Natural Hair: Length Retention – Is Protective Styling Necessary?

How many men do you know that use protective styling as a method to grow their hair?

I can’t say that I know many, but I notice that their hair grows great lengths in a short amount of time. When asked what they do to their hair for growth, the number one answer I have gotten: NOTHING.

In the natural community, it is said that protective styling is your best friend when trying to grow your hair to great lengths.  Let most naturals tell it, “If your ends are safe guarded, the your hair will grow”.

Although I do believe that method works for some, I feel the majority could benefit from doing nothing at all.  Let’s think about the logic of our hair for a minute:

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Our hair is naturally coily, some very tight and and some loose, but curly nonetheless.  We can notice those with more coily hair experiencing the most shrinkage.  Why?  I’m going to go out on a limb and say that since our strands are extremely fragile, when in its shrunken state, it provides more protection to your strands.

Let’s think:  how often do you find hair in the comb when you aren’t combing through it?  Yea, never do.  When you decide to stretch out the coil, however, you will find hair in the comb (or your fingers).  Now, all hair is not broken hair – it may be shed from the root which is fine.

But unless you are super gentle with your hair (which most of us are not to the extreme that we should be), you will experience breakage.  We put our hair in all of these “protective styles” (which requires combing, tugging and manipulation) for many of us to experience some growth but ultimately have to trim some ends or do something counterintuitive to what we purposed for the style in the first place: to protect our hair.  Maybe we need to protect our hair from ourselves…

Now imagine if we decided to let our hair grow.  We water it regularly.  We only manipulate it when it is wet (as we know that with our strands, dealing with it when soaking wet is better than trying to manipulate it when it is dry).  We don’t do styles that cause tension, but rather allow for our natural curls to shine.  We embrace the shrinkage.  We avoid the use of styling tools and rock our curls.  How long do you think our hair would be?

Just sharing what is on my mind, but could some truth be linked to it?

What are your thoughts on length retention and how it can be achieved?
  • I was pondering the same thing yesterday. When I cornrow my hair & wear wigs, it grows like, insanely fast. And when I first BC’d & just kept it moisturized…amazing growth!

  • BlackSwan

    You make an Amazing point with this post! I currently am going to be doing BantuKnot outs with my hair for the rest of the winter…..no tugging, no pulling… just my normal regiment of co-wash, wash, dc, etc … and ending with bantu knots air dried, and knot out …. I’m hoping doing this for the next few months, or longer, will retain my length. I do not plan on even combing with anything but my fingers…..

  • Anonymous

    My go-to style is a wash and go with a leave-in and oil just to seal in moisture. My hair grows nicely and is currently past my bust. Protective styles dont work for me because as soon as I am finished installing one I start to miss my curls! I notice that my hair tends to be more dry in a shorter amount of time when I wear it stretched out. Wonderful post. I sometimes feel that I am not being as good to my hair as others when I see that they are wearing a protective style. Thanks for reasuring me that it’s not necessarily a requirement for happy hair.

    • I had the exact same experience. If I braid my hair, the ends initially look ok but then over a few hours they look super dry and split. I used to load tons and tons of oil on my fine hair until I realized one day that my protective style was what was damaging my hair.

  • Oh my goodness! Yes! I just wrote a blog post and did video on this! Listen, my hair is so, so long, and always has been except when I cut it, then it grows back, and fast. Do you know really what I did to grow my hair long? I left it alone. I did not worry or obsess about hair growth. I didn’t even care what my maximum length was. Now I do care about healthy hair, but for a while, this caring caused my hair a whole lot of damage. It is worth saying, my mom has naturally board straight hair, my dad has tight coils. My hair is finer than the finest. Braiding my hair, “protecting” it, all this “common sense” advice I got from people who have had long hair for five minutes, it damaged my hair. It took me months to repair, until I came up with a diet that I researched and then the loc method, that changed my hair in literally one day. I say, if it works fine, but do know ladies, that the tighter your curl is, the more susceptible it is to midshaft breakage. My curls are not really tight, so just use your imagination. Stretching your hair when it’s wet and tucking it away all the time can cause a lot of breakage. If you can find a way to moisturize your hair effectively, then leave your hair down and do not manipulate it too much. What I do is gently remove my tangles with my hands when I do my daily moisture regimen. It works for me. My blog is http://www.paleobeautiful.com and there is a link to my youtube channel from there. Thank you so much for writing this!

  • reginag

    You look good with that kind of curl.
    http://www.nograyhairs.com/

  • Tiffany

    My fiance said the exact same thing. He started growing his hair out his sophomore year of high school, which was like 05, and when I met him in 09, he had waist length hair and he said that us women focus so much on trying to grow out hair out too much that we are pulling our hair out instead of actually growing it (or the simply fact that it can grow longer if we kept our hands out of our heads). And this made me think of every single guy that I went to high school with. When I was in 7th grade, I had my first relaxer and it broke all of my hair off to the point where I had to shave my hair off and when I started my new school, I was so embarrassed to even show my hair. I went back into the relaxing stage once it started growing back out and it was growing, but not really growing due to breakage. The guys I was in school with at this time were all either starting to get dreads or either growing their hair out to get braids. By the time I graduated high school, I was still with that same pixie/shoulder length cut and their hair was down to their (what we call BSL) and I was like wth! Why didn’t my hair grow out like that? The difference was they simply did nothing, and I did everything from braids to weaves (protective styles). Now that I’ve been relaxer free for 4 years now and also now that I’m growing my hair out (I’ve been growing it out for a little over a year now), I’ve noticed that my hair is growing without protective styles. Honestly, I hate keeping that stuff in my head for longer than 1 week…seriously. I have very thick type 4 with a bit of 3 in my head (hey! It’s just all kinky coily and curly 🙂 ) and I am doing great without protective styling. My fiance doesn’t have long hair anymore simply because we are getting older and those braids just don’t cut it anymore lol but he’s inspired me to just wear my hair free and simply do nothing (i.e. protective styling). I simply wash my hair, moisturize and seal and that’s basically it. I don’t have any go to styles or anything; I simply wear it how it grows out of my head. I just make sure it’s stretched so I don’t have so many tangles.

  • Mary in Md

    To me, your article reinforces the value of protective styling rather than negating it. The main point of protective styling and low manipulation styling is to leave your hair alone. Men and women may tend to wear different styles. But they are both using the same approach.

  • Hey Mary!

    It isn’t negating protective styling, but touching on the overall misconception that protective styles such as installing twists, braids, weaves, etc. is the best approach for all to have healthy hair. Simply leaving hair alone in its natural state may be the best for some people. That is still protective as it is low manipulation. I know people that swear by twists and have long hair, as I also know people that do wash ‘n gos and likewise have long hair. It’s a matter of preference, but it gives readers a different POV on “protective styling”.

    I hope that helps. Thanks for visiting and commenting!

  • Tasha

    i agree with Mary, many african american men i know with long hair wear cornrows most of the time, i rarely see them with their hair combed out in an afro, so in a sense they are protective styling.

  • beauty hair

    3 Hairstyles That Can Keep You From Reaching Your Goal Length ==>> http://beauttyhair.blogspot.com/2014/07/3-hairstyles-that-can-keep-you-from.html

  • Dione

    I know this article is years old, but I’m just finding it and I agree 100%.

    I have 60-70% shrinkage tightly coiled 4 hair (pen spring size) and I only do wash and gos once a week and keep my hair moisturizef through the week. It is growing like a weed!

  • Shealya

    I agree as well because I find that when I rock my wash and go’s I don’t manipulate my hair for a whole week, except moisturizing the hair on the 3rd day, or misting it with water every day. It grows quickly and it’s still thick. In contrast when I wear my hair in “protective styles” , I’m always brushing hard and tugging on it to make it smooth, losing more hair than I naturally shed.

  • A818

    Years ago there was a challenge on one of the hair boards called (I think) Bohemian method or Whzdm which advocated wearing hair shrunken. Theory was when you stretch a coil you damage it and it really never returns to it original nature. Same can be said about coils of other materials.