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Curly Nikki

Protective Hair Care for Optimal Length Retention

By January 27th, 202119 Comments
Protective Hair Care for Optimal Length Retention
Jamila’s Bun w/ a Twist!
 by Susan Walker of Earthtones Naturals

I didn’t really understand the purpose of protective hair care until my hair started to grow out from my big chop. As it grew my hair used to become a tangled mess during wash days. I dreaded detangling my hair. Even with the best product available, it was still a time-consuming process. I realized a little later on in my natural hair journey that while I was implementing one or two strategies to take proper care of my natural hair, I wasn’t doing enough. Mainly because some approaches didn’t apply to me. However it was mostly because of time. Due to the fact that I’m interested in attaining as much length as possible, I’m realizing that protecting my hair is key.

Protective hair care strategies are necessary in order to shield the delicate strands of textured hair, to minimize breakage and damage and retain length. 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 employed in order to keep your hair as healthy as possible.


Tips to Protect Your Hair

1. 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 become a tangled mess. Apply your cleansing agent and conditioner to your hair and work it downward (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 on 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.

2. 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 only to 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.

3. Protective styling.
I really didn’t understand the importance of protective styles before but in order for me to protect my ends and care for my hair during the winter months, I’ll be wearing my hair in protective styles. 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 I’ll likely wear cornrows, flat twists or even crochet braids. 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 is healthy.

What do you do to protect your hair?
How effective are your methods at reducing breakage and damage, and retaining length?


  • Shashou says:

    Sometimes I'll do twist or braid out. But many times I just wear a wash n go. When it was shorter it was much easier to maintain as far as detangling. But I've found out if I do any more than a twist out, braid out or wash and go it stunts my growth. I've also found that when I did less wash n go's my hair didn't grow as fast. I guess my scalp really likes water.

  • mangomadness says:

    I reduce breakage/damage and retain length in my kinky coily hair by:–finger-detangling before shampoo'ing
    –doing pre-shampoo DCs (coconut oil + deep conditioner)
    –shampooing in 12 twisted sections

    –moisturizing w/ creamy moisturizer or leave-in conditioner + hair milk
    –sealing ends and edges w/ castor oil
    –wearing stretched hair styles (braid-outs, twist-outs, etc)
    –wearing protective hair styles (sock buns, cinnabuns, updos)
    –super rare heat use (tension blow-out once a year [on birthday])

  • Angela B. says:

    I wear buns or larger two-strand twists for most of the winter. I also make sure to moisture my hair as needed and keep my ends trimmed.

  • Megan M. says:

    Protective styling and me are not bff's because I have fine hair and it tangles if I keep a protective in. I just do an updo majority of the time with a clip.

  • Miss Anne says:

    Kinky twists have been my protective style for the last 5 months. Transitioning has been so much easier for me and I have seen a lot of new growth. I'd definitley recommend protective styling and will keep this up for the rest of my transition journey. Detangling has also been a super breeze with conditioners that have good slip!
    Super tips!!!

  • LM says:

    And beanies/knit caps. They were my go-to when I had my twa. Just remember to wear a satin bonnet under it to protect your hair from friction and moisture loss.

  • LM says:

    I saw this style a while ago and wanted to do it, but my hair wasn't long enough at the time. I forgot all about it until now so I am saving the picture so that I can use it as a protective style now that my hair is longer.

  • silkynaps says:

    what about decorative scarves to protect your hair from the elements?

  • LM says:

    MOISTURE, keeping my hair as stretched as possible in low manipulation styles, MOISTURE, trimming my ends regularly(every 3-4 months), and MOISTURE are essential in keeping my hair healthy and retaining length. If I slack in any of these areas, my hair responds almost instantaneously and begins to break.

  • Mahalia Logan says:

    I use crotchet braids as a protective style all the time. The first time I did it my hair grew an inch in literally a month! I was so excited i'm wearing them right now as well I found my new PS.

  • Stephanie Denise says:

    I protective style about 95% of the time. I find that it keeps my hair moisturized, and I retain much more length. My go to styles are buns and two strand twists!

  • PirmasensVet says:

    I wear cornrows pretty much all winter.

  • melbelle says:

    living in florida, is it necessary to do protective styling since it is like always humid here?

  • April Amanda Caddell says:

    After cutting my hair for the second time after cutting my locs, I decided to not cut it again. But now it's at the weird tween stage of length, so I've been protective styling with braid extensions until the length is more to my liking. Before installing extensions, I make sure to wash, deep treat, condition, and moisturize my hair. I apply coconut or jojoba oil to my scalp regularly, and keep the braids for about 4 weeks.

  • Kimberly Chyna Clarke says:

    I have a TWA how can I do a PS when i have really short hair about 2-3 inches.

  • Octavia says:

    I literally started doing this exact same hairstyle pictured in the photo a week ago, well before I saw this post! In fact, I'm wearing it now! 🙂

  • Ummz4 says:

    I keep my hair 2 strand twisted or flat twisted. I find that when I wear my hair out, I have tons more knots, breakage, shedding. The protective styling has definitely been effective. Been natural 2 years as of today, and hair is the longest & healthiest it's ever been.

  • Davina916 says:

    I put my hair in two-strand twists as a protective style.

  • silkynaps says:

    I have fine hair. Very fine. Some strands are fine like a spiderweb fine. In the beginning, I tried using a wide-tooth comb, but I noticed that the comb didn't completely penetrate the dense forest of fine strands leaving me with patches of tangles. For this reason, after a once over with the wide-tooth comb, I smooth my hair with fine-tooth comb. Just like I did during my relaxed days. Granted I don't run a fine-tooth comb directly through the forest, I smooth my hair in small sections. After making that change, my hair has remained virtually SSK free.

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