Question of the Day: Tips for Retaining Length Without Protective Styling

So, if you follow my blog, you know that I rarely protective style. I’ve talked about it and said that I needed to in fear that I would stop retaining length as my hair has gotten longer, but eh…I just never got around to it. I have to be real with myself – I love wearing my hair out, and for me, a true test of product performance is how my hair looks and feels in a wash and go. Meaning, how my hair looks without my manipulating my curl pattern.

I know, you’re looking at me like I am a mad woman, because all black women HAVE to protective style to retain length, right? Well…don’t be too scared; there is a method to my madness. Over the past year or so, I have focused on several aspects of my routine that I do believe have helped me retain my length, so I wanted to share them. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking protective styling, and everyone’s hair is different (for instance, my hair is coarse so someone with finer hair may need to be more gentle with their strands), but I wanted to share the following tips:

Low Manipulation – The less you mess with your hair, the better!

  • Style your hair in a way that causes the least amount of tangles – for instance, I love how my hair looks blown out, but it will start to shrink and tangle when I go outside, so that’s a no go for me!
  • For me, washing my hair in sections significantly decreases tangles in comparison to washing all of my hair at once.
  • Find ways to maintain styles without redoing them every night (if your hair is long enough, put your twists in a bun when you go to sleep, or pineapple).
  • Minimize combing and brushing – lightly finger detangle in the interim while conditioning so your hair does not get too tangled.
  • Preserve your styles so you don’t have to do your hair daily. When my hair was shorter, I did my hair daily, but now I try to stretch it to every 2-3 days just so I’m not continuously running my fingers through my hair.
  • I love wash and gos because I can do them without messing in my hair too much (I apply product in eight sections) – when I twist, I usually get much more shed hair.

Minimizing friction – Friction on your ends will cause breakage, splits, and increase single strand knots, which will definitely cause you to retain less length.

  • Decrease interaction with harsher fabrics, like wool or cotton.
  • Off the shoulder or bandeau tops are good, spaghetti strap tanks too. A lot of the time when I’m in the house, I wear a strapless maxi dress so my hair isn’t rubbing against my clothes all day. If you have to go to work and looking like a Flashdance extra won’t do, try a boat neck – they usually dip a bit lower in the back.
  • Leather jackets or jackets without collars are great, leather is smoother than other fabrics, and a lot of the time our hair hits right at the same position as our collar, and will rub back and forth alllll day, so a collarless jacket is optimal.
  • Silk, chiffon, and cotton/poly blends are softer than cotton and wool.
  • Products actually help coat your hair and protect your strands from the elements – I never wear my hair “naked.” I always apply at least a leave-in conditioner.
  • Moisturizing gels still form a film over your strands – like a gel cast, which forms a barrier between your hair and the rest of the world.
  • Always use a satin pillowcase or scarf – cotton pillowcases are the debil!

Pay attention to your ends – ESPECIALLY as your hair grows. Hair is dead, all we can do is preserve it, and our ends are the oldest part of our hair.

  • Even if you are protein sensitive, you can use a protein conditioner on your ends only to strengthen your cuticle and reduce breakage.
  • If you see splits, trim them! They aren’t going to go away. Split ends CANNOT be repaired, only “glued” together by serums.
  • SSKs are one of the joys of having curly hair – unless I see a split with an SSK, I leave them alone.
  • Moisturize and seal your ends consistently, especially if your hair is long enough to touch your shoulders.
For more information on sealing (purpose/benefits/method), please check out this video.
Don’t think you can do wash and gos? Check out this video for tips on minimizing tangles when you wash and go.

Those are all of the tips I can think of right now, if I think of more, I will certainly add them to this post. I initially wrote these down because I was cohosting on Nappturalite Radio. The podcast can be found on BlogTalkRadio; Felicia Leatherwood’s interview about no pooing, shampoo, and prepooing is also featured in this episode, and the information was very insightful!

Please let me know if you have any questions about this post!


31 thoughts on “Question of the Day: Tips for Retaining Length Without Protective Styling

  1. Curly Fries says:

    Thanks for the tip about the leather jacket! I try my best to stay away from wool, unless my hair is up. But you’re right, leather is the best option.

  2. Ree says:

    Great advice. My hair is super fine. I don’t like protective styling. I’d pretty much accepted that my hair wouldn’t retain length pass bra-strap length stretched. But you’ve provided some fresh tips here. I have hope again. 🙂

  3. herlucidsKy says:

    Excellent post! My last relaxer was July 2008 and I transitioned for 3 long years. Two of those years I did mainly protective styles like braided buns. Now that I am fully natural I want to be able to wear my hair out and enjoy it after hiding my ends for so long and that is what I’ve been doing since my chop back in July 2011. I was mid-back length at the time and I am now waist length when stretched. I’ve yet to straighten my hair. So yes, there are SOME of us that can retain length without protect styles. It’s the combination of the right products and technique.

    And as far as wash n go’s they are so ridiculously easy to maintain for me thanks to gels. Gels keep my hair clumped together which allows for it to stay uniformed and organized because like you mentioned it protects the hair by forming a gel cast on the strands. Then once I seal with some butter or oils it’s easy breezy for me. I can go for over a week with a wash n go. Every day I just wake up shake and go, so simple!

    I just wanted to add that there are some people who are afraid of gels because it’s just simply not for their hair type which happens or they purchase the wrong kind or they just simply do not know how to use it correctly. For instance my sister hates gel because she is always dealing with flakes and claims that it breaks her hair. So after observing her daily routine I realized why. She adds a ton of gel to damp hair then brushes it all back into a bun without any leave-in, oils, butters or moisturizer, she buys these cheap dollar gels with ridiculous ingredients, and she combs out her hair slightly damp sometimes dry while gel is in her hair!!!! I noticed a lot of other people used gel this way and I now see why people give gel such a bad rap. So yes, like I said before it’s all about technique and being mindful of the ingredients in your products. Some of us can still retain length without protective styles and with a head full of gel lol. We all just have to understand that everything works differently for different heads of hair and also, “don’t knock it till you try it, correctly.”

      • DebbieDeb says:

        Thank you for this article as well as the one on the CG method! Very helpful. My hair is may city without gel. I was really getting the impression that protective styling was the only way to grow natural hair (that and using Shea butter 😄). Thank you for always keeping things real!!

  4. leslie says:

    Good article! I don’t wear my hair in a protective styles either. I co-wash weekly and shampoo once a month, then i put in 12 braids and dry it , take it down and wear it out and at night i rebraid it with a light cream and seal my ends with shea.I’ve been doing this for 4 months and i have gained length, not breakage.

  5. Yolanda says:

    Thank you for the 411 now as for me I transitioned then I did my 1st BC August 2010 & my hair is growing & I have the syndrome HIH so I were genie locs as a protective style b/c I want to attain length but keep from manipulate my own hair & this works so well as I have as yet to be happy w/wearing my own hair in protective style(except when I had it in 2 braids)<3

  6. TheRYL1 says:

    Hey Elle!

    This is right on time! I just twisted my hair, making sure to seal my ends. I’d been slacking on that and it shows.

    I know my hair flourished when I made sure to seal. DUH!!!

    Great post!

  7. Ikila Marie says:

    Elle, this is an excellent article and right on time. Since I have (finally) learned how to style my natural hair and have become more confident with wearing it out, I find myself being nervous about retaining the length I have obtained. My largest take away and the best tip applicable me is the part about wearing strapless maxi dresses around the house. Genius!! Thank you for continuing to impart your vast knowledge. You have been my go-to naturalist since I have began my journey. Many thanks!!!

  8. HeChangedMyName says:

    This is a great article. I tried to straighten today and noticed my ends were dry, I IMMEDIATELY stopped and washed my hair. BUT I was planning to research some ways to retain my ends better. . . .now browsing for best moisturizing practices. Thanks.

  9. Kandis Alexis says:

    Hey Elle, great post! So I did my big chop a year ago (had about 1-2 inches of hair all over) and now that it’s a year later I still have a TWA (6 inches stretched and 3 in it’s shrunken state, gotta love shrinkage!). I think I remember in one of your older videos when your hair was much much shorter you mentioned that you didn’t really seal because your leave in’s had enough oils in them to do the job. Now seeing that I have a ton shrinkage and my hair is no where near my shoulders (a year after my BC), I wanted to ask you the following question. Do you recommend sealing for those of us who’s hair is not touching our shoulders or do you recommend it for all naturals no matter what their hair length is? And I mean sealing with an oil/pomade on top of the leave in for a wash and go to be specific. Currently I pretty much only do wash and gos with a leave in like Oyin Hair Dew or CJ Beauticurls Argan and Olive Oil with KCCC or Uncle Funky’s Daughter Curly Magic on top. (I have coarse, dense, low porosity strands, probably 4a but I don’t pay much attention to the pattern.)

    Sorry for the essay! Just wanted to be specific.

    • Elle says:

      Did you watch the sealing video? I ask because I thought I addressed my rationale in that video, but please let me know if that point did not come across so I can add a note in the details.

      • Kandis Alexis says:

        Whoops, I found it. Sorry, I’m sure it’s annoying when you’re asked questions about subjects you posted whole videos on. I won’t ask anything else until after I’ve done a quick search on the blog. Thanks for your help!

  10. Shoshoni says:

    Thank you so much for this article. I big shaved a little over a year ago and have done nothing but Wash n Go’s since. I like wearing my hair out as well. P.S., I was watching your Darcy’s review yesterday and my 12 year old son said, “Wow….she has nice hair!” LOL!

  11. K says:

    Ant insight on how the best type of universal hair cut for natural gals & WHO should be doing those cuts?

  12. napsagain09 says:

    I absolutely love your hair. There has got to be truth to all the tips given your hair has flourished! I just started wash & gos. Now that my hair has grown to shoulder length I like it much better cuz my shrinkage is off the chain. Now that it is warmer on the East Coast I can do them more frequently. I HATE wet hate in the cold. I look forward to retaining more length…thanks for the tips once again.

  13. Christian says:

    Great post Elle. I’m a wash go girl as well with shoulder length hair curly and WL straight. I too wear my hair out daily and I appreciate your tips. I’ve recently incorporated sealing my ends after applying my styler thanks to your recent video regarding sealing.

    • Elle says:

      YAY! See, we do exist! And that’s awesome you found the sealing video helpful, as you are already obviously doing something right! Since I started sealing I feel like my ends are much healthier.

  14. Carla Rose says:

    Love this post! Though I’m not able to retain length wearing my hair out in the winter due to the weather and the fabrics I wear, the spring and summer is perfect for “out” styles. These days I tend to pin my hair up slightly to keep it from rubbing on my clothes and use products to protect from sun and wind damage – especially on my ends. My hair is a bit fragile so I have to be extra careful, but I also want to have fun.

  15. LaFonda (lexusgirl12) says:

    Thanks for these amazing tips. As a newbie natural, I’ve learned ALOT through watching your videos on YT and subscribing to your blog. Continued blessings and success in all that you endeavor. I’m empowered!

  16. Barbara says:

    i have yet to perfect a good wash ‘n go but you are so right, i too get a great deal of shedding when i twist.

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