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.

Leave a Reply

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

Notify of
Geniece is one of my favorite youtubers! :o) I’m a 4abcxyz … a type I made up. My hair largely consists of 4b/4c strands mixed in with other stuff. Protective styling has been my ticket to retaining length as a natural when it is done right (i.e., styles not kept in for too long). I also like protective styling for the simplicity and the overall look. Twists and braids are so elegant to me. That being said, I agree that 4b/4c’s are not limited to only protective styles. There are a couple natural youtubers who have reached waistlength while incorporating… Read more »

Do you mean Reniece? I tried to look Geniece up I couldn’t find anything. I’m always looking for good channels to follow 🙂


Yep, sunshower143 on youtube. ;o)


Geniece = sunshower143 on you tube ^^ if I am not mistaking


While I will agree that protective styling does help my 4b/c hair achieve length, I also end up with dry, crispy ends. End that I cut off because I view them as damaged hair. Sign. How am I to retain the length I’ve gained without having dry ends? I spritz my hair 2 times a day with a water and evoo mix. This winter alone, my hair has grown 2 inches resulting in 2 inches of dry, crispy ends – that were cut off. Trying to listen to my hair. Help!!!


You may also want to try the baggy method. This focuses soley on the ends of your hair. It’s just a plastic sandwich baggy filled with your fav conditioner & oils, place the ends of your hair in the baggy, secure it w/ a ponytail holder, and a nylon knee high. Some ladies use this method to give their ends a little extra TLC. Hope this helps 🙂

This is just my two cents, but having dry ends may be a characteristic of your hair type. Are you sure your ends are damaged? Are they split and frayed? I am 4b, and when I blow-dry my hair, my ends tend to be very hard and dry in comparison to the rest of my hair. I don’t have split ends though, and I feel no need to cut my hair. A hair stylist once asked my why my hair is “nappy at the end” after she blow dried it. Needless to say, I no longer use her services and… Read more »

Dry ends means damaged ends, you need to moisturize your ends because otherwise they will split and become frayed. I use water and oil on my ends when they are in protective styles, maybe you should use heat protect.

Thanks Kate. I really don’t blow dry my hair very often. I’ve used a heat protectant before, and I am not convinced that it did much. I prefer to avoid heat instead. I disagree that dry ends are necessarily damaged though. Yes, they are more susceptible to damage, but they are not already damaged. I’m not sure what your hair type is like, but my ends are always dry. No amount of water or oil will change that. Moisturizing can reduce dryness, but ultimately the hair will always be dry. If I cut off ends that I thought were dry… Read more »

My hair sometimes feels dry but if I’m moisturizing it regularly and not using heat I know it’s not going to result in breakage. Kinky fine textured hair can ‘feel’ moisturized. My hair will feel this way. But a few days after wash day it feels dry even though I’m caring for the ends. It’s just a characteristic of my hair

i see what you’re saying. i read a blog post by a woman who also describes her hair as 4b/4a and she says that dryness is simply a characteristic of our hair type. and she’s not too far off the mark. i went for a year and a half without bothering to moisturize my hair. mind you, i started off at Collarbone length, and i wasn’t particularly trying to grow my hair out. i could have cared less because at the time i wasn’t focused on length at all. by the time the year and a half was up, i… Read more »
I kind of agree with this. I first went natural in 2007, and I shaved off all my hair and didn’t bother with “proper” hair care. I wasn’t moisturizing or sleeping with anything on my hair, wasn’t getting it trimmed. My diet was a little bad as well. But after I relaxed my hair again because my grandma wanted me to, my hair was fine. No single strand knots, my ends were even, I retained all of my length. So I do agree some people make natural hair more difficult than what it needs to be.

One more thing. Many women think that certain products are the answer, but I kindly disagree. I have wasted my money on expensive products in the past, and they have done nothing for me. I use cheapie drug store products now, and my hair is longer than it has ever been. It is important, however, to find a shampoo (if you choose to use one instead of co-washing) that does not strip your hair too much.

Hermione – it sounds like you have the wrong moisturizer. I used to be plagued with dry, crunchy ends too. My hair does not respond to evoo. My hair loves coconut oil. And my “holy grail” product is Shea Moisture’s Curl Enhancing Smoothie. Now my ends (and my whole head) feel like butter (all day every day). I only have to reapply once or twice/week. Keep trying different combinations of oils that penetrate the hair shaft until you find your “holy grail.” If you listen to your hair, your hair will tell you what it wants.
Coily Africana

I second BrinkyDinks said, try the LOC method as it seems your hair might not like being sealed with oils. My hair used to feel greasy but dry and brittle before, but now it has improved. I actually stumbled on that method accidentally, after washing one weekend I put coconut oil to wet hair before sealing and twisting with Nexxus humectress(old formula). I have since refined the process but it still works.

I used to have this issue too! What saved me from going crazy was doing the LOC method when sealing my hair. My hair stays moisturised for at least 3 days if not 5. If I had to type I’m 4a but I have patches in the back that are 4b. Basically after you wash your hair, you spray your hair hair with a Liquid leave in (I make my own with aloe vera juice, distilled water. Sometimes, I may steep the water with marshmallow root or hibiscus). Then, I use an oil to seal that in (use any oil… Read more »

I love the LOC method, but my liquid is the water on my hair after washing. I prefer lighter oils and then using a moisturizing cream. My hair is always so super soft and wonderfully touchable, and I leave it out all the time.


It is possible you’ve cut off all the damage and your hair will flourish from here. You may also want to experiment with other moisturizers and/or conditioners. It seems like dryness is more of the issue than the actual protective styling. Sorry to hear about your setback. Hang in the hair care journey!

I have a combination of 3c, 4a, and 4b (and even some 1 and 2s specifically in my crown) and while I am not a fan of protective styling, it saves me valuable time when getting ready to go to work in the morning and going to bed at night. On wash days, I just 2 strand twist my hair and leave it in a ponytail during the week and spraying with a water mixture of conditioner, olive oil, and glycerin at night. I used to spend an hour preparing my hair at night and 15 minutes in the morning… Read more »