Caring for Natural Hair While in Protective Styles

Protective styles are a great and stylish way to give your natural hair a break. Whether you are wearing your hair in box braids, faux locs, or flat twists, each style is helping to protect the ends and rest of your hair. Styles like these (when properly done) can help to promote length retention since there is less manipulation being done on the hair strands. As mentioned in our top 10 natural hair myths article, protective styles do not actually promote faster growth. Instead, they can help you to retain more growth. Because you are not manipulating the hair through combing or friction from wearing it down, this reduces unnecessary breakage. In turn, you are retaining length that may have otherwise been lost. Aside from the benefits of protective styling, caring for natural hair while in a protective style is just as important.

There are some things to keep in mind when protective styling. Some of the styles we wear like box braids, wigs or weaves, causes tension on the hair and scalp. Tension on the edges and perimeter of the hair can lead to eventual thinning and hair breakage. Wearing a protective style for too long can additionally cause excessive build-up that can interfere with scalp health.

Here are some other good to know tips when caring for natural hair while in a protective style:

caring for natural hair while in protective styles
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1) Prep your hair before a long-term protective style 

If you are going to be wearing a long-term protective style, there are some ways you can prep your hair beforehand to help keep it healthy. Try to do a good deep condition or protein treatment prior to putting your hair in a protective style like box braids. By doing so will give your strands a boost of nourishment so that your hair isn’t being tucked away in a weakened or excessively dry state.

2) Check if you need a trim

The ends of our hair are the oldest parts and are more prone to dryness and breakage. It helps to give your hair a trim if needed before long-term protective styles. If brittle split ends are left untreated, the splitting can travel further up the hair shaft. This leads to further tangling and split ends once you take your protective style down. 

3) Loosen tension on the edges

With any protective style, whether it is a long-term style or a puff, be mindful to keep loose tension on your edges and perimeter of your hair. These parts are composed of fragile strands that are more prone to breakage. If you are getting your hair professionally done, speak up to let the stylist know if and when the braiding is too tight. For puffs and buns, try not to wear these protective styles every day as they are pulling the hair strands backwards causing strain and can eventually lead to future thinning. If puffs and buns are your favorite go-to styles, try leaving your edges out with stylish braids or twists sometime.

4) Don’t forget to moisturize

While protective styles are supposed to be “stress free” low manipulation styles, it is still important to keep your hair moisturized underneath. Since we are not deep conditioning or washing our hair as frequently underneath a protective style, it can lead to notably dry hair. If you do not apply any form of moisture during the duration of your long-term protective styles, it can cause further breakage upon taking them down from the excessive dryness. One way to keep your strands moisturized underneath is with braid sprays or other leave-ins.  

caring for natural hair while in protective styles

5) Stimulating oils for the scalp

Protective styles can aid in length retention. Another way to promote growth and keep your scalp and hair healthy though, is with the help of stimulating oils. Massage Jamaican black castor oil around the hairline and edges to keep these fragile strands strong. Olive oil, vitamin E oil, and jojoba oil are just a few beneficial oils you can also apply to the scalp to promote healthy hair growth while in a protective style.

6) Be mindful of scalp health however

With all the product we apply, whether that be edge control, oils, and leave-ins, can cause build up on the hair and scalp. Too much product build-up can interfere with the health of your hair while wearing protective styles. It can cause the hair follicles to become clogged, possibly affecting both hair and scalp health. Even if you plan to wear a protective style with synthetic hair like Marley twists or box braids, there are ways you can shampoo your hair without causing too much frizz.

7) Give your hair breaks in between

Although protective styling can be very beneficial for natural hair, it is important to give your hair a break in between styles. The weight of the added hair causes tension and pulling just not on your edges, but the rest of your scalp as well. There have been some women who developed traction alopecia as a result of braids that were too tight, or too frequently installed with no rest on the scalp. A good time frame for long term protective styles is to wait 2-4 weeks post removal before you get another protective style done.

caring for natural hair while in protective styles
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8) Don’t leave your hair in a protective style for too long

Another important tip when caring for natural hair while in a protective style, is to not keep it in for too long. Braids and twists naturally loosen overtime, which can lessen tension. However, excessive product build-up, tangles from shed hair, and split ends are all possibilities. For long-term protective styles like box braids, a good 8 weeks max. is a healthy aim.

For protective styles like cornrows / mini twists, 6 weeks is recommended. You should not wear puffs and buns every day, because as previously mentioned this can cause breakage along the hairline, edges, and nape from the constant pulling. Try to switch out styles weekly to lessen stress on the hair.

What is your favorite protective style to wear?

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