This Is How To Know Your Protective Style Ain't Workin'

Protective styles should help not harm.


Braids. Twists. Wigs. Weaves. Buns. Bantu knots. Updos. Wanna know what all of these things have in common? They're protective styles—they are all things that you can do to your hair that will decrease how much time you spend touching your hair. Not only that but they protect your tresses from outdoor elements and, most importantly, keep your ends from experiencing damage. Yeah, protective styles are pretty amazin'. At the same time, you really can end up with too much of a good thing. When it comes to these particular looks, if you end up relying on protective styles so much that it ends up causing all sorts of drama when it comes to your hair getting stronger, longer and healthier…they actually are doing you absolutely no good.

So, how can you know for sure that your protective style is out here working against you rather than for you in the long run? I've got eight telling signs that you definitely shouldn't overlook.

1. You’re Noticing Breakage


A statement that a lot of people tend to make that is absolutely not true is, "My hair doesn't grow." If you're living—and you don't have some sort of diagnosed hair loss condition—your tresses are definitely growing, somewhere between one-fourth and one-half inch each and every month. However, the reason why a lot of us don't see any real length retention is because our hair breaks off, about as fast as it grows. Protective styles can do this when we've worn them too long (styles like braids and twists really shouldn't be in longer than six weeks at a time) or we're not properly conditioning our hair before styling it.

Another breakage issue? Sometimes, we're so comfortable with a protective style that we forget our ends at least need to be dusted, if not all-out trimmed. So, if you've been rocking a protective style with the intention of growing your hair out yet you haven't been seeing any real progress, ask yourself why that is the case—because you definitely should be.

2. Your Edges and/or Nape Are Getting Weak

I wear my hair in box braids from time to time. Something that I can tell you is a huge red flag is if you leave your braider with your scalp feeling so tight that you've got a headache. A good braider isn't going to pull your hair so much that it ends up weakening your hair follicles and/or causes the edges and nape of your hair to start thinning out. While we're on this topic, I know some people who are so married to their lace fronts to the point where they don't even have edges anymore, either because they are installing their wigs incorrectly or they are leaving them on too long (you shouldn't keep one on for longer than six weeks).

If you've naturally got thin edges or the nape of your neck has always been shorter than the rest of your hair, that's one thing. Yet if your protective style is the direct cause, make sure that braids, twists, Bantu knots and sew-ins are looser and wigs are installed with extreme care. No look is worth losing some of your hair in the long run as a direct result of having it.

3. Your Scalp Is Irritated

Something that can happen when it comes to braids (especially when you're using extensions) is your scalp can end up becoming really irritated. This happened to me once because my scalp didn't like the brand of hair that was used. This is oftentimes the case when synthetic fibers are used rather than human hair. New wigs can also make your scalp itch or cause it to become inflamed. Come to think of it, so can an older wig if you didn't wash out all of the shampoo and/or conditioner that you used before putting it back on. Listen, your scalp is the foundation of your hair, so when it comes to protective styles, it's important that you wash your hair and scalp thoroughly before getting the style and that you are able to keep it moisturized. Also make sure that when it comes to braid/twist extensions, wigs and weaves that the hair is quality so that your scalp isn't getting bumps, sores or you're not scratching it to death while you've got your protective style on.

4. Your Hair Is Loc'ing Up


Here's something that is counterproductive AF. So, you get some killer braids or twists, yet you don't want to take them down, so you keep twisting your new growth to make the roots appear tighter so that your hairstyle looks fresher. OK. Here's the thing, though—if you do that long enough, you could cause your hair to loc up which makes it harder to detangle which means that you could end up damaging your hair once it's time to take it all down.

Another potential "loc up" cause? Having a sew-in remain for so long that your braids underneath end up becoming so matted that you weaken your hair trying to take everything down.

Locs are beautiful. They are also meant to be intentional. If you've got a protective style that's resulting in your hair loc'ing up, that is definitely not a good sign. A protective style should be relatively easy to "dismantle". It shouldn't stress you or your hair out when you're in the process of doing it.

5. It’s Too Tiny

Say that micro braids are totally your thing. While some stylists say that they can remain in your hair for three months (and lawd, since they can take 12 hours to put in, they should), sometimes it's not worth it when it comes to taking the braids out. For one thing, it can be a beast figuring out where your hair starts and the extensions begin. Secondly, there is a lot of manipulation that goes down while your fingers are trying to take out every little braid that you've got. While using a cream or spray can make the process easier, you could still end up with a lot of shedding, some breakage and, at the very least, a couple of months when you'll really need to "baby" your hair. So, while micro braids may be convenient as all get out, again, if the ultimate goal is growth, they could end up working against you rather than for you.

6. You’ve Got Product Build-Up

In a perfect world, a protective style would make it possible for you to not need to put a lot of product in your hair. But I know some of y'all are perfectionists and, at the very least, you want every baby hair to be in place. What I will say is if you notice residue, that your hair is dull, your scalp is flaky or your hair feels extra greasy—these are all indications of product build-up and it being time to wash your hair and quite possible removing your protective style. If you don't, your hair follicles could end up getting clogged (which is never good) or hair could become so stiff and hard that you could end up damaging the cuticles while trying to restyle it.

For the record, if you've got a sew-in, make sure to use a shampoo that is specifically designed for it (that way, your weave will get detangled while your natural hair can remain fresh and moisturized); every 2-3 weeks is cool. If you've got braids or twists, every two weeks is a good idea. Same goes for buns and updos; just make sure to deep condition after taking those down, every single time and, if you did apply a lot of product that you do an apple cider rinse to clarify your hair.

7. It’s Too High-Maintenance 

Here's what I mean by a high-maintenance protective style. Something that I really like to rock are cornrows. I am able to part and braid them myself, so they are super convenient. Yet when I read somewhere that Trey Songz once said that he cut his braids because he was tired of redoing them every four days, I felt that deep in my spirit.

Remember that the purpose of a protective style is so that your hair experiences low-manipulation which means that whatever look you settle on needs to absolutely not be high-maintenance.

If you've got to constantly pull and tug at your hair in order to perfect the look, it's pretty counterproductive. Just something to keep in mind if you're trying to figure out which protective style to go with next.

8. You Never Switch Up


While you may have never considered them to be protective styles before, technically buns and updos do qualify because, if you take good care of them (including keeping your hands out of your hair), they can protect your ends and that can encourage length retention in the long run. Just make sure that you're not always putting the bun or updo in the exact same spot on your head. That can lead to breakage and balding if you're not careful. So can constantly parting your Bantu knots the same way. Never forget that hair follicles are very resilient and yet somewhat fragile at the same time, so you've got to constantly handle them with care—in part, by not constantly handling them.

Have fun with your protective styles; however, do give your hair a break, even from them, every once in a while. They are designed to be temporary solutions for achieving hair growth not permanent styles with no reprieve. Aight? Cool.

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

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