For many naturals long hair is really important. And while the hair grows – yes it does! – the key isn’t necessarily hair growth. It’s about retaining length. Now your hair growth cycle, while partially dependent on a number of factors that are in our control – is mainly GENETICALLY DETERMINED. So there’s not a whole lot you can do to quicken that process. Despite what supplement and product companies say. And yes I’ll dive into this in more detail in future posts. However what you CAN do is control how much hair is broken and cut due to the handling of your hair. Breakage of textured hair happens mostly due to how it’s handled. And if you’re going to see the lengths adding up, minimizing breakage is key. There are a number of strategies that can be implemented and one of them is protective styling.
Recall from previous posts on the characteristics of textured hair, our hair is:
- Highly coiled and curly and each bend represents a point of weakness
- Has an irregular diameter along they hair shaft which results in weakness of the strands
- Has less tensile strength when wet and dry mean it can break more easily compared to Caucasian hair
- Is extremely susceptible to breaking when being combed due to it’s curly structure
- Has a high static charge if combed when dry. This can cause flyaways.
- Has a low moisture level further contributing to its fragile nature
Protective hair care strategies are a good idea in order to shield the delicate strands of textured hair, to minimize breakage and damage and retain length. However they’re NOT absolutely necessary. Many naturals have grown their hair to long lengths without going overboard with the protective styling. If you’re not interested in growing your hair out to exceptional lengths and your main focus is wearing your hair in short, funky hairstyles, protective measures can still be used in order to reduce breakage and minimize damage.
So how do you do this? It doesn’t have to involve sitting for hours in a stylists chair having your hair braided every 6 weeks or so. Unless you want to which is perfectly fine. However you can do some other things to minimize breakage and retain length.
Tips to Protect Your Hair-
Minimize friction and tangling
Reducing these two things can really lessen hair breakage. Reducing friction means that your hair is handled as minimally as possible. Friction comes from combing, brushing and styling and heat exposure. If your hair is fairly long and prone to tangling, you may want to consider sectioning your hair in big twists or braids for cleansing and conditioning. Your hair shouldn’t be piled on top of your head to be washed as the friction between hair strands can cause damage to the hair and a tangled mess. Apply your cleansing agent and conditioner to you hair and work it downwards (and not up), helping to smooth the cuticle. Also, finger detangling through this process can make a huge difference. Putting these practices into effect has greatly minimized the need for detangling my hair before styling.
Additionally, using products with a lot of slip and glide is important to reduce tangling when finger combing or using tools to comb and brush the hair. Sleeping on a satin pillowcase or using a satin cap or scarf can minimize the friction between your hair and the cotton pillowcase at night. For me, I find that sleeping a satin pillowcase can also help to preserve my style for a few days. In general, the less you handle your hair, the less breakage and damage you’ll experience.
Use proper styling tools.
Part of building a healthy hair care regimen is your product choice. Another important aspect is the type of products you use to actually style and manipulate your hair. These include combs, brushes, hair pins and hair clips, rollers, etc. Tools that are not made or used properly can really damage textured hair. Our hands are really our best detangling and styling tools. Our fingers put as little stress as possible on our hair. If you opt to use a styling tool then choosing combs with wide teeth is best. Avoid combs with fine teeth as using these combs can increase the chance of breakage. Seamless combs are ideal to minimize the snagging on the hair and cuticle damage. Combs with longer teeth are great for longer haired curlies in order for the comb to work through the hair effectively and to minimize snagging and breakage. If you are going to use a brush a natural boar bristle brush is best! Brushing can be hard on the cuticle and a boar bristle brush can be used if necessary. I don’t use boar bristle brushes to distribute product but they smooth my hair when I’m styling it. This type of brush is a lot gentler than one with plastic bristles. A brush that is frequently used by women with textured hair to detangle the hair and distribute products throughout the hair is a Denman® brush. I have one and my opinion of it is somewhat mixed. The brush isn’t cheap but I don’t have a problem spending money on something that I find value in if it works for me. I have thick type 4 (ie coily) hair. I used this brush throughout my hair journey and I haven’t seen any benefit to using it at all. I’ve tried using it to detangle my hair but I find that a wide-toothed comb is the best option for me. I’ve tried using it for distributing gel for my wash n’ go hairstyles and while I was able to achieve a lot of curl definition I also got massive amounts of shrinkage and a final look that I wasn’t too fond of. Now I did purchase the classic Denman® D4 brush with 9 rows of pins because this was all that was available to me at the time. What may have been the better choice is the Denman® Freeflow brush. The pins are widely spaced and can be effective for getting through any type of hair, especially thick, coarse hair. However for me this brush is not part of the tools I use for styling. It works for many other women so I say stick with it if it’s working for you. Hairpins are great for keeping the hair in place and wearing pinned up styles; but in my experience, they can be a pain to take out. No matter how gentle I try to remove them I always seem to get some hair caught in the pin. Good Hair Days® pins can be used in place of hairpins. They are great because the prongs are open (and not closed) and there is a loop at the top of the pin. This makes them really easy to insert and take out without worrying about snagging or pulling on the hair.
Low Manipulation Hair Styling & Protective styling
A protective style is essentially a low manipulation hair style and for me, one that ensures my hair is also protected as much as possible from the harsh winter weather. I typically wear twist outs but Because my hair is now short (yeah!) my hair is in a protective style most of the time. However if your hair is longer you may need to protect the ends more by wearing braided and/or twisted styles, crochet braids, etc. The possibilities are endless but the key is to really keep you hair moisturized and the ends as protected as possible.
In addition to proper product choice and use, all of these practices can definitely help with minimizing damage to your hair and ensuring your hair retains length.