Why Your Hair Might Suddenly Feel Like Straw

Megan Dominion

It can be annoying if you’ve been taking really great care of your hair, but it suddenly has a straw-like texture. Your first thought may be that your hair is damaged, and “too much protein” is probably the LAST thing on your mind! Protein overload can cause brittle hair with split ends and limp-looking strands. Let’s break it down, so that we can get your hair back to feeling healthy!

What is hair protein or Keratin?

Keratin is a kind of protein found in human (and animal) hair and nails. It’s a protective protein, meaning that it’s a lot tougher than the other cells that make up your body. It’s one of your hair’s most important and vital building-blocks, so it’s important to know how to balance your hair’s protein levels to meet your hair’s unique needs.

It also pays to know that there are actually TWO types of hair keratin: Acidic Type 1 Hair Keratin and Basic Type 2 Hair Keratin. You’ll find these on the labels of hair products reading as “Silk Protein or Hydrolyzed Collagen” amongst others. More on this later!

How is hair protein or Keratin being put in my hair?

Keratin can be extracted from things like animal horns, feathers and wool and then used as an ingredient in hair products. Some people also take keratin supplements or have protein-based hair treatments done, but the MAIN culprit when you have too much protein in your hair is usually hair products such as shampoos, conditioners, styling and curling aids.

It’s all about chemistry!

We feel that all curlies should be awarded with some kind of chemistry / science qualifications because we’ve learned to read labels like professionals! You need to check product labels and do more research on the masks & treatments you’re putting in your hair to establish if you’re (essentially) overdosing your hair on protein. You might be using too many protein-based or enriched products and not balancing it with moisture. This could worsen the condition of your hair instead of helping or repairing it!

You could also keep an eye on how your hair feels and listen to your gut.

Here’s our golden guide: If your hair starts to feel straw-like – it’s likely too much protein. If your hair starts to feel too mushy – it’s likely too much moisture.

Proteins found in hair care products

There are so many to list and they may differ per country or region, but the most common ones to look out for on labels are:

Amino Acids; Hydrolyzed Protein; Keratin; Collagen; Milk Protein; Wheat Protein; Soy; Oat Flour; Casein; Cystine Bis-PG-Propyl Silanetriol and Cocodimonium Hydroxypropyl

Hair feels like straw

How do I know if my hair needs moisture or protein

It’s tricky trying to figure out (exactly) why your hair is unhappy, and you can make an appointment with a hair technician, trichologist, your hairdresser or even a dermatologist if you’re experiencing hair loss due to the damage. You might need to seek advice if:

  • Your hair is damaged from bleach or die
  • If you have been over-styling your hair with heat products
  • If you’ve used any hair chemicals on your hair and it now looks damagedIf your hair is frizzy, broken or you have very bad split ends

What you can try do at home to fix protein build-up

This might not be a quick fix, so remember to have patience when trying to re-set and repair your hair at home.

1. Clarify your hair for a fresh start

A gentle clarifying shampoo will really help to break up proteins that may be bonded to your hair. Read our FULL guide on clarifying your hair like a professional.

2. Give up on split ends and get a trim 

If you’re suffering from split ends, then it’s time to let go and get a trim. Protein is probably building up in the ends of your hair, so say goodbye to dead weight AND dead hair and get a ‘health-cut’!

3. Give your hair a break

Sometimes our hair also just needs a break. Take a step away from the bleaches, dyes and heat styling tools that may have been adding to the problem.

4. Read those labels to see how much protein is in your products

If you’ve had a protein-based hair treatment, then you can’t also use a protein shampoo, a protein conditioner AND a protein hair mask. Choose your hair products very carefully to ensure that you’re not overdosing your gorgeous hair on too many proteins!

5. Deep condition

Use a protein-free conditioner or treatment that will put some much-needed love and moisture back into your hair. Also look for a leave-in conditioner with ingredients like aloe, honey, glycerin, shea butter and / or avocado oil.

6. Be patient

It may take a few weeks to completely rid your hair of protein build-up and get your good hair days back again. Don’t give up!

7. Take it slow

Once your hair is looking happier, shinier, stronger and healthier – you can slowly start adding protein to your hair again.

Read next: How often you should be washing curly hair

Megan Dominion

Megan Dominion is SILKUP's Managing Editor. She's been down both the curly hair and skincare rabbit holes many times and loves that there's always something new to learn; a new science, method, product or personal experience.