Many women falsely believe that their hair cannot grow. This is most prevalent in the black community. I always wanted long hair as a child, but truly felt that I could only experience long hair by wearing a weave. I held that belief for the majority of my youth since all of the black women in my life had short relaxed hair, or hid their hair under weaves. This misconception shattered when a relative of mine revealed her long natural hair, which seemingly came out of nowhere.
She was a cousin who frequently wore sew-ins. When she revealed that her waist length kinky hair was all hers, I was appalled! If her genetics didn’t stop her from growing long hair, I knew I had a chance too! I asked her how she managed to grow such long hair and she told me all about protective styling. After doing my own research on the concept, I became obsessed with making sure I was in a protective style at all times.
WHAT ARE PROTECTIVE STYLES?
Protective styles are hairstyles that keep your hair off of your clothes and tucked away to protect it from the elements (like drying cold air/ heat) and help it retain moisture. There are plenty of protective styles: buns, roll & tuck updos, French braid/ flat twist updos, braid extensions, wig extensions, sew ins, etc. These styles essentially help you retain moisture and reduce friction that leads to unnecessary breakage. Chances for breakage increase the more you manipulate your hair. Combing, brushing, parting, inserting/removing bobby pins and general manipulation all increase friction on your strands. Friction causes split ends which lead to breakage. The less breakage you have, the more length you retain.
SHEDDING VS. BREAKAGE
There is a difference between shedding and breakage- shedding is a normal hair process that releases full strands of hair from your follicles. Shed hairs usually have a small white bulb at the top, which indicates that they’ve fallen directly from your follicles. Shedding is generally nothing to worry about. Breakage is the tiny pieces of hair that your see in your brush or bathroom as you are styling your hair. If you have enough broken strands, then you barely retain length, which makes it seem like your hair isn’t growing at all.
PROTECTIVE STYLING & LENGTH RETENTION
Eliminating unnecessary breakage is one of the main ways protective styles can help you retain length. Since your hair is tucked away in protective styles, the lack of daily manipulation eliminates the chances of you causing friction and breakage. Keeping your hair up and off of your shoulders stops the friction and dryness that is caused from your hair rubbing back and forth on your clothing. Most clothing is made of cotton, which easily sucks moisture out of your hair.
If you notice that your hair has been stuck at the same length for years, it has not stopped growing. It’s simply breaking off as quickly as it grows, making your hair stay at the same length.
RULES FOR SUCCESS
There are a few rules that you’ll want to follow to make sure you aren’t causing additional damage while wearing protective styles:
1. Avoid pulling to tightly around the hairline to avoid traction alopecia
2. Don’t set it and forget it- remember to moisturize your hair regularly. Otherwise, the dryness could lead to unnecessary breakage once you take down your style.
3. Remember to wash your scalp. A dirty, clogged scalp can hinder hair growth. For those who choose to wear extensions/sew-ins, there’s no need to worry! I’ve linked some hair washing tutorials here: How to Wash Your Hair While Wearing A Sew In & How to Wash Box Braids/ Senegalese Twists_
4. Detangle very gently when you take down your style. Rough manipulation can cause breakage which would defeat the purpose of wearing a protective style.
5. Limit heat usage
I credit protective styling for taking me from neck length relaxed hair to MBL natural hair in just a few years. If I had to pick my top 4 contributors to my personal length retention, they’d be:
1. Protective styling
3. Gentle detangling
4. Using natural products with slip to ease detangling and help increase moisture retention
What if you don’t want to wear your hair up every day? You don’t have to. However, it’s best to make sure your hair is protected more often than not. If you are dying to wear your hair out, designate 2-3 “free” days out of the week for you to do so. It’s much better than wearing your hair out every day. Just stick with it for a few months and you’ll see results. It really helps to take pictures of your length so you can marvel over your progress!
If you found this article helpful, feel free to share it with a friend who is trying to grow long natural hair.
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