerce Writer at Marie Claire and writes about all things beauty, sexual wellness, and fashion. She's also written about sex, gender, and politics for publications like The New York Times, Bustle, and HuffPost Personal since 2018. She has worked extensively in the e-commerce and sales spaces since 2020, including two years at Drizly, where she developed an expertise in finding the best, highest quality goods and experiences money can buy. As a film school graduate, she loves all things media and can be found making art when she's not busy writing.