Protective styling: maintaining hair against the elements

Meccah Muhammad

Black hair has recently become a prominent topic of discussion in popular media. The rebirth of the natural hair movement called for black women to embrace their unprocessed locks.

The natural hair movement inspired black women to stop conforming and to embrace the versatility of kinkier coils. Most importantly, the movement started to prioritize the importance of healthy hair above all else.

This commitment to health helped sparked the popularity of protective styling. Protective styling is a form of styling intended to protect hair from outside elements, such as weather. Protective styling is used to give the hair a break.

The misunderstanding of black hair among the public, professionals and manufacturers has led to a lot of bad practices. For example, the overuse of heat or relaxers used for chemically straightening would damage the hair. Styles which required a lot of manipulation could snap hair strands, and even the way hair was being washed could be harmful. It was soon understood that kinkier hair is more fragile.  

Protective styling is a way to halt overstyling of the hair and can be incorporated regardless of a person’s hair texture. Check out these forms of protective styling here:


Braids allow access to the scalp without the need to manipulate the individual strands everyday. With braids, cleaning and moisturization is still possible, but the hair itself is wrapped and protected.


The hair is braided into comfortable cornrows underneath, and a wig is placed on top. Depending on the quality of the wig this method can last months, while washing the hair regularly in between. Wigs allow access to the hair as they are easy to remove and often are only attached via glue or small combs.


Sew-ins can either be full or partial. A full sew-in is when no real hair is left unbraided, and partial is when some real hair is kept out to blend with the extensions. Sew-ins typically last longer than wigs and allow for more security for the wearer, as they are sewed down onto the head. They protect by allowing the hair to grow freely without manipulation.


Similar to most protective styles, crochet braids use a plaited base and hair is added on top. These are quick, secure and protective. The fake hair is attached to the cornrows with a crochet hook and closed off with a loose tie. Crochets allow access to the scalp and are extremely customizable

Low-manipulation styles

Any style with the wearers own hair that protects their ends, locks in moisture and helps cut down on the use of styling tools.

Protective styling is a means of expression. Instead of dying or cutting the real hair to get a certain look, you’re able to experiment. Want a purple bob Monday and waist length hair Tuesday? It’s safe and possible with protective styling.