You've probably heard all about the powers of wearing a protective style. People with long hair swear by them, promising they'll give you longer, stronger hair. And while the styles don't make your hair grow, by protecting your ends (especially if you've relaxed your hair or damaged it in other ways), you can retain that precious length by preventing breakage.
If your hair is breaking off faster than it grows, then it will never get any longer. Protective styles keep your ends preserved by hiding them away from potential damage. Below, we've rounded up our favorite protective styles with the help of experts Sarah Sango and Kim Kimble.
Keep scrolling for 40 protective styles.
Bun or Chignon
Buns work on relaxed and natural hair with a relative amount of ease and can be mastered at home. This is a simple style that works for any day and looks great for dressy or formal occasions.
- Any protective style requires the right products on wash day. "If I use the right ingredients for my cleanse and condition with products like Lush’s Avocado Co-wash ($17), and Power ($13) and Glory ($13) conditioners, this will hydrate and moisturize my hair enough to enable an achievable protective style," says Sango.
- You may want to stretch your hair using your preferred method to get a bit more length without extensions.
- Then, choose your part. You can go down the center, to the side, or skip the part entirely.
- Swoop your hair up into a bun, brushing down flyaways if you choose, and secure with pins. You can always add fun accessories like barrettes or flowers.
- Make sure your edges stay sleek and smooth with edge control products like CURLS Passion Fruit Curl Control Paste ($6) or ORS Edge Control Gel ($5).
Twists work best on natural hair. Relaxed strands are too straight and slippery to hold twists in place without unraveling. This style can last for days or weeks and require minimal touch-ups.
- You can fashion twists in various ways while still protecting your delicate ends. A classic two-strand twist is quite simple to achieve at home.
- Portion out your hair into sections of the desired thickness.
- Divide each section in half and twist both pieces around each other from root to ends. Extensions can be added to add volume and create more complicated styles.
- "After a few days, your twists may begin to feel dry," says Sango. "Simply spritz each of your twists with a small amount of water. This will reawaken the existing products in your hair. If you feel that your hair needs more product, add accordingly." We like to apply Aveda's Dry Remedy Daily Moisturizing Oil ($34) before bed.
Cornrows are one of the most well-known braid styles, and they are incredibly versatile. You can braid your natural hair, or you can opt for braid extensions.
- Start by portioning out the hair into the desired sized sections. Braid from front to back, feeding more hair into the braid as you go.
- Whether your braids are all yours or created with enhancements, you still need to care for your hair and scalp while you're wearing them. SheaMoisture's Loc & Braid Butter ($11), formulated with Jamaican black castor oil, helps strengthen and restore braided hair.
- However, as long as your ends are braided, they'll be protected from the elements as well as daily handling.
- The smaller your braids, the longer you can expect them to last.
When you properly care for your weave, it is a great protective style. Follow these tips:
- If your hair is braided completely beneath it, it's not subject to sun, wind, rain, or other weather. It's also free from daily wear and tear.
- For maximum hair growth, it's still important to care for the hair beneath the weave by utilizing hydrating products like SheaMoisture's Deep Treatment Masque ($13).
- "If you need to wash your weave, wash the hair in a downwards direction to minimize tangles," says Sango.
- Then, "Sit under a hood dryer or diffuse hair until the roots are completely dry."
It's important to give your hair and scalp a break between weaves.
Like cornrows, flat twists are created along the scalp, and, like two-strand twists, they are done using two sections of hair. Flat twists offer more versatility because, unlike two-strand twists, flat twists work equally well on relaxed or natural hair.
- Follow the instructions for #2, starting the twists along the line of the scalp, moving down the length of the hair.
- If your hair extends past the nape of your neck, you can gather the flat twists' ends and fashion them into a ponytail or bun.
- Just be sure to secure with elastics that won't damage the hair, such as Scunci's No Damage Elastics ($3).
- To maintain, Kimble says, "tie them up at night, sleep with a silk bonnet and/or pillowcase. Spray a light oil on the twists at night to keep them hydrated."
"Box braids are a protective style that can last you four to six weeks with proper care," says Sango. Both Sango and Kimble suggest hitting the salon for these, as they can be tricky to master. Make them last longer by following Sango's tips:
- "Cover every night with satin/silk-like material to help retain moisture and hairstyle."
- "Keep the scalp clean and moisturized."
- "Revive braids with a leave-in lotion to keep hair tucked away hydrated."
- "Do deep treatments or reconstructive treatments in between styles."
Fulani braids consist of cornrows braided diagonally away from the hair part. Often there's a braid down the center as well. It's a regal, intricate look that can be incorporated into many different hairstyles.
- While both Kimble and Sango suggest seeing an expert braider for these looks, you can make them last longer with proper care at home.
- To start, "use a setting foam and oil," says Kimble. "Take a handful, rub it on your braids at night to help maintain it."
- You can also follow Sango's tips from #6 or any style of braid.
Faux locs are an incredible way to mix up your look. In this video, stylist Savannah of @spstyled breaks down how to install faux locs for a low-commitment, high-impact style:
- Divide the hair into sections of the desired thickness.
- Coat the section with gel, hydrating mist like Naturalicious Heavenly Hydration Grapeseed Hair Mist ($23), and moisturizing style cream like Naturalicious Moisture Infusion Styling Creme for Tight Curls and Coils ($21).
- Braid the section in a simple three-strand braid.
- Once all the sections have been braided, take your faux locs and your crochet tool. Use the crochet tool to hook the locs onto the root and weave the braid into the extensions.
- Roll the locs between your lightly gel-coated palms.
- Style your edges using a toothbrush and more of the gel.
Accessorizing your protective style is a great way to mix it up. Follow the tips from #8. Then, keep locs and other styles looking fresh and healthy with Sango's advice for the LOC method:
- "The LOC Method stands for ‘Liquid, Oil, Cream’ and is used after the hair has been freshly washed to hydrate and protect curly and coily hair."
- "Begin by spraying a product like Lush’s Super Milk ($20) through the hair and comb to distribute evenly."
- "Next, apply Lush’s Renee’s Shea Souffle ($17) through the hair. You can also apply this oil to the scalp and massage to soothe any irritation or dryness."
- "Finally, lock in all of that moisture with Lush’s Curl Power ($17), applying generously in sections which can assist with styling."
- "This method can be applied to most protective styles and with help keep hair moisturized."
Bantu knots can be created in a various ways: twisted or braided, with extensions or without.
- Begin with freshly cleansed, conditioned, and dried strands.
- Section out the hair into manageable portions.
- Take the first section and create a twist from the roots to ends. Then, wind the twisted strand up into the knot and tuck the end under.
- Continue until you've knotted all the sections.
Once your twists or locs are installed, the possibilities for styling continue to be endless. Pile them on top of your head for a gorgeous updo that looks deceptively elaborate.
You can apply a headwrap over braided, twisted, or natural hair for a stylish layer of protection against the elements. These can also be used to further protect a protective style!
- "For the bun/chignon, a way to maintain it is to tie it down every night with a silk scarf—make sure it's 100 percent silk!" says Kimble.
- "Try not to sleep on cotton or sleep without tying your hair up at night," she adds.
- Or wear your scarf of choice during the day as a beautiful accessory.
Two thick, braided pigtails are a simple way to keep your natural hair protected while creating a cute, low-maintenance look.
- Start by parting your hair down the center and dividing into two sections.
- Brush hair up into two high pigtails and secure with elastics.
- Braid each side, adding extensions if you'd like more length.
- Use a product like Lush Super Milk ($20) "to hydrate scalp and hair while hair is in a protective style," says Sango.
"If you are wearing protective styles with extensions and they are taking their toll on your scalp, you may want to alternate with wearing your natural hair in protective styles," says Sango. We love this super cute double-puff style. Follow the tips for #13 on shorter strands, leaving the curls out instead of braiding. Kimble loves styles that play with texture and let the hair breathe: "I would recommend wash-and-go hairstyles to keep your hair natural and healthy. Or you can add to natural texture with pieces."
Jumbo-sized twists follow the general idea of #2 but may require additional extensions depending on hair length, but they look amazing. "I really like to use my Movie Set Mousse ($13) from my exclusive line at Walmart for twists because it hydrates and holds without making it crunchy or leaving any white residue," says Kimble.
A simple banded ponytail with slicked-down flyaways and styled edges looks so chic. To style:
- Brush clean hair back into a high ponytail, using some gel to tame flyaways.
- Attach extensions at the base of the ponytail if using.
- Place elastics at intervals down the length of the ponytail.
Butterfly locs are a slightly distressed, more "imperfect" style of faux locs that look incredible on or medium-length hair. Follow the instructions for #8 to install. The top knot is optional but so cute!
Knotless braids, as the name might suggest, don't use a knot at the scalp to attach the extension, therefore creating less tension at the hairline. Like cornrows, Sango and Kimble recommend seeing a professional for these, unless you happen to be a braids expert yourself.
Cute and simple, a pineapple involves piling your curls on top of your head and securing with a hair tie.
- Follow the instructions for #16, piling the hair upward.
- Instead of adding extensions, leave your natural curls out, adding hydrating styling products to keep them in tip-top shape.
- You can slick down flyaways with gel to get a super polished look or go softer by letting a little frizz escape.
- The longer your hair, the more it will hang down in front.
A braided bun with a sweet crown braid and smoothed edges gets the job done for a formal occasion. Follow the tips for #1, using extensions if you need additional hair for the braid.
Similar to the double puffs mentioned above, double space buns are trendy and easy to master.
- Slick hair at the crown of your head down with gel.
- Pull the rest of the hair into two high pigtails.
- Tuck the ends under, leaving the hair curly and natural for a soft, cute daytime look.
Short Butterfly Locs
These butterfly locs are bob-length and flirty with a dramatic side part. Follow the steps from #8 to install.
Mini Twist Bun
Achieving mini twists is easy once you've nailed your twisting technique.
- Follow the tips for #2 in smaller sections.
- Toss them up in a high bun for another dimension of cool; pile your twisted hair in a top knot and secure.
One giant twist makes up the base of this sleek ponytail. You may need extensions to get this much thickness and length, but even without them, this could be a great look to try once you've mastered smaller twists.
Follow this tutorial from Nella of @NaturallyNella to get beautiful full curls using a flexi rod set.
- Stretch out your natural curls using a diffuser on low heat, then brush out.
- Take your flexi rod and place the U-shaped curve around a section of hair, pointing downward.
- Wind the hair around either side of the flexi rod.
- When you let it out several hours later (once completely dry), fluff and separate the curls.
Colorful Butterly Locs
Add colors to punch up a butterfly loc style using the steps from #8.
Create four jumbo twists for this unique, well twist on pigtails. Follow the steps from this video by Joyah Estrada:
- Mist your clean hair with water, and then apply leave-in conditioner and gel to damp strands.
- Brush the product through with a large paddle brush.
- Part hair down the center and create four pigtails, two higher ones at the front of the head and two lower down in the back.
- Wrap hair around the scrunchie or elastic and create four large two-strand twists.
Or, take one giant braid and wrap it around your head for a braided crown.
Classic Ponytail Braid
This tutorial shows you how to do a classic braided ponytail with a crisp center part:
- Start with damp hair.
- Brush the hair back into a low ponytail.
- Braid the ponytail, twisting the bottom to secure.
Headwrap With Twists
Combine a head wrap with two chunky face-framing twists by following this video tutorial:
- Begin with dry hair. Mist the roots and create a center part.
- Section out the front and knot it out of the way.
- Secure the rest of the hair with an elastic and cover with a cap.
- Stretch and twist the front pieces, creating face-framing two-strand twists.
- Cover the cap with a headscarf and knot it in front, winding the excess fabric around several times.
- Accessorize with beads if you'd like.
A curly faux hawk is pretty easy and looks so cool when it's done. All you need are combs, bobby pins, and a favorite gel:
- Start with clean, dry curls.
- Brush them back tight against the head, securing with combs for the mohawk shape.
- Add bobby pins to secure.
- Add gel to the edges for that slick, long-lasting finish.
Twists With a Rainbow Twist
Add a touch of rainbow thread to your two-strand twists for a festival-ready vibe.
You can do just a few Bantu knots around the crown of your head for this cool take on a half-up/half down. Follow the instructions from #10, stopping after three sections.
If space buns aren't your jam, or you just want to mix it up, a low bun on either side of the head is just as simple and chic. We love the natural texture showing through this protective style.
Passion twists are all the rage. Follow the instructions from this video to install:
- Section out the hair, securing each section at the root with a small rubber band or elastic.
- Take your extensions of choice from the packaging. Twist them into your natural hair to attach them.
- Continue twisting down the extension strand.
- Style edges if you so choose.
Butterfly Locs Pigtails
Locs can be styled in various ways, like these super cute butterfly loc pigtails.
Braided extensions provide a great opportunity to play with color without the damaging effects of hair dye.
If you want to get a floppy ponytail going but don't quite have the length, use a drawstring ponytail, which is a faux ponytail with a drawstring that tightens around your natural hair and combs to keep it in place.
Bored of your current protective style? You can't go wrong with adding a few '90s accessories like butterfly clips and bright barrettes.
The twist-out is the result of keeping your twists in for several days. Check out all that stunning volume. No matter the protective style you choose, cleansing afterward is essential:
- Sango suggests cleansing using a shampoo brush like the O So Curly Scalp Massaging Shampoo Brush ($10).
- "[Work] in circular motions before rinsing and towel blotting the hair," she says.
- "The shampoo brush can lift dead skin cells and product build-up. It is also great for blood circulation and scalp stimulation which aids hair growth."
- To keep your curls hydrated, Kimble recommends an oil like the Miracle Oil ($13) from her eponymous line "because it is so hydrating and makes your hair really shine."