Cosmopolitan September 19, 2023



8 Best Protein Treatments for Hair (Tested & Reviewed By Editors)


Meet the key to stronger, shinier hair.

My hair used to be a complete disaster. Greasy roots, split ends, flat, full color— I was at the point where I was like, do I just shave it off and start over!? I considered it, tbh. But then I started implementing a monthly protein treatment for hair to help reduce hair breakage and strengthen my strands and everything changed. My hair practically transformed for the better, which is why I now consider protein treatments miracle workers no matter your hair type—whether you have fine, straight hair like me or 4a, 4b, or 4c curls.

So what do protein treatments for hair do, exactly? Well, they help fill in the holes, gaps, and cracks along your damaged hair cuticle, which leaves your hair smoother and more resilient to breakage over time. But (!) not all protein treatments are right for your hair specifically, and it's important to use them correctly or else you risk more breakage and dullness. Don't worry, though, I got all the info from hairstylists Debra Gomes and Leigh Hardges on how to use a protein treatment for hair, plus the best ones to try right now.

Our top picks for best protein treatment for natural hair of 2023:

Now keep scrolling for the full list of the 15 best protein treatments for natural hair that’ll help get your hair back on track.

Best Protein Treatment for Hair Overall

Elizavecca Cer-100 Collagen Coating Hair Protein Treatment



  • Filled with various proteins to help smooth and strengthen hair
  • Available on Amazon for less than $10


  • Contains silicones, which can build up on your hair strands over time if not thoroughly rinsed out

Just a casual 30,000 five-star reviews agree: This is the best protein treatment for hair. Ever since I got highlights, I started working this protein treatment through my hair once a month to keep it soft, smooth, and strong...even amidst bleaching appointments. It's chock full of hydrolyzed proteins (which, btw, means that the proteins are chemically broken down in a way that helps them better penetrate your hair shaft) like keratin, collagen, and silk to fill in the gaps and holes in your broken hair strands. All of which leaves me with super smooth hair every single time I use it.

Key ingredients: Ceramides, hydrolyzed collagen, silk, and keratin
Protein level: High

THE REVIEWS: "I have 2c/3a hair, a mix between fine hairs and thick ones," writes one reviewer. "I spent the last two months using heat on my hair daily, and my hair was a brittle mess. I decided to try this, and let me say it really works!!! It's like a deep conditioning salon treatment and it left my hair very soft with nice curls even without any product in my hair. Even the ends—that definitely need a trim—feel very soft and manageable."

Best Lightweight Protein Treatment

Alodia Nourish & Hydrate Deep Conditioning Masque



  • Uses silk amino acids and wheat proteins to help strengthen your hair a lil bit
  • I loved that it's fairly lightweight on my fine hair


  • Contains essential oils that might be irritating for sensitive skin/scalps

Not everyone needs a heavy-duty protein treatment. If you're someone with low-level damage, try smoothing this mask on your hair once every two weeks to help keep it strong and healthy. It uses silk amino acids and a lil bit of wheat protein to help fill in the gaps in your hair strands, all while coating it with avocado, safflower, and olive oils to keep it feeling smooth and shiny.

Key ingredients: Aloe vera, avocado oil, silk amino acids, wheat protein
Protein level: Low

THE REVIEW: According to one tester, "I’m really happy I decided to try this hair mask. I like the ingredients: No sulfates, no artificial colors or scents, etc. The price is reasonable. The hair mask detangles my hair easily and leaves it soft."

Best Protein Treatment for Thick Hair

SheaMoisture Intensive Hydration Hair Masque



  • Reviewers with coarse, thick hair said it left their hair soft and smooth
  • Left my hair the shiniest out of all protein treatments I tried


  • Has a strong honey scent that some testers didn't love

Testers with thick, coarse hair swear by this ultra-moisturizing deep conditioner with protein. It's loaded with shea butter, which not only moisturizes your hair strands, but helps smooth them out to make flyaways look practically nonexistent (there's also coconut oil, baobab seed oil, and mango seed butter in the formula to help with deep conditioning). And the proteins in the formula are clutch for repairing and strengthening brittle hair.

Protein: Medium
Key ingredients: Coconut oil, shea butter, mango seed butter, baobab seed oil, hydrolyzed rice protein

THE REVIEWS: One tester writes, "This is my first deep conditioner, and you might not think you can take my word that it's truly good but let me tell you this is my second time going natural. I've been doing a whole new routine that incorporates this deep conditioner, and it def works. It smells amazing, and it leaves my hair soft—but not overly moisturized—and strong. My natural hair has been stagnant to my shoulders, and it's now slowly but surely making its way to bra strap length."

TikTok's Favorite Protein Treatment For Hair

Mielle Organics Babassu Oil Mint Deep Conditioner



  • Works great on protective styles


  • Some testers say it's pricey for the amount of product you get

TikTokers are legit obsessed with this deep conditioner from Mielle Organics (10.9 million views, people!). It actually uses a bunch of amino acids to help smooth out all the cracks in your hair strands, while oils and moisturizers give your hair a soft, shiny look and feel. One TikTok recommends massaging a clarifying shampoo through your roots first, then coating your hair with this conditioner in sections and letting it sit for 10-15 minutes before rinsing.

Key ingredients: Babassu oil; arginine, alanine, proline (amino acids)
Protein level: Medium

THE REVIEW: "I honestly love this deep conditioner for my 4a/4b hair, as it's the only one that provides amazing slip and leaves my hair extremely soft after just one use," writes one tester.

Best Protein Treatment for Very-Damaged Hair

Verb Reset Repairing Mask



  • Filled with strengthening proteins for damaged hair
  • Clean formula contains natural, plant-based ingredients


  • Some reviewers complained about the rich consistency

This protein treatment from Verb is one of Gomes's favorite picks—she says she uses it on herself and on her clients—since it's "packed with lots of nutrients, vitamins, and oils for your hair that help repair and replenish the damaged cuticle," she says. Leave it on damp, freshly washed hair for five to seven minutes and the formula's quinoa protein, green tea extract, and honey will work to hydrate and strengthen.

Key ingredients: Ceramides, hydrolyzed collagen, silk, and keratin
Protein level: High

THE REVIEW: “Since bleaching my hair, I have used so many deep-treatment conditioners and this one is my favorite," reads a review. "It makes my hair feel so soft and silky.”

Best Protein Treatment for 4c Hair

Briogeo Don't Despair, Repair! Deep Conditioning Mask



  • Reviewers loved how moisturized it left their hair


  • Might be a bit too rich for low-porosity hair

Another one of Gomes's go-tos (and a winner of our 2022 Readers' Choice Beauty Awards), this protein treatment will actually transform your dry, thirsty hair. The combo of rosehip oil, amino acids, biotin, and almond oil immediately moisturize your curls and strengthen your hair. “If your curls are lacking definition, adding consistent protein treatments to your routine will really help,” says Gomes.

Key ingredients: Avocado oil, biotin, hydrolyzed corn protein, hydrolyzed wheat protein, hydrolyzed soy protein
Protein level: High

THE REVIEW: "I’ve tried so many hair masks and this is the only one that I’ve ever truly been able to see a drastic difference in the moisture and strength of my hair," says a tester. "I have very dry ends, and it’s nearly impossible for me to keep them from getting frizzy or dried out, but this mask really helps.”

Best Protein Treatment for Detangling Hair

Arvazallia Fortifying Protein Hair Mask



  • One of the more affordable options on the list
  • Great for hair that's prone to knots and tangles


  • Some testers said it left their hair feeling clumpy

There's nothing like trying to run your fingers through your hair and getting caught halfway through. Not only is it awkward, but knots and tangles can also lead to major breakage. Fortunately, this protein treatment is packed with oils like argan oil and macadamia oil to smooth out clumps, while hydrolyzed wheat protein helps strengthen your hair too. Go ahead—finger-comb your ends in peace.

Key ingredients: Hydrolyzed wheat protein, aloe vera, argan oil, macadamia oil
Protein level: Medium

THE REVIEW: “This mask turned my damaged locks into soft, luscious, bouncy, well-hydrated hair. If your hair is processed, dry and brittle then I recommend that you give this conditioner a chance. You will not be disappointed.”

Best Protein Treatment for Color-Treated Hair

Aphogee Two-Step Treatment Protein for Damaged Hair



  • Helps repair bleached, over-processed hair


  • Some testers say the instructions were confusing to follow

This protein treatment for natural hair will legit breathe life back into your hair. Thanks to collagen proteins, this treatment strengthens and hydrates your hair, leaving it baby soft. Just shampoo your hair, then coat it with this treatment while it's still wet. Blow dry your hair, then smooth the Step 2: Balancing Moisturizer through your ends.

Key ingredients: Hydrolyzed animal protein, citric acid
Protein level: Medium

THE REVIEW: "This product is a miracle!!!! After bleaching my hair my curls just completely disappeared :( One treatment later and I finally got them back!!!! 100 percent satisfied.”

What is protein treatment for hair at home?

A protein treatment for hair at home is usually a rich deep conditioner that's filled with hydrating and strengthening ingredients (like hydrolyzed proteins, amino acids, and natural oils) that help temporarily fill in the cracks and gaps in your damaged hair cuticle so it's stronger and more resilient. With continued use, protein treatments can make hair become stronger and less vulnerable to splitting and snapping.

You shouldn't use a protein treatment more than once a month, says Hardges. This is because too much protein can actually have the opposite effect on your hair. When protein starts to build up on the hair, it won’t allow for moisturizing and nourishing ingredients to penetrate the hair shaft; this can lead to dryness, brittleness, and breakage.

How can I tell my hair needs protein?

Your hair needs more protein if your hair is damaged from coloring, hot tools, and mechanical damage. If you’re using moisturizing masks left and right to no avail, it’s time to up the ante. Hardges describes the feeling of hair that needs protein as “mushy when wet.” Additionally, if your hair easily snaps during combing and detangling, it may be time to introduce a protein treatment to your routine.

What’s the difference between a protein and keratin treatment?

While keratin is a type of protein, a keratin treatment is one that’s offered in-salon and is more intense than the protein treatments that you use at home. Keratin treatments are meant to smooth the hair in a way that changes the texture, which cannot be done at home.

The in-salon keratin formulas also have much more than just protein in them and those chemicals are the ones that are responsible for the change in hair texture. You can find at-home keratin treatments but they perform in the same way as the other at-home protein treatments, which just help to repair damage and strengthen strands.

How to choose a protein treatment for natural hair:


Hone in on your hair type.

Some formulas will be way too heavy or way too light for certain hair types. For instance, 4A and up curls will need thicker, more moisturizing formulas while those on with more fine and wavy hair will want something lighter that won’t weigh hair down.

Pick your protein properly.

Hardges recommends plant proteins for at-home use. In addition to plant protein, opt for a formula that also contains moisturizing agents, like oils and butters, too. Proteins and moisture go hand in hand, says Gomes, so you really want something that’s going to offer that two-pronged approach.

Remember, high price doesn't equal high quality.

There are plenty of A+ protein treatments out there (many of them listed above) that come at price point that doesn't break the bank. Sometimes the simplest, least complicated formula is the one that your hair needs. So, don’t be fooled by the idea that more expensive is better, because that’s not always the case.

Meet the experts

Debra Gomes is a hairstylist at Salon Du Jour in Providence, RI. Gomes specializes in curls and color.

Leigh Hardges is a natural hair expert and hairstylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago, IL.

Why trust Cosmopolitan?

Beth Gillette is the beauty editor at Cosmopolitan with five years of experience researching, writing, and editing hair stories that range from best hair extensions to hair-straightening products. She’s an authority in all hair categories, but is an expert when it comes to protein treatments for hair, thanks to lots of personal testing on her own color-treated hair, as well as interviews with hairstylists and trichologists.

Lisa DeSantis is a freelance writer who has been in the beauty industry for nearly ten years. She began her career in beauty and fashion at QVC and has since written for and contributed to top women's magazines and digital brands such as Health, Real Simple, Cosmopolitan, Motherly, Byrdie and more. She has tested thousands of products and considers herself a professional guinea pig who's always on the search for the next big trends in beauty, wellness, and beyond.