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Protective Styles: How To Do a Protective Style on Natural Hair

Protective Styles: How To Do a Protective Style on Natural Hair

Protective styles have a reputation for being low-maintenance and easy to do, but that’s not always the case. Preparing for and maintaining a protective style takes a lot of work if you want to keep your hair healthy.

Although, these styles are becoming more and more popular.

In fact, many popular celebrities have started wearing protective hairstyles, including Tessa Thompson, Zazie Beetz, Gabrielle Union, Justine Skye, Tracee Ellis Ross, Yara Shahidi, Amandla Stenberg, Issa Rae, Jhene Aiko, and Lacy Redway.

That’s why we are going to tell you everything you need to know about protective styling. As a bonus, we’ll share with you five great protective styles that you can try for yourself!

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Why Are Protective Styles Important?

African American woman wearing box braids, a brown shirt, and blue jeans.

The basic concept of “protective styling” is to preserve your hair from damage. If one of your hair goals is to preserve your hair from damage, then you should incorporate protective styling into your natural hair regimen whenever possible.

Protective hairstyles are created to reduce ongoing manipulation of your hair, encourage growth retention, and protect the ends of your hair strands, reducing knots and tangles.

How To Do Protective Styles for Natural Hair

Beautiful black woman wearing crochet braids, sunglasses, pink fingernails, and a blue, green, and white.

Before doing any protective style on your hair, you need to do some preparation. Preparation is the foundation of every single style, enabling your hair to handle the manipulation that protective styles require. 

Prepping natural hair requires a series of steps, each one aimed at cleaning, nourishing, and moisturizing your strands so that the protective style won’t cause damage or breakage. Also, prepping your hair will ensure that your scalp won’t get dry, flaky, or irritated. 

Now, let’s get into the specifics of prepping your hair, with a step-by-step guide infused with a few expert tips. 

Shampoo Your Hair 

Black girl with braided hair extensions wearing a blue jean jumper.

The first part of hair prep is to remove dirt, oil, and product buildup from the hair.

When choosing a shampoo, we recommend going for a sulfate-free shampoo to avoid dry, crispy strands later. So, grab your shampoo, hop in the shower, and follow these steps. 

  1. Pre-Rinse – The first thing you want to do is soak your hair. Make sure that it’s drenched from root to tip before you add any product. 
  2. Time for Shampoo – Grab a sulfate-free shampoo, take a bit and apply it directly to your roots. Apply as much product as you need to cover the entire scalp before you start to work it in. 
  3. Work in Shampoo – Using circular motions, work the shampoo all-around your scalp using the pads of your fingers. 
  4. Distribute – Move the shampoo down the length of your hair with your fingers. You don’t want to leave the shampoo sitting on your hair, as this will dry your hair out quickly. 
  5. Rinse– With hair nice and clean, it’s time to rinse out the product. Rinse thoroughly to make sure no shampoo is left behind.

Condition Your Hair 

Black woman with Ghana braids wearing a leather watch, flower-based shirt, and blue jeans while using her iPhone 10.

When conditioning naturally curly hair, focus on the ends, coating them with a moisturizing conditioner that prevents breakage and split ends.

Your ends are the oldest parts of your hair, and they need TLC. To condition, you’ll need to: 

  1. Apply Conditioner to your ends – Apply a natural moisturizing conditioner to the ends of your hair while it’s still wet from shampooing. Don’t be afraid to use a lot of conditioner, especially if your hair is thick or extremely dry. 
  2. Work it in – Massage the conditioner into your ends until they are fully covered. 
  3. Apply it all over – Apply the conditioner to the rest of your hair until it’s all coated. Then, massage a bit into the scalp. 
  4. Comb through – While your hair is coated in conditioner, begin detangling. Grab a wide-toothed comb and gently detangle from ends to roots. 
  5. Let it sit – If you have time, put on a shower cap and let the conditioner sit for 15–20 minutes. 
  6. Rinse – Now it’s time to rinse out the product. Make sure you rinse thoroughly so that there’ll be no excess product left in your hair.  

Moisturize Your Hair 

Young African American college student listening to the Curl Centric podcast on her smartphone in Atlanta, GA.

With your hair clean and conditioned, it’s time to moisturize. For natural hair, oils like argan and jojoba are great, and a little goes a long way. For an effective moisturizing session, follow these steps. 

  1. Section the Hair – For optimal distribution, start by parting the hair into four sections (more if you have thicker hair). 
  2. Twist – Twist each section down to the ends to keep them separate.  
  3. Add Oil – Working section-by-section, add a few drops of oil or a bit of moisturizer and work it from roots to ends. Use a comb to aid in distribution.
  4. Repeat – Repeat until all of your hair has been moisturized. 

Stretch Your Hair (Optional)

Young female with a big smile walking through downtown New York City.

Some protective hairstyles don’t require you to stretch your hair, and some do. There are three methods of stretching, all of which we’ll share with you below.

We’ll also share steps on how to do them correctly without breaking or tangling your hair.  

Banding

Black girl rope braids wearing a beige shirt walking on the street in downtown Birmingham, Alabama.

Banding is a heat-free method of stretching the hair. You can band both wet and dry curly hair, and here is how to do it.  

  • Section Hair – Start by parting the hair using a comb to create at least four sections. 
  • Brush – With a Denman brush, brush through each section from root to tip to elongate hair. 
  • Make a Ponytail – Put a band at the roots of each section. Be sure not to make it too tight.
  • Add Hair Ties – Starting with one sectioned ponytail, pull your hair down so that it’s stretched all the way. Then start adding hair ties along the hair shaft until you get to the end. *Leave about 1/2 an inch between each hair tie. 
  • Repeat – Repeat the previous step for all sections, allow your hair to dry, and then remove the bands. 

For Max Stretch – Use your Denman brush to brush your hair before adding each hair tie. 

Blow Drying

Close-up image of African American female wearing a braided ombre protective style.

Blow drying the hair to stretch it is an effective (and quick) method. When doing this method, be careful not to turn the heat up too high – doing this reduces the possibility of drying out or damaging your hair. To stretch curly hair with the blow-dry method, follow these steps. 

  • Section Your Hair – Use a comb or your fingers to separate your hair into at least four sections.
  • Stretch It – Take one section and stretch it with your hands. *Be careful not to overstretch. 
  • Blow Dry – Being cautious of the heat setting (lower is better), move the blow dryer along your hair shaft from roots to tips until it’s dry and stretched. 

For Max Stretch – Use A Denman brush to brush through sections as you blow-dry. 

Braiding

Cute black adult female looking into the sky while wearing poetic justice braids.

Stretching the hair with the braiding method is another way to go heatless. To stretch curly hair by braiding, here’s what you’ll need to do:

  • Section Hair – Part the hair into two sections. *Do more sections for thick hair. 
  • Brush – Choose a section and brush through it with a Denman brush to get smooth strands.
  • Braid – Braid the section down from roots to tips.
  • Repeat – Repeat the previous steps for the rest of your hair.
  • Wait – Leave the braids in your hair until they are totally dry. 
  • Remove the Braids – Take the braids out and brush through each section with a wide-toothed comb. 

Choose the Right Protective Style for You

African American woman wearing one of the best protective hairstyles for 4c hair.

When choosing the right protective style for you, there’s a lot to consider. 

First of all, it helps to understand your hair type and density. For instance, those with thicker hair seldom experience damage from protective styles.

On the other hand, thin hair has a higher chance of breaking and is better suited to styles that don’t require much tugging. 

Second, it helps to know if you’ve got any summer plans, like going to the beach or hanging out in the sun.

You might think twice about getting crochet braids if you plan on going for a swim – instead, you may want to go with lemonade braids or box braids

Third, it’s essential to know how difficult it is to install a specific protective style. If you’re new to doing protective styles on your own hair, we recommend starting with a simple protective style. 

Lastly, you should consider how long a given protective style lasts. Protective styles could last anywhere from a week to two months. If you are looking for a long-term protective style, a low bun won’t cut it. 

Once you’ve considered these things, it’s time to choose your preferred protective style. 

Top 5 Protective Styles for Natural Hair and How to Do Them

Woman Janet Jackson braids wearing a light brown shirt while talking on an Android phone.

You’ve got a wide variety of protective style options to choose from. No matter your hair type, summer plans, or style preferences, we’re sure there’s one that will catch your eye.

For some ideas, check out these top 5 hot protective styles and how you can create them at home. 

Note: Prep your hair according to the previous instructions before taking the following steps. 

Cornrows

Cornrows are a great protective style that keeps your hair tame and your ends protected. The style lasts a week or longer, and when you take the braids down, you’ll have a beautiful braid-out. 

When creating cornrows, the only limit is your imagination. You can go for simple straight backs, or get creative with wavy, intricate parting designs. Also, you can play with the quantity of hair, creating small or large sections depending on the look you want to achieve. 

To try out this fun protective style, here’s what you’ll need to do. 

  • Plan your Design – As we mentioned above, there’s a lot of flexibility here. Start by planning out your style. 
  • Part your first section – Part your hair with a rattail comb according to the design you’d like to achieve.
  • Braid – Start by taking three sections at the root. Begin braiding and picking up sections of your own hair as you go. 
  • Repeat – Repeat the same process until all of your hair is braided. 

Low Bun

Low buns are stylish, simple to pull off, and perfect for the summer. They keep the hair protected and the ends of natural hair tucked away. 

There are a few things to watch out for when rocking a low bun as a protective style, including your hair type, strength, length, and the elasticity of the hair tie you’re using. To create a stylish and protective low bun, follow these steps. 

  • Brush Hair –Start by brushing your hair with a Denman brush until it’s smooth and tangle-free. 
  • Apply a Styler – Apply a styling gel or cream around the perimeter of your hair, avoiding the ends. 
  • Make a Ponytail – Brush your hair backward into a low ponytail about an inch or two from the nape of your neck. Use a boar bristle brush for this step.
  • Create a Bun – Place one hand at the base of your ponytail and swirl it into a bun. 
  • Secure – Secure the bun in place with either bobby pins or an elastic band with no metal pieces.  

Afro Puff

Afro puffs are cute and easy to manage. They protect the hair by keeping it up and out of the way. 

The only thing to watch out for is using too much product on your edges, which could cause buildup and hair loss. 

Afro puffs come in many sizes and styles, all of which are gorgeous in their own way. To create an afro puff, here’s what you’ll need to do. 

  • Apply your Styler – Begin by adding a styling gel or cream to the hair around the perimeter of your head. 
  • Brush Your Hair Upward – Using a boar bristle brush, brush your hair upward. 
  • Create Your Puff – Put an oversized elastic band around your hair to create the puff. 
  • Lay Your Edges – Use a toothbrush and some edge control to lay your edges down. 

Instead of adding product each day, wrap your hair in a scarf to make the style last. 

Bantu Knots

Bantu knots are a spunky, bold protective style. While your hair is wrapped into Bantu knots, it’s protected from manipulation and outside elements. 

The style usually lasts about a week or longer, depending on whether you cover your hair up at night. 

  • Prepare Your Bands – Before you start making the buns, add oil to your elastic bands. The oil will prevent the bands from tugging or snagging your hair. 
  • Part the Hair – Using a comb, part your hair into several sections. You can make the sections as large or small as you’d like. 
  • Secure each Section – For each section, take a bit of gel, apply it around the section’s borders, and brush it in with a boar bristle brush. Secure the section with an elastic band, making a ponytail. 
  • Make Bantu Knots – Starting at the base of one of the sections, twirl your hair to make a coil. Then wrap the coil around itself repeatedly to create a Bantu knot. 
  • Repeat – Repeat the previous steps for all of the sections. 

Box Braids

Box braids are a trendy protective style that, when maintained properly, can last up to 8 weeks. It’s ideal for the summer, as you can get box braids wet without any worry about messing up your style or damaging your natural hair. 

Using synthetic braiding hair, you can create box braids of whichever length and size you want. You can even add colored extensions and embellishments. If you’re going for box braids, here’s how you can achieve them.  

  • Part Hair – Starting at the back of your head, create a horizontal section and clip the rest of the hair out of the way. Within that section, make a small box-shaped section (about an inch or so) and comb through it. 
  • Add Braiding Hair –Hold a one-inch piece of extension hair at the base of your first section. Getting as close to the root as you can, start braiding your natural hair into the braiding hair. 
  • Keep Going – Once the braiding hair is incorporated, keep on braiding down to the ends. * To seal the braids and keep them from unraveling, dip the ends in boiling water.

Other popular hairstyles include faux locs, flat twists, a traditional twist out, Fulani braids, Senegalese twists, braided crown, knotless box braids, hair extensions, finger waves, faux ponytails, Marley braids, and two-strand twists.

Protective Style Maintenance

African American woman with 4C hair type wearing Ghana Braids and green, blue, and white shirt.

To keep your protective style in tip-top shape, you’ll need to do a few things. 

First of all, if your hair appears to show signs of buildup, you should wash it. When washing your hair while it’s in a protective style, take your time and be gentle, so you don’t create unnecessary frizz. 

Note: Washing your hair may not always be possible while it’s in a protective style. For this reason, you should only apply styling products to your hair when absolutely necessary. 

If you wear wigs as a protective style, the key to keeping the wig looking good is to keep it moisturized. But don’t forget your natural hair under the wig – every week or so, you should wash, condition, and moisturize your hair.  

No matter what protective style you wear, it’s essential to cover your hair up at night with a silk or satin bonnet. Doing this will reduce the chances of hair damage, frizz, and breakage. 

When to Take Out Protective Styles

Female wearing box braids leaning against a tile while, talking on a mobile phone.

Each style has an expiration date, so understanding the signs is crucial. The most obvious sign that you need to take out your protective style is excessive hair growth, which is easier to spot in some hairstyles than others.

For instance, with box braids, the roots show; this makes it easy to gauge whether you need to take the braids out.  

Another telling sign is product buildup, which usually appears around the roots as a white, flaky substance.

Product buildup is normal, caused by a mix of product, dirt, and oil. If you begin to get product buildup that you can’t wash away, it’s time to take the style down. 

Here are a few common protective styles and how long they last: 

  • Box braids and yarn braids: 6 to 8 weeks
  • Twists with extensions: 4 to 8 weeks
  • High puff, low bun, Bantu knots: 1 week
  • Lemonade Braids and other cornrow styles: 2 to 4 weeks 

Pro tip: After taking down a protective style, let the hair rest for a week or two. This will limit hair damage from over-manipulation. 

Do Protective Styles Really Protect Your Hair? 

American female standing outside talking on the cell phone at a restaurant.

The simple answer is that it depends. Factors that determine whether a protective style is actually protective include: 

  • The amount of TLC you give to your hair before, during, and after doing a protective style.
  • How much tension is involved in the styling process? Tension is not healthy for the hair, causing it to weaken and break. 
  • Whether heat is involved. Protective styles requiring heat application carry the risk of heat damage

Choose protective styles that don’t require heat or excessive tension. Also, make sure that you adequately prep and maintain your hair. 

Pros and Cons of Protective Styles

Protective styles come with both advantages and disadvantages. Let’s jump right into the pros and cons below. 

Pros 

  • Some protective styles keep the hair and ends tucked away to prevent damage and allow the hair to rest. 
  • Some protective styles are easy to create and maintain (afro puffs and low buns). 
  • Protective styles allow you to be carefree, not worrying about what you’re going to do with your hair every day. 

Cons 

  • Some protective styles require a lot of practice, time, and effort to install. 
  • Wearing the same protective style repeatedly or longer than recommended can cause tension, alopecia, and breakage. 

Dos and Don’ts of Protective Styles

To ensure that your protective style endeavors don’t end in ruin, we’d like to share some helpful dos and don’ts. 

Do 

  • Take time when prepping your hair to minimize breakage and damage.  
  • Watch for signs of buildup while wearing a protective style. 
  • Take a moment to research specific protective styles before doing them on yourself.

Don’t 

  • Wear protective styles for longer than recommended. 
  • Pull or tug on hair too tight during the styling process. 
  • Add hair that’s too heavy for your strands. 
  • Allow someone without prior experience to do a protective style on your hair. 

Beautiful Braided Protective Styles from Instagram

✨PROTECTIVE STYLES COMPILATION✨

This beautiful braided protective hairstyle basically involves parting your natural hair and twisting it towards the nape area of your neck.

The good thing about this sort of hairstyle is that it’s cute, vibrant and youthful.

Braided Twists Style

This is one of the most common protective styles when it comes to braided twists. This is because it often involves cornrows but is much easier and faster to do.

If you would like a nice-looking hairstyle that can last for several weeks, this is definitely a good choice.

Pineapple Updo Style

This is a gorgeous pineapple updo with the hair gathered towards the front of your head.

High Natural Hair Bun Style

In some cases, a high bun is not viewed as a protective style.

However, any hairstyle that tucks the ends of your hair away puts minimal stress on your hair edges and doesn’t require constant manipulation can be viewed as protective.

This is often a great protective style for short hair.

Short, Natural Twist Updo

New naturals often think that protective styling significantly limits their hairstyle choices; however, there are plenty of beautiful protective styles. This style uses big twists to create a textured updo hairstyle.

Cute and Professional Protective Style

Protective styles are trendy nowadays, especially as more women embrace their natural hair. This is a simple updo with buns, but it’s amazing. It’s also perfect for a day at the office or school.

The Truth about Protective Styling

There is often a lack of understanding within the natural hair community of exactly what protective styling really means. Let me explain why protective styling is so important.

Failing to incorporate protection into your natural hair regimen is one reason several women experience excessive hair breakage and fail to retain their desired hair length.

Furthermore, protective styling, an acceptable term within the natural hair community, is admittedly limiting and leaves out an essential component.

Usually, when we refer to the concept of protective styling, we’re speaking specifically about the various protective hairstyles that can keep your ends safe and tucked away – protected.

However, protective styling is only one component of your journey. You must focus on your entire natural hair regimen and look for ways to incorporate more protection across the board.

The term protective styling is often used in a limiting fashion. It should really refer to the process used to style your hair and not the actual style that you choose to wear.

The actual style that you decide to wear should be referred to as a protective hairstyle. It can be confusing when you think about it, but let me clarify why the distinction is so important.

Protective styling is really about increasing the number of good things you do for your hair and decreasing the number of bad things you do to your hair.

Let’s look at an example of how you can incorporate more protection into your natural hair regimen.

If you fail to take your time and be gentle when combing your hair, it’s relatively easy to stress your hair strands and cause unnecessary breakage.

To mitigate this potential cause of hair damage, you can incorporate more protective styling.

For example, use wide-tooth combs, seamless bone combs, or incorporate finger combing into your regimen.

If you decide to incorporate finger combing as a protective measure, be sure to remove any jewelry that you’re wearing and make sure your fingernails are well-trimmed.

Keep in mind that this is just one example of how you can mitigate potential hair damage when styling your hair by incorporating more protective styling into your natural hair regimen.protective styling

Protective styles are a great way to give your natural hair a break. Though these styles are “protective,” you still need to prep, maintain, and remove styles promptly for the best results. We hope that this article is helpful to you in your protective styling endeavors. 

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