”I love me some protective styles!”’ Whenever I feel overwhelmed by caring for my thick 4c natural hair I put that sucker up in a protective style and be along my day. Now I do make sure to care for my hair underneath the style by moisturizing and hydrating my curls every so often to prevent dryness and breakage, but while these styles are wonderful (when done right) there are many naturalistas who prefer not to wear them. Protective styling is practically preached to all afro-textured hair women; if you have natural hair then I’m sure you’ve heard about protective styling. Don’t get me wrong protective styles are amazing (I love them), but not all women’s hair thrive while utilizing these styles.
Because there are many women who prefer to wear their glorious curls out in the wind there is the question of whether or not one can retain length while constantly wearing their hair out. So can you really grow out your natural hair long and healthy without utilizing protective styles?
Well let’s first take a look at what protective styles are and how they function in our natural hair regimen.
What are protective styles?
Protective styles are hair styles that when applied to the hair protects it from excessive manipulation and breakage. These styles usually keeps the strands off the shoulders and keep the ends of the hair tucked away, they reduce the chance of mechanical damage from excessive combing and ‘hand-in-hair syndrome’, and most importantly, if done right, they aid in length retention.
Now that we’ve got that covered let’s dig a little deeper!
Everyone’s hair grows! How well and how fast it grows is determined and influenced by genetics, health, and diet. We know that your hair is constantly growing (unless you have follicle damage and/or an internal condition that prevents it), so getting to waist length (or your goal length) is all about length retention.
How do you retain your length? It’s simply just making sure your ends aren’t breaking off. It is keeping the hair moisturized, it is trimming when necessary, it is deep conditioning, and it is low-manipulation/protective styling (among other things).
So can you retain length without protective styling? You absolutely can! But there is more to it than what meets the eye.
How to Retain Length Without Utilizing Protective Styles
There are many naturalistas who are able to retain length while enjoying the freedom of wearing their hair out in the wind, but not everyone is able to do this and get to their goal length in the timeframe that they desire. This is because there are a few factors that you must take into consideration that may affect how well you retain length when your practicing a non protective style regimen.
- Hair Type Characteristics
While I do not stress hair typing in my natural hair journey, I think it is important that you consider the characteristics of your hair before you practice a regimen that does not consist of protective styles. Women with type 4 hair which consists of tightly coiled hair experience extreme shrinkage (up to 80%) which makes it not ideal to remove protective styling from their regimen. When the hair gets wet or even just sits out in the wind it gets tangled easily and knots start to form which will lead to breakage and you will need a pair of scissors to remove those knots. That equates to a loss of length.
If your hair has the tendency to shrink up then you might benefit from say keeping your hair in a stretched style. This will prevent excessive single strand knots and overall breakage. Also if your goal is to retain length and grow your hair out as quickly as possible then utilizing protective styles is a great option. If you find that your hair is breaking off at a rapid rate without protective styling then you should consider it an option.
This does not mean that you cannot retain any length while on a ‘non protective style’ regimen. It only means that you will have to take proper precautions to prevent breakage.
2. The thickness of your strands
The thickness of your strands plays a huge role in how well your hair resist breakage. Strand thickness refers to the circumference of your individual strand (thinness/thickness), and should not be confused with the density (refers to the fullness of the hair; how many follicles are on the head) of the hair. Women with thick strands are more able to withstand manipulation or heat usage than women with thin strands. Therefore women with thin strands are more likely to experience breakage from combing, styling, etc, so they might need to put their hair up from time to time to preserve the health of the strands.
3. The Health of your hair
Is your hair healthy enough for constant manipulation? Utilizing protective styles can be a great thing if you are trying to nurse your hair back to health because it gives the hair a break to restore itself. In this case I’m not referring to extremely damaging ‘protective styles’, I’m talking about loose styles that allows the hair to be protected yet gives it breathing space to grow and regenerate itself. But, if you have extremely damaged hair then constantly manipulating your curls and leaving it out will not do you any favors. This is the first question that you should ask yourself when deciding to forego protective styling, Do I have healthy hair?
Let’s get into some tips that you can use to have a successful hair journey without protective styling.
- Always keep your hair moisturized
This is a must to maintain healthy hair whether or not protective styles are a part of your regimen. Moisturized hair is less likely to break which means you will retain your length. Because your hair will be worn out most of the time it will lose moisture to the environment (evaporation), and you will need to stay on top of your moisture game. Use the L.O.C or L.C.O method to slow the rate of evaporation of moisture from your hair to maximize moisture retention. Whenever I wear my hair in a twist or braid out I find that my hair gets dry quicker compared to when I keep my hair in twists, so I re-moisturize my hair daily to retain the moisture in my curls.
2. Opt for Low manipulation styles
Low manipulation styles are styles that allow you to wear your hair out for several days without constant combing, resetting, etc. The name says it all, it requires minimal manipulation. These styles include twist outs, braid outs, wash and gos, bantu knot outs, etc. Mechanical damage done to the hair is usually caused by excessive combing, changing styles everyday, hand in hair syndrome, but the beauty of low manipulation styles is that you can wear your hair out without having to redo your hair everyday.
One of my go to natural hair styles while not in protective style mode is a twist out, and after removing those twists I usually wear that style for about 2-3 days. This gives me the option of wearing my hair out today and the ability to rock the same look the next day. All I do at night is simply mist my hair lightly with water, add some oil, and put my hair up in a bonnet. The next morning I simply take down my hair, fluff and go. I typically restyle my hair every 3-4 days to give my hair a break from manipulation, and this has worked great for me.
3. Keep your hair stretched
If you have type 4 hair then you can understand what extreme shrinkage is. The tighter your curls are the more shrinkage you will experience. Type 4 hair has the ability to shrink up to 80% of its original length, and whenever that happens single strand knots and tangles start to appear. This is when you have to snip those annoying knots off and lose some of your length. The best way to avoid these knots is to keep your hair in a stretched state.
This doesn’t mean that you have to do african threading or blow outs everyday. You can achieve a stretched style by simply putting your hair in twists or braids overnight and removing them the next day.
4. Protein Treatments
Protein treatments are necessary to rebuild the hair strands after they have been damaged by manipulation. When the hair is constantly being combed and manipulated, it slowly starts to break down from wear and tear. So it is crucial, especially if you’re practicing a non protective style regimen, to add frequent protein treatments into your regimen to add strength back into your strands.
5. Pay attention to the ends of your hair
The ends of the hair are the oldest and most fragile parts of the strands because of course they have been around the longest. So in order to hold unto those precious ends you must pay close attention to them by making sure they are moisturized and sealed frequently. After adding moisture to my hair I do a little extra for my ends by adding some protection using natural oils. Most of the oils from nature posses great benefits that will prevent breakage from wear and tear, so you can start using them to protect your ends.
6. Reduce Heat Usage
Using heat isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s when we abuse it (which we like to do sometimes) that we encounter set backs (heat damage). I don’t use direct heat on my hair because I think it dries the hair out and eventually leads to damage, but there are naturalistas who use it without any issues. But to grow your natural hair out long and healthy I’m afraid you will have to be mindful of how much heat you use on your hair. Whether or not you utilize protective styles it would still be beneficial to cut back on the heat.
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