Since the beginning of the natural hair movement surge in the early 2010s, people have sung the praises of protective styling for hair growth and overall hair health.
And while all of the praise is completely justified because protective styles have proven to be effective for a lot of us, it really hasn’t made too much of a difference for some of us.
And this is because the other half of us benefit more from another widely known method: low-manipulation.
It’s a phrase we’re all hip to, and yet, it doesn’t get talked about nearly as much as protective styles do.
Just to refresh your memory, low manipulation is when you minimize how much you manipulate or touch your hair.
Now think about protective styles like braids, wigs, and mini twists—they all require a whole lot of touching, huh?
Touching your hair that much when styling can result in breakage and shedding. And how are you supposed to grow long, healthy hair if you can’t retain what you already have?
Cue low manipulation.
Of course, we’re not asking you to give up your favorite protective styles altogether, but we are asking you to reflect on if they’re working to your benefit or to your detriment.
Before you jump off the porch with your decision, here are a few things you need to know.
The Setbacks of Protective Styling
We talk a lot about what the benefits of protective styling are: growth, protection, and overall hair health. But what about the setbacks?
Oh yes, there are setbacks. And before you get carried away with fear, know that protective styles aren’t inherently bad.
In fact, most of their setbacks have to do with our own bad habits that tend to rear their ugly heads whenever we do a long-term style.
Here are some examples:
- Thinking that all styles that hide or cover up your hair are protective when, in reality, they’re not at all protecting your hair if they’re too tight or too heavy.
- Not knowing how to properly deal with your natural hair because it’s tucked away into a protective style more often than not.
- Wearing protective styles for far too long, and so now you have to deal with a lot of shedding and breaking once you take it down.
- Not washing your hair for weeks or months because it’s in braids or twists.
- Not being careful with the glue, thread, or other tools you use.
There are many different ways that this can go left.
So before you jump into a new protective style, I encourage you to ask yourself: am I really protecting my hair or am I just styling it?
The answer determines what you should do next.
Opting for What’s Low Manipulation
Deciding to go low-manipulation depends on whether or not you’re ready to do two things: 1.) Wear your natural hair “out” more often and 2.) Learn how to do more styles.
I know, I know—this is a tall order because it asks you to put a more concerted effort into your hair.
However, the benefits of low manipulation styling might just outweigh your having to put more time into your hair every now and then.
But before we get to the benefits, let’s talk about some styles that actually fall under the “low-manipulation” category.
There are some very familiar styles like:
- The pineapple or the puff.
- Twist or braid out.
- Wash and go.
- Halo braid.
- Bantu knots.
See? Those are all style options you’ve done or have seen a countless number of times. Now for those low manipulation styling benefits:
- Reduces breakage, thinning, and shedding due to less tension and friction.
- You won’t have to touch or style your hair as often.
- Cheaper and less time-consuming in the long run.
- Promotes hair growth overall.
The Final Verdict
Whether or not the benefit of low manipulation styles outweighs protective styling completely comes down to what you feel is right for you and your hair.
However, if you’ve gone through numerous protective styles and still haven’t reached any of your hair goals, it may be time to consider what you know to be true about hair health and maintenance.