8 Of the Best Protein-Free Hair Products

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Curly hair needs more care than just a quick application of shampoo and conditioner in the shower. So you probably already have a curly hair routine that uses moisturizing, nourishing, and curl-defining products to help your hair look its best.

Many curly hair products contain protein to help moisturize and strengthen your locks. But did you know that these products can also cause a protein buildup on the strands that leaves your hair dry, brittle, and unmanageable?

Using protein-free products is a great way to avoid protein buildup. If you’d like to use protein-free hair products but don’t know where to begin, don’t worry – we can help.

We’ve rounded up eight of the best protein-free hair products designed to pamper your locks without weighing them down with protein.

We’ll also help you understand how to test for protein buildup or protein sensitive hair and share some tips for removing excess protein from your hair.

8 Best Protein-Free Hair Products

Ready to go shopping but don’t know where to start? Check out our list of the best protein-free hair products to pamper your tresses.

Protein-Free Shampoo

Aunt Jackie’s Curls and Coils Oh So Clean Deep Moisturizing and Softening Hair Shampoo is a blend of hair-healthy and natural ingredients that will gently cleanse and moisturize wavy, curly, or coily hair.

The luxurious lather is enriched with shea butter, coconut oil, and extra virgin olive oil to help fight frizz and tame unruly locks, leaving dry hair feeling soft, hydrated, and manageable.

Aunt Jackie's Curls and Coils Oh So Clean Moisturizing and Softening Shampoo
$10.99 $8.19

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03/09/2024 06:19 pm GMT

Protein-Free Clarifying Shampoo

MopTop Detox Shampoo is a natural detox shampoo that helps eliminate product buildup caused by waxes, silicones, and other product residues. Using this shampoo every 4-6 weeks will restore the shine and softness to your curly hair and keep your scalp clear.

This clarifying shampoo is suitable for natural hair and free from silicone, sulfates, phthalates, and parabens.

MopTop Detox Shampoo
$18.99 ($2.37 / Fl Oz)

A light clarifying shampoo for all hair types.

Use code HE10 to save at MopTop.com.

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03/10/2024 05:32 pm GMT

Protein-Free Conditioner

Briogeo Superfoods Banana + Coconut Nourishing Conditioner is a rich, moisturizing conditioner that pampers and restores lifeless locks. Its smoothie-inspired formulation is made with 97% naturally derived ingredients, and it’s packed full of vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids for good hair health. 

The perfect everyday solution to dull, dry hair, Briogeo Superfoods Banana + Coconut Nourishing Conditioner is suitable for use on color-treated and chemical-treated hair, including relaxed hair.

Briogeo Superfoods Banana + Coconut Nourishing Conditioner
$30.00 $27.91 ($2.23 / Fl Oz)

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03/09/2024 06:27 pm GMT

Protein Free Leave-in Conditioner

Kinky-Curly Knot Today Natural Leave-In Detangler is great at keeping your curls tangle-free. It has a creamy formula that smooths the hair cuticle and delivers moisture for manageable bounce and softness. 

This citrus-scented detangler doubles up as a rinse-out conditioner and leave-in treatment. It’s made with organic fruit and herbal extracts and is also parabens- and sulfate-free, so you can safely use it on curly hair types. 

Top Pick
Kinky-Curly Knot Today Leave In Conditioner
$15.25 ($1.91 / Ounce)

KCKT is a cult favorite because of its great slip for detangling and softening, while not being heavy.

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03/08/2024 07:18 pm GMT

Protein-Free Curl Cream

TWIST Boss Bounce Light as Air Buildable Styling Cream keeps flyaways and frizz under control while creating buildable style and definition with none of the crunch.

It has a lightweight, whipped cream formula that’s safe for natural hair as well as chemical- and color-treated hair. Its nourishing combination of shea butter, pataua fruit oil, and jojoba oil delivers intense hydration for healthy, supple, and defined curls.

TWIST Boss Bounce Light as Air Buildable Styling Cream
$11.99 $9.99 ($1.18 / Ounce)

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03/10/2024 12:12 am GMT

Protein-Free Hair Gel

Jessicurl Spiralicious Styling Gel is a strong hold gel that works wonders on medium and thick natural hair, providing lasting hold and definition for wavy, coily, and curly hair. 

The glycerin-free formula delivers fabulous results that you’ll love, even on coarse hair. It keeps frizz at bay, and creates touchably soft defined curls that last for days between washes. This gel is one of my top favorites!

Jessicurl Spiralicious Gel
$18.85 ($2.36 / Fl Oz)

Probably the best gel for humidity and most people seem to really love their results using it. It works on all curl types too so it won't weigh down fine curls if you don't use too much.

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03/04/2024 09:32 pm GMT

Protein-Free Hair Mask

Briogeo Superfoods Avocado + Kiwi Mega Moisture Mask is a weekly treat for all hair types. It boosts hydration with a 96% naturally derived, vegan, and cruelty-free formula that’s also phthalate- and paraben-free. 

This rich deep conditioner is full of phytonutrients from shine-enhancing avocado oil, vitamin-rich spinach, and antioxidant vitamin C. It will deeply nourish and hydrate your parched strands, leaving them soft, shiny, and moisturized. 

Briogeo Superfoods Avocado + Kiwi Mega Moisture Mask
$39.00 ($4.88 / Fl Oz)

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03/09/2024 06:32 pm GMT

Protein-Free Mousse

Not Your Mother’s Curl Talk Curl Activation Mousse is the ideal curl-enhancing mousse for beautifully defined curls with light, touchable hold. It protects against humidity to fight frizz and keep your hair looking gorgeous for longer. 

Not Your Mother’s Curl Activation Mousse contains no dyes and is sulfate-, silicone-, and paraben-free. It’s also cruelty-free, suitable for color-treated hair, and has a gorgeous citrus fragrance. 

Not Your Mother's Curl Talk Curl Activating Mousse
$13.80 $13.00 ($1.86 / Fl Oz)
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03/07/2024 09:02 pm GMT

Is Protein Good or Bad for Hair?

Hair is mainly made up of a type of protein called keratin. Exposing your hair to heat or chemicals damages the keratin in your hair strands, leaving your tresses looking dull and feeling dry and brittle. 

Protein treatments contain ingredients like keratin or wheat protein that are similar to the natural protein in your hair. They can restore shine and elasticity, strengthening the hair and helping it look healthier.

But while protein is essential to good hair health, too much protein can cause problems. If you experience protein overload, the excess protein leads to a lack of moisture. 

Without enough hydration, your hair becomes dry and brittle, leaving it prone to split ends and breakage. You may also find that you have a problem with frizz or that your hair is generally difficult to style and manage.

This can often happen if you have overused protein products for some time or have coarse hair that’s naturally prone to tangles and frizz. 

And excess protein can also dehydrate hair extensions as easily as natural hair, leaving them more likely to snap.

Jessicurl Spiralicious protein free gel hair styling results

What Causes Protein Buildup in Hair?

The main cause of protein buildup is overuse of hair care products containing protein. If your shampoo, conditioning treatments, and styling products all contain protein, this could be too much for your strands, causing a product buildup on them.

You might be worried that you’ll have to skip protein treatments altogether. However, using them in moderation and maintaining a healthy balance of protein and moisture treatments will help improve your hair’s condition and create the soft, defined curls you long for.

How Do You Know If Your Hair Is in Protein Overload?

It can be hard to spot protein overload, as the symptoms are similar to hair that’s been damaged by hot styling tools or chemical treatments. 

If your hair looks dull, dry, or brittle, you may have protein overload. If you have frizz that’s hard to control or your hair is generally unmanageable, this may also be down to protein overload.

Another sign of protein overload could be white or yellow flakes on your scalp. This may be caused by conditions like dandruff but it can also be protein residue mixed with dead skin cells from the scalp.

You can test by using a protein treatment on your hair. If your hair improves and feels soft, the damage is probably due to heat styling or chemical exposure. On the other hand, if you find your hair still feels dry afterward, that may mean that your hair is struggling with protein buildup.

You can learn more about this problem in our Guide to Protein Overload.

How Do I Know If I Have Protein-Sensitive Hair?

Protein-sensitive hair is different from protein overload. It’s a problem that occurs when applications of protein-rich products damage your hair strands. It tends to affect low-porosity and coarse hair that leaves the protein on the surface of the strand instead of absorbing it. 

Not sure if you have low porosity hair? Our Guide to Hair Porosity will help!

If you think you have protein-sensitive hair, try using your regular shampoo and conditioner containing protein, then allow your hair to air dry without any styling product.

Once your hair is dry, check what its texture feels like. If your hair feels rough, hard, or dehydrated, the protein has likely damaged your protein-sensitive hair strands.

Benefits of Protein-Free Hair Products

Protein-free hair products will help deliver hydration into your hair strands and keep it sealed in. This conditions your hair, fighting frizz and making your hair soft, shiny and easier to manage.

There are various other benefits to switching to protein-free hair products.

Too much protein can make your hair more brittle, which means it is prone to split ends and breakage. Protein-free hair products can increase your hair’s elasticity, making it less likely to break. 

Protein-free hair products also tend to be a good option for people with a sensitive scalp or allergies. Certain types of protein can cause irritation, redness, and allergic reactions on your scalp, so avoiding them gives you great hair without the discomfort.

Using lightweight protein-free hair products reduces the likelihood of product buildup on your strands, so you can leave it longer before using a clarifying shampoo. 

Protein-free hair products are also less likely to contain animal-derived ingredients, making them more environmentally friendly and a more sustainable choice.

Key Ingredients in Protein-Free Hair Products

When choosing protein-free hair products, look for nourishing hydration ingredients that don’t weigh down your locks.

  • Aloe vera: This soothing plant extract conditions your hair and adds shine.
  • Coconut oil: A penetrating oil that delivers moisture deep inside the hair shaft.
  • Glycerin: A humectant that attracts water to keep your hair moisturized.
  • Shea butter: A sealing oil that seals moisture into the hair shaft. 

It’s also essential to avoid any product containing harsh chemicals like sulfates and parabens, which can strip the natural oils from your hair, making it even drier.


How Do I Get Rid of Protein Buildup in My Hair?

If you already have signs of protein buildup, here are a few tips for treating protein overload and recovering your curl’s beauty:

Use a Clarifying Shampoo

Washing your locks with a protein-free clarifying shampoo will remove any product buildup and leave your hair and scalp beautifully clean. Once you’ve dealt with the product buildup, use the shampoo once or twice a month to prevent it from returning. 

You can also try using apple cider vinegar rinses to clarify your hair and restore its pH balance.

Balance Protein with Moisture

Your hair naturally contains protein, so ensure it has enough moisture to keep it in balance. Dehydrated locks will soon experience split ends, tangles, and breakage, so keep your hair moisturized with conditioners and penetrating oils.

Switch to Protein Free Hair Products

If your hair is suffering from protein overload or you have protein-sensitive hair, switch to protein-free hair products to see if it improves. When you’re ready to try protein-rich products again, introduce them slowly and keep a careful watch for any change.

Go for a trim

Protein overloading can make your hair heavy and unmanageable. Trimming an inch or two will eliminate split ends before they can spread further up your strands.

Give your hair a break from styling

Hot styling, hair products, and hair colors can all harm your hair. So, if your mane looks damaged, try wearing your hair loose or gently pulled back and take a break from chemical treatments like hair dyes.

black woman with finger curls


If you’re considering a switch to protein-free hair products, here are some of the most frequently asked questions on the topic:

How Can I Identify Protein in Hair Products?

It’s essential to read the ingredient list on your product labels carefully and look out for ingredients including:

  • Keratin
  • Hydrolyzed collagen
  • Hydrolyzed keratin
  • Hydrolyzed oat flour
  • Hydrolyzed silk protein
  • Hydrolyzed soy protein
  • Hydrolyzed wheat protein
  • Oat flour
  • Rice complex
  • Silk amino acids

How Often Should I Use Protein-Free Hair Products?

This depends on your hair type and its condition. If you have very dry or coarse hair, you might need to use protein-free products on every wash day. On the other hand, once or twice a week should be enough for oily or fine hair.

It may take a few weeks for your hair and scalp to adapt to your new protein-free hair products. Pay close attention to how your hair responds to the new products and adjust your routine if necessary.

Should I Consult a Hairstylist Before Switching to Protein-Free Products?

Visiting a stylist regularly allows you to get professional advice on protein-sensitive hair. If your hair starts to break and tangle easily or starts to shed a lot, it’s a good idea to consult a professional stylist to discuss switching to protein-free hair products. 

However, sudden changes can also be a symptom of health issues. If your hair changes drastically or starts to come out in clumps, seek advice from a medical professional.

The Bottom Line

Although there isn’t a lot of research into protein buildup, many curly girls tell us that it’s a problem they’ve experienced.

If you’ve discovered that overuse of protein hair treatments has left your hair dull, dry, and damaged, the first step is to remove the protein overload with a clarifying shampoo and trim away any damaged ends. 

Once you’ve dealt with the overload, switching to protein-free hair products can help prevent the problem from returning. You might not need to use them every wash day, but our pick of the best protein-free hair products will restore the beautiful hair you love.

8 best protein free curly hair products text overlay on curly hair

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