Q: What is protective styling? Is it necessary to achieve long lengths?
A: A “protective” style is one in which your hair isn’t loose. Whether your hair is twisted, braided, bunned or cornrowed beneath a weave, your strands are woven together and more resistant to breakage – plus, they hold on to moisture very well. There is some debate as to what constitutes a protective style. Some feel that two strand twists or box braids don’t meet the qualifications since your ends are still exposed to the elements. This is why I prefer the label, ‘low manipulation styles’. I consider roller sets, twists, twist-outs, braids and braid-outs low manipulation styles because once you’re done with the initial styling, you can keep your hands out of your head for three or more days. And for folks with fine hair like me, whether my ends are hidden away or not, minimizing styling time and reducing the number of times I have to style in a week, does wonders for length retention.
As with everything, protective styling may or may not be for you. I’ve seen naturals retain long, healthy, moisturized hair by washing daily and rocking ‘out’ styles. These same naturals may experience excessive tangling and matting from protective styles that hinder progress. On the flip side, I’ve watched curlies hide their hair away in intricate braided styles for weeks at a time to achieve long, strong hair. You have to experiment and figure out what works best for you. So with that, no, protective styles are not always necessary in achieving long lengths.
I’ve somehow become a protective styler, not by choice, but by necessity thanks to my very active one year old. I’ve done the bun thing (wet and dry) and more recently I’ve rocked two strand twists. While many may argue that twists are not a protective style, I would counter that they are. Although my ends are not hidden away, manipulation is very, very low. I find that my hair stays much more moisturized in twists (compared to buns) if for no other reason that I keep up a regular moisture/oil routine. When my hair is bunned and hidden away, I leave it up there and forget about it. Out of sight, out of mind. It’s rare when I take it down, moisturize the ends and seal. I also find that a week old bun is hell to detangle which can lead to set backs. It’s easy to keep my hair lubricated in the twists and by virtue of the style, it stays nearly tangle free. So for me, twists are my ideal protective style… updos and buns, less so.
As with everything, less is more! So if you decide to venture into protective styling, make sure your style of choice isn’t stressing your edges, and that you don’t leave it in too long, and that you continue to moisturize your hair even while it’s protected. Continuously reassess your hair’s health and tweak your regimen as you go! Have fun and happy hair growing!