Revisiting The Idea of Protective Styling: Is It A Myth?


Protective styles are a myth. Sit with that sentence for a second—how does that make you feel? Whether you agree, disagree, or need more information before you decide on your stance, there is definitely a discussion to be had about their purpose and effectiveness. 

Now let’s keep it real: styles that protect our hair have really held us down. From chunky twists to box braids, a whole bunch of us couldn’t make it without them. 

But have you noticed that the same styles that are said to protect our hair from damage are also the same styles that cause damage from friction and tension? Braids, twists, wigs, buns, and the like have all been linked to some type of breakage, thinning, or balding. 

Now, of course how damaging they can be comes down to a few different factors, but it does make you think—are protective styles necessary when low manipulation styles exist? 

We can go one step further and say they might even be a myth. Let’s investigate.


What the purpose of protective styling is.

The purpose of a protective style has always been to protect your hair from damage. A lot of us are still under the impression that we’re solely talking about breakage and thinning, but it can be traction alopecia, heat damage, environmental stress, or chemical damage. 

You might ask, “how do my blonde box braids protect my hair from chemical damage?” Well, you didn’t have to actually bleach your hair, did you?

Similarly, you don’t have to flat iron your hair if you’re sewing in straight bundles, or worry about sun exposure and air pollution if you’re wearing a headwrap style or even a wig. 

Protective styles are meant to be cute and versatile, while also not veering away from their main purpose of protection. Unfortunately, we’ve become too involved in what these styles look like they do vs what they’re actually doing to and for our hair. 


What we’ve actually been using them for.

Truth be told, too many of us have been using protective styles as a way to get away from our natural hair. If you put on this wig or install those faux locs, you won’t have to worry about wash days, daily moisturizing, and all the other stuff for at least a few weeks. 

This is so wrong for so many reasons. You’re supposed to be protecting your hair which means you should be more intentional about the effort you put into it when doing these long-term styles, but that’s often not the case. 

If we look at this way of dealing with our hair as lowkey neglect, it’s easy to pinpoint why some protective styles end in damage when it’s all said and done. 

If you can’t manage to take care of your hair while they’re wrapped up in whatever style you’ve picked for your protection method, it might be time to ditch them all together and return to the real styles that promote hair health: low manipulation. 


Returning to low manipulation styles.



mini twists as a protective style for black women

Before we continue on, let’s answer the question we all came here for: Are protective styles a myth? The short answer is no. There are genuinely styles that protect your hair. However, how much protecting they do depends on your own personal habits and routines. 

This is why the return to low manipulation styles is key. If you know protective styling makes it too easy for you to forget about what your hair is doing underneath, you need to start exploring some different options.

Low manipulation styles take minimal effort, require that you keep up your routines, and don’t allow you to “take breaks” from your hair. It’s not only a way to protect what you have, but to put it in the perfect position to grow and thrive, as well.

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Senior writer and graphics editor at EmilyCottontop. Patrice has been a member of the Emilycottontop team for over 4 years. For strategic partnerships, advertising, and sponsored content ✉️



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