Protective styling has become a popular term in the hair care community, particularly among those with afro-textured hair. But what does it really mean, and how can you implement it in your hair care routine? 

As experienced trichologists based right here in London, we’re here to guide you through the nuances of protective styling, especially for those with natural and curly hair textures.

What is a Protective Style?

A protective style, in essence, is a hair styling technique designed to minimise physical manipulation, environmental exposure, and overall stress on hair. These styles, including braids and twists, aim to safeguard hair, particularly the ends, from damage. However, it’s crucial to understand that not all styles marketed as “protective” benefit your hair’s health.

Eleanore Richardson, our well-known trichologist at Fulham Scalp and Hair Clinic, emphasises this point: “We are calling out so-called ‘protective styling’ including single braids, weaves, and extensions. It’s vital to understand the damage that can result from some styling practices and to re-address misleading language that can lull you into safety.” 

Protective Styling for Natural Hair

As we’ve seen, protective styling for natural hair revolves around practices that shield hair from physical, environmental, and mechanical stressors. These styles significantly reduce the daily wear and tear that natural hair undergoes, which is crucial given the delicate nature of afro-textured hair.

The Theory Behind Protective Styling

In theory, protective styling works by keeping the hair, especially the ends (the oldest and most fragile part of your hair), safely tucked away. This reduces exposure to elements like wind, sun, and pollution, which can cause dryness, breakage, and tangling. Protective styles help maintain moisture by minimising these risks, a critical aspect of natural hair health.

Objectives of Protective Styling

  1. Moisture Retention: Afro-textured hair tends to be dryer than other hair types. Protective styles help retain moisture by reducing the amount of moisture lost to the environment. This is achieved through styles that limit exposure of the hair shaft to external elements.
  2. Length Retention: Since these styles minimise the need for daily styling and manipulation, they reduce breakage and split ends. This is essential for length retention, as frequent combing, brushing, or styling can lead to mechanical damage.
  3. Reduced Tangles: Natural hair, especially when it is curly or coily, is prone to tangling. Protective styles keep the hair in a set pattern, reducing the chances of knots and tangles, which can lead to breakage during detangling.
  4. Scalp Health: Protective styles can contribute to a healthier scalp environment by lessening tension and stress on the scalp. Less manipulation means less risk of traction alopecia and other scalp issues associated with tight hairstyles.

Effective Protective Styles for Natural Hair: A Closer Look

Let’s explore some effective protective styles tailored for natural hair, highlighting their benefits and best practices.

Twists and Braids: The Foundation of Protection

  • Two-strand Twists: This style is ideal for natural hair because it’s simple to create, relatively low maintenance, and keeps the hair gently stretched, minimising knots and tangles. Two-strand twists can be worn as is or styled into updos to offer even more protection.
  • Braids (Cornrows, Box Braids, etc.): Braids are versatile and can range from close-to-the-scalp cornrows to free-hanging box braids. While they offer excellent protection by keeping the hair organised and tangle-free, ensuring they’re not worn too tightly to avoid tension on the scalp and hairline is crucial.

Updos and Buns: Elegance Meets Protection

  • Low Manipulation Updos: Styles that require minimal handling and keep the ends of the hair tucked away are ideal. Updos can be as simple as a high bun or a creative flat twist updo. The key is to keep the style loose enough to avoid tension while ensuring the hair’s ends are protected from the elements.
  • Buns: Whether it’s a single bun or multiple smaller buns, this style is effective in keeping the ends of the hair safe from friction and breakage. Satin or silk scrunchies can be used to secure the bun without causing damage to the hair.

Satin or Silk-lined Accessories: The Nighttime Guardians

  • Satin-lined Caps and Scarves: To protect your hair at night and prevent breakage from friction with cotton pillowcases, satin or silk-lined caps or scarves are ideal. They help retain moisture, keep styles intact, and reduce tangling and matting while you sleep.
  • Satin Pillowcases: For those who find caps or scarves uncomfortable, satin pillowcases offer a friction-free surface, helping to preserve your hairstyle and moisture.

Additional Tips for Maximising Protection

  1. Moisturise and Seal: Before styling, ensure your hair is well-moisturised, and seal in the moisture with a natural oil or butter. This step is crucial for keeping your hair hydrated under protective styles.
  2. Avoid Excessive Tension: While it’s important for styles to be secure, they should never be so tight as to cause pain or tension on the scalp. This can lead to breakage and, in severe cases, traction alopecia.
  3. Regular Maintenance: Even in protective styles, regular maintenance is necessary. This includes moisturising your scalp, washing your hair to prevent buildup, and redoing styles that have become loose or started to frizz.
  4. Rotation and Rest: Rotate between different protective styles to prevent stress on any particular area of the scalp. Also, allow your hair to rest between styles by giving it a few days to breathe.

By incorporating these protective styles and practices into your hair care routine, you can enjoy the benefits of healthy, thriving natural hair. Remember, the best protective style is one that suits your lifestyle, hair type, and personal preference while also prioritising the health and integrity of your hair.

Do Protective Styles Help Hair Grow?

The answer is not straightforward. While these styles can reduce breakage and retain length, they don’t necessarily speed up hair growth. Hair growth is influenced by various factors, including genetics and overall health.

Is an Afro a Protective Style?

This is a fascinating query. An afro can be a form of protective styling if it’s well-maintained and free from excessive manipulation. However, it’s important to keep the hair moisturised and minimise tangles for it to be effective.

The Impact of Protective Styling

Eleanore Richardson adds, “We focus on protection, but all that means is minimising damage. Keep styling simple, keep the ‘big & loose’ concept in mind, and you will be fine! Remember, all this effort is made so you can enjoy your hair!”

As trichologists, our mission is to consider hair and scalp health as our priority, and this may challenge styling culture as we learn more about how it impacts our health. We have a duty to our black patients to ensure they have clear and honest information about the impacts of styles they choose, so they can make an informed decision about how they care for their hair.”

For personalised advice, consider consulting with qualified afro hair trichologists in London. We can provide tailored recommendations based on your hair type and condition.

Style Safely

Protective styling is an effective way to maintain the health and length of afro-textured hair when done correctly. Remember, the goal is to minimise damage and maintain your hair’s natural beauty and integrity. Whether you opt for a simple updo or a more intricate style, always prioritise the health of your hair and scalp. Please feel free to contact us for more information or advice.


Ifẹ A
Ifẹ A
This place has genuinely changed my life! I went from relying on the daily use of wigs to finally being able to understand and appreciate my natural coils. I would never have been able to wear my natural hair out a year ago (mostly due to the fact that I had so many bald spots and basically no hairline!) so I am shocked daily at how far I’ve come in such a short space of time. If you decide to visit, please do listen to the advice of these wonderful experts, it really does work! I’ve also realised how much we over complicate black hair, healthy black hair is actually super simple to achieve. Thank you everyone at Fulham Scalp & Hair Clinic! Each day I wear my hair out, I’m appreciative of the day I discovered this wonderful place!
Beth L
Beth L
I’ve been getting desperate with my 4C hair situation, so I’m so glad I found this clinic. Eleanore and Ashley were so accommodating and nice! I learned a lot of new things. Now, my hair has improved a LOT after following Eleanore's advice. Highly recommend.
Judith Worrell
Judith Worrell
I feel and look confident after my treatment and trim from Fulham Scalp and Hair Clinic and recommend anyone struggling with traction alopecia to confront the issue and contact the clinic as I did I have no regrets just new hair growth and a great look.
Booked a consultation and the information I received was life changing. Didn't realise how badly I was maintaining my hair. Since getting my hair treated and trimmed, I have been given a healthy hair routine that has given me confidence and happiness. For anyone thinking about it definitely do it. Your not just paying for the treatment but also the knowledge. Customer service and attention to detail was 5*
Cabir TOPO
Cabir TOPO
My hair was damaged from keratin treatments. After doing some research I found this place online. I was nervous about contacting them for fear of judgement and blame. In May 2022 I got in touch. Even before I arrived the receptionist really reassured me and was very kind. Eleanor did my consultation. Her and Teresa are professional, empathetic, warm, supportive and knowledgeable. I didn't really know how to look after natural hair. However this has revolutionised things for me. My hairs unrecognisable to before. Its grown a lot and is the healthiest it's ever been. I'm so glad I found this place. I attend regularly for treatments. I can't recommend this place enough!!
Nadine McKenzie
Nadine McKenzie
I became a patient of the Fulham Scalp & Hair Clinic two years ago on the advice of my dermatologist who suggested that I find a trichologist. One of the reasons for choosing this clinic was due to their extensive knowledge of differing medical conditions that cause issues with scalps and hair. I was made to feel so welcome and after an examination of my scalp, hair and lifestyle a proper treatment plan was started. I am so pleased about the progress I have made, how my scalp inflammation has decreased and how I have been taught to take care of my scalp and hair. I still regularly have my scalp examined and receive treatment in order to ensure that no flare ups on my scalp recur. I am thrilled that my dermatologist recommended that I see a trichologist and I am glad that I chose Teresa and Eleanor due to their expertise, care and genuine interest and pride in seeing their patients' progression.
I had my initial consultation with Eleanor. from the moment I met her she was professional, empathic, extremely knowledgeable and warm in rapport. For context I have thick 4C hair, and I was in good hands. Eleanor knew exactly what she doing, saw the beauty in my hair and did not feel anyway swayed by hair in its natural state. I would highly recommend bringing any blood test results to your consultation. I was as at loss as to why my hair was shedding, thinning in places and not retaining length when I appeared to be doing all the right things to prevent this. Eleanor was able to read my blood test results and examine my hair throughly to make a diagnosis. We discovered that my hair shedding/loss was due to my extremely low iron and vitamin D levels. I travelled from the West Midlands for this appointment and will be happy to travel again for treatments. Do try to be open to the advice and insight given, as a lot of it is new to us a community. Thank you to the team for your work and professional approach in helping black women learn about maintaining healthy flourishing hair.
Juliana Gracia
Juliana Gracia
I had my initial consultation today and was very anxious about it due to historical hair trauma. Eleanor was kind, knowledgeable and informative. I did not feel judged for the condition of my hair and was given realistic expectations and simple steps to manage my hair issues. Would highly recommend! Will be back for a treatment
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