Baby, It’s Cold Outside, Pt. II: Hair Armour (or All Things Protective Styling!)

Winter is now in full swing, which means it’s time to suit your hair up with some protective styling armour for the chilly season, if you haven’t already! Protective styling is used as a means to shield the hair and scalp from exposure to harsh external factors, such as extreme cold, and to halt unnecessary manipulation that could lead to potential breakage.

When preparing to “put your hair away” for the winter, it’s important to ensure that your hair and scalp have been properly washed, conditioned, and treated, to keep the hair in a strong healthy state before styling, as such styles are meant to be kept for a prolonged period of time- anywhere from 3 to 9 weeks, depending on your individual preference and level of maintenance. To learn more about proper winter hair maintenance, click here.

Hair Armour: Protective Hairstyles

There are a number of different protective styling options that can be used to help preserve your hair during the winter season, including, but not limited to: box braids, goddess locs, faux locs, twists, crochet braids, wigs, and simply wearing a head wrap.

Box braids

Box braids: Extension braids made by incorporating either synthetic or human hair into sections of your own hair, and usually braided down your back. (Be mindful not to get these installed too tight or too small, as they can cause serious breakage along the hair line- preserve your edges!)

Extension twists: Extension hair twisted into sections of your hair, to create Senegalese, Marley, and Havana twists, depending on the texture of hair that is used. This is a relatively safe and beautiful style- even for those with fine hair– as long as the base of the twists are not done too small or too tight, and the extension hair is not too heavy.

Goddess Locs & Faux Locs: Hair is box-braided or twisted, and then wrapped with Kanekalon, Marley twist, or any other type of kinky extension hair. (Note: Goddess locs have a loose curl at the bottom of each loc; faux locs do not.) For these options, try to pick a brand of extension hair that is relatively light in weight, as the loss can become heavy depending on their size and length. Also, make sure that your sections are parted large enough to support the weight of the extensions.

Faux Locs

Goddess Locs

Crochet braids

Crochet Braids: One of the most versatile and time-efficient protective styles. Hair is cornrowed to act as a base for the extension hair that is then crocheted through the cornrows using a latch hook. This styling method is also one of the safest- just be sure to let your stylist know if you feel any pulling from your scalp, even if it’s slight. You can choose any type of extension hair to be crocheted into the cornrows.

Wigs: Wigs are a great way to quickly put away your hair- throw one on, and you’re done! Choose a wig that fits properly though: make sure that the wig doesn’t rest directly on top of your edges, because there is a chance that the constant friction of the wig against your hairline and potential movement could cause thinning (again, preserve your edges!)

Head wrap: Self explanatory: find a nice piece of fabric that doesn’t snag easily on your hair (for example, silk); wrap your hair up in a way that makes you feel fabulous, and go about your day! Avoid tying the wrap too tight– no need for a headache or damaging your hairline- and make sure that all your hair is tucked underneath the wrap; otherwise, it’s no longer protective! For more on head wraps, click here.

Now you can put your hair away and let it take a rest! And what’s great is that all of the styles mentioned above are pretty low maintenance: once installed, all you need to do is to tie them down at night, and you’ll be looking fly for the weeks to come!

Protective Style Tips

Once you’ve started wearing a protective style, it can be easy to completely forget about your scalp while your hair is on vacation! But here’s the secret, and it’s really simple: every now and then, spritz your protective style with some water or a protective style refresher (London Ivy Products and Up North Naturals both have great ones!); and no more than 3 times a week, just rub a little oil in-between the parts of your style (and by “oil”, we’re talking about the good stuff- the ones that can be consumed- 100% oils with no additives). The use of a good oil, in conjunction with some water, will help keep your scalp healthy throughout the lifespan of your protective style.

Finally, to clean your scalp, mix some shampoo with some water in a spray or applicator bottle. Apply the mixture directly to the scalp; massage with your finger tips; and rinse.

When it’s time for you to take down your protective style, do so with care, so you don’t cause unnecessary damage during the take down process. Return to your normal hair care routine, and then give your hair- and your scalp, especially- some time to rest before jumping back into another protective style.

Have you tried any of the protective styles above? Let us know which one is your go-to in the comments!

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Why braiding matters

Braiding school in Senegal

Honing my braiding skills in Senegal

Ten years ago, I embarked on a journey to learn about the practice of hair braiding around the world. Why? Because, at the time, I noticed that even though hair braiding, in its various forms, was (and has always been) a universal styling technique in various cultures, people seemed to have a negative view of African stylized braiding; and I wanted to know why.

I’ve always loved braids, both wearing them and doing them.  To me, hair braiding is an artform, and I couldn’t understand why people have had a problem with it (and I still don’t know why).  So, I wanted to help people acknowledge the beauty and significance of hair braiding, not only to persons of African descent but to humans all around the globe; I really wanted people to recognize the value of hair braiding as a human practice.

Also, at the time I wrote my Watson project proposal, most of my girlfriends from college and many other Black women I knew had never been taught how to braid– and in many cases, they had no real desire or a need to learn- since, for the most part, they wore their hair straight. So, what this meant was that the practice of stylized braiding, a long-standing tradition in Black culture, was no longer being passed down from mothers to daughters.

Braiding O.N.'s hairThankfully, things were slowly starting to change: more and more women were beginning to return to their natural state.  As a result, braids (which, for a long time, had been reserved simply for the maintenance of little girls’ hair) began to be considered as an appropriate styling choice again.  Even so, many women were still not learning how to braid themselves, or teaching their daughters, for that matter.

Ten years later, that trend toward “going natural” has turned into a movement; and with the Natural Hair Movement now in full effect, I believe the art of braiding has become all the more important.

Spelman Naturalistas

10 years later, and we’re all natural!

Though I don’t expect for anyone to be as crazy about braids as I am, here are a few reasons why I think braiding matters (and why you should learn and also teach your children):

Braiding facilitates day-to-day maintenance and manageability

  • shrinkageBraiding can help stretch your hair if you’re experiencing shrinkage.
  • Braiding your hair into sections can make the washing, conditioning, and moisturizing processes easier, especially if your hair is thick.
  • When your hair is braided, it is easier to oil your scalp.
  • Once your hair is braided, you spend less time on a day-to-day basis doing your hair.
  • Being able to even just plait your hair before you go to bed at night can make a world of difference between having a manageable head of hair or having to spend time detangling your matted tresses the next day.
  • Braiding can be used to create heat-free crimps (also known as a braid-out).

Braids can help with the transitioning process

  • If you’re going natural, and are not ready to go the full nine yards yet by doing a big chop, wearing properly-installed extension braids can help during the process of growing out your hair (which can be a particularly frustrating time, in terms of styling, since your hair is two different textures at the same time).

Extension Braids (front)Extension braids (back)

Braids serve as great protective styles (provided they are done properly and are well taken care of)

  • Braids (which also serve as the basis of many protective styles, such as crochet braids and weaves) are great for protecting your mane from the wear-and-tear of constant manipulation; friction from your clothing, pillowcases, etc; and the elements.
  • Make sure you don’t braid your hair too tight, or leave your braids in for too long, otherwise you could do more damage than good to your hair and/or scalp. (Click the following link for Protective Styling Do’s and Don’ts tips from London Ivy ProductsProtective Styling ebooklet)

Ancient Egyptian braidsBraids connect us to and are a celebration of our African roots

  • Since the time of the Ancient Egyptians, braiding has been an important cultural and hair maintenance practice throughout the entire African continent.
  • Stylized braiding serves as a cultural souvenir of our African heritage, and is one of the main practices that survived the Middle Passage.
  • By learning how to braid and teaching your children how to braid, you would be carrying on a treasured ancient African tradition.

Braiding and bondingBraiding is bonding

  • Braiding creates bonds between the braider and the person whose hair is being braided- whether it be stylist/client, parent/child, between sisters or friends, etc- given the amount of time such styles may take and the conversations which take place.
  • The act of braiding is very intimate: when someone allows you to braid her hair, she is inviting you into her personal space and trusting that you will handle her hair with some TLC.
  • Braiding your own hair allows for deeper interaction and a better understanding of your tresses.

Braids are beautiful!

  • Braided styles are art: they are essentially hair sculptures!
  • Braiding highlights and displays the unique properties and beauty of textured hair; it’s a styling technique where your kinks and curls work to your advantage!
  • There’s nothing like a well-designed, neat braid-up to make you stand out from the crowd!

Natural Updo

Do you know how to braid? If not, would you like to learn?