The Truth Behind Protective Styling

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I’ve been natural for about four years now. While I am no professional and am still learning about my hair, there are some things that I’ve noticed. Protective styling is defined as any style that protects your hair, especially your ends, from harsh environments like super cold winters or very hot sun. The goal is to keep your hair stress free thanks to the low manipulation protective styling provides. Hair is fragile, natural hair is even more fragile and should be protected in order to retain health and subsequently length. Protective styling can be done on any kind of hair and doesn’t necessarily have to include the addition of hair (i.e., extensions).

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get down to the nitty gritty. In theory, protective styling sounds like a great idea. You get to put you hair away for some time and not worry about detangling, combing or styling. You save a ton of time in the mornings and evenings not having to prepare your hair, etc. Sounds good right? Not always.

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People often forget that even though their hair isn’t being manipulated, you still have to hydrate and feed it while it’s away. Always moisturize your hair, ESPECIALLY when you’re protective styling. Whether you’ve added some Kanekalon or not, you have to keep it nice and supple or else it is more prone to drying out, becoming brittle, and breaking off. Spritzing your hair with water and sealing with an oil or butter is the best thing you can do for your hair while it’s stowed away.

Now, we know that feeling of paying for your hair to be done and wanting to preserve the style for as long as possible but don’t let that get in the way of a healthy scalp. This is something even I’m guilty of neglecting. Making sure to cleanse your scalp is vital in promoting hair growth. Again, I am no professional, but if the pores on your face don’t like to be clogged, why would the ones on your scalp? Think about it. I learned this cool little trick from YouTube about an easy way to remove product buildup if you don’t necessarily want to wet, cleanse, and condition your precious style. Make an apple cider vinegar and water mix (1:2 ratio) and soak cotton balls with the mixture. Use the cotton balls to help easily access your scalp and scrub away at any buildup. The ACV will help break it down and cleanse your scalp. Go back in with a cotton ball of only water to rinse and once it’s dry the vinegar scent will dissipate. Don’t forget to moisturize afterward.

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While these tips are to help you maintain your hair while it’s protected, there are a few things you should be aware of before and after protective styling. For starters, do not let your stylist style your hair too tight. Yes, you want your hair to last a long time, but you don’t want your hair to be so tight that you get those little, painful braid bumps. I’ve been a victim. The bumps appear days after and can eventually scab up like a cut would. What I did when I got them was dampen the tight areas with warm water, tug gently at the root of my braid (or wherever it was tight) and added a bit of coconut oil for slip and moisture. I was too stubborn to take out my braids and figured once the bumps appear it was too late anyway; don’t be like me. “Worst” case scenario, you can remove the style to release the tension in your hair and eliminate the risk of losing hair. Alopecia is very common in the natural hair community. This is a prime example of a negative effect of protective styling, so beware.

Another thing to note is that you have to ensure your hair is healthy enough to be put away for extended amounts of time. Making sure your hair is healthy, moisturized and strong enough to withstand a protective style. This is where deep conditioning, hot oil and protein treatments come in. I would recommend one of the three before and after to ensure your hair is in tip-top shape and will bounce back with no problems.

With all that said, I am not at all opposed to protective styles. With hair as thick as mine, I wish I could afford to protective style as often as I would like. The key thing to remember is that you must take care of your hair and scalp in order to reap the full benefits. I repeat, you must take care of your hair and scalp in order to reap the full benefits of protective styling. Additionally, give your hair a break in between styles.

What are some of your tips for protective styling? Leave them in the comments section below.

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