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12 Stunning Protective Styles That Will Save Your Hair (And Your Time)

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Photo by Mike Pont / Stringer/Getty Images

It’s the start of a new season and that could mean a new hairstyle, too. You can go for your tried-and-true, always chic protective hairstyles or have a little more fun with a different natural hairstyle you don’t usually go for. Can’t get enough of box braids? Maybe it’s the perfect time for some faux locs. Always do medium-length looks? This season might be all about shorter cornrows. Regardless of what you choose, natural hair has the versatility to try just about any protective hairstyle with ease.

Switch up your length, add some color or textures to change up your look. There’s truly no wrong way to wear your hair. But before you get too creative, you want to make sure you’ve got the basics down. We chatted with makeup artist Para Shardé who is always doing hair and makeup on television and film sets. Shardé knows all about protective hairstyles and the best ways to maintain them. Keep reading for her top tips and bookmark this page to save your favorite styles before your next hair appointment.


About the Expert:

Para Shardé is an Atlanta-based artist who does hair and makeup on television and film sets.

What is a protective hairstyle?

A protective hairstyle is exactly what it sounds like: a style that protects your hair from outside elements. “Protective hairstyles are hairstyles that are designed to protect the ends of your hair and decrease the chances of tangling, shedding and breaking,” adds Shardé. There are an unlimited amount of options to choose from and what you choose depends on both your personality and how much work you want to put into your hair. Some protective hairstyles are more low-maintenance than others.

How long your protective style lasts really depends on the look. “It is a recommendation that protective hairstyles be worn anywhere between two weeks to two months,” says Shardé. “If you keep a protective style in for too long it could cause tangling, dryness, and breakage.” That totally defeats the purpose of your new crochet braids or flat twists. Even the most low-maintenance style still requires upkeep, which will help the styling last on the longer side. Shardé recommends keeping your scalp clean and moisturized with scalp-specific hair care, such as oils and conditioners, as well as wearing a silk scarf or head wrap to bed to ensure you minimize natural hair damage overnight. Unlike cotton, silk works by helping your hair hold onto its moisture and eliminate frizz, which is especially important for those with kinky, coily, and curly hair.

Do protective styles help hair grow?

While many put their hair into protective hairstyles to encourage hair growth, Shardé warns that everyone’s “growth journey is different” and there’s no guarantee you’ll maintain that length retention. But it can help healthy hair stay strong and free from breakage, especially if you keep it hydrated while in the style. Ensuring your natural hair is as healthy as possible before styling can help tremendously, as well. That means, getting regular trims before braiding to ensure your hair is strong enough to handle the protective hairstyle. It’s all about doing anything to keep hair healthy to grow.

Switching up your styling can help, too. It’s fine to do back-to-back styles, just change the specific look to make sure your hair isn’t stressed in the same places. If you have hair extensions in, next time go for cornrows. Or, if you favor bantu knots and box braids, switch it up with two-strand twists. Celebrities do this all the time and for good reason. Short natural hair can become long hair with a little work and a lot of patience. Speaking of celebs, let’s take a look at some of their best protective styles so you know exactly what to ask for the next time you're in the styling chair.

12 protective hairstyles we love:

1. High Bun

Close-up of Lupita Nyong'o rocking a high bun hairstyle wrapped with gold twine, copper eyeshadow makeup look paired with a berry lipstick, and gold links earrings
Photo by Frazer Harrison / Staff/Getty Images

Lupita Nyong'o wore a sky high bun to the 25th Annual Critics' Choice Awards in Los Angeles. The afro cloud pouf was created by hairstylist Vernon François. It’s relatively simple to create this updo with a headband or shoelace but François used gold twine wrapped around the puff's base to add glam and make the look even more red carpet-ready.

2. Faux Locs

Close-up of Ciara rocking a faux locs half updo hairstyle, smoky eye makeup paired with a nude lipstick, and black dress against pink background
Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris / Staff/Getty Images

Ciara wore faux locs to the CFDA Fashion Awards in NYC in 2019. These are ultra-long hitting mid-thigh. She pulled them back into a half-up updo to show off her killer makeup. These types of faux locs are done by dividing the parts and then braiding small pieces around the head. Then, faux hair is crocheted onto the natural hair.

3. Bantu Knots

Close-up of a smiling Storm Reid looking cute in a outer space themed dress and bantu knots hairstyle
Photo by Leon Bennett / Stringer/Getty Images

Storm Reid could not look cuter in bantu knots at the 2018 BET Awards. Gold rings were placed at the end of the knots to up the glam factor and match her earrings. Other than the charm, these medium bantu knots are done by twisting chunks of hair and wrapping it under itself. As you wrap underneath, the bun continues to get taller.

4. Cornrows

Close-up of Ciara rocking a cornrows hairstyle, smoky eye eyeshadow makeup paired with nude lips, and a black jacket with neon green intercrossing lines
Photo by Mike Pont / Stringer/Getty Images

Ciara loves cornrows and she rocked them at the 2019 Harlem Fashion Row in NYC. Cornrows are done by sectioning your hair and braiding under, not over, to make each row pop off the head. Cornrows can be ultra-thin, medium like Ciara’s or jumbo, which are called Ghana cornrows.

5. Knotless Box Braids

Zendaya rocking long knotless box braids, rose gold eyeshadow makeup look, and a modern fuchsia dress
Photo by Frazer Harrison / Staff/Getty Images

Zendaya wore knotless box braids to the 25th Annual Critics' Choice Awards in Los Angeles. They’re a type of feed-in braid that puts less tension on your scalp. Knotless braids are lighter than box braids and can last just as long, though they do take longer to install. Instead of securing the braid with a knot, these braids are done by starting a three-strand braid and gradually feeding in the braiding hair.

6. Crown Braid

Close-up of Chanel Iman rocking a sultry makeup look, crown braids hairstyle, and a metallic fishnet dress embellished with rhinestones
Photo by Ian Gavan / Staff/Getty Images

While attending the amfAR's 23rd Cinema Against AIDS Gala, Chanel Iman gave her mesh dress an upgrade with a pretty crown braid. To do a crown braid, or a halo braid, on natural hair, you start by parting your hair and cornrowing hair near your edges around your head. You’ll just want to add hair from one side, here.

7. Bohemian Braids

Laura Harrier rocking a Bohemian braids high ponytail hairstyle, burgundy and offwhite dress, and neutral eyeshadow makeup paired with berry lips
Photo by Emma McIntyre / Staff/Getty Images

Laura Harrier looks gorgeous in Bohemian box braids at the premiere of BlacKkKlansman. Bohemian braids differ from regular box braids in that they have curly ends, which gives the whole look a full, more voluminous feel.

8. Braided Pony

Smiling Justine Skye in a cornrows and braided ponytail hairstyle, silver and black sequined bomber jacket, and smoky eyeshadow look
Photo by Theo Wargo / Staff/Getty Images

Justine Skye wore cornrows and a long braided ponytail at the Roc Nation Summer Classic Charity Basketball Tournament in Brooklyn. After cornrowing hair, a thick, purple braid is attached to a high bun to give the illusion of a long ponytail.

9. Senegalese Twist

Kerry Washington in a Victorian-inspired dress and Sengalese twist hairstyle
Photo by Rodin Eckenroth / Stringer/Getty Images

Kerry Washington stunned in Senegalese twists, or rope twists, at the Hollywood Reporter's Annual Women in Entertainment Breakfast Gala. They’re created by wrapping braiding hair around the root of natural hair. Then, doing two-strand twists all the way down the shaft. For some added fun, add beads or gold rings like Washington did.

10. Lemonade Braids

Misa Hylton rocking a blonde lemonade braids hairstyle, black leather jacket and white shirt inside, and silver eyeshadow makeup paired with nude lips
Photo by Emma McIntyre / Staff/Getty Images

Although side braids are nothing new, Beyoncé’s iconic braids in 2016’s "Formation" music video made the style blow up. Misa Hylton hit Black Girls Rock! with stunning blonde braids that resemble the singer’s. Lemonade braids have a few different braiding styles in one, including cornrows, Fulani styles and Goddess braids. Of course, there are tons of laid edges, too.

11. Half-Down Twists

Kiki Layne rocking a high ponytail twists hairstyle, cream, white, and black leather jacket, and smoky eyeshadow makeup look paired with nude lips
Photo by Slaven Vlasic / Stringer/Getty Images

Twists don’t have to be all down to look chic. Kiki Layne attended a movie screening in NYC wearing her twists in a high pony. Add a hair accessory to the crown like Layne did and the style takes on an even more glam vibe.

12. Braided Updo

Regina King rocking a purple braided updo hairstyle, smoky eyeshadow makeup, silver dangling earrings, and pink and silver sequins dress
Photo by Frazer Harrison / Staff/Getty Images

Regina King took her braided updo to new heights at the LACMA Art + Film Gala. In a gorgeous purple shade with straight ends poking out, King stole the red carpet. This updo was created forward and to the side for an elegant look.

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About the author
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Elizabeth Denton
Elizabeth is a freelance beauty writer. Previously, she was a beauty & fashion editor at Time Out New York, Seventeen, & Allure. She has more than a decade of experience in the beauty and fashion world, writing for Nylon, StyleCaster, Cosmopolitan & more.
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Article Last Updated December 2, 2020 12:00 AM