• Audrey Davis-Sivasothy is a Houston-based freelance writer, health scientist and consultant to the cosmetology industry. She is the author of two hair care books—Hair Care Rehab: The Ultimate Hair Repair and Reconditioning Manual and international beauty market bestseller, The Science of Black Hair: A Comprehensive Guide to Textured Hair Care.

  • Audrey

Protective Styling for healthier hair

Protective Styling for Optimal Hair Growth and Retention

The Case for Protective Styling

Publish Date: 06/21/2007

Protective Styling for Optimal Hair Growth and Retention

Hair growth ultimately occurs by a two fold process: Hair Emergence and Retention.

The first process is the most widely known, and is simply the emergence of new hair from the scalp. The emergence of the hair is an unconscious, biological response to living, so aside from a clean bill of health, and a healthy, balanced diet there is not much more that we can do to help this process along.

Unfortunately, this is the step of the process where many of us get “caught up.” We believe that if we can somehow increase the rate at which the hair emerges from the scalp, then we’ll have the long flowing hair of our dreams. This idea works well in theory, but without the second component of hair growth, this theory falls flat.

Once the hair emerges from the scalp, the second key process is the retention of the ends of the hair. While hair emergence occurs independently, the process of length retention is often dependent on our own care methods and requires concentrated efforts. Without retention, no visible length progress can be seen though the scalp is continuing to push out new hair. So how do we preserve the ends of the hair as it emerges from the scalp so that lengthis seen?

Protective Styling

Protective styling is just that! These are styles that protect the ends of the hair from rubbing, splitting, and being damaged by the elements. Protective styling for relaxed heads is the optimal styling choice for maximum retention. When you leave your hair out in the open air every day, the ends will soon dry out. Without the use of protective styles throughout the week, the ends of the hair will continue to rub back and forth across cotton shirts and blouses causing severe splitting damage and breakage. If this is allowed to continue over the course of weeks or months length potential may never be seen.

Think of your hair as a sponge. What happens to a damp sponge that is left outside for an extended period of time? It dries out and becomes over rigid. The internal water/moisture has been depleted and it is no longer pliable. The same set of principles apply to your hair. Your hair given these considerations will most likely dry out and break off.

A matter of personal choice

Before I started protective styling, my hair never grew beyond shoulder length. I was one of millions of sisters stuck at the shoulder length hump. Just look around you. There are still many of us with shoulder length hair that won’t seem to grow past this length. Protective styles are a great way to push the hair past this growth plateau.

There are many women who can grow their hair to great lengths without ever resorting to protective styles-but for many of us, protective styling is a very effective hair growing and hair preservation tool. You will find that even with these women who do not protective style, their hair regimens are typically low manipulation and low heat regimens. The exceptions are rare. Trade offs of one kind or another are common. So while, protective styling is not a requirement for hair growth, it is definitely useful for encouraging length retention. If you have been having problems growing out your hair, protective styling may be a viable option for you.

If you feel that protective styles do not suit you well, try wearing them 3-5 days a week and giving yourself the weekend off to enjoy your hair out. This simple styling strategy is the key to preserving hair length for many of us.

Types of Protective Styles

Protective styles fall into two categories: Complete and Low-manipulation protective styles. A good regimen will contain a healthy mixture of both types-for variety and for your sanity!

Complete Protective Styles are styles that have the ends out of sight and are 100% protective. These styles include: all varieties of buns, chignons (French rolls), tucked styles, phonytails (phony-ponies), wigs, and sew-in type weaves.

Low-Manipulation Styles are styles that do expose the ends to some degree, but are protective in that they drastically cut down on the manipulation (combing/handling) the hair experiences. These styles include: Rollersets, Braids, cornrows, some updo’s or pinned up styles, braidouts and twistouts.

The ideal protective style is one that has been achieved without heat. Reducing the amount of heat in your regimen is critical to the success of your growing out journey. Hair that is heat styled less tends to thicker, fuller, and healthier. Your hair will improve significantly just from reducing the amount of heat you were using. Daily heat is a definite no, no.

Protective Styling for Shorter Hair

Hair that falls shorter than shoulder length is a protective style in and of itself! You do not have to worry about the ends fraying and splitting from rubbing against your back and clothing throughout the day. Your only concern would be protecting the hair from the elements-air, wind, rain, heat, and cold. Luckily, even this concern can easily be taken care of by simply moisturizing and sealing the ends of the hair each day. With hair at this “protective length, ” you could technically wear the hair down fairly often. However, you would still need to be very mindful of keeping the heat you use on your hair to a bare minimum.

The best styles for hair shorter that the shoulder are curly styles like: braidouts, twistouts, bantu knots, strawsets, rollersets, and anything pinned up. Some women like to wear braids to help grow them past this awkward length/styling stage. Once your hair reaches shoulder length, or fairly close to it, you can begin bunning. Buns are the ultimate protective style.

Though buns are the ultimate protective style, it is more protective at certain lengths. If your hair is a length (usually between neck length and shoulder length) where being pulled into a ponytail causes the holder to sit on your ends, low manipulation protective styles are best for you. Your holder may cause more damage or breakage to your ends since the holder is much closer to them, this renders the style not so protective. You should wait until the hair is fully shoulder length or just below to begin bunning.

There is no doubt that protective styling is an essential key to healthy hair! For more information on protective styles and how you can achieve a few looks, please visit my hair album at www.fotki.com/sistaslick to contact me.

 

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