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Why ‘Marginally Protective’ Regimens Can Still Be Successful

Avatar • Sep 27, 2011

By Audrey Sivasothy, author of The Science of Black Hair

When we think of protective styling, most of us think of boring buns, tired twists and variations of these hidden away styles. But the truth is, protective styling is so much more than just styling and hiding our hair 24 hours a day. Although the styling element is important—to be successful, a healthy hair care regimen must go beyond simply arranging the hair into elaborate buns, updos and twists. A change in the way we understand protective styling is needed.

To get the maximum benefit from protective styling, we must learn to view it from a holistic standpoint—where the entire regimen from cleansing to conditioning and general handling is followed with protection in mind. Actual hair styling then becomes a subcomponent of the total protective styling regimen picture. When all of the pieces of protection (styling and otherwise) are combined and applied, length retention is maximized in the shortest time. This of course, is optimal— but it isn’t the only way.

I may get some flack for this, but it is okay to have … fun. Many of us focus too intently on the styling aspect of protective styling, to the point our hair is held captive 365 days a year. We get overprotective, and while this works well for some (like me) who don’t mind protective styles—for others, it can be limiting and lead to boredom and disillusionment. By adopting a holistic mindset about protection, we can free ourselves from feeling like we have to hide our hair 24 hours a day to see results. And if we are enterprising and daring enough, we can even find the freedom to *gasp* play around with color, straighten, swim, hang out in the sun and—well— still have hair to show for it! But especially true for those who are always hiding hair away—when we adopt a regimen that is protective overall, we can afford to wear our hair freely more often without jeopardizing our length or other personal hair goals. If we are protective everywhere else, we can afford to “let go” a little in other areas every once in a while. Enjoying your hair out and free from time to time will not hurt your hair if you exercise due care. In fact, change is a good thing— and changing your look is a tried and true confidence booster! There is still considerable room for fun and freedom in our regimens!

Finally, with everything— we must exercise moderation. This applies in both directions along the hair care spectrum, from overprotection to not enough. And of course, this also depends heavily on the hair “no-no” you are about to commit—wearing your hair out for a few days a month doesn’t carry the same penalty that say coloring or relaxing might. So you’ll have to weigh your risks. But for my ladies who are afraid to have one strand “out” ever— it’s okay to lighten up. I’m not saying abandon your regimen entirely or break out the flatirons weekly— but to just trust that the extra protection and padding you’ve already built into your regimen in other areas has earned you some leeway and freedom to enjoy your hair!

Audrey Sivasothy is a Houston-based freelance writer, health scientist and  author of The Science of Black Hair: A Comprehensive Guide to Textured Hair Care (available on Amazon.com & Barnes&Noble.com).

For more insight from The Science of Black Hair— relaxed, natural or in between, visit us on the web at  www.blackhairscience.com and on facebook & twitter.

Ladies, what are your thoughts!

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jagger
jagger
9 years ago

ITA with this article. It makes no sense to grow your hair to untold lengths just to never flaunt it. To me, constant protection and not giving your hair a chance to be free every once in a while makes as much as sense as buying a new car and never driving it.

Rhea
Rhea
9 years ago
Reply to  jagger

I totally agree, all these “protective styles” are great to attain length, but isn’t manageability more important? Why would one want extra long hair, if all they do is keep it in protective styles all the time because there are limited ways to treat with extra long hair.

nomad
nomad
9 years ago

I’ve been experimenting with protective styles and leaving my hair out in the 8 months or so that I’ve been wearing my own hair and I have come to the conclusion that I look and feel better with my hair out than in twists, buns or updos and if that impacts on the overall length of my hair, so be it. I’d rather have better self-esteem than butt-length hair in two years. Now I’m working on minimizing of the tradeoff of leaving my hair in the styles I prefer (out) with the overall health of my hair, with frequent moisturizing… Read more »

Neesha_Cherie
Neesha_Cherie
9 years ago
Reply to  nomad

+1!!!! “I’d rather have better self-esteem than butt-length hair in two years.” THIS!!! I feel the exact same way!! (In case you didn’t notice, lol) I always read that protective styling on the regular yeilds to maximum length retention, but IMO protective stlyes don’t allow me to love up my hair as much as I do now. I guess it’s because I rocked protective stlyes all throughout my childhood and teenhood (I had virgin hair until age 17), so I feel like I’ve been there and done that with the protective styling. Wearing my hair out now, and embracing my… Read more »

Neesha_Cherie
Neesha_Cherie
9 years ago
Reply to  Neesha_Cherie

Oh, and I had the oppurtunity to meet Ms. Felicia Leatherwood and have a breif consultation this weekend for a natural hair expo here in the Virgin Islands (S/O to MissNaturalista.com), and she said that my hair is doing well and fine. I just need to do a ACV rinse every so often and get a little half inch trimmed. She was actually searching my scalp for what might be a problem, so I must be doing something right!!

EG
EG
9 years ago
Reply to  nomad

To both you and Neesha, what makes you think that those of who wear protective styles 90% of the time don’t have self-esteem? Did you pull a muscle making that leap? I wear my hair out during the week-ends (only), but whether it is in a braided style (I braid my own hair) or in a twist out, I love it either way.
Oh, and by the way, I don’t find them boring either.

Xiomara
Xiomara
9 years ago
Reply to  EG

Wow EG! Seems like the only person making a leap is you. No one said protective styling sucks up confidence. And if they find it boring, so what? Both Nomad and Neesha have a right to say they are bored with protective styling. I promise it’s not the end of the world.

nomad
nomad
9 years ago
Reply to  Xiomara

Thanks for the defense… Relax EG, it’s not a competition… I don’t see why you have to be so defensive about your preference. I was only referring to my specific experience. If braids or twists look good on you, I’m jealous! because all these cool protective styles really do not work on my fine hair.

EG
EG
9 years ago
Reply to  nomad

I never said it was a competion, considering that we don’t know each other, why would it be? However your post was a big Seriously? low self-esteem? to me, hence my response. Read your response now and the first one and you will see a big difference in tone/overall message.

EG
EG
9 years ago
Reply to  Xiomara

No I am not wrong!!! I read the comments twice before I posted and I did not make a leap. The same way they have the right to say something is the same way I do.
Where did I say it was the end of the world? I simply said it is a gross exaggeration to somehow link protective styling to self-esteem. Like really?

nomad
nomad
9 years ago
Reply to  EG

exhale. this is the last clarification I’ll make because frankly it’s boring. 1. The general thinking on blogs and other sources is that protective styling is the main way to grow hair long. 2. Many of the protective styles suggested do not look good ON ME and it’s not improbable that some women wear styles they do not feel comfortable with just to increase length retention 3. Since I MYSELF do not feel good wearing twists or buns, I have been experimenting with having my hair mostly unfettered while retaining some length 4. I find that it’s not impossible . While… Read more »

Adeyinka
Adeyinka
9 years ago

Balance and have fun.

When deciding to go natural, i was most excited to learn how to manage my hair with my own two hands and not be so dependent on others (my mom, stylists and braiders). I’m loking forward to more length so i can do more styles and show my length, stretched, unstretched and whatever.

I think people forget what works for one, may work for another. In addition, I think of guys with long hair and they dont even do a quarter of what some of us do..

again, balance and have fun!

June
June
9 years ago

I am not going to lie, this topic makes me antsy. At times, I am surprised at how worked up I get when people insist the only way to grow kinky hair is to wear protective styles. My strands are coarse and my hair is very thick, and oh so very dense. I have nightmares remembering braiding my hair as a child. Every other week, we’ll be sent off to braid our hair and everyone else will be done and at home, and I will still be in salon hours later. The only way I am protective styling with twists, braids… Read more »

luvmylocs
luvmylocs
9 years ago
Reply to  June

i’m back to wet and gos and doing them as you describe. i agree about the time it takes for twists as well as feeling like i look better with my hair out that in twists as a day to day look.

Nelo
Nelo
9 years ago
Reply to  June

I feel you. I have the same problem. Leaving in the UK I can’t even tell you how expensive it is to go to tha hairdresser and I don’t have any girlfriends around who can do my hair. I can do so by myself (braids/twists) but I’d spend thrice as much time or even more. I envy the time when I used to relax them and just wear them loose >_<… but since I’ve decided to go natural since last November I have to hang on there 🙂 Good luc to you. I know I will need some 😉

June
June
9 years ago
Reply to  Nelo

Good luck to you as well. You’ve been through one winter, I am sure this one will be a breeze.

Jack
9 years ago

I love the way i look in twists and not having to do my hair everyday when I have ’em, but ugghhhh it takes so long to do twists! I don’t comb my hair everyday or have much time, so I usually wet, moisturize, and bun most days anyway.

Chicago Chica
Chicago Chica
9 years ago

I’m happy to see this article. I was caught up in protective styles for retaining length, but I came to realize that I didn’t protective style for the first 16 months of my natural journey, and my hair grew just fine. Heck, I didn’t have my hair professionally trimmed for a year, and when I did, I only lost half an inch. I like my hair free so I am returning to my wash and go days. I co-wash twice a week and deep condition once a week. It’s been working for me.

Michelle @ Radiant Brown Beauty

Great post. Moderation is definitely the key. If you even do protective styles only 1/2 the week, that’s 1/2 the time that you were not doing it before.

i like many protective styles at this stage of my hair growth because I have a lot of uneven length. I’m not yet prepared to wear it all out until it’s grown sufficiently back in from the crown area that was previously damaged.

ZindziZenani
ZindziZenani
9 years ago

I’ve worn my hair in an Afro all summer. I wash, deep condition and blow it out once a week and I braid it at night. During the day, it flows FREEEEEEEEE. I haven’t experienced any breakage. During the winter, I wear protective styles more for convenience than hair health reasons. I could never be the type who becomes obsessed with protective styles because I love the look of my hair flowing freely & wildly in the breeze. That’s what its there for!

V
V
9 years ago

I get tired of protective styles. I’m getting ready to get my hair braids with extensions soon and I know after a month I’m like “I need MY hair back.” Same with twists or buns or whatever. I just feel limited if I can’t style differently ever couple of days. That’s one of the reasons I love being natural- the variety. The variety of styles, the textures on my hair or that I create. Protective styles feel like a punishment to me 🙂 I just want to have my hair! lol

Jaki Dee
Jaki Dee
9 years ago

Proof there is no cookie cutter way to maintain hair or retain length. I follow a simple formula when it comes to pro styling. For each hour spent manipulating my hair into a style I keep it a week.

CarmelStacks
CarmelStacks
9 years ago

I used to be a non-stop protective styler with my own hair…then this summer I let myself get some kinky twists (I seriously hate fake hair but I saw a lady with some real-looking ones and got the braiders number). Those were a great protective style and they looked cute on me. They were about the length of my natural hair stretched and they lasted 8 weeks. So I decided if and when I ever want to wear a protective style for an extended period of time, I’ll get those (I had major length retention). All other times, I wear my… Read more »

Alicia T. Glenn
9 years ago

I completely agree with this article, it’s important for us naturals to let our hair down. To much protective styling can do even MORE damage by breaking off our edges and tearing out our hair…so everything in moderation.

BeautyIAM
BeautyIAM
9 years ago

I have disagree with this because again, it is an assumption about protective styles. If someone is not careful with their hair, then yes, I would think they would be more prone to breakage and other forms of damage. I know for a while, this was me. Then I learned to properly take care of my hair in twists.

Protective styles themselves are NOT damaging. I believe its all about how you are maintaining them that may or may not amount to damage.

Nia/Chic Working Mom
9 years ago

I wore protective styles 5/6 days of the week and noticed a ton of growth and a lot less shedding and breakage. I stopped PS for a while and immediatley noticed the tangles and SSK’s. Now I have a sew in as a protective style but I’ll resume my PS when the sew in comes out b/c I just felt my hair was healthier. I actually love updo’s so it doesn’t bother me a bit.

EG
EG
9 years ago

I agree. Everything has its pros and cons. The same people who think protective styles are boring are the same ones looking for help with SSKs. They just don’t seem to put 2 + 2 together.

jagger
jagger
9 years ago
Reply to  EG

I’ll have to disagree with you on that one EG. I do protective style but even in protective styles my hair still suffers from single strand knots. It’s just the nature of the beast. Everyone’s hair is different and while some may not suffer from SSKs while in protective styles, there are those that still do no matter the style.

Lyn
Lyn
9 years ago

I agree when I first went natural w. my TWA I would sleep with my hair out, but I did condition/rinse my hair everyday (my hair was okay …), but eventually I started noticing knots. I decided to do protective styling by plaits. Though my hair is up and hidden 99% of the time, unless it’s wash day. It does get boring for me, because it is still not at the length where I can do a bun. I have noticed less SSK’s, but I still do get some. So meh.

JP23
JP23
9 years ago

I loved this article! I think it doesnt tell you what to do with your hair but reminds us to have fun with it! Some people like to PS all the time, others dont which is fine. As a previous poster put it, this is why i loooooooooooooooooooooove natural hair = )

eboni
eboni
9 years ago

great artcile!! a lot of naturals are pressed about this, and it’s nice to hear this minor objection to excessive protective styling. I’ve just gotten into protective styling, not because I want to retain length, but more so to keep me focused on school rather than on my hair 😛

and even when I do wear my hair out, I usually rock my hair in a shrunken ‘fro, rather than in stretched twistouts — just to give my hair some time to breath.

wanda
wanda
9 years ago

I like my protective styles mainly twists and head wraps but I plan to start bunning soon.

mangomadness
mangomadness
9 years ago

I usually wear my hair in a braid out or a bun. I wear buns because I like how they look–not for the sole purpose of retaining length. I would never force a hairstyle that didn’t come naturally to me because that would result in my discontent.

Protective styling is only *one* of many ways to lessen breakage and tangles that may hinder length retention. I believe good tangling/breakage reduction techniques (finger-detangling, washing in sections, moisturizing, stretched styles, gentle hairstyling, twisting/braiding hair up at night, etc) lead to better length retention.

df
df
9 years ago

Man is Audrey AWESOME! I learned so much from her articles when I was relaxed also and I was so happy when I found out she was natural because I knew she’d be bringing dropping wealth.

Great article!

misha
9 years ago

when i get the length, then i’ll play.

i find that i gravitate towards styles that require long hair. since i don’t have long enough hair, i find myself pulling too tight to get my hair into the style. or i flat iron to get every extra inch out. i found that i was damaging my hair. as a result, i’m growing my hair so that it can be long enough to get into my favourite styles comfortably

jhilene
9 years ago

I actually love wearing my hair in twists more than wearing it out. But i love them both. I get so many compliments when i twist my hair. It looks so shiny and neat when i use my shea butter mix and eco styler. I usually just twist my hair for convenience because I have little time to do my hair when i’m studying for the SAT’s and school work. I love the low maintenance and people at my school are amazed by the things my hair can do. 2 years natural and loving it.

Tonya Juanise
Tonya Juanise
9 years ago

I’ve been natural for a year and I’ve only had two protective styles so far which were cornrows and micros. I’m not too big on braids so I probably wont do those styles again but my hair is growing at a great rate, no problems here. I think some naturals get too hung up on protective styles, some act as if you must protect your hair or it wont grow. I figure as long as you keep your scalp clean and healthy, your hair detangled, and moisturized, you should be good to go! Let’s stop making the natural journey complicated… Read more »

BeautyIAM
BeautyIAM
9 years ago

I really appreciate this article. I am thinking this advise is for those who are just getting annoyed with protective syles and want to do different things with their hair. I will say I am not one of those people. Protective syles (mainly twists) saved my hair last year. My hair was a mess so I knew I had to do something to get it the way I wanted to look and feel. If you are getting irritated wearing protective styles then don’t feel like you have to keep wearing them. When I got tired of my twists, I just stopped… Read more »

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