The history of protective hairstyles for textured hair dates back 30,000 years. In fact, according to The Root, even though wigs and weaves seem like a contemporary beauty regimen, archaeologists have documented finding a buried woman in Egypt more than 3,000 years ago with an elaborate design of 70 weave extensions attached to her hair.
Black women will often choose protective styling for many reasons. Navigating afro hair requires quite a lot of maintenance, due to its complex textures and the fusion of curl patterns. There is probably something to be said about poor accessibility for effective hair care products, which is part of what makes the maintenance process so tedious. However protective hairstyles are also time-saving machines! As complex as our hair is, manipulating it all day every day unnecessarily can often cause more harm than good.
Curly and coily hair is naturally more brittle than other textures and therefore in order to support your length retention journey, over-manipulation is not recommended. Therefore, having a style that reduces day-to-day over-manipulation and processing is key. Lockdown has been/is a great opportunity to dedicate time to grow out your manes, so whether we are choosing to hit up the aunty that does hair, or we are going to DIY it, as we have been the last few months, protective styling will always be a lifeline for a lot of Black women.
Textured hair is also famed for its versatility, and a lot of us curly-haired babes can’t resist switching up our hairstyles, which we adapt according to mood, weather, occasion, or even outfit. The beauty of being able to switch up your hair as and when, also makes something that was often scrutinised by society, an exciting part of the beauty and self-love journey of a Black woman, and that in itself has so much value.
There is some debate on what is considered protective styles and which ones are most gentle to your hair follicles. In fact, Eleanor Richardson, who is a consultant trichologist at the Fulham Scalp & Hair Clinic warns us against the dangers of choosing braiding: “The most common damage that we end up seeing in the clinic is traction. So that’s a pulling force that’s been applied, because of a very tight style. Maybe due to very chunky braids, extensions, or weave-in and styles that have been there for a while as well.”
She tells us that braiding afro or curly hair, won’t necessarily serve as a protective style as they can cause more harm than the general environmental damage, or traction via brushing you would get, from simply leaving your hair naked and free.
However, it’s unrealistic to expect all textured hair women to abandon their trusty braids, locs, and twists, in exchange for longer hair. The upkeep is demanding so it’s clear that, for as long as there will be textured hair, there will be protective styles. Protective styles are not only there for length retention.
What are the benefits of protective styling:
Protective styles are there to protect us from having to unknot our unruly but glorious curls in order to be deemed ‘presentable enough’ for school or the workplace or to adhere to society’s chauvinist standards of beauty. Whether your hair grows sideways, or sky-facing, protective styling is the way to go.
We have rounded up protective hairstyles that if done correctly can be gentle enough on the hair follicles, still promote hair growth and make you look and feel beautiful, powerful, and confident.
Goes without saying that box braids are the OGs of braid styles. Box braids come in different shapes and sizes, from jumbo-sized to ones as thin as string, and the length can also vary widely. Although knotless braids have proven to be very popular in recent times, it is safer to opt for braids with a knot, as they won’t put as much pressure on the hair follicles to hold the extensions and will naturally help to avoid traction.
There is nothing like that natural look of knotless braid. It’s a trendier way of doing braids for people who don’t love the knot look at the beginning of the braids. It’s leaves you with a sleek and natural-looking braid.
Boho braids are a fun way to do protective styling, as they are a fun and relaxed way of braiding, that allow room for loose strands and braids that have aged pre-maturely.
Wigs have evolved so much from the ones that were more fibre like, to ones that looked so realistic they would be mistaken as something that grew from your scalp. The versatility that comes with wigs, plus the ease of application (in comparison to braids, which requires a particular skill set to be executed properly) make it an extremely popular choice for protective styles amongst millennial women. A top tip when styling a wig is to spray it with dry shampoo if it looks too shiny when straight out of the package, to give it a more realistic hair finish – (this is especially useful if it’s a synthetic hair wig).
Locs or Faux locs
Faux locs are dreads without the lifetime commitment and are a very contemporary style that has been made more and more popular along the years. It gives you the option of sporting the style, without permanently backcombing your natural hair into irreversible dreads, as you can simply use extensions. Although faux locs have come with controversy (as with many protective hairstyles) for not being accepted as professional styles for school or the workplace in western societies, Black people are starting to defy those ideologies. Faux locs are not only being used by people in school and work but also on red carpets and professional events, unapologetically.
Butterfly Faux Locs
Much like the regular faux locs these are dreads without the lifetime commitment but with a twist (literally). The unevenness and pulling of strands will create sort of a boho effect of butterfly wings down the shaft of each locs. The distress is what makes them so cool and different. What makes them even more special is that because they are not meant to look perfect, it makes the look even easier to execute.
Cornrows are amongst the most popularised protective styles for a reason, they can go under wigs or they can be used naked. They can keep the hair out of your face and depending on designs they can be a great canvas to express different levels of artistic skill sets. You can do infinite things with cornrows, so long as they are not so tight that they cause damaging tension on your scalp and on your edges/baby hairs. They are an appropriate protective style option, for textured hair men and women of all ages. Top tip to keep your cornrows neat for longer is to sleep with a silk bonnet in order to reduce frizz from contact with the pillow.
These wavy ends braids, are a more contracted boho style, that means that half of the hair is braided, while the other half is waved or curled and it hads lots of dimension to what could have been some simple knotless.
Passion Twists are a great protective style option because they cause low tension to the hair and scalp in comparison to other braiding styles. They’re elegant, neat and versatile. In fact, they can be the perfect transition braids once undone for a bouncy natural and heat-free curly look.
These spring twists are a very tight version of passion twists that add a bit more dimension and texture. You can also mix-in colour to give a dip dyed or highlights effect.
Fulani braids are a tribal braided protective hairstyle usually styled with cornrows at the top and rows or sections of braids following, however, they can also be braided all around the head towards the brown, for the slickest ponytail of dreams.
Feed in braids are a great quick protective style to get hair out of the way. They can be tied to a neat low bun or mimic a slick back ponytail with added edge and texture.
Fulani passion twists
A hydrid of passion twists with a criss-cross fulani style at the front. This look is cute, elegant and versatile as it can be style mani different ways. Make the passion twists nice an thick for the volumous finish.
Natural goddess braids
Goddess braids on natural hair can be done. Just look at these. They work well with curly types, but coily girls can also rock this, by adding some looser curls to the end of the braids and for the loose hair falling from each braid, for that true goddess braid finish. Don’t forget to add a sheen spray for that slick finish.
Space buns on afro hair can mean different things. They can either mean wrapping the hair into a bun or simply tying it. They are also versatile in that sense that you can personalise them by how you part the hair, or by doing fringes, or a braid running from the edge of the hair to the bun, etc. The possibilities are endless. For those who choose protective styles above cause just far too much traction between their hair and scalp, then neatly tying the hair into two clean buns might be a good alternative. The important part to remember when doing space buns is to still protect the hair from environmental damage, so keeping hair hydrated and moisturised is key.
Bantu knots are a traditional African style that have been made popular from over 100 years ago. The style has played centre stage in many cultural appropriation arguments but has been popularised by cyclical fashion trends. Although Bantu Knots have been re-invented as a cultural and fashion statement, it has been historically documented as being used as a protective style for both natural and relaxed hair and commonly used in overnight routines to preserve longer-lasting and more defined curly styles.
Jumbo Twist Outs
Twist outs can be used as a protective style but also to create defined curls without manipulating hair with heat. Whether you just like the look of the spirals wrapping around one another, or you’re looking to achieve natural curls the following day or two when they’re unraveled, here are some tips to create the best twist-outs. Hydrate – with water-based leave-in conditioner, follow up with a moisture-locking oil, and use a wide tooth comb or fingers to detangle.
Bubble braids are an unusual protective style as they keep hair out the face, which stops you from manhandling it and they look oh-so-cute. Add some falling braids to the ponytail for something different and a bit extra. This look works for long hair and also bob or lob length hair. Add some hair extensions for extra thickness.
For more from Glamour UK Beauty Writer Shei Mamona, follow her on Instagram @sheimamona
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