Curly Girl Reviews: (Mostly) Protein-Free Conditioners + Styling Products

It's been pretty well established that healthy hair needs the right balance of moisture and protein, and that messing with the equilibrium by overdoing either one can cause problems. That's why, after years of what seemed like excessive hair breakage, I decided to try a protein detox this spring/summer to determine once and for all if protein overload was the cause of my sometimes brittle hair. Essentially, I eliminated any hair products with protein -- it's harder than you might think with all the hydrolyzed grains and other protein sources that can hide in an ingredient list! -- to see if that would resolve my issue.

As it turns out, I wasn’t fully protein-free for as long as I originally thought, as one of these products does contain a small amount of protein, but I did still do a proper detox for close to four months.  My hair routine was already silicone-free, and that’s also true of these five items.  

For shampoo, I’ve been using an older protein-free formulation from Andalou Naturals, but, since you can’t get your hands on the same version anymore, I’ve not included it here.  If you’re looking for a good shampoo without protein, I’d recommend the ones from Oneka, which I’ve really enjoyed in the past.

Acure Buildup Balancing Hemp & ACV Conditioner
Acure’s Argan Oil Shampoo and Conditioner was all I used for several years, and this guy has been reminding me of exactly why I used to love the company’s hair care so much!  It’s undoubtedly the lightest of the three conditioners here, but it still manages to tame frizz and hydrate my hair sufficiently.  The back of the bottle promises to “reset your hair’s balance with pH adjusting and clarifying apple cider vinegar and hemp seed oil," which, as a longtime fan of homemade ACV rinses, definitely had me intrigued from the get-go.  I typically wash my hair every other day, but I find that when I use this conditioner, I can push that an extra day or two before my hair starts to feel dirty or grimey.  Acure markets this line as fragrance free and my nose only picks up a slight acidic/vinegary scent from the conditioner, but it’s worth noting that it does contain orange oil and a few other potentially fragrant extracts, so, while it basically has no scent, it's not free of scent ingredients.

I loved this lemon cake-scented conditioner initially, but with longer use, it hasn’t been as great for my hair as I first thought.  Used occasionally or in rotation with other conditioners, it’s nicely moisturizing and works well, but when I used it every wash, I found it created a lot of buildup in my hair.  It’s not so terrible that I won’t finish the tube, just not one that I’ll buy again.  It’s a real shame, because, buildup aside, the conditioner is loaded with great plant extracts like burdock, St. John’s wort, nettle, and calendula that are all great for promoting healthy hair.  

This is the product that technically doesn’t belong in this roundup since it contains protein in the form of a pea peptide.  The jar in the photo is also long empty, scraped clean several months ago, but, even though I featured it on Instagram last year, I wanted to talk about it here on the blog too before sending the empty on its way.  Grounded Sage is one of my favourite Ontario skincare brands, and this first foray into their hair care did not disappoint either!  

The Happiness Boost Conditioner is a beautiful nourishing formula that’s great for defining curls and minimizing frizz without weighing hair down.  My hair looked extra shiny and healthy when I was using this, and I loved the Happiness Boost scent, a fresh citrus-mint combo.  I often reserved this conditioner for a once or twice a week treatment, rather than using it as an “every wash” product, but it worked great in either capacity.    Full proceeds from the conditioner go to Lily’s Place, a small animal sanctuary run by Grounded Sage’s founder, Jamie, which I think is pretty great too!

I love a good “scrunch and go” product for my curls and that’s exactly what the Cream Gel is.  With the consistency of a milky gel, this is a perfect midway between a traditional hair gel and a curl cream, with light-to-medium hold coming from a blend of glycerin, pullulan, and a few different plant gums.  It performs as you might expect, with less hold and more moisture than a gel, but without the richness of a cream.  It’s lightweight and defines curls nicely without any crunchy or sticky residue.  The Cream Gel has an herbal-floral aroma courtesy of an essential oil blend that includes geranium, spearmint, bergamot, lavender, and clove, but it’s not one that lingers very long beyond application.

The Hair Revitalizer, a two-time Clean Beauty Awards finalist, is a great multi-use product that functions as both a hair treatment/leave-in conditioner and a styler.  The ingredients are simple -- a blend of mainly locally-sourced, wild-harvested Ontario birch tree water, plus vegetable glycerin and witch hazel water -- and it does a fantastic job boosting volume at the roots and refreshing second-day curls.  Birch water is used as a traditional hair treatment in Nordic and Eastern Europe and it's great for increasing hair shine and manageability, encouraging healthy growth, and balancing sebum production.  Honestly, I reach for it mostly as a styling aid, but I like knowing that it also has benefits for my hair and scalp.  I opted for the unscented version of this product, however it’s also available in Lavender and Lemongrass varieties.

The Bottom Line
Going protein-free hasn’t solved all my hair breakage woes, sadly, but I still think it’s not a bad idea to keep in mind how much protein you’re putting on your hair!  I’m not as concerned with avoiding it entirely anymore, but, other than the Benecos conditioner, which just didn’t work for me in the long run, I would happily continue to use and repurchase any of these products.

Is protein content something you think about when choosing hair products?

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