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Listen, I’ll be the first to say that one of my all-time favorite hairstyles is a protective style. Because protective styles are super low-maintenance and really cute at the same time, it can be tempting to put a set in and not really think about my hair all that much for weeks on end. Tempting but not a good idea. Not by a long shot.

The reality is that although protective styles are convenient, they are also designed to be temporary (eight weeks tops). That also requires that you implement some type of hair care routine while you have one in — that is, if you want your hair to be healthy once you take your protective style down.

Some people forget that last part which is why I thought it would be a good idea to ask you a few hair care-related questions — just so you can be sure that your daily hair habits are ultimately working for the good of your hair overall.

Is there something “wrong” with putting your hair into the same style every day?

When it comes to getting your hair to flourish, one of the main things it needs is balance. In other words, too much of anything can prove to be detrimental, if you’re not careful. For instance, while a ponytail is pretty low-maintenance, if you put your hair up in the same place for days on end, after a while, you will probably experience breakage due to the tension of the ponytail always being in the same spot. Or, if you always wear a wig, that could weaken your edges “thanks” (but no thanks) to the friction that your wig band may be causing. Even putting your hair in a crown braid could result in breakage at some point if you’re taking it down on a daily basis (because that’s still quite a bit of manipulation).

Moral to the story here is to switch your hair up a bit from time to time. If you’ve got small braids in, wear a wash ‘n go for a couple of weeks after taking them out. If you’ve been wearing your hair in a high bun, pull it back into a low ponytail a couple of times a week. That way, your hair won’t weaken due to the literal pressure of being in the same hairstyle all of the time.

Should you be focusing on your hair more than your scalp?

One of the biggest mistakes that a lot of us make when it comes to protective styles is assuming that once we put in — for example — braids and twists that we don’t have to do anything to our hair until we take them out and that’s simply not true.

That said, as far as what you should be focusing on more — your hair or your scalp — that is a bit of a “which comes first: the chicken or the egg?” kind of question simply because your scalp is the foundation of your hair and your hair is well, your hair. Honestly, the main thing to keep in mind here is a big part of the reason why you have a protective style is so your hair will experience as little manipulation as possible.

That’s why, when it comes to natural locks, a protective style is the time when you can (and should) focus on things like your diet and consuming a lot of water. Fresh fruits and veggies will give your hair the nutrients that it needs while water will help to keep your hair follicles hydrated. It’s also a good idea to lightly spritz your hair a couple of times a week with a homemade solution made up of a carrier oil (check out “Top 20 Carrier Oils for Hair”) and some distilled water. That will help to moisturize and condition your hair without creating a lot of unnecessary build-up in the process.

But honestly, what I think should get the most attention when your hair is in a protective style is your scalp. If you’ve got braids, twists or faux locs in, you probably have a lot of parts in your hair that expose your scalp. Use this time to gently massage your scalp every night (it increases blood circulation to your scalp and hair follicles). If your scalp feels dry or irritated, apply a bit of Jamaican black castor oil (it can relieve itchiness and strengthen the roots of your hair). If you do decide to wash your hair while it's in a protective style like braids or twists, use cooler water (hot water can dry your scalp out). Try to avoid using hair products that have sulfates, alcohols or fragrances in them — those can dry out and/or irritate your scalp too.

It can’t be said enough that your scalp is your hair’s foundation. The better you are at taking care of it, the greater chance you will have of your hair being healthy and strong.

How much product should you be using in a protective style?

Something that’s very important to keep in mind is when you have a protective style in your hair, it really is best to take the “less is more” approach when it comes to product use. Since you probably won’t be shampooing your hair as much, you need to make sure that “gunk” doesn’t collect on your strands or that a lot of product ends up irritating your scalp.

Does that mean that you should use nothing? Eh. I'm not saying that. Just make sure that what you do use is applied sparingly and that it serves a purpose.

For braids and twists:

  • Use a scalp toner to soothe your scalp
  • A leave-in conditioner spritz will moisturize your hair without “caking up”
  • Foaming mousses are great for taming fly-aways
  • Applying a finishing oil will give your look some sheen

For wigs and weaves:

The main thing to keep in mind with both of these protective styles is the kind of hair that you’re wearing. If you’re using human hair, you can pretty much use the same products that you would for your natural hair (although not nearly as much). If you’re using synthetic hair, only go with products that are specifically designed for it.

Are you sure that you're actually wearing a protective hairstyle? 

There’s one more thing to consider when it comes to if your daily habits are actually helping or hurting your protective styles and your natural hair — it’s if what you consider to be a protective style is actually that at all. By definition, a protective style is a hairstyle that 1) keeps your ends tucked away and 2) requires as little manipulation as possible.

You know what this means, right? If your ends are exposed and/or you are putting your hair in a “technical” protective style but you’re taking your hair down and styling it every day, that means it’s not experiencing low manipulation — and that means that it’s technically not a protective style.

So, whatever you do, if you’re calling “it” a protective style, make sure it follows both rules (not one or the other…both). Otherwise, no matter how cute your look may be, it’s not a true protective style — and it could be making your hair vulnerable to dryness, weakness and breakage. Please style wisely.