How to Keep Your Protective Style From Damaging Your Hair

Getty / Edward Berthelot
  • Protective styles are used in the Black community to take a break from manipulating natural hair.
  • These styles, however, are often believed to be one of the leading reasons behind the rise in traction alopecia.
  • These tips will ensure your protective styles actually protect your hair and keep it healthy.

Braids, wigs, cornrows, faux locs – all of these are examples of protective styles often used in the Black community to give the daily styling of natural hair a break. However, fans of protective hairstyles have also started to notice a rise in hair loss, leading to the question: are the two connected?

According to Allina Health, a nonprofit health care system based in Minneapolis, one-third to half of all Black women experience hair loss (oftentimes, more specifically, a form of hair loss called traction alopecia) in their lifetime. This can be caused by the long-term use of tight hairstyles that pull at the hair root causing inflammation. Over time this tension leads to scarring and hair loss. Due to the nature of many protective styles that have been developed in the Black community, this form of traction alopecia has increasingly become more of a problem, not only for Black women, but across the board.

Still, there are ways to preserve the health of your hair and continue to wear your favourite styles. In fact, many of the common misconceptions around hair loss and protective styles stems from inaccuracies surrounding what to do before your appointment, what products to use afterward, and how long each style should be kept in. To set the record straight, we asked trichologist and celebrity hairstylist Dr. Kari Williams to break down everything you need to know to keep your protective style from causing any long-term damage to your hair.

How Do Protective Styles Cause Hair Loss?

Hair loss due to protective styles can be progressive, which is why some people may not notice it right away. “A lot of the cases of hair loss are a result of years of slow damage to the hair follicles from aggressive styling methods,” said Dr. Williams. “For example, women who have worn weaves for years as a way of giving the hair a break from regular manipulation may experience a slow form of diffuse hair loss.”

If you’re wondering why those styles in particular seem to be the problem, it turns out it may have everything to do with installation. “[Diffuse hair loss] can happen if the hair is braided or sewn too tight,” Dr. Williams said. “This tension when installing causes traction alopecia to show up in the center of the scalp and around the hairline.”

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