How to Properly Install & Maintain Protective Hairstyles

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We’ve been on a journey to eliminate pain from Black hairstyling and reduce the rate of hair loss among Black women.

Through a national survey we conducted this year, we estimate that over one-third of Black women in the United States suffer from thinning around their hairlines. Although our survey doesn’t measure causation of the thinning, other studies have shown that thinning around one’s hairline can be caused by hairstyles like cornrows, box braids, twists, weaves and locs, when too much tension is applied.

To help stop this trend in its tracks, we decided to develop a set of guidelines with the help of Board Certified Dermatologist, Dr. Crystal Aguh, Celebrity Hairstylist & Trichologist, Dr. Kari Williams, natural hairstyling pioneer, Anu Prestonia and Emmy-nominated Hairstylist Derick Monroe, that’s also backed by 100 influential names in the Black hairstyling industry. In doing so, we hope to bridge the K.A.P (Knowledge Attitudes and Practices) gap when it comes to properly installing and maintaining protective styles.

✮ Head’s Up✮

Ideally, consulting with a licensed hairstylist before getting any type of protective style for the first time is best. The following guidelines are general recommendations for how to care for your hair when it’s in box braids, cornrows, weaves or crochets. Preparation and maintenance practices can vary depending on the condition of your hair, scalp and your lifestyle.

How To Prepare

To prepare for a protective hairstyle with extensions

  • First make sure your hair is clean. Cleanse and hydrate your scalp with a moisturizing shampoo; but if you need a deeper clean, you can use a clarifying shampoo.
  • Next, deep condition. Deep conditioning reinforces the structure of your strands and balances out the moisture, improving elasticity.  
  • Then, blow dry with heat protectant or light oils. (Do not braid wet hair if you’re adding extensions.)

For a protective style without extensions, follow all the steps above and finish with a leave-in conditioner. Hair can be braided wet when creating styles like braid outs and twist outs.

How To Install

Be sure that the stylist you’re working with is well-versed in protective hairstyles and is reputable. When getting your hair braided, you’ll also want to keep the following in mind:

  • The ratio of extension hair used when braiding, has to be in proportion with the amount of hair that has sectioned off to braid. Too much added hair on your own hair will add weight to your strands, causing tension and potentially, breakage.
  • If your stylist is straining and twisting, then she’s doing too much. If she has tension in her body, she’ll transfer it to your scalp. Look for stylists that let their fingers do all the work.
  • If you’re feeling any pain or tension, be sure to speak up! Communication is key in building trust. If you feel tension while your hair is being braided, it’ll be worse when it’s done.

Note: There’s a thin line between tension and pain. You’ll feel some level of tension after getting your hair done because your hair has been manipulated. But your scalp shouldn’t ache or hurt. Any mild tension should go away within 24 hours.

How To Maintain

  • For the sake of good hygiene, you should wash your hair while in a protective style ideally once a week. It’s important to keep your scalp clean to prevent scalp disorders.
  • If once a week isn’t possible, every 1-3 weeks is an acceptable range, depending on your level of activity (i.e. frequently working out) and scalp condition.
  • Drying your hair properly is just as important as washing it. If your hair is not properly dried, you’re creating a breeding ground for bacteria to grow. If you can, see your state board licensed cosmetologist for proper maintenance of your install.
  • Keep your hair and scalp moisturized while it’s in a protective style by using a moisturizing spray and light oils on a regular basis. Frequency and the products used, will depend on your hair porosity and the condition of your scalp, but every 1-3 days is a general rule of thumb. 
  • Wrap your hair in a satin or silk scarf at night.

How Long To Keep It In

  • You should ideally keep your hairstyle in for 4 weeks, but no longer than 8 weeks with proper maintenance and cleaning. 
  • Board Certified Dermatologist, Dr. Crystal Aguh recommends a one-to-one ratio for time in, and time out of a protective style as a general rule of thumb. For example: 4 weeks in a protective style and 4 weeks out of a protective style to let your hair rest. 

Note: Time out of a protective style can depend on the type of style, whether or not extensions were used, and the amount of tension placed on the hair.

How To Takedown

Taking down your braids is just as important as installing them, because this is where you may experience the most breakage if not done correctly. You should take your time to carefully unravel your braids and use a product like a cleansing conditioner to soften and break down dirt that collects in hair.

Pro Tip💡: An apple cider vinegar rinse is essential after removing the braids to lift dirt and build-up before shampooing. A detangling brush is also great to use after the braids have been completely unraveled and detangled.

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Team Unruly
Team Unruly
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