43 Protective Styles for Healthy Natural Hair

43 Protective Styles for Healthy Natural Hair
Image: twenty20.com/@iamkatwatkins

braided protective style

Rocking natural hair has been one of the biggest beauty movements in the last decade, at least in the black community. After enduring monthly chemical treatments for so long, embracing natural hair is like a sigh of relief for many scalps! What once was thought to be a trend is now obviously here to stay. But be that as it may, many women still struggle to find attractive and modern ways to style our hair with minimal manipulation and breakage. 

Protective styles are to tightly coiled hair what daily washing is to straight hair -- necessary. Necessary for growth, necessary to retain length, and necessary to make the most of time (which there never is enough of). Trying to wash and style our hair every day is not only daunting but will have us all late for work or with wet hair all day. 

The ever-popular twist-outs, braid-outs, and wash-and-go styles are pretty, but after a few months of that, I've seen some of the most flourishing hair fall right to the floor. The breakage is real, and don't even talk about winter. The cold winter air snaps our ends right off.  

Read on to see a plethora of protective styles to keep natural hair healthy and vibrant. Some are simple, some are complex; some are funky, others, elegant -- go ahead, get into it!

  • High Bun 


    Giving some ballerina vibe realness here! Start with a smoothing cream and pull into a high bun for a sleek style that doesn't require harsh chemicals or relaxers. This is a great style to give hair that has just come out of braids a much-needed break. This style also looks amazing with a colorful headband or hair wrap. 

  • Braided Bun 


    Hello perfect summer hair! These long and tiny braids look elegant and cool when coiled into a wide bun. Protective hair styles like this can last for up to eight weeks but shouldn't be worn longer than that or hair may experience breakage. Follow this style up with one of the other looser styles from this guide for a scalp break. 

  • Two High Buns


    Is this look the best choice for people who need to wear a bike helmet? Probably not, but this quick style is a great way to let hair and scalp have a rest from tight braids. Starting with a leave-in deep conditioner before pulling hair up is a great way to add extra moisture and up the protective factor of this popular style. 

  • Hat Hair


    Sometimes, the best protect hairstyle is, well, a hat! Women who are in between styles might benefit from a day or two of hat hair. Hat days are a great way to do a deep conditioning treatment, make some messy twists or buns, and then hide it all under an effortlessly cool hat. The hair benefits from a slower drying out and a break from styling. 

  • Chin Length Braids


    Long protective braids are a classic look that we love. Another great variation is to keep braids chin length for a look that feels fresh and modern. This style takes some time on the front end (that hair isn't going to braid itself!) but can last for weeks with proper maintenance and a good sleeping cap or nighttime head wrap.  

  • Three Kinds of Cool 


    A colorful scarf? Check! Bold color? Check! A protective style that lets hair rest and grow? Yep, another check! Natural hair can be a crowning glory and one of the best parts of protective styles is getting to have fun with it. This same hair style can look totally different tomorrow without the scarf and with the locs loose. Love that versatility!

  • Colorful Braids


    Gray, silver, red, blue, or even green, there is a color for any woman feeling like adding some boldness to her natural hair look. One of the best things about protective braids is the ability to add instant cool with colored hair options. These long braids look great loose but can also be pulled back into a low or half ponytail too. 

  • A Great Accessory 


    Any woman planning to try protective styles should have a wardrobe of great hair accessories, including scarves, turbans, and head wraps. Not only do these items instantly upgrade an outfit, they are actually great for helping make a protective style last longer. Hair starting to look a little fuzzy? Throw on a wrap -- instant polish!

  • Cornrows Into a Low Bun


    Perfect parts, sleek cornrows, and classic low bun? Um, yes please! This look is classic and can get dressed up for date night (how pretty would it be to add a flower to the bun?) while still looking polished for everyday wear. Just remember that sunscreen is a must for avoid a sunburned scalp! Peeling scalp isn't a good look for anyone!

  • Short & Sweet


    Sometimes the road to rocking an amazing head of natural hair means starting with a big haircut. Going short not only showcases an elegant neck and amazing cheekbones, but it is also a way to get rid of hair that has been damaged by coloring or relaxing. A super short haircut is a fresh start and a cool look. 

  • Flat Twists With Ribbon Protective Style


    This artistic style is a great spin on the everyday straight back cornrow (and easier to do).  Soft and chic, it'll be perfect for a special event, but also can add the perfect amount of pizzazz to a casual look. This look is great because it is customizable! Just swap a different color ribbon to match any outfit. 

    Get the tutorial here

  • Long Cornrow Protective Style


    A fresh take on what some like to call the "boxer braid" (I call it the style-every-other-girl-had-on the-first-day-of-seventh-grade braid), the Ghana braid is wearable day and night, for work and play. The feed-in method used here makes it difficult to tell that hair has been added. Don't forget to lay the baby hairs!

    Get the tutorial here

  • Three Bun Mohawk Protective Style


    Dying to rock a mohawk this summer, but also need something that will be suitable for work? This three-bun style is the perfect compromise. It’s edgy but soft, and complements the face while giving a great silhouette. It works for medium length to long hair. This look also works for hitting the gym and wearing headphones. 

  • Three Pony Braided Mohawk Protective Style


    Another version of the mohawk, this braided look can be sported by naturals of all hair lengths. The pompadour in the front gives that high-fashion look instantly, lifting the forehead. This style is  the perfect excuse to pull out the funkiest earrings and the darkest lipsticks! Rock on!

    Get the tutorial here

  • Fold and Tuck Protective Hairstyle


    For those who wish they were born in the '50s, when volume, bouffants, and pompadours were all the rage, this look is where it's at. Not for the faint of heart, this style shows people that black girls definitely have hair -- and lots of it!

    Get the tutorial here.

  • Bantu Knots Protective Style


    Said to originate with the Zulu tribes of Central Africa, the Bantu knot hairstyle has now become a worldwide craze. People of all hair types (not just curly or black hair) have been seen rocking this look, from the red carpet to the runways of fashion to the sidewalks of any New York City block. Besides being uber trendy, this look is long-lasting and a great way to protect those ends. 

    Get the tutorial here

  • Feed-In Braided Ponytail Protective Style


    Feed-in braids were my go-to hairstyle in high school. They hurt like crazy the first day, but I always looked like I had an instant face lift. In addition, after a month or two, my hair had grown at least an inch. Nostalgia! This is the perfect style for the busy woman (every woman, am I right?) who doesn't want to deal with daily styling. 

  • Double Dutch Braids (Two Cornrows) Protective Style


    No longer are two braids reserved for Pippy Longstocking! This super sleek double braided look (brought back by popular demand due to the Kardashians' infatuation with braids) can be worn by women and actually look (dare I say) sexy! This is another great summer option for keeping cool and looking sleek. 

  • Mini Two Strand Twist Updo Protective Style