Protective Styling Your Natural Hair to Death

April 25, 2017

I’m a big fan of protective styling to get you through ruts and to help your hair thrive.  But I have a confession…

I am guilty of over-protective-styling my natural hair.  There, I said it.

The Concept of Protective Styling

The definition varies from natural to natural, and the concept of protective styling has taken on a life of it’s own.  But the jist of protective styling is wearing certain styles  in your hair that keep your ends tucked away – or even sometimes all of your hair – to ‘protect’ it from over-manipulation, harsh environmental factors, and chemical products or treatments.  Why?  Because natural hair is fragile and too much of anything can cause damage.

So the biggest reason for protective styling is length retention.  Other reasons include to keep the hands out of our natural hair, to keep from using heat to style, and even as a way to get through the transitioning phase.

But this concept of only using protective styling as a temporary way to keep our natural hair safe has been overused and a bit abused.

In fact, the original styles for protective styling were updos or buns, twists and twist updos, bantu knots, flat twists, braids, etc.  Weaves and wigs were not completely thought of as protective styling until more recently.  And even then, they should be used with care and not as frequently or long-term.  Plus you have to care for your won hair while under weaves and wigs.

The Problem with Protective Styling

I know, I know… I’m about to touch on some touchy subjects, here.  And they are touchy even for me.  In fact, this post is really me talking to,… well,… me.  You just get to overhear it…

In her video, “Why I HATE ‘Protective Styling!‘ “, Naturally Philo asks,

What is the point of investing time and energy into growing healthy, natural hair if you don’t allow it to be free or seen?


I have been wearing wigs over my super short TWA for about 8 months; actually I had no idea I had been wearing wigs that long until I watched this video and really thought long and hard about my own personal natural hair journey.

But I love wigs.  And I love the idea of using wigs to maintain a professional look (more on this fallacy later) at work, while trying different styles and colors without actually using bleach, heat, or scissors on my own hair.  This is definitely a good thing.  I also believe in always, always taking care of your natural hair under the wigs, and have a natural hair routine for wigs that includes making sure my scalp is always clean, conditioned,  and moisturized.  I take off my wig every day after work, and rarely wear it on the weekends.  So I’m not under a wig all day every day…

…but I’m still hiding my natural hair under a wig.  If I’m being real; at first it was to protect my hair from thinning and to help it grow.  But as the months flew by, I realized that wearing wigs kept my morning routine quick and easy.  That, along with decreasing the amount of makeup I was putting on, knocked my morning routine down by at least 45 minutes.

Protective styling became a matter of easy styling – or convenience.  At that point, it stopped being protective styling.  Period.

And there is nothing wrong with that.  But knowing what it is and admitting it is so much better than taking a lap around the rushing waters of DENIAL, don’t you think?

See, protective styling stops being protective in nature when your “protective” style calls for more manipulation in order to achieve and maintain it (slicking down edges and straightening leave-outs), when those styles or the products used to maintain those styles causes buildup (or even lint… ick!), or when a so-called protective style is being pulled too tightly, causing tension to our strands and possibly breakage.

Worse case scenario?  We neglect to care for our actual hair underneath that protective style.  We get used to the idea of this style protecting our hair, get complacent or lazy from the convenience of it all, and often forget or forget-to-want to care for our natural hair along with the protective style.

In this case, what are you protecting?!

What A Protective Style Should Not Be

A Protective style should not be

a lifestyle choice.
a way to hide your real natural hair.
a crutch to learning how to care for your natural hair.
an excuse for an easier way to style your natural hair.
a way to cover and forget about your own natural hair.

If your natural hair is not flourishing or growing, then it is not being protected.  Those who desire length retention have to learn to put in the effort – the work – to make it happen.  Learn your hair. Wear your hair.  Love your hair.  It’s not as hard as we think.

What A Protective Style Should Be

A Protective Style should be

used to protect your natural hair from damage.
used to tuck away those ends.
a way to reduce over-manipulation of your hair – all of your hair, including edges and leave-out.
how you style your hair so that it is always protected, rather than the actual style, itself.

A protective style should be more about the process behind styling and not the style worn.  That way we are always aware of how we’re combing, brushing, parting, or detangling.

Is My Journey About Natural Hair or Protective Styling?

I had to think long and hard about my reasons for keeping wigs on for this long.  Convenience, obviously; but do I feel more confident or beautiful with the wigs on?

Kinda, but not really.

Either way, my journey is about growing my natural hair as healthy and as long as I can.  Not about perfecting my technique to make my wig look as real as possible.  I should use that energy to make my real natural hair as healthy as possible.

Your entire natural hair journey should not consist of protective styling; it should only be one… Click To Tweet

It should be a temporary method or a part of my natural hair routine.  Like a monthly protein treatment.  ‘Okay, this one week of the month I’m going to choose a protective style and keep my hair in it for one to two weeks.  Then I’m going to take it out, wash, condition, etc. and wear my natural hair out.  I should be wearing my own natural hair out most of the time, not the other way around.

Am I going to stop wearing wigs?  Um, no.  I like wigs.  I cosplay, so wigs are inevitable.  And I love the versatility that a wig brings, as well as the answer to always wanting to experiment with color.

But am I going to stop wearing wigs 99% of the time?  Yes.  I came to work today proudly rocking my super short TWA.  It feels good.

Seriously, check out NaturallyPhilo’s video; it may change your perspective on this thing we call ‘protective styling’:

How often do you wear protective styles, and how often do you feel we should wear protective styles?

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