Thinking About Havana Twists? Let This Be Your Guide

keke palmer

@KEKE​  / Design by Dion Mills

Protective styling can be as simple as cornrows and as intricate as Fulani braids, but there are so many options for us, and one standout is twists. I haven't personally rocked twists (yet), but deciding which ones you'd like to try can be challenging because there are so many beautiful options. For starters, you'll find passion, Senegalese, Marley, and Havana twists. To keep things simple for all those interested in Havana twists, we're focusing on the difference between the latter two. 

Marley Twists vs. Havana Twists

If you take a look at the two, there are subtle but substantial differences in cost, hair texture, and the amount of stress the twists can put on your strands. To put it plainly, Marley twists are usually thinner but heavier as they use synthetic, kanekalon hair called Marley hair. Marley hair is generally cheaper than the hair used for Havana twists, running about $5-$6 a pack. 

Kanekalon hair is the highest quality of synthetic fibers available that mimics coarser hair textures.

Havana twists are larger in size and use hair that's more coarse in texture than Marley hair, but much lighter in weight. Havana hair is more expensive than Marley hair, running about $13 per pack with most hair types needing five to seven packs of hair to make the twists fuller. Both Havana and Marley hair can be reused and cared for in the same way we care for our natural hair: by co-washing and keeping it moisturized with water and lightweight oils.  

Now that we've gone over the differences between the two styles, it's time for the fun part (well, kind of): the installation. Sitting in the salon chair for six to eight hours isn't what I'd put at the top of my list of fun, but getting a few weeks off of having to style my hair is well worth the time-intensive process. For many of us, protective styles have been a part of our lives since playing in the sandbox, but if you're new to it, we'll guide you through how to care for your hair before, during, and after installation.

Prep Your Hair

Before installing any protective style, you'll want to ensure your hair is washed, conditioned, and stretched. I usually like to take an extra step in my conditioning process and sit under a hooded dryer with a hydrating cream conditioner like SheaMoisture's Mongongo & Hemp Seed Oils High Porosity Moisture-Correct Masque. Celebrity braider Tanasia McClean says, "It's also important to know your texture and what your hair can handle. If you have fine hair, or if you just bleached your hair, getting a protective hairstyle that has weight to it may not be the best thing."

Meet the Expert

Tanasia McClean is a celebrity braider at Hair Are Us in Los Angeles.

Shea Deep Conditioner
SheaMoisture Mongongo & Hemp Seed Oils High Porosity Moisture-Correct Masque $16.00

One other tip I've learned is to pre-wash the extensions in an apple cider vinegar bath and let the hair air-dry the night before. If you have a sensitive scalp like me, this method may help keep away the itch that the film on the hair can cause.

The Process

If you're feeling brave enough to take on the challenge of doing this style yourself, first, I commend you because I don't have the patience, and second, there are many YouTube videos out there if you find yourself stuck during the process. If you're like me and leave protective styling beyond cornrows to the professionals, here are a couple of things you should know: For one, crocheting is an option. You'll spend half the time in the chair with similar results—though I've found crocheting can feel heavier than individual twists. If you're going the individual route and want Havana twists with a natural look, let your stylist know you'd like the Invisible Twist method.

Protect Your Edges

Protective styles can help hair growth as they lay the foundation for a low-manipulation hair option. But if your style of choice is installed too tightly, you can end up with breakage and bumps along the hairline. If you start to feel like your twists are too tight, let your stylist know. If you see any breakage or irritation post-appointment, treat your edges with Jamaican castor oil (this is good for eyebrows, too) or an edge control gel, like The Mane Choice's Laid Back Effortlessly Edge Control, that promises to lay down your baby hairs while stimulating growth. 

The Mane Choice Edge Control
The Mane Choice Laid Back Effortlessly Edge Control $10.00

Maintain Scalp Health

Moisture and a healthy scalp are still the names of the game, with or without a protective style, and this starts from the beginning of installing your twists. Many stylists like to use a gel or pomade to smooth your roots and ends and make sure your hair blends well with the extensions. Ampro's Shine 'n Jam Conditioning Gel is a popular option, but my scalp prefers Oyin's Burnt Sugar Pomade.

Oyin Burnt Sugar Pomade $14.00

Post-twist installation, you'll want to have an oil or spray on hand to keep your scalp moisturized and flake-free. Mielle Organics' Mint Almond Oil is a fan favorite, with peppermint oil meant to soothe dry scalps and almond oil meant to seal in moisture. But McClean reminds us, "Oiling your scalp is great, however, some oils may cause build-up."

Don't Forget To Cleanse

Even when I'm wearing a protective style, I still keep my wash day schedule (which is every Sunday). As a 4C girl, moisture is my hair's best friend and without it, I end up with split ends. When washing a protective style, you'll focus on your scalp. Finding a sulfate-free rinse with ingredients like apple cider vinegar and tea tree oil (like TXTR by Cantu's ACV + Tea Tree Soothing Shampoo) may help rinse away the buildup.

TXTR by Cantu ACV + Tea Tree Soothing Shampoo $10.00

I then follow up with a conditioner to hydrate and eliminate frizz as well as a scalp treatment, like Girl + Hair's Restore+ Restoring Hair Treatment Balm, with a pointed applicator to each section of my head. 

Because hair can take a while to dry after a wash, wrap your head in a towel to help soak up the excess water, then leave your hair down to air dry. If you're wearing crochet, you may have to blow dry the middle of your hair to get it completely dry.

The Takedown

It's been four to six weeks (McClean recommends leaving in a protective style no longer than four weeks), and now it's time to take down your style. In the interest of time, you can always go back to your stylist to have them take your style down. If you're going to take the time to do it yourself, make note of a few things. Shedding is normal, according to McClean. "it is normal to experience shedding after you take a style down that you've had in for more than a day," she says. "But, it's important to comb your hair out before applying shampoo after having a style in for more than a day. I always recommend combing your hair out with conditioner and water before shampooing your hair. This will prevent hair from matting up."

Next, you'll want to use a clarifying shampoo like Moroccanoil's Clarifying Shampoo, since it has keratin, argan, and avocado oils meant to restore hair while eliminating buildup.

Clarifying Shampoo
Moroccanoil Clarifying Shampoo $26.00

The last (but very essential step) is to follow up with a deep conditioner—preferably a leave-in with slip—and then a trim.

Now that we've gone through the process, let's get some hair inspiration.

Ashley Blaine Featherson-Jenkins wears Havana twists in high pigtails


Whether Dear White People's Ashley Blaine Featherson is rocking her natural coils, a fly ponytail, or twisted ponytails and laid baby hairs, she gives me hair envy.

Woman wears jumbo Havana twists and hot pink eyeshadow


The invisible root method gives Havana Twists a more natural look, but if you want to have some fun with your style, getting creative with your parts is a simple way to do that.

Woman with thin Havana twists hairstyle and neutral makeup look


These twists are a little smaller than the larger Havana Twists we usually see, but Havana hair can be used on any twist type and mixed with Marley hair.

Woman with long Havana twists with lighter woven extensions


Ombré hair is classic. Luckily, you can find ombré extensions, so you don't have to worry about dyeing the hair yourself.

Woman with Havana twists hairstyle with a few accent curls


Like Goddess faux locs, Goddess Havana twists can have wavy ends or pieces added in to give the style a touch of a different texture.

Close-up of woman with two-toned Havana twists and shimmery neutral makeup


Whether you're wearing Marley or Havana Twists, you can try out new hair colors that compliment the skin. The mix of two hair colors here makes her skin tone pop.

If you like the Havana twist look, you don't always have to add extensions. Depending on the length of your hair, you can get the same style. But if you want to add volume, order a couple of packs of hair to intertwine with your own.

Teyonah Parris wears a Havana twists updo with scarf and sunglasses


Teyonah Parris is the queen of showing us that natural hair—specifically 4C hair–is versatile. Take a cue out of her book and add a colorful scarf to accessorize your twists.

Woman with mini Havana twists halfway in progress


Protective styling doesn't always mean a four to six week hairstyle. Twists can be a great way to create a loose curl on some natural hair types.

Add some color to your life (well, your hair) without the bleaching and commitment.

YouTube hair extraordinaire Whitney White's twists are a mix of Marley and Havana hair. Thinking about going the DIY route, Whitney has an excellent tutorial that shows even beginners how to install Havana twists successfully.

Havana twists are known to be lighter, but if you're a person who doesn't enjoy wrangling too much hair, a shoulder-length option is likely a perfect fit.

I can't be sure if these are crochet, but these twists remind me of my crochet faux locs. Crocheting is one of my favorite ways to give my hair a break without spending my day in a hair salon.

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