Length Retention without Protective Styling?

Reader Tasha says;

When I went natural three years ago I was of the belief that the only way I could retain length was binding my hair in protective styles. I would put in dozens of twists every few weeks, only to deal with painful “take down” sessions, wrought with tangles, matting and hair balls. After trying protective styles for a couple years, and seeing no length difference in my hair, I defeatedly turned to wash and go’s. I actually started doing them because I thought I was one of those naturals whose hair just wouldn’t grow, so I was going for a cute shrunken look. Imagine how shocked I was when, after a week of wash and go’s, I saw visible growth in my hair. Since then I have ditched wash and go’s (the length retention was great, but the tangling was atrocious) BUT I do keep my hair in loose or out styles. My main ones are;

  • 1. Hair put in a horizontal banana clip at the back of my head then pinned under (inspired by KimmayTube)
  • 2. Applying a good butter, for example Oyin Whipped Pudding or Karen’s Body Beautiful Butter Love, to dry stretched hair, and letting it set. The butter provides enough coil definition that the strands don’t tangle on themselves.
  • 3. Applying a good butter applied to dry stretched hair, putting in 7 to 9 fat twists, gently pulling twists apart after an hour and fluffing for a low-definition twist out.

Also, I don’t braid or twist my hair at night. I leave it out and just put a satin cap over it. It actually responds BETTER than when I used to braid and twist it.

Now, none of these styles (save, maybe the first one) are defined as “protective”, but my hair has been growing like crazy! And I feel like I can’t be the only one!

I’ve also been noticing more “natural hair idols” on blogs and YouTube who aren’t aggressive protective stylers. As for me, I just had to realize that breakage is the reason my hair doesn’t retain length… and so long as my hair isn’t breaking, then I’m good.

I’m hesitant to say that this will work for everyone… but I am curious to see if there’s anyone else out there with a similar experience to mine. Are you experiencing length retention without the use of heavy protective styling?

Interesting! What are your thoughts! Has this approach worked for you?

Black Girl With Long Hair

Black Girl With Long Hair

Leila, founder of Black Girl with Long Hair (April 2008). Social media, pop culture and black beauty enthusiast. bell hooks' hair twin...


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122 thoughts on “Length Retention without Protective Styling?

  1. I started growing my hair out naturally about 5 years ago. However until a couple of months ago I was always consistently hiding my hair under weaves. When I so much as let my hair out. Its only under torture from straightening at high temperature using dax wax so it looked straight and shiny (I don’t know why I bothered I might as well have relaxed the dang thing).

    I resorted to maltreating my hair because I noticed whenever I had my hair out naturally I always got a strange stare and people warmed more towards me when I had weave on. I probably should also mention that I am albino so I am black but I have very fair (white) skin and a golden/yellowish afro hair which perhaps explains the stares so toning it down with a blonde weave made me blend in a bit more (in the UK at least).

    Recently I thought I’d had enough of hiding and got rid of the weaves. I now waer my hair naturally without any heat treatment. Initially I tried to find a protective style that worked for me and that process involved manipulating my hair too prequently and I had a bit of breakage.
    Eventually I decided a couple of weeks ago to just leave my hair alone. I tie it in a bun, oil and moisturise regularly and I noticed not only is it less hassle and time saving but it actually lets my hair grow. Although the hair on top that had thinned due to excessive pulling and heat treatment had to go. My hair is now growing healthier now that I treat it right.

    Sometimes I let it shrink into a mini afro (photo) which I like but I fear this might make it tangle and dry out aesily so I twisted it overnight to stretch it out then tie into a bun for the week. I realize with protective styles; tiny twists or braids are likely to result in breakage when taking it out so I only do two french braids or four single plaits overnight or when washing then tie into a bun for the week.


    • Wow I can’t believe you felt that you had to hide your hair. You are absolutely beautiful!! You’re a gem. Best of luck!

    • You look like one of the Original People that still exist that just happen to have blond (straight or kinky) hair. You look fine. Hold your head up as another commentor stated.

  2. I started my second natural hair journey November 2010 and I did nothing to my hair as it was too short for the first 4 months. Because I noticed my hairs slow growth I invested in treating my scalp with D. Miracles Root Stimulating Oil which is great for waking up dead hair follicles and promoting faster growth. Since using Miracles Root Stimulating Oil my hair has grown to enough length to do twists, braid outs, and bantu knots, so I would recommend to all you naturals who are not seeing growth to invest in using scalp stimulators to increase growth.

  3. Protective styling works wonders for me…i have been natural before natural was “okay.” and I used to experience breakage and extreme dryness…I didn’t know how to take care of it, now I do lots of protective styles and the winter is going to keep me in protective mode. I have retained length and I can’t wait till next summer rolls in.

  4. I see both sides. I agree that there are more than one ways to skin a cat (who came up with that saying?). I have found that I am retaining length, my daugters are retaining length just fine by leaving our hair loose. We are diligent about moisture, conditioning, oiling, wearing satin caps or pillowcases. Wearing protective styles too much (wigs, weaves, braids, braid extensions, twists, buns, rolls, updo’s) can lead to receding hair, thinning edges, breakage at the crown and brittle ends.

    Plus protective styles can get dull or cause you to project an image that might not necessarily be you – well in my case, anyway.

    On the other hand, my hair grew exponentially when I wore protective styles, but more than the length retention, I think a lot of Naturals wear protective styles and put their daughters’ hair in protective styles because they’re easy! You put your hair in a style and leave it in for one week to a month. Keep it clean, keep it moisturuzed. Detangle between protective styling. Easy! The bonus is length retention, but the bottom line is: time is precious. Leaving your hair in protective styles saves time.

  5. I agree 100% Length will quickly come on its own when the hair is worn in its loose state, protective styles don’t change anything.
    I am so glad someone finally shared a similar story to mine :)

  6. The length retention hasn’t been as much of a prob. 4 me as the moisture retention has been. So I follow most of the basic rules. D.C. treatments, wrapping my hair @ night, keeping my ends sealed, all the way down to my diet & exercise. But where I might differ from other naturals is after my M & S, i put a plastic cap on my head. It may seem weird 2 some, but 2 me, my hair stays moist a lot longer. I put my cap on so the oils can penetrate better. Sort of like how u do w/ a D.C. treatment. That’s how I actually got the idea. So B4 I leave the house, I take my cap off. I think w/ the right amount of moisture, your hair will retain it’s length more. I think it goes hand in hand. But that’s y I’m here on this site. To learn what I can do better. So I’m currently @ APL length. My hair is soft and growing & I’m happy.

    • I agree with you about the moisture retention. I think that is key. I would only add that regular protein treatments may be necessary also. The hair gets too soft and mushy from only moisturizing treatments. We don’t need Aphogee for seriously damaged hair (I think that is best for relaxed hair no matter how good it looks) but we need protein reconstructors just the same. I think baggying it daily may encourage bacteria and fungus on the scalp unless you are washing it weekly or bi-weekly. My scalp itched and burned a lot on top and down the center when I baggied nightly. That could be from the follicles and scalp being abused/bruised from intense hair dryer heat when I was relaxed. I don’t know. I do agree though that moisture is the key but don’t forget regular protein treatments.

  7. I have to disagree. It probably depends on your hair type. My hair grows, every month, but it also breaks off when it’s worn loose. Why? Because it’s very curly – 4b and the ends coil and tangle, form single stranded knots etc – and it just becomes a hot mess. I don’t mind wearing it out but I have to accept that I will lose some hair in the process.

    For me, when I am trying to retain length, cornrows work best. Not even twists. For four years I was natural and I would look online at some people’s albums and wonder why I was stuck at 10 – 12 inches after 4 years. I big chopped and started afresh. After 18 months, I am at 8 – 10 inches. It seems to have grown faster, but I know what I did different this time was keeping it in cornrows and wearing a hat or a cute pixie wig 95% of the time. I plan to do this for another 18 months, because it works way better than manipulating my hair. For me low manipulation is key.

    • I see no point in trying to grow your hair,when it’s not even out to display and instead it’s covered in a wig 95% of the time. Might as well shave your head *shrugs*

    • Your noticing great length increase after your last chop could be due to your getting all of the split ends off and the evened length. I recently had my hair trimmed and I think I see better growth and I don’t feel those single strand knots I had before and have not had a problem with it tangling.

  8. Protective styles have been helping a lot in retaining moisture for me. I am just beginning my journey with natural hair and my hair feels great.

  9. My last relaxer was November 27, 2010. I don’t know. My protective style for the past 2 years until May of 2013 was to cornrow my hair and wear it under a wig. It became difficult to continue that without buying larger, longer haired wigs so I went to twists as a style. I don’t like my length for twistouts so I haven’t done that. As has always been the problem, I did not know what I needed to do to take care of my hair natural or relaxed. It was a little past shoulder length until recently. I don’t know if that’s not keeping it moisturized or allowing a weaver to rip my hair with the comb. It has broken off at the edges on one side but is longer everywhere else. I am not comfortable with a wash and go and working in a conservative law firm at 50+ years old. I feel it best to either wear my twists in a bob type hairstyle or put the wig back on. I do know what the author is stating about the hairballs, etc. but wonder if that isn’t just normal hair shedding. I do feel you on the tangling but am still experimenting to determine if that’s because I am not properly moisturizing and sealing as needed which appears to be every other day if not daily. I find the takedown of twists to be time-consuming which might lead to frustration and fatigue and therefore taking the twists apart as if they were wishbones instead of hair. My recent experiment has included using aloe vera juice to separate the hair. It has worked wonders for me and the result is smaller hair balls to throw away. I have recently changed hairstylists from an ornery African weaver to a passionate American stylist who is working on developing a client base. I feel confident that this stylist has no ulterior motives (such as taking my hair out so that I need to wear a weave or extensions). She works at Sally’s Beauty Supply and does not encourage product junky-ism. She will tell you to simply invest in castor oil. My regiment is to dampen the twists with aloe vera juice, slide jojoba oil down the twists and seal the ends with castor oil. It seems to be working and I am very happy with twists. They think they are beautiful.

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