5 Low-Tension, Protective Styles For Natural Hair

Your scalp will thank you.

Some protective styles for natural hair can actually be quite damaging. Here are five styles, from s...
Prince Williams/WireImage/Getty Images

Maintaining natural, type 4 hair can be a lot of work. Tight coils need to be detangled very gently, styled using a strategic cocktail of curl products, and deep-conditioned religiously — all of that can tire out your arms. Daily styling can exhaust your strands, too, which is why wearing protective styles for natural hair every now and again is a great idea.

Protective styles “give your hair an opportunity to breathe which allows for length retention, and ultimately sustained growth,” founder and CEO of Heat Free Hair Ngozi Opara tells Bustle. Braids, of course, are probably one of the most common go-tos for protective styling. I used to be a fan, but the last few times I’ve worn braids I found myself taking them out shortly afterward. My scalp just couldn’t take the tension, and I started getting nervous about traction alopecia which Lulu Pierre, former hairstylist and founder of Boho Locs, tells Bustle can happen if your coils get braided too tightly.

“If there is too much tension on the hair follicle, it will cause the follicle to release the strand,” she explains. Breakage can also ensue if you (or your stylist) install too much hair — gravity takes its tolls on the extra weight and “this can cause permanent damage to the hair follicle and hair loss,” says Dr. Kari Williams, a trichologist and celebrity stylist who’s worked with Meagan Good and Ayesha Curry. Williams reminds her clients that protective styles are simply meant to give your natural hair a break from daily manipulation and don't have to be created with extensions. Traditional cornrows and two-strand twists can be just as fantastic.

Now that I’ve been on the hunt for looks that won’t cause as much tension, I’ve discovered that there are plenty of other options to chose from. Read on for five protective styles for natural hair, that are quick, cute, and super easy to maintain.



Opara considers a sew-in to be the “ultimate protective style because it allows you to take a break for months at a time.” While a sew-in weave will definitely save you some time, keep in mind that the style is lower maintenance, not zero-maintenance.

You’ll need to make sure that you’re clarifying and conditioning your natural hair while wearing this style to keep your scalp and strands healthy. Williams says that “maintaining hydration in the hair while wearing protective styles is the key to preventing breakage when removing the style.” A moisturizing product like the dr°k Daily Spray will help keep your curls in shape.


Clip-In Hair Extensions

Clip-ins are DIY-friendly and a fun way to wear your natural texture while protecting it. Whether you add a few or wear a full head of extensions, the style is incredibly versatile and will look effortless.

Pierre says to make sure you treat the clip-ins like your natural hair — wash and condition them, and use a silk pillowcase or silk headscarf while sleeping.


Crotchet Locs

“Crochet locs are a great protective style because there’s minimal pressure on the hair follicles when they’re installed,” Pierre says. They’re also a great way to achieve the look of braids without the tension on your scalp.

To maintain weekly, spray a water-based moisturizer on your roots and rub some oil on your scalp and cornrows.


Drawstring Ponytails

This style is one of my favorites because it’s ridiculously easy to install at home and there’s no tension involved. “The ponytail is easy to maintain,” Opara explains. “Just put it on and take off at night. You can use care products that you use on your own hair to take care of your ponytail, especially if it’s in your texture.”



Wigs have always (and will forever be) one of the G.O.A.T.s when it comes it protective hairstyling. Pierre points out that the best part is that “it really just doesn’t even matter what your hair looks like underneath because nobody’s going to see it at all. It’s also easy to get to your hair and maintain your roots because you are able to just take it off at night and do your thing.”