Defining Natural Hair Terms: Protective Style

May 21, 2015
stretched twists

We often hear naturals talking about protective styles and how they use these styles to help grow their hair.  But what is a protective style and how does it help natural hair grow?

I like to know what words mean and where they come from; so I started by looking up the meaning of protect in the dictionary.  I used the Merriam-Webster online dictionary.  Protective comes from the root, protect:


pro·tect \prə-ˈtekt\

As a transitive verb (an action verb that has a direct object), protect means “to cover or shield from exposure, injury, damage, or destruction : guard.”

So a style that protects is a style that covers or shields the hair from exposure, injury, damage, or destruction : it guards the hair.

When Protective Styling Is Important

We can often be our hair’s worst enemy.  And this is not on purpose, by any means; but there are so many products and styles and techniques (oh, my!) out there that we want to try them all.  This is called over-manipulation and is the number one cause for breakage, knots, and stunted hair growth.  Sometimes our hair just needs a break and this is the advantage of protective styling – you can put your hair up in a twisted style, bun, braids, or even cornrowed underneath a wig – and keep your strands protected or shielded from harsh elements (humidity, dry air, etc.) and the ends tucked away for reduced breakage.

The Benefits of Protective Styling

There are many.  But I am going to share my top 5 benefits for wearing protective styles:

protective style benefit 1

I know; seems repetitive.  But this is one of the most popular and important reasons for wearing protective styles.  When taken care of properly and cared for underneath the protective style, your hair is protected and guarded from all sorts of elements, harsh product ingredients, and over-manipulation.

protective style benefit 2

This is called low-maintenance.  Our strands go through a lot – what, with the combing, brushing, slicking and gelling, stretching, drying, pulling, tugging – you get the picture, right?  When our hair is in a protective style, the manipulation of our hair is greatly reduced.  You don’t have to do your hair every day, so it gets a chance to breathe, to repair and replenish itself so it can grow.

protective style benefit 3

How?  No, this isn’t some magic formula for fast growth.  But it could be… Think about it… when your hair is protected and free to thrive without the stress of constant styling, then its only choice is to be healthy and grow.  Now this is dependent on the care of your hair underneath the protective style.  If your hair is in good condition before installing a protective style, and kept in good condition during, then it will be in good condition when you take it out.

This is where a good routine is so important for maintaining your hair’s condition before, during, and after wearing a protective style.  I go into more detail about my protective style natural hair routine here.

protective style benefit 4

I’m sure you’ve heard and read over and over about the versatility of natural hair.  This includes protective styles.  There is this awful rumor going around that protective styles are boring.  Um, I disagree!  Some naturals like me will find the perfect style and rock it for a long time.  Why?  Because it works for us.  But for those who love to change it up a bit there are so. many. hairstyles out there to try.  I mean, have you tried all of these?

versatility of protective style

…and if you have, have you tried a headband, scarf, decorative hair pin, hair comb, hair flower, feathered hair accessory, or even hair sticks?  The options are endless!

protective style benefit 5

Have you ever heard the phrase “add years to your life”?  Well, protective styles can definitely add time to your day!  Think about the amount of time it takes to style your hair in the morning before work or school.  Think about the amount of prep time you have to dedicate to your hair before going to bed.  Now imagine a good Marley twist style.  Are you seeing those minutes, hours, being used for something else?  Like more sleep?!  I’m just saying.

While your hair is protected, so is your precious time.  In the time it took me to wash & “go” in the morning – even after shortening my routine significantly – I get 30 more minutes of sleep, wake up and shower, pull my twists up into a high bun, apply a bit of makeup, and I’m done!  At night, I pull them down, oil my scalp, and pull them back into my extra large satin cap to go to bed.  I couldn’t ask for a better routine!

The Misconceptions Behind Protective Styling

Protective styling has a bad rep because of some of the nasty rumors flying around the natural hair atmosphere.  I want to correct some of those.

“I don’t have to do anything to my hair while it’s in a protective style!”

Um, negative.  Protective style does not mean no-maintenance.  It means low-maintenance.  And this is the best way to maintain hair health and retain hair length.

Repeat after me:  “I cannot put my hair into a protective style and forget about it.  I have to care for my hair underneath the style.”

Don’t you neglect your hair and then come running back to me to tell me that protective styling didn’t work for you.  I will give you the epic side-eye and then dedicate a post to you!  And you do not want that!  LOL!

epic side eye

“Protective styles are boring.”

What?  No!  Scroll back up to the purple box and look at all the protective styles you can wear.  If you do it right, it should take you a year to wear each of those.  Imagine the growth…

“My hair will grow faster if I keep it in protective styles.”

Okay, so although I am definitely pro-protective styling, I am not mislead into believing that this is a magic method that will bring about a foot of growth in a month’s time.  Come on!  Let’s be realistic.  Protective styles definitely help with retaining length, however your hair will not grow without the proper habits and routines to ensure that it is healthy.

The health if your hair should far outweigh the desire for length.  Optimum hair health will ensure healthy growth, which is often misinterpreted for faster growth.

Develop healthy hair practices for your hair, whether it is in a protective style or not, and then be consistent in those practices.  THIS is how your hair thrives in a protective style.  This is how your hair thrives outside of protective styles.  But healthy hair practices, consistency, and protective styling options give your hair the triple threat against breakage, damage, and over-manipulation.

I mean, what could it hurt?

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