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Pictured: @slimreshae

Protective styles are a funny thing. Not in the “ha ha” kind of way but in the sense that, while there are a ton of benefits that come with having them, some people act like they’ve got superpowers when it comes to haircare and length retention. Because of that, sometimes they find themselves pretty disappointed when their chosen protective style doesn’t do all of the things that they initially expected it to.

So, let’s destroy a few popular myths about protective styles today, shall we? Whether you opt to keep your hair in one most of the time or you’re considering a particular look and you’d like to learn more about exactly what you’re getting yourself into, there are a few myths about protective styles that I’m going to do my best to debunk today.

1. Protective Styles Will Automatically Help Your Hair to Grow

You’ve probably heard that your hair grows between ¼”- ½“ every month. This means that if you were able to retain all of the new growth from your roots, you would have six inches of length every year (for the record, reportedly, Asian hair grows the fastest while African hair grows the slowest). Unfortunately, lot of us don’t get to see this kind of progress because our hair is damaged, our ends are split or we simply choose to cut our hair often.

However, something that can help you to retain length is a protective style. One reason is because it helps to keep you from manipulating your tresses as much. Another reason is because you can (usually) keep your ends tucked in (think braids, buns, wigs and weaves). Since your ends are the oldest parts of your hair, whenever they’re out of the way of weather elements, styling tools and other things that can dry them out or weaken them, that helps you to keep some inches too.

Keeping all of this in mind, it’s actually a rather gross assumption that protective styles will automatically help you to achieve your hair goals. For instance, a ponytail is technically considered to be a protective style but if you always keep your hair up in one, two things could hinder hair growth — constantly putting it into the same position (because that could weaken that area of your hair) and always leaving your ends exposed.

So yes, while protective styles can aid in helping your hair to grow, you still have to be a bit strategic in how you use them if you want to see real progress over time.

2. Protective Styles Are the Best Way to Grow Out Your Hair

It’s also not 100 percent accurate that protective styles are the best way to grow out your hair. In other words, don’t think that just because you put your hair into some faux locs or Marley twists that you won’t have to do anything else. There are other things that you need to factor in for your hair to flourish as well:

  • Drink plenty of water to hydrate your hair follicles from the inside out
  • Eat lots of fresh fruits and veggies to provide your follicles with the nutrients that they need
  • Moisturize your hair with a leave-in conditioner so that it doesn’t become dry and brittle
  • Massage your scalp to increase blood circulation to it (more on that in a bit)
  • Take a multivitamin to compensate for the nutrients that you may be lacking in your diet
  • Wrap your hair up in a silk or satin scarf (or bonnet) at night to reduce friction and prevent dryness
  • Be gentle with the edges and nape of your neck in order to reduce breakage

If you do these things and you have a protective style, you could very well be on your way to having longer and healthier hair. Just make sure that you don’t skimp on any of these tips. All must be applied for lasting success.

3. Scalps Love Protective Styles

Let’s touch on your scalp real quick. Even though it’s the foundation of healthy hair, it’s kind of amazing how much it tends to get neglected by so many of us. That said, whether or not you have a protective style in your hair, you need to be intentionally proactive about caring for your scalp; especially when you have a protective style.

One reason is because if you’ve got braids or twists, that means you’ve got more parts in your hair which means your scalp is more vulnerable to extreme heat or cold. Another reason is because if you’re opting to wear a wig or weave, your scalp may be covered up more than usual which can also be potentially damaging. So, as you can see, it’s not really fair to say that scalps are automatically in love with protective styles. In fact, if there’s ever a time when you really should hone in on your scalp, it’s when your hair is sporting a protective look.

You can care for your scalp by doing the following things:

  • Cleanse your scalp even if it’s only by applying an apple cider rinse in order to clarify it
  • Massage your scalp to increase blood circulation to it and your hair follicles
  • Applying essential oils to it or add some essential oils to your shampoo in order to improve the health of your scalp
  • Eat more omega-3 rich foods like salmon, walnuts, chia seeds, tuna and fortified yogurt to moisturize your hair and reduce hair follicle inflammation
  • Use a scalp scrub before and after a protective style to remove any build-up and reduce the potential for itchiness and irritation

4. Protective Styles Are the “Cure” for Split or Damaged Ends

It really can’t be said enough that your ends are the oldest parts of your hair. This means that they need to be handled with extreme care at all times. Otherwise, you could end up with really dry or brittle ends and that could lead to split ones (check out our article “7 Ways to Deal with Perpetual Split Ends”). Split ends aren’t good because, no matter how many hair commercials may tell you otherwise, there is no “cure” for them. In other words, if you end up with split ends, the only thing that you can do to prevent them from wreaking pure havoc up the shaft of the rest of your hair is to cut them off.

When it comes to avoiding split ends, while protective styles can certainly help to keep you from getting any new ones, it’s still a good idea to trim your hair before putting your tresses into a protective style. The only exception is sometimes braids and twists (especially if they are smaller ones) because when your ends aren’t “blunt”, that can help them to blend more seamlessly into your protective look. For the record, if you are going to go this route, make sure that you deep condition your ends first.

Also, while your hair is in a protective style, try and apply a leave-in conditioner to your hair a couple of times a week. If it’s in a spray form, it will be light enough to give your ends some moisture without causing build-up on your protective style in the process like some cream-based leave-ins do (whether you’ve got hair extensions in your protective style or not).

5. Protective Styles Don’t Require Natural Hair Maintenance

I oftentimes compare natural hair to silk. The reason why I do that is because I think that, like silk, hair is very strong and fragile at the same time. That’s why I don’t cosign on the belief that some people have, that once your natural hair is in a protective style, you don’t have to give it much thought until you take the style down.

The main thing to keep in mind where this myth is considered is protective styles are designed to give you a break from styling not maintenance. If you always apply this unofficial rule to your hair routine and choices, you’ll be amazed by how quickly your hair will grow and thrive. YouTuber Seun Okimi uses protective styles to grow her hair and you can watch how she washes and maintains her hair when it's in a protective style (passion twists). You can also check out my article “How to Care for Your Natural Hair While Wearing Box Braids.” 

6. It’s Fine to Keep the Same Protective Style in Long-Term

There is someone I know who kept the same microbraids in her hair for years. Don’t get me wrong, she was absolutely stunning in them. Problem is, now she has no edges at all (check out “If You Want Your Edges Back, Stop Doing This”) and her dermatologist says that she has no hope of gaining them back. That’s because she’s been diagnosed with traction alopecia which is hair loss that literally comes from wearing a particular hairstyle for so long that it weakens your hair follicles.

Some things that you can do to prevent this from happening to you is

  1. not put your ponytails up in the same position all of the time (like we discussed earlier)
  2. wear a wig cap underneath your wigs (to keep the wigs from irritating your edges)
  3. only keep lace front wigs in for six weeks at the most (and even that depends on the quality of the wig, how it’s installed and how well you care for it)
  4. only leave braids, twists and faux locs in for 6-8 weeks max

Oh and definitely give your hair and scalp a rest before getting more of these looks by waiting 2-3 weeks before another installment. Otherwise, too much of a good thing could prove to do more harm than good. Literally.

The interesting thing about myths is some people take them to be facts and that’s why they prove to be so disappointing in the long run. Hopefully, with these six protective style-related ones being debunked, you can get a hairstyle that really does help you and your hair goals. Because if a protective style isn’t doing that…what good is it? Exactly.