Best Protective Hairstyles for Natural 4C Hair

by Oudraa S

This blog outlines the best protective hairstyles for natural 4c hair - especially in the winter! Protective hairstyles are important to protect our hair as black women. Protective hairstyles are especially important in the winter because no one wants to deal with breakage and cold weather! Protecting your roots is a game changer and if done right, you'll see a positive difference in no time!

What are protective hairstyles?

Twists Black Girl Hairstyle 

A protective hairstyle is a style particularly worn when you are trying to protect your hair from the elements (certain weather), or manipulation. If you're trying not to relax or straighten your hair with heat, you may choose a protective hairstyle for a period of time to stay cute and ward off temptation. Typically due to the constant sun exposure and warm weather, spring and summer months tend to damage, fry, and dehydrate natural hair. Hair breakage can also occur during these months so it's important to use protective hairstyles and stay extra hydrated! During winter and cooler months, the wind and incredibly dry air causes your hair to easily lose moisture and become brittle. This will also make your hair more prone to breakage. The idea behind having a protective hairstyle is to keep your hair safe from these constant weather changes as they can be very unpredictable and damaging. 

Why are protective hairstyles important? 

Black Girl Afro Hairstyle

Protective hairstyles are important because you're trying to protect your natural hair!! In all seriousness, the elements and manipulation from our own hands can really affect the way our hair grows and stays alive. Protective hairstyles are also great because they come with an added bonus of saved time; By already having your hair in a protective style, you don't have to work it every single day. When your hair is protected, you give it time to replenish itself and actually grow! Who doesn't love a low maintenance task like doing your hair, especially in the mornings? Since our natural hair tends to be very curly and kinky, protective hairstyles also help retain moisture which also promotes hair health.   

How to prep your hair before putting it in a protective style

Cornrow Braids Pony Protective Hairstyle

If you're about to rock a protective style or switch to another one, there are a few things you should be doing first. You'll want to give your hair a trim first before putting it into a protective style. Trimming allows you to get rid of any dead or split ends that could be blocking your healthy hair's ability to continue growing. Untrimmed hair can cause more breakage which is what you're trying to avoid with the protective style. Trimmed hair also makes it easier to detangle. Next, it's important to wash your hair. Washing, conditioning, and moisturizing your hair before a protective style is so important because it ensures that your hair is healthy and in an optimal state for styling. It also cleanses and rids your hair of any dirt before tucking your hair away for a certain amount of time. Lastly, you'll want to deep condition your hair. Deep conditioning ensures that your hair is beautifully moisturized and strong enough to remain moisturized while it's in a protective style. Although protective styles are great for natural hair, you still want to make sure you're protecting your natural roots! 

12 Protective Hairstyles to Try 

Box Braids

Box Braids Black Girl Protective Hairstyle 

Box braids are easily identifiable by the way they are sectioned in your hair. They are often sectioned off in a square shape and you can spot the single braids. Conversely, knotless braids are meant to give off the illusion that the braids are coming directly out of your scalp, and the sectioned squares are either not present or not as noticeable. Box braids originated in Africa and were used to help differentiate tribes, locations, and other symbols of wealth. Box braids are easy to maintain and you are able to keep them in for weeks at a time. You can also get very creative with braid colours and sectioning style patterns. Keep in mind however, if you do opt for longer braids, your hair will be heavier and the head tension will be reallll for a bit! But, the protection and overall look will be worth it sis! 

Bantu Knots

Rihanna Bantu Knots

Bantu Knots hold African origins, and the style is thought to originate from the Zulu people of southern Africa. According to the South Africa History Organization, the term "Bantu" is a term that has been typically used to describe ethnic groups within southern Africa that spoke the Bantu language. However, many African countries hold origin stories for this particular style. Although this hairstyle has been around for decades, it became popular again in the Western culture during the 90s period. Celebrities like Janet Jackson, and Jada Pinkett-Smith in The Matrix rocked this hairstyle effortlessly and can be attributed to popularizing the look in the Western world. This look is attained by sectioning off the hair, and then twisting and wrapping the hair until it stacks upon itself. The end result should form a spiraled knot. Bantu Knots can serve as a two-in-one hairstyle because once you unravel the knots, your hair should come out with longer lasting and more defined curls. Bantu knots can be created using either your natural hair or with extensions but beware, extensions will make the knots bigger and thicker, likely making it a bit challenging to sleep. 

Twists

Twists Black Girl Protective Hairstyle

Commonly referred to as Senegalese twists, twists are a popular protective hairstyle and the look is created by wrapping your hair around the root. The hair is then continuously twisted down from the root of your hair to the end of the hair shaft. This is done using the two-strand twist method. People commonly use synthetic or human extension hair to be twisted in - this can also help individuals achieve a longer hairstyle if their natural hair is shorter. Some recommend using synthetic hair because it prevents the hair from unraveling prematurely. You can get twists in your hair by either using the natural twisting method, the rubber band method, or the crochet method. Before twisting your hair, try to have at least 3/4 of an inch of hair growth so that your natural hair can be easily caught and to avoid damage to your hair. As your hair is perfectly tucked into the twists, this hairstyle can last anywhere from 8-16 weeks! Of course, you can keep them in shorter or longer depending on your preference and hair health. Happy twisting! 

Flat Twists

Flat Twists Black Girl Hairstyle 

The main difference between flat twists and Senegalese twists can be found in the name. Flat twists are achieved by parting your hair into two cornrowed sections and then flat twisting the hair down. If you're planning to take out the twists and wear the finished look out, starting with wet or already stretched dry hair helps the hair set better. Keep in mind there may also be more tension when flat twisting because it is normally your natural hair that is being twisted down flat. This is a protective hairstyle because like Senegalese twists, your hair is twisted and wrapped either within itself or within extension hair. It is typically free from manipulation and protected from the elements until you take it out or rock your twist out. Flat twists do not last as long as regular twists and will likely start to show frizz after 1-2 weeks. To combat frizziness, you can try using a silk hair scarf and silk pillow. 

Cornrows 

Cornrows Black Girl Protective Hairstyle

Cornrows date back to the 19th century. Cornrows are created by braiding your regular hair or extension hair flat against the scalp. The hairstyle is achieved by using an underhand upward motion to make a raised row. Cornrows can be done in a variety of styles and you'll often see geometric or wavy patterns braided into the head. Cornrows are great because they protect the hair from moisture loss and breakage. Cornrows are also usually used as a base for other hairstyles - like crochet braids or sew-in weaves. Before putting cornrows in, always make sure your hair is adequately moisturized and not already broken. Other reasons why this protective hairstyle is so popular is found in the fact that they are quick to install and very inexpensive. 

A Wig

Lacefront Bob Wig Protective Hairstyle 

Wigs are one of the easiest protective styles to wear and you can individualize them in so many ways! Full wigs are considered protective hairstyles because they cover your entire head and protect your natural hair from manipulation and elements. Most opt for cornrows underneath their wig which is like double the protection. Wigs are great because you can switch them up daily and really rock a variety of styles. You can also customize them to really showcase your personality. And the best part...you can take your wig off at the end of the day and let your scalp breathe. What a dream! 

Locs

Chloe Bailey Halle Bailey Locs Black Girl Hairstyle

Locs refer to a hairstyle in which your hair falls like a rope and your hair has locked into itself. Locs sometimes look similar to braids but, a major difference lies in the fact that locs require a period of maturation in order to weave into itself and actually lock. The history of locs stem from African, Indian and Middle Eastern cultures. You can begin the locking phase of your hair by doing two-strand twists, interlocking your actual hair, or using the coil method. The entire process can take months to years to begin to see your locs form and thrive. You'll commonly hear of 4 or 5 loc stages that you can pinpoint in your journey to full locs. The first stage is known as the "starter stage". During this stage, your locs are just beginning to set. It can last anywhere from three to six months and your hair can even become easily unravelled during this time. The second stage is referred to as the "budding or sprouting stage". In this stage, you will see that your hair becomes less unravelled and you'll be able to re-twist your locs where needed to maintain the style and look. This stage typically begins around the six to twelve month period. The third stage is commonly referred to as the "teen stage". This normally occurs around twelve to eighteen months into your loc journey. The stage gets in name "teenager" from the idea that teens are known to be unpredictable and rebellious. Similarly, your locs during this stage will be hard to predict and/or style due to the awkward in-between length and new growth. The fourth stage is known as the "mature stage". This normally occurs at fifteen to eighteen months into your loc journey and you will likely start to see that your locs are long enough to lie flat or hang down without manipulation. Your locs should be firm at this point and there is no need to re-twist your new growth. They will appear to have taken shape and also be thick. The last stage is the "rooted/adult stage". Look ma, we made it!! This stage happens around eighteen to twenty-one months and is considered the end of the locking journey. Your locs should be held firmly in place now and the hair length/growth will be easily seen. Although your locs should be set and require minimal maintenance, it's still importance to make sure they are always well conditioned and moisturized to ensure hair health, protection, and growth. 

Pre-looped Faux/Crochet Locs

Faux Locs Crochet Locs Black Girl Protective Hairstyle

Faux or crochet locs are meant to give off the illusion that they are real locs even though they aren't. This look is achieved by buying the already locked extensions that are also already pre-looped. Once you have the extensions, all you need is a crochet needle and you'll be able to attach the extensions to your actual hair. There are different ways to do crochet locs - you can cornrow your natural hair and then loop the locs in or you can individually braid your natural hair and then loop the locs into your hair afterwards. This is a great protective hairstyle because there is not added tension on your real hair and if you opt for the cornrow base, your hair is already protected and free from the manipulation of installing the locs. Depending on how quickly you're able to braid or cornrow your natural hair, this hairstyle is definitely less time consuming than doing regular braids or growing regular locs. 

Hair Wrap

 Black Girl Hair Wrap Protective Hairstyle

Sometimes it's just better to keep it simple sis. If you're trying to protect your hair and don't have time to do it, a silk hair wrap or scarf will do just the trick. It's easy, inexpensive, and you can get creative with the patterns and colours you use for the wrap. This is a protective hairstyle for obvious reasons. Your hair is essentially wrapped and kept safe from extreme weather and/or any kind of manipulation. This is also a great style to use in the interim before you opt for your protective hairstyle. 

A Weave

Weave Bundles Black Girl Protective Hairstyle

Getting a weave involves the process of gluing or sewing artificial or human hair into your own hair. The base of your natural hair is normally cornrowed and then the weave is sewn into the cornrows. The finished product gives off the illusion that the weave is your real hair. If you get a human hair weave, you'll also be able to wet or apply heat to it regularly without damaging the hair. This is a great protective hairstyle because your own hair is tucked away while you still get to rock a variety of different looks and styles. If done correctly, a weave can be installed in 1-2 hours and can usually last anywhere from 3-6 weeks. Synthetic hair may prove to be more of a challenge but with a weave made from natural hair, you'll be able to wash and dry as if it was your own hair. Since the base of your hair will likely be cornrowed before getting a weave installed, you can anticipate your hair growing a fair amount as well. 

Fulani Braids

Beyonce Lemonade Braids Fulani Braids


Also known as feed-in braids, Fulani braids originated from the Fulani (Fula) people in West Africa and the Sahel region. This hairstyle is known for its length and very unique patterns. This look is easily identified by the braids that hang or loop off the sides of your head. This hairstyle is also commonly characterized by hair bead accessories and/or hair shells. For installation, this hairstyle can take anywhere between 2-5 hours depending on the thickness of your hair and your desired hair length. The idea of this style is to have your hair braided from the scalp and then allow them to transition into braids. As your entire head is braided when rocking this look, your hair is completely tucked away and protected. Like other similar hairstyles, your hair is likely to grow and be free from breakage. As always however, don't forget to properly condition and moisturize your hair to maintain your hair health.

The Big Chop

Yvonne Orji Buzz Cut The Big Chop


This last hairstyle may seem drastic but depending on how you look at it, it's also the ultimate protective hairstyle. Sometimes your hair is simply too damaged or manipulated with to rectify and initiate growth from. By doing the big chop, you are allowing your hair to start from scratch - no manipulation, no heat, no tight braids....simply you and your bald head starting anew. The big chop can seem scary because as black women, our hair is considered our crown and protection. But if you're willing to take the risk, I promise you that the big chop is worth it! You'll fall in love with your bare self and begin your hair growth journey naturally and healthily. You'll also be able to track your hair progress each step of the way, which makes the experience that much more exciting. Shoutout to the ladies rocking big chops and teeny weeny 'fros right now! 

Black Girlfriends Group Shot

Protecting our hair and maintaining our hair's health is extremely important. These suggestions for protective hairstyles will help you achieve the health and length you want in your hair without having to do too much. Of course, there are likely many more hairstyles to choose from but hopefully this list provides you with a great start! Share your favorite protective hairstyles in the comments below!  

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