There has been a long standing myth among the natural hair community that the only way to grow long healthy hair is to use protective hairstyles. For those new to the natural hair community, protective styling involves putting your hair into a style that involves tucking your ends away from the atmosphere to protect them from damage whilst your hair grows. The premise is that if the ends of your hair don’t break and your hair continues to grow, then you will achieve longer hair.
This myth is so deeply entrenched in the natural hair community that women will often do back to back protective style for upwards of a year to reach their hair goals. Now don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of women who have achieved amazing lengths from protective styling, but there are a few women who never yield results from all their efforts.
Problems Caused by Too Much Protective Styling:
- TANGLING from hair being untouched for long periods of time. This especially occurs in styles that take so long to put in that the mere thought of taking them down after only a few days seems like a waste. Thus, those women decide to leave in those styles for weeks.
- DRYNESS from hair that is left untouched and uncared for for too long
- BREAKAGE from over manipulating the hair to create elaborate hairstyles
So How Do I Make My Hair Grow, Then?
Low manipulation styles, unlike protective hairstyles, do not require that your hair and ends be tucked away for protection. Instead it works on the premise that if you do simple styles and manipulate your hair as little as possible, then you will not do unnecessary damage to your hair and will retain length.
Benefits of Low Manipulation Styles
- THEY ARE EASIER TO INSTALL. Styles like wash-and-gos and twist/ braid outs are far less taxing on the hair than installing mini twists, extension braids etc. By manipulating the hair less for styling, you minimize the damage to your hair. Before installing a protective style, think about whether the manipulation to install it will cause more damage to your hair than if you just styled it regularly and if its purpose is defeated.
- IT IS EASIER TO MAINTAIN THE HAIR. The problem with a lot of protective hairstyles is that once installed, women tend to forget that they still have to maintain the hair, especially when it is hidden under wigs or entwined in braids. Also, if the hair is hard to get at, or moisturizing it will ruin the style, many women will opt for style over healthy hair. Low manipulation styles, however, usually do not require that the hair be bound in intricate styles making the hair easier to access.
- THEY ARE MORE FLEXIBLE. The main gripe with protective styles is that the can become boring after a while. Having your hair in a style for weeks at a time can be a major problem for many of us curlies as most of us suffer from serious cases of hand in hair syndrome. Low manipulation styles however, give curlies the opportunity to vary their styles and avoid becoming bored.
Low Manipulation Styles to Try:
- WASH-AND-GOS: This style can be done several ways, but the most basic way to accomplish this style is to wash and condition your hair and detangle it thoroughly before styling. Once done, a moisturizing conditioner or leave-in or moisturizer can be used depending on your preference. A styler or gel can be layered on top for added hold if necessary. To ensure that you keep your hair healthy while it is styled, make sure you moisturize your hair as much as it needs it.
- TWIST/BRAID OUTS: This style can be done on freshly cleansed hair or dry hair that has been stretched for added length and volume. After moisturizing, apply your styler of choice and separate your hair into sections and twist or braid it. For added interest, you could put the ends of your hair or the entire length itself on rollers. Once your hair is completely dry, or after some time has passed, unravel and separate the twists gently to hide the parts and increase the volume. The best part about these styles is that you do not need to rewet your hair to restyle. To make the hair pliable enough to detangle, you can either spray it with water or add a good detangling product, then add a styler if necessary and restyle. Also, to maintain your hair's health, make sure you moisturize and seal your hair, especially at the ends.
Don't Be Discouraged
I know this information may seem confusing and contradictory, especially since this article seems to suggest that all hairstyles are created equally, but if it’s been said once it’s been said many times: you have to do what's best for your hair.
This article merely covers suggestions for an alternative way to maintain your hair’s health if traditional protective styling does not work. Also, please note that a hairstyle itself will not guarantee your hair's health. It must also be in conjunction with good hair care practices, plenty of moisturizing, a standing appointment for good deep conditioning, reduced usage of combs and brushes and minimizing the number of times you style your hair.
As always, I wish you love, peace and curly haired bliss.
This article was originally published in May 2014 and has been updated for grammar and clarity.