A ‘protective style’ is any hairstyle that covers and protects the ends of your hair (the most delicate part) or minimizes exposure to damage. Any hair type can benefit from protective styling. I’ve always preferred wearing my natural hair out, favoring simple styles like wash and goes or a puff but every once in a while my arms and my ends need a break. That’s when I turn to protective styling.
Reasons for choosing a protective style vary from person to person but here are a few:
Breakage and Mechanical Damage
Breakage we’re all familiar with. It could be the result of a dietary deficiency, lack of protein or moisture, an issue with textures (long-term transitioning), overuse of heat styling tools or even a bad product reaction.
Mechanical damage is a sneakier beast. Ever brush your hair too roughly or struggle with a ponytail holder only to find strands of your hair wrapped around it? Who hasn’t trapped their hair under a bag strap, shoved their hair into a rough winter hat or rubbed their head absentmindedly against a headrest? All of these things, bit by bit, can erode the strength and appearance of your strands. Ends typically fare the worst because they’re the oldest part of the hair strand and frequently rub on shoulders and rough fabrics.
Grow Your Hair with the Quickness
Now, before we go any further, I have to clarify something. There are two factors in hair length. Growth – i.e. the rate at which your hair grows from your scalp each month and retention – i.e. how much hair you keep each month. Think about it. If your hair grows 1″ each month but due to breakage or damage you lose 3/4″ each month your length only increases by 1/4″ each month. If it’s breaking nearly as fast as it’s growing in you can’t get very far ahead. Due to differences in cuticles (the outermost layer of the hair strand), strand type/diameter, and genetics, natural hair is the most susceptible to this type of damage.A protective style helps interrupt the cycle. When you prevent your normal breakage and mechanical damage you're able to retain and show length sooner. Click To Tweet
A protective style helps interrupt the cycle. When you prevent your normal breakage and mechanical damage you’re able to retain and show length sooner. Most of the naturals I know with really long, healthy hair depend, at least in part, on protective styling. In fact, most women around the world with exceptionally long hair keep it bunned or braided for both convenience and hair health.
Of course, your hair will still grow without protective styling. It just may take longer for you to see visible results.
You Just Need a Dang BreakSo, after I wake up a few days in a row and look at the top of my head like 'ugh' I know it's time to put it away for a little while and let both of us have our space. Click To Tweet
Listen, I love my fro. LOVE HER. But every once in a while I just need a breeeeeak. I’ve simplified my routine over the years but it’s still work! Detangling is my primary shoulder workout! So, after I wake up a few days in a row and look at the top of my head like ‘ugh’ I know it’s time to put it away for a little while and let both of us have our space. My hair comes out of it longer and healthier (especially nice after a summer of frying in the desert sun) and I’m so happy to see my hair again I’m actually EXCITED for a deep-conditioning-super-awesome-moisturising wash day with all the works.
You Want to Try a Different Look…But You Don’t Want to Commit
Maybe you have long hair and you want to go short. Maybe you’ve always wondered what hair down to your butt would look like. Try out that new color you’ve been eyeing sans the damage or see how you look with a totally different texture. It’s up to you. With options from full wigs and weaves all the way to a simple bun, your protective style choice can be a great opportunity to experiment and try different styles without the long-term buyer’s remorse.
Some Things to Remember About Protective StylingYou still have to care for your hair in a protective style. This isn't so much a concern if you're bunning, but it can make a big difference for more involved styles - especially extensions. Click To Tweet
Out of Sight Does NOT Mean Out of Mind
You still have to care for your hair in a protective style. This isn’t so much a concern if you’re bunning, but it can make a big difference for more involved styles – especially extensions. I love using my rosewater spritz on my hair and scalp then sealing with a light oil. You don’t need tons of products with a protective style. They’ll just gunk up the place because there’s nowhere to go. A light and effective moisturizer followed by a nourishing oil to seal is perfect.
Not TOO Tight
It’s normal to have a little bit of a headache for a day or two for more involved styles, but if your scalp is bleeding, super tender, irritated or itching uncontrollably it’s in your best interest to remove the style before it’s too late. Braiding/twisting too tightly can stress the scalp causing traction alopecia (hair loss), and permanent damage.
There’s a Time Limit
Depending on hair type protective styles can last anywhere from a day to a few weeks.
Can be taken down daily. I bunned for 14 months straight during my transition because it was free (holla) and easy. I took it down each night to moisturize my ends and put it right back. Boring, but highly effective.
These easily last 2wks and some are able to go longer than that. I’ve found that cornrows tend to start looking fuzzy or messy sooner than other styles but that varies with hair type.
Braids/Twists – No Extensions
Because there are no extensions it’s easier to keep an eye on the condition of your hair. These typically last anywhere from 2-4wks. You may want to redo the edges more frequently if frizz bugs you.
Weaves + Braids/Twists – with Extensions & Crochet Styles
These styles typically last the longest going anywhere from 4-6wks which makes it especially important that you care for your hair while you’re wearing them. One tip I swear by is combining 1 part shampoo with 1 part water in a dye bottle with a nozzle so I can squeeze it directly on my scalp and rinse easily.
Are you a fan of protective styling? Why or why not? If you are, what’s your go-to style?