By Geniece of Beautifully Made

I’ve heard some naturals lament the so-called need to protective style in order to retain length. For some, such styles are viewed as boring or uncomplimentary to one’s facial structure. I’ve also heard women express frustration at having to protect their hair when they believe that other women with straight hair, loose curls, thicker strands, etc. can maintain length while wearing their hair out.  When it comes to retaining length for my kinky tresses I’m an ardent proponent of protective styling. My own experience has proven the method to be effective. While a fan, however, I’m not militant. As is the case with many other things in life, everything ain’t for everybody. Take weight gain for example. Some can eat ribs and cheesecake and remain thin and runway ready. For others this is simply not so.  For many people, getting to the weight they want requires giving up some culinary delights and exercising more often. In short, it involves sacrifice and patience. Once you shed a significant amount of weight you can indulge in some treats, though you must still be moderate. Likewise with hair care, you can expect to see improvement but you may have to implement some practices that, though temporary, are a bit out of your comfort zone.

I became a fan of protective style not by watching the progress of others who’ve used the method but by experimentation with my own hair. In July of 2007, after being natural for almost 3 years, I flat ironed my hair and did flat iron touch ups for the next two weeks. The flat iron was always set to 450 degrees. Needless to say my hair was heat damaged to the point that one hair dresser asked if I was growing out my relaxer a few months later. I decided to trim the ends away slowly and by 2009 I was relieved to have shoulder length heat damage free kinks and coils.  Around this time I began experimenting with wigs, which was actually quite fun. Still, something was missing. I wanted to learn how to properly take care of my own hair and, quite frankly, enjoy the length with my own hair that I did with wigs.

In the fall of 2009 I discovered several vlogs and blogs devoted to natural hair. I even joined a hair forum. By the end of November of that year I officially embarked on my hair care journey and chose to implement two practices over the following year: 1. Safe detangling: I would only detangle on wash day when my hair was coated with oil and conditioner. I would also deep condition every week 2. I would wear protective styles throughout the week, keeping my ends moisturized and protected. Two years later I am a firm believer that these practices are fail safe. In fact, after I retained 5 inches of hair in 2010, I decided that in 2011 I would experiment more with ‘out’ styles like braid outs. I wore my hair out for much of the winter, spring and summer and loved it. By the fall, however, I realized that I wasn’t retaining at the same rate I did the previous year. I only retained 2-3 inches in length. In October of last year I went back to basics and implemented a protective styling regimen. In February of this year, after only 4 months of going back to exclusively protective styling, I blew my hair out. Not only did I notice the difference but so did my friends and family. Protective styling works for me. Point. Blank. Period.

If you hate protective styling but have struggled to retain length I encourage you to conduct an experiment. Measure one portion of your hair. I like to choose a section of hair along my nape. Consistently protect that section. So, if you wear braid outs make sure you leave that section braided (if the braid is small and along your nape it shouldn’t be obvious that the hair is still braided when the hair is styled). Three or four months later measure that section of hair and form a conclusion as to the effectiveness of the method.  Once you realize that a method works you may not implement it all the time but at least you know what to do if, for example, you want to grow you hair out for a particular occasion, to accomplish certain hair styles or simply to change up your look.  Protective styling isn’t a natural hair law but rather a tool that if effective for you, can address any frustration you’ve encountered regarding length retention.  Furthermore, if you find that some styles are less than becoming on you (i.e. mini twists seem scalpy), you might consider updos with loose stretched hair. I wore my hair this way and still do from time to time.

So, will I forever wear protective styles? Well, yes and no. For length retention, likely not. Once I reach my goal length I can technically maintain the length of my hair even if I wear it out every week. However, I actually enjoy wearing huge buns and the ease of mini twists. For this reason protective styling will more than likely always be a part of my hair journey.

Ladies, how do you feel about protective styling? If you are a 4B or 4C natural do you find it frustrating that consistent protective styling is required to retain length?

For more of Geniece’s thoughts on 4b/4c haircare, check out her YouTube channel: Beautifully Made.


Island girl raised in the most royal of NYC's boroughs. Proud nerd, social scientist, educator and recovering awkward black girl. When not listening to NPR, trying to grow spiritually, or detangling my fro, I'm searching for the best shrimp and grits in the Queen City.

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94 Comments on "Are 4B/4C Naturals Limited to Only Protective Styles?"

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I went natural at 17… Having turned 19 and realizing that I really haven’t gone past shoulder length in the past year is really frustrating. I just hate to think that I have to spend so much money and time putting them in, taking them out, not to mention transportation to get to where I’m getting them done… It almost frustrates me to the point of tears since I’m incapable of braiding my own hair (effectively) and my mom refuses to help me. Being Black is starting to feel like a real chore (I grew up in California. Lot of… Read more »
I’m so sorry that you have to feel this way, I would be lying if I say I didn’t ever have the same feelings like this before I learnt how to take care of my 4C borderline 4Z hair now with more familiriarity with my hair comes confidence and I am at that point that I say I have GOOD HAIR because I do! Don’t loose hope you were not created with the wrong hair type or colour for that matter the fact that you are mostly only amongst straight hair folks to me would be an opportunity to flaunt… Read more »

Ugh, I feel your pain. Braiding my own hair is also difficult and ends up being a tedious task, frankly. May I suggest what I have been trying and it has proven better, double strand twists. I’ve learned by watching YouTubers to create styles that can last up to four weeks. Don’t dispair just yet, there’s a lot of help out there. Best of luck.

Carol Omara


I’m trying to purchase the basic hair food and can’t get it in South Africa. Please advise what shops I can get them from. I am having problems with my hairline and need urgent help to restore it, I wear my hair in a lace wig so as to grow it up to a certain length and then wear it out. Please advise on the product for my hairline, I’m a 4B…


Hi I know what may work for you, please inbox me for more details I’m in Joburg email

Hello I just want to tell you that it’s one of the best article I’ve read about 4C hair types until now because you are really straightforward and sincere regarding the 4C type’s problems. Yes, I have 4C hair I believe, and I hate protective styles but that’s what works the best for me. 1 month of protective style and you clairly see the difference in my hair. Actually, my hair grow pretty fast even when they’re breaking, as long as I do protective style (twist outs is definitely not protective for me, it breaks them so much and doens’t… Read more »