Skip to main content

How Long Should Protective Styles Stay In for Maximum Length Retention?

• Aug 28, 2013


Style Icon April

In my previous article, I briefly mentioned how keeping a protective style (PS) in for a short time can prevent you from retaining the maximum amount of length. I did also say that the determination of what constitutes a short time is indeed individual but the basic principles really do not change. The aim of protective styling is 3 fold:

a. Reduction of Manipulation : Eliminating the need to do handle individual hair strands on a daily basis, ideally no detangling with a comb or even finger combing.
b. Eliminate Tangling: Preventing hair strands from intertwining and forming complex knots where 3 or more strands are involved in the tangle.
c. Eliminate Breakage: Preventing breakage at ends (tiny wisps) as well as mid shaft breaks (longer strands of hair with no hair bulbs visible).

These 3 principles are the ones you should score when deciding how long you want to keep a protective style in for length retention. For example:

1. PS for 2–3 Days
Example Styles: Buns, Free hair updos, Pinned twist outs/knot outs/braid outs
These type of styles in general do keep ends tucked in and also prevent hair from rubbing against clothes. They do, however, usually involve some amount of manipulation e.g retwisting at night or minor detangling to restyle the bun in the morning.
a. Reduction of Manipulation: 2/5
b. Elimination of Tangling: 3/5
c. Elimination of Breakage: 2/5

2. PS for 1 Week
Example Styles: Large/Medium twists, Own hair braids, Partial braided styles e.g front flat twisted, back open, Large cornrows e.g two French braids
These type of styles allow hair to be manipulation free for at least one week. This can be sufficient for some people, but if you normally find that your hair experiences breakage during the wash session or if left open and manipulated at the weekend, you may find that your retention is compromised by frequently redoing the hair.
a. Reduction of Manipulation:3/5
b. Elimination of Tangling: 3.5/5
c. Elimination of Breakage: 3/5

3. PS for 2 Weeks
Example Styles: Small/medium cornrows, Small twists, Own hair braids
By moving up to two weeks, the interval with open hair is reduced. Additionally, there is no harm in performing your normal wash e.g weekly or biweekly, while your hair is in the protective style. You may find that this increases frizz (fuzz halo as I like to call it) and you have to decide if this ok with you or not.
a. Reduction of Manipulation: 4/5
b. Elimination of Tangling: 3.5/5
c. Elimination of Breakage: 3.5/5

4. PS for 3–4 Weeks
Example Styles: Own hair braids, Mini twists, Partial styles e.g part small cornrows, part mini twists
Once more, moving up from 2 weeks to a 3/4 week interval, further reduces the time when hair is open and susceptible to tangling or breakage. This is the general limit that many people will find is suitable before hair starts to mesh within the protective style. Care also has to be taken when taking down the style as the ends of hair may have tangled.
a. Reduction of Manipulation: 5/5
b. Elimination of Tangling: 4/5
c. Elimination of Breakage: 4/5

Do note: The numbers given in this article are a general guide, you should rescore each style and each time period according to your own experience. Additionally, not all hair requires protective styling in order to retain length. This article is directed at those who do or who are not sure but think that they need an extra retention kick.

Ladies, how long do you keep your protective styles in for? How does it work for your length retention goals?

About The Natural Haven

Scientist on a hairy mission!

Leave a Reply

46 Comments on "How Long Should Protective Styles Stay In for Maximum Length Retention?"

Notify of
Nappy4C Rocks

good points, as always Natural Haven


I’m wearing medium twists now. Hasn’t quite been a week but I am hoping this helps with some breakage I’ve experienced. I have a short patch along my hairline and another short patch on the the right side of my head and I’m not sure how it happened. It may be the color making my hair dry. So confused and afraid of losing my length due to breakage. The rest of my hair seams fine.


my hair likes to be left well alone it thrives in cornrows which i have inder wigs, and keep in for 2–3 weeks doesnt mind braids but as i have to were it uo for work the braids put a strain on my hairline


I need to wash my hair every 2–3 days, and can’t go more than a week without. My scalp just won’t have it! No long term protective styles for me because they just won’t hold up to my washing needs.

I’d love to be able to.

i’m the same way. i can hold out for about 4 days, 5 if i’m pushing it, but 3 is most comfortable. my scalp gets really itchy if i try to hold out, and there is no protective style that can survive my washing routine, or at least not without frizzing up something wonderful. i’ve accepted this, and luckily for me my hair seems to not be allergic to manipulation at the rate of once per 3–4 days. i might break about 3–4 strands tops, which averages out to one strand per day. i’m just really careful with my hair… Read more »

My hair thrives with lots of water, too. I wear mostly updos. My hair doesn’t have defined curls, but how do you handle your SSKs? I’ve gotten a lot of those lately.

Ebony Beauty

Just goes to show how diverse our hair really is. Long term protective styling is my best friend. I don’t wash my hair too frequently as it would be more damaging than good. My hair has shown tremendous growth when I left it alone.

So glad to see some ladies just like me. Yay! I absolutely cannot go more than 3 days without washing my hair or it becomes really dry and my scalp itchy… If I do go to day four it’s a bun and I’m running to wash..I hate how people will say black people need to leave their hair alone for it to become long. Frequent washing helps keep my scalp clean and happy which improves growth for me. I make sure to moisturize and seal my ends. I will wear buns or twists for afew days but long term ps… Read more »
I keep styles up for 1 to 2 weeks currently. My styles are medium own hair twists and flat twists. I wash and deep condition my hair every two weeks and either put my hair up in a style for two weeks, redoing only probably the very front most part that has gotten significantly more fuzzy than the rest. Or I leave it in for one week and then take it down to moisturize and put it right back up. I don’t mine protective styling for up to 4 weeks with mini twists for example but I do like to… Read more »
I have 4c hair and it locks quickly. If I wear twists more than 1.5 — 2 wks, I have tangling, locking, and breakage. So I always try to unravel them by the end of a 2 wk period. But, I don’t separate or fluff the twists because frizzy, free strands causes fairy knot and more tangling for me. I simply rock the texture wearing buns, updos, etc. Because, I don’t separate the twists, the definition lasts a long time. I also keep the ends well lubricated and moisturized. I have been doing this for a couple of months now… Read more »

Thanks, CiCi, for some helpful techniques. My hair is tightly kinky also, and does the meshing, matting & locking quickly.

How do you moisturize your ends so that they don’t cause knots while in twists? Is the detangling session regular or a monster one? Thanks in advance!

Hi shayshay, Sorry I just saw this question. There are two major things I do to avoid knots while my hair is in twists. 1. STRETCH THE ENDS — I set the ends on perm rods/cold wave rods. This stretches the ends and helps keep them from tangling or knotting up on itself. I prefer not to lose any appearance of length, so I don’t place the whole twist on the rods, just the ends. 2. MOISTURE — I spritz the ends with my aloe gel/water/coconut oil mix and seal the ends with black castor oil or shea butter mix… Read more »

I’m a dancer and I’m away in college so my hair has to be in a bun at all times or I’ll do a very high textured pony puff I don’t have time to bun it up. I dance at least 4 times a week. Plus I sweat a lot lol, so it has to be in a protective style.


What about wearing sew ins and braids?


I just started putting my own hair in box braids.I washed my hair twice a week with the braids in. 4 weeks later I removed them. Put coconut oils on my hair overnight. Shampooed, condition, then sealed with olive oil. Then re-braided my hair again. I don’t like braids!!!! But this is the only way for me to leave my hair alone. Won’t do twist because they just get ratty with washing. Braids hold better.


The way you feel about braids is the way I feel about twists. ;o) I’m starting to like them better though. So far I’ve spent half of this year wearing them (my own hair; I refuse to use added hair). No matter how I feel about them, I can’t deny that they work: At almost-APL, this is the longest my loose hair has ever been.


My hair grows fastest when I microtwist it and leave it alone.

I’m with redpaperlantern. I do my own senegalese twists and keep them in for about 2 months (3 if im lazy). My hair LOVES it…it has grown a ton but most importantly, my hair is healthy. When I let out the twists, I trim if necessary and give it a good deep conditioning and treat my scalp with a gentle cleanser/exfoliater. Depending on the weather, I’ll blow it out but i dont leave my hair down for more than a week. For my Senegalese twists, i use 5 packs of janet collection synthetic hair for $1.99 and call it a… Read more »
Sibongile Amy
Hi Msb616. I think my hair sounds more like yours. It too is fine with medium density. I loved PSs as a relaxed girl and gained some length that way. Im entering my 11th month of transitioning and got the itch to cut before I planned so im now in cornrolls with extensions for about 3–4 weeks. With my two textures, own hair PSs don’t last more than 10–14 days and I needed a longer break. Question now is if I sld keep up the PSs with extensions as I still want edges when my hair is longer and ALL… Read more »

My hair grows great when in long term PS weaves & braids but my edges are a mess because of over tight braiding and fine tooth combs and brushes the stylist would use. I am keeping it all natural and enjoying the frustratingly slow process, although my decider will be when I go on holiday this year as I prefer to have LT PS by which time I hope to have some resolution to my edges I plan on doing my own senegalese twists less combing, cheaper and hopefully get to keep edges

Maria V.
I love Senegalese twists, they’re so pretty to me. For some reason my hair HATES twists (it gets tangled and starts to dry out) but one day I have to try it!!! My hair GROWS LIKE WILD FIRE when it’s braided under a wig. Wigs are perfect because they protect my hair and I still have access to moisturize, wash, and style my hair as well. With weaves you can’t really get to your own hair. About once a year I invest in a good human hair wig and wear it through the winter/spring. I get to look different for… Read more »

”ideally no detangling with a comb or even finger combing ”
Question: I’am wondering how do I do my hair if it’s better to not detangling it?because if it’s all mixed up without having it detangled it seems hard to do something on it…do you have some advice about it ?What can I do?


I can a whole month without touching my hair and it grows nicely! Plus I don’t have time to keep doing my hair over due to the fact I have a lot of hair and its really thick. So the longer the better, as well as a good moisturizer! I’m good!


The first time that I big chopped- Oct 2010- I put my hair in genie locs in my hair Jan 2011 until April 2011- and I could not believe how much growth I had achieved in such a short time. If I do protective styling, it has to be in the winter months- I prefer to let my hair breath and do it’s own thing in the summer, while rocking my ‘fro

Maria V.

The longest I ever wore a PS was 8 weeks but that was DEFINITELY pushing it!

6 weeks is a good length of time for me. It allows my hair to rest, my hair doesn’t lock or get dry. I co-wash once a week and use braid spray every other day.

I took a break from it but I’ll probably start back up when it gets cold again. It’s a good way to protect my hair from the harsh Winter elements.

… I feel so wrong for this, but my go-to protective style is box braids/senegalese twists. Especially before I BC’d I typically wear them for 3 MONTHS. If I am having a “growth spurt” then I’ll settle for 2 but no more than 3. My regimen is such that I have very little mat and tangling and minimal breakage. I always see great length retention. Now that I’m natural, I’m not sure how long I can PS. I haven’t tried it yet because I just cut my hair in June. September is the last month for me to have my… Read more »

I highly recommend protective twists for natural hair. I wore them for 1.5 years while transitioning & they grew my hair the longest it’s ever been. I regularly used a spray bottle of water/aloe vera gel mix & it helped give my hair & scalp the moisture it needed. Currently I’m wearing my hair out but I’m ready to go back to my twists!


i could never wear protective styling. I am new natural. I condition or shampoo wash every 3–4 days maximum because I love playing in my curls. hehehehehe. I love seeing the wet coils, moisturizing and sealing them. its a beautiful thing. i am like a kid with a new toy


You’ll probably think I’m crazy but I wear my small(not to small)braids for about 5 months. I have just went natural, and I’m loving the growth hair hasn’t broken yet so that’s good. What do you think?


I used to do that too…but I don’t do that anymore. Mainly because my roots start locking at that point.


when I first BC, I wore PS for 1 year. I’m now 3year, and I don’t want PS ever again. I love my hair 4b/c, I love to wet it everyday, DC weekly…I just love my natural hair. Unfortunately, after a setback (protein overload) I lost 2–3 inches in length. PS will get my length back, but I don’t want to!


what do you moisturize it with and what style do u wear? I love wetting my hair everyday too.


I want to fix artificial dreadlocks for two three months as a protective style. Any advise as to how to take it off and detangle with minimum breakage after, and moisturize hair during, will be welcome.


[…] post by The Natural Haven via Black Girl Long […]

I’ve been on this natural hair junorey for 2 years know and I love my hair. But my top (3) main hair concerns are dryness, styling, and breakage. I belive that I’m a bit challenged when it comes ot styling my hair. The only style I can execute are twist/twistouts. I so would love to venture out into the land of wash-n-gos, curly sets, Straightening, etc. My hair tends to feel rough/dry most of the time. Haven’t quite figured out how to retain the moisture to prevent it from breaking without applying heavy butters & oils. I would love to… Read more »

I had the same issue before I entered the land of wash and go. It was Unchartered territory. But I would HIGHLY suggest starting your W&G routine with the curly girl method. The results from doing it for 1 month were absolutely amazing. The moisture retention, the curls is brought out of my hair, it was nice to explore that. Now I can confidently wear them and get the most out of my curls. I have kinky curly hair like type 4a if you will..


Another thought is to use a conditioner and one with hair loving oils. Once in leave to sit for a while and then wash with cold water. To close the cuticles.

tasha fierce

i leave my PS in for about 2 weeks if i’m doing mini twist, and 4 weeks if my hair is in cornrows, i’ve had the best results this way.


I did a big chop again. Now my protective style is crochet braids I keep them for only 4 weeks. This process gonna work for me since I have my hairstylist (mommy) at home. I gain a lot of lenght after two months I’m able to do a ponytails (yes, it’s small but still lol). I’m gonna keep doing this PS till I’m satisfy with my hair lenght (shoulder lengt lol).


What are some hairstyles for girls who play sports .I play basketball and I’m generally that type of girl who isn’t girlie nor Tom boyish Just in the middle .I rather find a protective hairstyle that doesn’t make me feel uncomfortable .


I’m leaving my PS (African Threading) for 4 weeks. I did banding and African threading. Does it make your hair really long?


Longest i left my hair in is 7 months i saw huge growth. I do wash it and retwist if i see fit. Now that i’m ok with the length i now plan it on for 3 or 5 months. My hair is healthy so i dont want to hear people judging lol

alex serrano

what type of protective styling do you do? I’m in school and I don’t have the time to deal with my hair on a daily basis


Twists with 100% human kinky hair. Now i do.2 weeks with the same hair or 3. It thickened my hair up


I usually keep my hair in for 3–4 months
I find this really grows out my hair
I gain much length retention and I would recommend that
girls with 4c hair should leave it in a long protective style and see the results ?

Veronica Emina

I decided to go natural again. I just got a perm on the 17th and I’m trying to transition this time. I’m really big on getting my hair done and need to figure out how to stop getting my hair done every week or two weeks.

Shopping Cart