35 Protective Styles for Healthy Natural Hair

35 Protective Styles for Healthy Natural Hair

fulani braided protective style, face framing cornrows with beads
Fulani Braids with Beads, Protective Style by Kersti Pitre

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 our natural hair is like a sigh of relief for our scalps! What once was thought to be a trend is now obviously here to stay. But be that as it may, many of us 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!

Faux Locs with curly ends in black and blond

  • 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.

    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.

  • 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

  • French Braid Updo with Bang Protective Style


    Intricate updos are often but a dream for many curly-haired naturals. This loose French braid style is so beautifully intricate and elegant -- this style will make anyone feel like a princess all week.

    Get the tutorial here

  • Swirled Crown Braid Protective Style


    This swirled crown braid disguises itself as a halo braid from the front, but turn around and voilà! An intricately woven party in the back. Yet another elegant look that will have everyone asking, "Who did your hair?"

    Get the tutorial here

  • Fold and Tuck Protective Hairstyle


    For those girls 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 these 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?). 

  • 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!

  • Mini Two Strand Twist Updo Protective Style


    Remember the French roll hairstyle that was so popular in the '80s? No press or perm needed to achieve the same look. This pin-up made of mini flat twists is so beautiful and lets the face really be the center of attention, without being dull or simply gelled back. Take this picture to a stylist, or the nearest hair braiding salon.

  • Double Halo Braid with Added Hair Protective Style


    When it's festival season, that means lots of flowy tunics, out-of-this-world makeup, beaded necklaces -- and bohemian braided hairstyles.This look is super simple because the braids are made entirely out of Kanekalon hair. All that's required after braiding them in is to pin them in place!

  • South African–Inspired Updo Protective Style


    Twists of all sizes are that's needed for this creative and exotic updo, inspired by South African women. No super small braiding or twisting, just a few twists on each side and a couple in the front and back. Show off an international flavor and pair this with a bright and bold printed dress or oversized jewelry!

    Get the tutorial here

  • Upside Down French Braids


    Flip it and reverse it, like Missy says! These braids are literally the upside down version of the two-French-braid style that we all know and love. Who knew a simple rotation could yield an even cuter hairstyle than the original? (It's up for debate.) When this look gets old, it can be transformed into a cute pompadour with the back still braided, and the front pinned and tucked.  

  • Turban or Headwrap Protective Style


    Every natural has those days where she simply needs to cover the hair altogether. Whether one is doing an all-day deep conditioner, rocking some straight back braids, or just doesn't feel like detangling, a turban is always a good option when all else fails. This is one of many ways to style a turban to look just as chic as any chignon. 

  • Coily Crochet Protective Style Braids


    Crochet braids are what I like to call an optical illusion. To the naked eye, the fact that this hair is crocheted onto braids is practically indiscernible. Another bonus is that installation is much quicker than the typical weave install and doesn't require as much precision. No one will ever know it's not totally natural!

    Get the tutorial here

  • Goddess Locs Protective Style


    Goddess locs are a super fun style for the summer. A softer version of the faux loc, goddess locs aren't burnt at the ends but curled and oftentimes adorned with ribbons and beads. Bring out an inner beach babe with this earthy style. 

  • Faux Locs Protective Style


    Only 20 years ago, locs were mainly associated with the Rastafarian religion and Jamaica. Fast-forward to the present, and locs have dropped the "dread" and come in so many beautiful styles. Now, we can have locs without the commitment of actually twisting and locking our hair. With a little extra hair (from the beauty supply store), this look can be achieved. 

  • Flat Twist Updo Protective Style


    This flat twist style has a similar face-framing effect as the crown and halo braids. This style, however, can last at least a couple of weeks if wrapped at night. This is what I call a no-fuss hairstyle!

    Get the tutorial here

  • Three Goddess Braids Protective Style


    I must admit, I never knew there were so many styles with "goddess" in their title. But the title is appropriate, because this uniquely patterned braid style is definitely otherworldly. This style is perfect for naturals with medium to long length hair. 

    Get the tutorial here

  • Clip-In Natural Hair Texture Extensions Protective Style


    Ever heard the term "your skin, but better"? Clip-in extensions are to our hair what a natural-looking foundation or BB cream is to our skin. They enhance what we already have and make it look 10 times better. The great thing about clip-in extensions is that they work for all hair times. With short hair, these extensions provide the length and volume of our dreams, without our having to straighten or flat iron or worry about matching textures with hair that is clearly nowhere near what grows out of our heads. For those with long hair, using extensions can actually protect that hair from over-manipulation. And because they're just clips, they can be popped out before bed for optimal sleeping. 

  • Senegalese Twists Protective Style


    Senegalese twists are a hairstyle that at least every girl in my area sported at least once when I was growing up. They're a first-day-of-school hairstyle, a formal dance hairstyle, and a great way to keep hair protected. What separates these twists from other styles is simply the hair that is used (Kanekalon or Yaki). With this long hairstyle (which usually reaches one's butt), Rapunzel gets a run for her money!

  • Pixie Cut, Full Lace Wig Protective Style


    Some days (weeks, months), we just don't feel like going to the hair salon, and don't feel like doing our hair, but also don't want to wear a turban every day either. Rocking a wig is also a great protective style, and there are so many styles of wigs. The one pictured here is a full lace -- therefore it's easy to trick everyone into thinking this one is our hair. Gone are the days of stiff, lifeless wigs!

  • Nubian Twists Protect Style


    Nubian twists use a special type of hair to create what appears to be a mix between a kinky twist, a faux loc, and a curl. The twists are like long springs and are easy to style and wear for all lengths of hair. 

  • Box Braids with Triangle Part Protective Style


    Box Braids have been around since even before I was born. It's one of the simplest and easiest ways to give hair a break, and the triangle part gives it a fresh new upgrade. One wouldn't think that a part can really make a difference, but this style takes a simple, pretty look and makes it high fashion! 

  • Havana Twists Protective Style


    Havana twists are the developed older sister to the Senegalese twist. Super thick and lightweight, these twists will blend super well with coarser hair types, as the style of hair used to create this look is very coarse. This low-maintenance style is just what is need for a summer look that protects hair while swimming at the beach or tanning on the sand. 

    Get the tutorial here

  • Marley Twists Protective Style


    If the Havana twist is the eldest sister, and the Senegalese twist the youngest, the Marley twist is the unimposing middle child that everyone loves. Characterized by their medium size, Marley twists are perfect for that no-frills type girl who just wants something presentable and long-lasting. An added bonus is that these twists are usually curled at the ends when they're finished, which makes for a pretty and feminine look whether pulled back or hanging down. 

  • Pin Curl Fro-Hawk Protective Style


    Pin curls are a great way to freshen up one's look without adding extra hair. This style will only take a few hours to do, and the fact that the curls are pinned means they will actually last longer than if they were left out. 

  • Jumbo Flat Twist Protective Style


    At first glance, one might think, "My hair has to be long in order to get that look." However, this look was actually done with clip-ins, and takes minutes to finish! This is one of my go-to looks when my hair is blow-dried.

    Get the tutorial here.

  • Cornrow Mohawk Protective Style


    To be honest, I've seen so many of these hairstyles in my life span, and never realized how many of them were derived from the Mohawk. This rendering is very intricate, almost like a piece of art. What's really unique is that it starts of cornrowed, but the ends are twisted!

  • Faux Ponytail Protective Style


    Another hairstyle that looks like it takes longer to create than it actually does is the faux ponytail. Fake ponytails exist for all hair types, it's true, but for the natural haired curly girl, it can be a bit more daunting -- especially when it comes to finding a pony to match your hair pattern. That's why this tutorial suggests using a tightly coiled wig as the ponytail. Creativity at its finest!

    Get the tutorial here

  • Side Swept Cornrows Protective Style


    When Beyonce wears anything, it's instantly a trend. In her Lemonade era, Beyonce wore these braids and had all the girls running to their hairstylist with blonde extensions and screenshots of this picture or something similar. 

  • Fulani Braids Protective Style


    Many people think that these braids actually originated with Bo Derek, or, more recently, Kim Kardashian. As far back as I remember, though, my classmates came to school with similar styles and cowrie shells on the end. I used to beg my mom to do my hair that way, but she didn't know how, and I was too young. Even before that time, though, the women of the Fulani tribe in Africa adorned themselves with this style. With how beautiful it is, aren't we glad that the African diaspora brought us such a gift?

  • Jumbo Pony Braid


    This high ponytail, which can easily be turned into a regal chignon, is as simple as 1-2-3. All that is needed is a jumbo braid of hair, which is sold at the closest beauty supply store already in a loose braid. With some gel and edge control, this super glam look can be achieved, without a stylist's help.

    Get the tutorial here

  • Classic Faux Bun Protective Style


    A low bun is the sophisticated cousin who went to law school, in comparison to the high bun, who just wants to have a good time. Buy or create a bun with little more than a few bobby pins and gel. This is a very simple look; the hardest part is probably just slicking down the front. Simple styles are a natural's best friend.

    Get the tutorial here

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