“Protective style” is a term that gets tossed around a lot in the natural hair community, but often the styles we refer to as protective don’t satisfy the definition of the phrase. Technically protective styles are styles in which the ends of your hair are safe and not exposed to the elements, the idea being that by protecting the most fragile parts of the hair, less breakage occurs, encouraging length retention. A bun, for example, is a quintessential protective style. The ends are tucked away and protected from the drying fabrics of our clothes and harsh environmental elements like wind and debris. Bantu knots are also considered to be a protective style. A style like twists (without added hair), however, isn’t a true protective style because the ends of the hair are still out in the open.
Now, this doesn’t mean that styles that don’t cover your ends like twists, cornrows, french braids, (etc.) aren’t great for your hair. These styles are considered to be low manipulation styles, meaning that once you’ve styled your hair you don’t have to do it (manipulate it) again for at least a few days, which is awesome! The less you manipulate your hair the less stress you put on it, which helps cut down breakage. I, personally, always opt for low manipulation styles because they suit my hair and lifestyle, and I think that’s why I’ve seen so much growth over the past two years.
NO CLUE WHICH PROTECTIVE STYLE TO TRY?
CROTCHET BRAIDS, BOX BRAIDS AND MARLEY TWISTS
Box braids (individual braids with added kanekalon hair) and Marley Twists (twists done with Marley hair) are beautiful styles that give your hair a break for a long period of time. Traditionally, these styles are installed directly onto your hair; your hair is parted, and the synthetic hair is braided or twisted into your own. This method is great, but it can take hours to do. To avoid spending up to 5-7 hours (twelve hours for me) getting your hair done, opt for crochet braids! You can achieve pretty much any style with the crochet method, including box braids and Marley twists. You simply braid your hair into equally-sized cornrows and crotchet the individual braids or twists onto your hair. This cuts down time spent doing or getting your hair done, and it looks bomb!
Watch this beginner-friendly video to get a solid grasp on this technique.
WE WANT OUR EDGES TO BE SNATCHED, BUT NOT SNATCHED
Okay, as black women, laid edges are practically non-negotiable. For years we’ve been slicking our hair back into sleek braids and buns, and molding our edges with the best of control. But it’s time….to get real. While those protective and low manipulation styles are bomb, and no one can do baby hairs like us, the truth is that using tension and product on our edges regularly can lead to hair loss, or at the least, thinning. Think about it: the constant pulling and tugging and brushing we do to get our hair into certain styles put stress on our already fragile edges. Now, that doesn’t mean you have to put the toothbrush down for good, that would be ludacris. What we’ve got to do is change the way we treat our edges.
Apply a small amount of oil to your edges before using edge control to provide a bit of moisture and nourishment, this helps protect them a bit.
If you can, try to avoid laying your edges every single day. I only do my edges when I’m going out and want to look extra cute, or there’s some sort of cool event. During the week I leave my edges alone, and the soreness has gone away, plus my edges aren’t as thin.
When doing protective and low manipulation styles, loosen your grip. I know tight braids and buns look so good, but at what cost? Really though, constantly doing tight styles is not good for your scalp/edges.
FOUR IS NOT ALWAYS THE MAGIC NUMBER
You’ve seen it in nearly every natural hair tutorial: split your hair into four sections and to detangle, apply product or style. Speaking from research and firsthand experience, the four section method is not always the way to go. If your hair is short or thin, putting your hair into four sections in order to work with your hair is great. However, the thicker your hair is and the longer it gets, the more sections the better. Splitting the hair into four sections causes tension at the very center of the scalp. Where I went wrong is, I’d put my hair into four sections to do my braid outs, but I’d then pull my hair up into a tight bun to rock until I was ready to take my braids down. My scalp and edges were always so sore, and I couldn’t understand why. After a bit of research I realized it was due to the tension I was putting on my scalp with the four sections and tight bun. I stumbled across this video and after that, I changed my ways. I’ve now opted for six sections and I don’t wear my braids in a bun. When I take out my braids, I let my hair be free and when I do decide to pull it up in any way, I’m sure to keep the style somewhat loose and I don’t wear it for a long time. These small adjustments have done wonders for my scalp.
Whether you’re doing braids, Marley twists or even slaying a wig, keep these things in mind to ensure your hair stays healthy and happy.
Preparation is everything. Before putting in a style that you’ll wear for weeks, be sure to cleanse and deep condition your hair, maybe even do a protein treatment if you’re due one. If you need a trim, go ahead and do that too. Give your hair some extra care and make sure it has all the nourishment it needs before being tucked away for an extended period of time.
Make sure you can always get to your scalp. It’s vital to take care of your scalp by cleansing and moisturizing it, even when in braids or under a wig. If wigs are your thing, be sure to take it off regularly to oil and massage your scalp and stay consistent with your wash days.
This video is a great example of how to cleanse your hair while in braids.
Don’t ditch your spray bottle. Your hair always needs moisture, so don’t forget to spray your hair every few days. The synthetic hair we use for braids and twists is quite drying, and we don’t want dry hair!
When taking down your style, do so carefully. You don’t want to cause breakage or damage by rushing or being rough. Use an oil to take down your hair gently and binge a series on Netflix, or listen to your favorite podcast! Whatever you do, take your time and do it right.
Protective and low manipulation styles are wonderful and really help to decrease breakage. Plus, they allow you to take a break from doing your hair. Let’s be honest, natural hair is work, so it’s definitely nice to be able to take a tiny hiatus and focus on other things. The key is to always prep your hair well, keep it moisturized and refrain from super tight looks. Keep these tips in mind and you’re golden!