The natural hair movement has taken off, and Black women have never felt more empowered to wear their natural texture. However, for a lot of people with natural hair, learning how to take care of it, grow it, and style it is a challenge. Looking for a style that makes you feel fabulous without damaging your hair? Look no further than protective styles.
What are protective hairstyles?
Protective hairstyles are any style that keeps your ends safely tucked away. These hairstyles typically require very little maintenance, no heat, and help keep strands moisturized.
Protective styles are an essential part of healthy hair care. During the colder months, they protect your hair from icy temperatures, snow, and frosty air. In the summer, protective styling prevents sun, wind, and water damage. Kinky and coily hair is naturally dry and prone to breakage, so over time weather conditions and frequent styling wear down the fibers of your hair and lead to damage and often loss of length.
It’s important that you prep your hair properly for a protective style, so that it doesn’t do more harm than good. For all styles you want to start with clean, deep conditioned hair. If you plan to leave your style in for a few weeks, it’s a good idea to get a trim before it’s installed.
To keep your style fresh, wash it bi-weekly to remove any buildup. Keeping your scalp and strands moisturized is key, oil your scalp or spray hair with a leave-in conditioner daily to keep your hair healthy, prevent breakage, and promote growth.
Every style has an expiration date. When that date is for you, depends on how fast your hair grows and the style you choose. Some styles, like wigs, make it easier to maintain the style longer because new growth is not exposed. While others, like box braids, start to look messy as your hair grows out.
Another sign that it’s time to ditch your protective style is when you can see buildup on your hair. If you choose to forgo washing your hair while it’s in a protective style, your hair becomes dirty, and your scalp can become dry and flaky.
Now comes the the fun part: choosing which style is best for you. Think about what you plan to do, how much upkeep you want to do, and how much time you want to spend installing the style. Here, we’ve rounded up 25 protective hairstyles to keep you inspired through the Fall.
25 braids, twists, and locs for natural hair
Cornrows are one of the most popular protective hairstyles you can try for natural or relaxed tresses. They are super protective, low maintenance, and can be styled tons of different ways. You can’t go wrong with simple straight-back plaits, like model Sydney Harper. For a lowkey look, the best clip-in hair extensions are ones that match your natural hair.
Cornrows Low Bun
A low bun is a chic hairstyle that pairs fantastically with cornrows. For a fresh update, try alternating braid sizes.
Cornrows with Faux Ponytail
Cornrows give your average ponytail that “wow” factor. Actress Chante Adams lets her natural texture shine in this low, voluminous ponytail.
If you’re after a protective style that’s versatile and stylish, look no further than box braids. Whether worn long or short, chunky or thin, box braids are super chic and on trend. Model and entrepreneur, Jordyn Woods, stuns in a waist-length version of the iconic 90’s style.
Colorful Box Braids
One of the perks of rocking box braids is being able to experiment with different hair colors without making a long-term commitment. We’re big fans of this bold, neon look.
Ombré Box Braids
Ombré is another way to give your braids a modern flair. If you’re after a look that will stop traffic, try this fire engine red ombre look.
Braids and bobs are so on trend for 2020, and with this hairstyle you don’t have to choose between the two. If you want to rock a protective style that’s minimal, but makes a statement, try a box braids bob. Actress Amandla Stenberg rocks the red carpet in these chocolate brown, chin-length braids.
Chunky Box Braids
Standard box braids tend to be on the skinner side, but big box braids give you a bold style that has a chunky texture with a vintage feel. Singer and model, Justine Skye, is giving us major 90’s vibes with her jumbo braids.
So many celebs have been slaying knotless braids this season. The Beyoncé-approved hairstyle is a great way to protect your strands from stress and explore various lengths and colors. Unlike box braids, knots are not required, which reduces tension and gives the protective style a natural look we love.
Chances are you may mistake crochet braids for someone’s real hair, which is one of the reasons we love this look so much. Crochet braiding is a way of adding extensions to one’s hair by looping hair under the cornrows with a crochet needle, and securing it with a knot. Crochet braids can be worn, straight, curly, or braided.
Fulani braids —which gets its name from the Fulani people in West Africa, where the braids originated— are a mixture of cornrows and box braids and can be worn with or without beads. Add hair extensions for length to get this scroll-stopping look.
One of the most iconic hairstyles of all time is dreadlocks. They’re perfect for a naturalista who wants a style that’s as bold as it is protective. However, dreads require lots of patience, as they can take years to be fully complete. If you’re not ready to commit, faux locs are a temporary protective style where your extensions are loc’d — not your natural hair.
Goddess locs are a form of faux locs with a more bohemian vibe. What sets goddess locs apart from traditional faux locs is the ends are left curly or wavy, instead of sealed.
Two-strand twists are lightweight, add no tension, and require zero heat. They’re the perfect style for naturals because they help the hair hold onto moisture longer and keep it tangle free. Less manipulation, plus better moisture retention, equals healthy, hydrated strands.
This hairstyle was inspired by music legend Bob Marley and his iconic, long dreads. A popular alternative to faux locs, Marley twists were created to mimic the appearance of natural locs. What sets this hairstyle apart from other twist styles is the use of long synthetic, kinky-curly “Marley hair”.
Havana twists are similar to Marley twists, but they have a different look, feel, and cost. Havana twists are thicker and use a kinkier texture of hair to achieve the look. The style is also a lot lighter than Marley twists, putting less stress on your scalp.
Whether you want to use your natural hair, or add extensions, Senegalese twists look great at any length. These chunky, long Senegalese twists make a statement while still looking natural.
The prettiest, go-to braid of the season, is one you can do from home. If you’re tired of wearing a top knot everyday but don’t have the time and skill required for more intricate braided looks, try Dutch braids. Dutch braids are also a great style to couple with a treatment or hair oil. Lori Harvey’s sleek braids look super chic, and let her makeup take center stage.
Want to try an edgy updo while keeping your hair protected? Try a faux-hawk! Big, bold, and so damn cool, it’s one of the most daring styles you can sport without having to change your natural hair.
Today so many of our favorite celebrities are rocking Bantu knots, but the style has a long, rich history. The simple and stunning look has been around for over 100 years and is making a major fashion comeback. It’s used as a protective style for both natural and relaxed hair and is commonly used in overnight routines to preserve longer lasting and more defined curly styles.
The cooler cousin to pigtails, space buns are a fun and whimsical hairstyle that looks great on all hair textures. Embrace your puffs with this zero-effort (but cute AF) hairstyle.
If you don’t have a lot of time to spend on your hair but want to keep it protected — a topknot is the perfect hairstyle. The trendy updo can be worn super sleek, or loose and laidback.
Low Braided Ponytail
Who says hair has to be complicated to look good? This classic braided ponytail is easy to do yourself, looks super chic, and keeps your hair protected. We love how Zendaya paired the low key hairstyle with glam makeup and bold earrings.
Wigs are a great protective style that lets you change up your look as often as you want. They’re a great option if you’re trying to grow out your hair, because new growth will be hidden underneath. With so many options on the market, there is a wig for every budget and style. Cardi B’s jetblack, sleek lob is very on trend for Fall.
Clip-in Ponytails add oomph to your look by making your ponytail thicker and longer. Gather your natural hair into a high or low pony and add the ponytail extension for an instantly polished look.
Written by: Phelisha Cassup