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Everything You've Ever Wanted To Know About Protective Hairstyles

picture of women with protective styles

For the vast majority of my life, my hair was relaxed, just like my mother’s. We spent countless weekends in hair salons getting our relaxed strands touched up and styled, all in an effort to keep our manes are curl-free as possible. Which is to say, when I finally went natural in my mid-twenties, I was a bit lost. After spending years perfecting my straight hairstyles, I had no idea how to style my transitioning hair that wasn’t quite straight and not really curly. Then, I came across protective hairstyles. It was just the style solution I was looking for, a look that protected my transitioning strands without having to sacrifice on style.

It’s been a few years since I went natural, but protective styles are still a staple in my hair care and styling regime. Whether you’re newly transitioning, or have been natural all of your life, you’re going to want to add these protective styles to your arsenal.

Keep reading for our ultimate guide to protective hairstyles.

Photo Credit: @iammariaborges and : @esar4styles.

What is a protective hair style?

Simply put, protective hairstyles safeguard your ends and help reduce tangling, breakage, and shedding. Protective hairstyles run the gamut from messy buns to box braids, but they all exist for the same purpose: to give your strands a break from the wind, pulling, tugging, and heat styling.

It’s important to know that not all protective styles are created equal. If your protective hairstyle is installed or styled too tightly, it could do more harm than good. If you’re styling your own hair, refrain from putting too much pressure on your strands. Heading to a salon to have your protective style installed? Don’t hesitate to speak up if you feel like your stylist is pulling a little too tightly or adding more hair than necessary.

Photo Credit: @DelphineCourteille_Paris and : @leonardparis.

Do protective styles help hair grow?

Protective hairstyles cannot help your hair grow. Your DNA determines the rate at which your hair grows, and there are no products, hairstyles, or treatments that can change that. However, protective styles can help to reduce breakage, and less breakage can help you achieve longer hair.

Photo Credit: @petermazilu and : @syanne_barclay.

What is the purpose of protective hairstyles?

The purpose of a protective hairstyle is to protect the oldest, most vulnerable part of your hair (your ends) from unnecessary environmental and styling stressors.

Photo Credit: @iammariaborges and : @cesar4styles.

What is the most protective hairstyle?

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all protective hairstyle. While styles like messy buns are fairly universal, other protective styles such as box braids or Senegalese twists may do more harm than good if you have very fine, thin, or fragile hair. The most protective style for your hair will be a style that safeguards your ends while ensuring the rest of your hair is cared for.

How long should you leave your hair in a protective hairstyle?

How long you should leave a protective style in your hair depends on which protective style you choose. If you opt for a simple protective hairstyle like a bun or a wig, you should undo the style before you go to sleep. For a more long-term style like box braids or faux locs, you can keep that style for anywhere from six to 12 weeks (as long as you properly care for your strands).

If you’re keeping your protective hairstyle in for longer than a week, you’ll need to wash your hair while it’s still installed. Shampoo your hair like you usually would, making sure to be gentle so as not to disturb your style too much. Follow your shampoo with a hydrating conditioner to ensure your hair looks and feels moisturized. We recommend Mizani’s Moisture Fusion Moisture Rich Shampoo and Intense Moisture Mask.

Once you’ve washed and conditioned your hair, you’ll need to make sure it is completely dry before styling. Because many protective styles require you to add extra hair to your style, you may want to use a blow dryer or hooded dryer to make sure your mane is 100 percent dry. If you leave your hair damp (particularly near the scalp), you run the risk of developing dandruff, fungus, or even mildew.

If you don’t have time to wash and condition your hair regularly completely, invest in a good astringent—we recommend witch hazel. It can help remove dirt and buildup, keeping your scalp healthy between washes. Apply the astringent with cotton swabs to ensure you clean every nook and cranny of your scalp.

If your scalp becomes itchy or irritated, reach for a soothing scalp treatment like Mizani Scalp Care Calming Lotion. This leave-in treatment, made with aloe vera, avocado oil, and eucalyptus, nourishes, cools and soothes the scalp.

Now that you know what a protective hairstyle is and how to care for is, we’ve rounded up 9 of our favorite protective hairstyles. Your strands—and your Instagram feed—will thank you.

The Best Protective Hairstyles To Try Now

Photo Credit: @styledbyreece.

Crown Braid

Braids are some of the best protective styles around, and we love this crown variation. Wrap your hair with a silk scarf before you go to sleep if you want to wear this regal style all week long.

Photo Credit: @cesar4styles and : @sunitav_.

Faux Locs

If you’ve ever wondered what you would look like with locs, now you can see with the help of faux locs! Faux locs are a semi-permanent style in which yarn, synthetic or human hair is wrapped around your natural hair to give the appearance of locs. Faux locs are often considered a protective style because they allow your hair to remain natural and untouched beneath the added hair.

Photo Credit:

Messy Bun

When you hear the term “protective hairstyle,” many people think of long-term styles like faux locs and box braids—but you don’t have to slay a style for weeks at a time for it to be protective. If you’re looking for a simple, everyday protective hairstyle, look no further than the messy bun. The messy bun tucks your ends away, keeping them protected without unnecessary pulling or tugging.

Bantu Knots

Bantu knots are one of the most stylish protective styles out there. Our favorite part about Bantu knots is that you can get two killer styles out of them. Slay your Bantu knots for a few days, before unraveling them for flawless heatless curls.

Photo Credit: @rutgerhair and : @wallettewatson.


Cornrows are great for anyone to wants a style that will keep their hair out of their face but still allows for a lot of versatility. If you want a simple style, opt for straight back cornrows. If you’re looking for a style that’s a bit more intricate, get creative with the way you part your hair—the options are limitless!

Photo Credit: @officialamilnaestevao and : @lamajbackwards.

Box Braids

When you think of protective hairstyles, box braids almost always come to mind, and for a good reason—they’re absolutely stunning. Box braids are great for anyone looking for a protective hairstyle they can wear for a few weeks. Now you’ll have an extra 30 minutes to sleep every morning without having to worry about what to do with your hair.

Photo Credit: @yvonniesmooth and : @saltine_cracker.


If the point of a protective hairstyle is to keep your ends hidden away from unnecessary stressors, then wigs are the ultimate protective style. A wig not only protects your ends, but it also keeps your entire mane safely tucked beneath its perfectly styled barrier. The best part? Wigs allow you to try out any hairstyle, cut, or color your desire without altering your natural hair.

Photo Credit: @alstyling and : @saltine_cracker.

Crochet Braids

While box braids may not be a great choice for anyone with fine or fragile hair, it doesn’t mean the look is completely off-limits for anyone with thin hair. If you love the look of box braids but need a style that doesn’t add as much weight to your mane, consider crochet braids. Crochet braids are pre-styled braids that are installed into your cornrowed hair. You can slay any style with ease without putting unnecessary weight on your strands.

Photo Credit: @lamajbackwards.

Senegalese Twists

If you love the look of box braids, you won’t be able to get enough of Senegalese twists. This simple two-strand twist is one of the most popular styles around, and it won’t be going out of style anytime soon!

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