Many 4B/4C naturals protective style majority of the time (sometimes 90% of the time or more) in order to retain length. It makes perfect sense. 4B/4C naturals, by definition, have strands that shrink up 75–85% (or more) into super tiny coils and kinks that go every which way. This “super shrinkage” can lead to knots and tangles, which both can in turn lead to breakage and splits during the detangling process. Protective styling mitigates that issue by stretching and bounding the hair down to the ends.
That being said, some of us do not like to wear protective styles day in and day out. Some us would love to wear our hair loose, out, and big for more than a couple of days. This desire raises the questions: Can we retain length when not in a protective style? It is possible if we are talking about just a few days, but weeks or a month or more? Many will tell you that it is difficult (including me), especially the longer and finer your hair. Nevertheless, difficult does not mean impossible. If you are one wanting to wear your hair out more while still retaining some length, here are some suggestions based on a few lessons learned and mini successes I have had with that exploration:
1. Choose a stretched style that is “low maintenance”
This step sounds easier said than done, but stay with me. The key is to find a style that stretches your kinks/coils (to reduce tangling and thus breakage) while also requiring little re-touch (e.g., re-twisting, re-braiding, etc.). Here are few things I do to keep my loose styles low maintenance:
1) I try to avoid twist-outs and instead turn to braid-outs. Twists do not stretch my hair as much as braids and, thus, the resulting set reverts faster. However, if I really want a twist-out, I will start from small twists (smaller twist-outs last longer) or I braid my twists for extra stretching.
2) To maintain my braid-out for a week or two, I’ll re-braid every 2–4 days depending on the humidity. The other portion of the time, I just sleep with my hair loose but shaped in a satin bonnet and fluff in the morning. Re-braiding nightly would just be too much manipulation for my hair. In a few cases, I will just re-braid the front to retouch my style.
3) On wash days, I do the braid-outs on hair that is slightly stretched BUT still damp (e.g., via rollers that are worn for a couple of hours). I find that I get more of a stretched, smooth result this way.
4) My back hair sometimes stays in braids and bunned, and thus stays protected. I do this because my back hair is finer and would also rub against my clothing if otherwise. I leave the rest of my hair out.
5) I avoid separating my braid-outs at the ends, since those are likely to tangle. The most I’ll do is separate or fluff the roots.
6) Heat allows me to have my hair stretched for longer periods (up to 3 weeks), so sometimes that is an alternative. I will then do twist-outs or braid-outs on my heat-stretched hair.
Check out BGLH for articles on how to make stretched or straight styles last a while. Here are just a few:
Ways to Make a Twist-out Last a Long Time
How to Maintain Roller Sets and Twist-outs During a Humid Summer
Ways to Make Straightened Hair Last Longer
2. Decelerate “super shrinkage” with a good anti-humidity product or gel
For those humid days, a good anti-humidity product or, better yet, gel makes the difference between a style that lasts a few hours and one that lasts a couple days. I have tried many anti-humidity products, and have come to the conclusion that my hair will shrink regardless but it will shrink much less and slower with the product. Gel is not immensely better, but it will just give me a bit more hold.
Whatever type of product you choose, understand this: The idea is not to maintain a perfectly defined or stretched style day by day. Instead, we seek to slow down that “super shrinkage” as long as possible. No amount of anti-humidity product and gel will help me maintain a perfectly defined twist-out or braid-out in 90% or more humidity … but it will help to maintain some of my stretch.
3. Keep your hair in a “detangled” state
Knots and tangles will more than likely occur, but you can keep it to a minimum. Here are a few ways to do that:
1) Over-separating your twist-out or braid-out may accelerate shrinkage, which may translate to tangles and knot formation. (In addition to tip #1, reducing these tangles and knots is another reason why I don’t separate my braid-outs.)
2) Styling on tangled hair can spell disaster, so I attempt to avoid that. It would just create more tangles and knots.
3) Bound the style at night via a satin bonnet or loose bun(s)/puff(s) and a satin pillowcase. If you toss and turn at night, this will help to reduce tangles and knots.
4) Try not to play in your hair too much. I sometimes have a habit of that, so when I’m in the house by myself, I slap on a satin bonnet to reduce that occurrence.
4. Using heat is an option, but use it sparingly and WISELY
Like I mentioned in tip #1, heat helps me to have a low-maintenance stretched style for up to 3 weeks, depending on the humidity. This is because my hair takes longer to revert with heat usage than without it, as is the case with most naturals. Across the web, you will find other naturals who also benefit from heat, especially via blow drying, prior to doing a braid-out or twist-out.
So, heat is an option – as long as you don’t overdo it and abuse it. Also, consider this: If you are a 4C natural with fine strands, you may have to use less heat (frequency and temperature) than a 4C natural with thick strands. Check out my earlier post for tips on “How to Minimize Damage When Using Heat”.
5. Moisturize on the “refresh” nights
Because your hair is out and free rather than in a protective style, you may find that you need moisturize more frequently. (For example: I know that for me, the duration that I can go without re-moisturizing goes from one week or so in protective styles down to a few days in loose styles.) If that is the case with you, it helps to re-moisturize – and to do it WELL – on the night that you are refreshing your stretched style … the night that you are re-twisting or re-braiding. This method will help you to avoid the inevitable shrinkage and tangles that will come if you moisturize and leave your hair loose.
6. Keep your ends oiled
This tip will help to reduce the formation of splits and breakage as well as tangles and knots. Especially on my “refresh” nights, I like to soak my ends with avocado oil or another oil. I’ve seen the benefits of this step – that is, little to no split, crunchy, dry ends – when my hair is worn loose, and hopefully you will, too!
7. Amp up the protein deep conditioning
You’ve probably seen us mention protein conditioning a number of times here but with good reason. For this purpose, we need all the strength and elasticity we can get when not protective styling, and protein conditioners can temporarily provide both, especially to our ends. These types of conditioners can help our hair to be better prepared for styling manipulation and consequently avoid breakage. If you are protein sensitive, check out Jc’s post on “5 Conditioners for Protein-Sensitive Hair”.
How do you retain length when you are not protective styling?