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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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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