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.
Join our xoTribe, an exclusive community dedicated to YOU and your stories and all things xoNecole. Be a part of a growing community of women from all over the world who come together to uplift, inspire, and inform each other on all things related to the glow up.
Featured image by Shutterstock