Hair – or lack thereof – is one of the most noticeable features of a person. If you briefly crossed paths with someone you later had to physically describe, you might be hazy about facial features, height, and other finer details, but you’ll most certainly be right about the hair.
Hair is also one of the more essential aspects of personality and identity. When looking at old photographs of our younger selves, it’s hard to overlook the choice of style we’re rocking back then. For some folks, it’s also hard not to cringe a little. What were we thinking?
With this in mind, we figured it’d be a good idea to talk a little about protective hairstyles for natural hair. While it sounds pretty straightforward, there’s more to it than you might think. Read on to learn more:
Protective hairstyles are an essential aspect of the natural hair movement. Those with afro-textured hair (see below) are shifting away from wigs and weave and embracing their real hair. However, natural afro-textured hair is prone to damage from the elements. Opting for braids, dreads, and twists keeps delicate hair protected from heat, cold, and dirt.
While it might sound like a one-and-done category, afro-textured hair falls into 12 different texture types, according to a system originally devised by famed hair stylist Andre Walker in 1997. The chart ranges from kinky-coily to straight/fine. The type of afro-textured hair often determines the best protective hairstyles for someone to wear.
Protective hairstyles call for a specialized approach to care and maintenance. It’s essential to use detangling moisturizer and penetrating leave in conditioner to keep hair from getting dry and frizzy. Many folks also do an apple cider vinegar rinse once a week. It’s also common for those with protective hairstyles to sleep with a satin scarf wrapped around their scalp to preserve the style and minimize breakage.
Generally speaking, protective hairstyles break down into three types: braids, dreads, and twists. However, the specific styling options within each category are virtually endless. While dreads are bound by the natural form of the hair itself, braids and twists can consist of countless designs and patterns. Given the intricacies and expertise required, afro-textured hair braiding and twisting could almost be considered an art form!
When it comes to protective hairstyles, the chief concern boils down to two issues: health and discrimination. Let’s start with health. Over tightened braids and twists or those left in for too long can lead to a tension of the scalp. This can cause traction alopecia, which is a form of hair loss caused by overly tight hairstyles.
Now onto discrimination. While codified restrictions on protective hairstyles are luckily a thing of the past, the remnants of prejudice remain. Most people don’t even realize there’s such preexisting social and cultural discrimination towards protective hairstyles, but it plays out in the form of workplace policies, school policies, and other institutional mandates. However, an ongoing effort exists to promote greater tolerance for these hairstyles, and general acceptance seems to be happening naturally.
Lastly, while there’s debate over whether or not it counts as cultural appropriation, there’s nothing inherently wrong with those of caucasian or Asian background wearing their hair in braids, dreads, or twists. It’s even theoretically possible for these to count as protective hairstyles. But it should never be done in an attempt to undermine or ridicule another culture or specific demographic. That goes without saying!
If we did our job right, those who previously didn’t know what protective hairstyles were can now say they do. However, we’re only human, so if others notice any inaccurate or incorrect information above, please let us know, and we will work to correct it as soon as possible.