Protective Hairstyles Vs. Braiding Hair


If you’re looking for a stylish new way to protect your hair, you may be torn between two popular options: protective hairstyles and braiding hair. While both can offer benefits for your hair’s health and overall appearance, it’s important to understand the key differences between the two. In this article, we’ll explore the ins and outs of protective hairstyles and braiding hair, helping you make an informed decision that suits your individual needs. Whether you’re aiming to minimize damage, enhance growth, or simply switch up your look, we’ve got you covered.

Benefits of Protective Hairstyles

Reduced manipulation

Protective hairstyles are a great way to reduce manipulation of your hair. By braiding, twisting, or tucking your hair away, you minimize the need to constantly touch or style it, which can lead to breakage and damage. This reduced manipulation allows your hair to thrive and grow without the constant stress and strain of daily styling.

Less breakage and damage

One of the key benefits of protective hairstyles is their ability to minimize breakage and damage. When your hair is tucked away in a protective style, it is shielded from external factors like harsh weather conditions, friction from clothing and bedding, and constant brushing or combing. This helps to preserve the strength and integrity of your hair strands, leading to less breakage and damage overall.

Retains moisture

Moisture retention is another advantage of protective hairstyles. When your hair is braided or twisted, the cuticle layers are protected, reducing moisture loss. This means that the natural oils and moisture in your hair are retained for longer, keeping your strands hydrated and preventing dryness. This is especially beneficial for those with naturally dry or brittle hair.

Versatility and diversity

Protective hairstyles offer a wide range of versatility and diversity. Whether you prefer box braids, twists, or updos, there are countless options to choose from. This allows you to change up your look while still protecting your hair. Additionally, protective hairstyles can be styled in various ways, allowing you to express your personal style and creativity.

Length retention

Protective styles are known for their ability to promote length retention. By keeping your hair protected, you minimize the risk of breakage and split ends, allowing your hair to grow longer. The reduced manipulation and protection from external factors mean that your hair can flourish and reach its full potential in terms of length.

Pros of Braiding Hair

Low maintenance

One of the major advantages of braiding hair is its low maintenance nature. Once your hair is braided, you don’t have to worry about daily styling or manipulation. This can save you a significant amount of time and effort in your daily hair care routine. Simply moisturize and protect your braids regularly, and you’re good to go.

Promotes hair growth

Braiding hair can actually promote hair growth. The gentle tension applied to the hair during the braiding process can stimulate the hair follicles, promoting blood circulation and encouraging hair growth. Additionally, keeping your hair in a protective style like braids can protect it from environmental damage, allowing it to grow without interference.


Braiding hair offers a wide range of versatility. From different braid sizes to intricate braiding patterns, there are countless options to choose from. This allows you to experiment with different looks and styles, whether for a casual day out or a special occasion. The versatility of braiding hair ensures that you never have to settle for a boring or monotonous hairstyle.

Protection from elements

Braiding hair provides a protective barrier against the elements. Whether it’s sun, wind, or rain, your hair is shielded from potential damage and exposure. This is particularly beneficial for those with naturally delicate or fragile hair that is prone to breakage or dryness when exposed to harsh weather conditions.

Styling options

Another advantage of braiding hair is the multitude of styling options it offers. Once your hair is braided, you can style it in various ways, from wearing it down to creating intricate updos or ponytails. Braids also serve as a great foundation for adding accessories like beads or hair clips, allowing you to personalize your style and make a statement.

Protective Hairstyles Vs. Braiding Hair

Side Effects of Protective Hairstyles

Tension and traction alopecia

One of the potential side effects of protective hairstyles, particularly braids, is tension and traction alopecia. This occurs when the hair is pulled too tightly during the braiding process, leading to hair loss and damage. It is important to ensure that your hair is not being braided too tightly to avoid this side effect.

Scalp issues

Some individuals may experience scalp issues as a result of protective hairstyles. These can include dryness, itchiness, or flakiness. It is important to keep your scalp moisturized and hydrated while wearing a protective style, as neglecting proper care can lead to scalp issues. Using lightweight oils or natural moisturizers can help alleviate any discomfort.

Weight and stress on hair strands

Protective hairstyles, especially those involving extensions or added hair, can add weight and stress to your natural hair strands. The added weight can potentially cause tension and breakage, so it is crucial to ensure that your hair is not being overloaded with excessive extensions. Choosing a suitable size and weight of braids is essential to prevent damage and strain on your hair strands.

Allergic reactions

In some cases, individuals may experience allergic reactions to the products used in braiding hair, such as synthetic fibers or hair extension glues. This can manifest as itching, redness, or swelling. It is important to be aware of any potential allergies and choose hair products and extensions that are hypoallergenic or made from natural materials, to minimize the risk of an allergic reaction.

Lack of accessibility for different hair types

While protective hairstyles can be beneficial for many hair types, it is important to acknowledge that they may not be equally accessible or suitable for everyone. Some hair types, such as very short or fine hair, may not be able to sustain certain protective styles. Additionally, individuals with unique hair conditions or health concerns may need to consult a professional stylist for personalized recommendations.

Cons of Braiding Hair

Possibility of hair breakage

Although braiding hair can promote hair growth, there is also a possibility of hair breakage. If the hair is not properly moisturized and cared for while in braids, it can become dry and brittle, leading to breakage. It is essential to maintain a proper hair care routine and avoid keeping braids in for extended periods of time to prevent breakage.

Scalp irritation and inflammation

Braiding hair tightly or using certain hair extension techniques can lead to scalp irritation and inflammation. This can result in discomfort, itching, and even hair loss. It is crucial to communicate with your stylist about your desired level of tension and ensure that your scalp is not being overly aggravated during the braiding process.

Tangling and matting of hair

Braided hair is more prone to tangling and matting, especially if it is not properly maintained. When the hair is left in braids for an extended period of time without proper care, it can become tangled and difficult to detangle. This can lead to breakage and damage when trying to remove the braids. Regular maintenance and proper detangling techniques are important to prevent tangling and matting.

Long-term dependency on braids

Braiding hair regularly can create a dependency on this protective style. Some individuals may find it difficult to transition away from braids and experiment with other hairstyles. It is important to allow your hair to have periods of rest and try different styling options to ensure overall hair health and prevent reliance solely on braids.

Damage from improper removal

Improper removal of braids can cause significant damage to the hair. If the braids are forcefully removed or not properly detangled, it can lead to breakage and even hair loss. It is crucial to take your time and use a gentle approach when removing braids, ensuring that the hair is properly detangled and conditioned afterwards.

Protective Hairstyles Vs. Braiding Hair

Suitability for Different Hair Types

Natural hair

Protective hairstyles and braiding hair are highly suitable for natural hair. The added protection and reduced manipulation allow the hair to grow and flourish. Natural hair textures, from coily to kinky, can benefit from the moisture retention and length retention properties of protective styles.

Relaxed hair

While relaxed hair can also benefit from protective hairstyles, it is important to exercise caution, as the hair is more prone to breakage and damage. Gentle handling and regular moisturizing are essential to keep relaxed hair healthy and protected while in braids.

Curly and coily hair

Curly and coily hair types can greatly benefit from protective hairstyles and braids. These hair textures are more prone to dryness and breakage, so keeping the hair tucked away in a protective style helps to retain moisture and reduce manipulation.

Fine and thin hair

Fine and thin hair may face some challenges with certain braided styles, as the weight of the braids can cause strain and breakage. However, there are still protective styles that can work well for fine and thin hair, such as smaller braids or twists that distribute the weight more evenly.

Damaged and transitioning hair

Both damaged and transitioning hair can benefit from protective hairstyles. By keeping the hair protected and minimizing manipulation, you give the hair a chance to recover and grow without further damage. Braiding can also help with the transition from relaxed to natural hair, allowing for better manageability and protection during the transitional phase.

Choosing the Right Style for Your Hair

Consulting a professional stylist

When choosing a protective style or braided hairstyle, it is always a good idea to consult a professional stylist. They can assess your hair type, texture, and condition, and provide expert advice on which styles are most suitable for you. A stylist will also be able to guide you on proper installation and maintenance techniques to ensure the health and longevity of your chosen style.

Assessing hair texture and health

Before deciding on a specific protective style or braided hairstyle, it is important to assess your own hair texture and health. Consider factors such as the length, thickness, and porosity of your hair, as well as any ongoing hair concerns or damage. This will help you determine which styles are most compatible with your hair’s unique needs.

Considering lifestyle and maintenance

Your lifestyle and level of maintenance should also influence your choice of protective style or braided hairstyle. If you have a busy schedule or limited time for hair care, opt for low-maintenance styles that require minimal daily attention. On the other hand, if you enjoy experimenting with different hairstyles and have the time for regular upkeep, you can explore more intricate or high-maintenance options.

Exploring personal preferences

Your personal preferences and style should be taken into account when choosing a protective style or braided hairstyle. Consider factors such as the length, color, and thickness of the braids, as well as the overall look and feel you want to achieve. Choose a style that makes you feel confident and comfortable, and reflects your personal sense of style.

Trying temporary protective styles before braiding

If you are unsure about committing to a long-term protective style like braids, consider trying temporary protective styles first. This can include twists, buns, or updos that provide some level of protection without the long-term commitment. Experimenting with temporary styles allows you to get a sense of how your hair reacts to being protected and assess if braids are the right choice for you.

Protective Hairstyles Vs. Braiding Hair

Maintaining and Caring for Protective Styles

Moisturizing and sealing

Moisture is key when it comes to maintaining and caring for protective styles. Use a water-based moisturizer or leave-in conditioner to keep your hair hydrated and prevent dryness. Follow up with a light oil or sealing product to seal in the moisture and minimize moisture loss.

Protecting the edges

The edges, or the hairline, are particularly delicate and prone to breakage. To protect the edges while wearing a protective style, avoid excessive tension or pulling on the hairline. You can also apply a light edge control product or use a silk or satin scarf or bonnet to protect the edges while sleeping.

Cleaning the scalp and hair

Keeping the scalp clean is crucial for maintaining the health and longevity of your protective style. Use a diluted shampoo or a gentle scalp cleanser to cleanse the scalp, being careful not to disturb the braids or twists. Follow up with a lightweight conditioner, focusing on the mid-lengths to ends of the hair.

Handling and styling the hair

When handling or styling your hair in a protective style, be gentle and avoid excessive pulling or tugging. Use your fingers or a wide-toothed comb to detangle the hair, starting from the ends and working your way up. Avoid using small hair ties or accessories that can cause breakage or damage to the hair.

Avoiding excessive tension

Excessive tension can lead to hair breakage and traction alopecia. When installing or adjusting your protective style, make sure to avoid pulling the hair too tightly. If you feel discomfort or tightness, communicate with your stylist and ask for adjustments to be made. It is important to prioritize the health and comfort of your hair and scalp.

Preparation and Aftercare for Braids

Preparing the hair for braiding

Before braiding, it is important to prepare your hair to ensure the best results. Start by washing and conditioning your hair to remove any product buildup or dirt. Detangle your hair thoroughly, as knots or tangles can make the braiding process more difficult and potentially lead to breakage. Ensure that your hair is completely dry before braiding, as braiding wet or damp hair can promote mildew or fungal growth.

Choosing the right hair extensions

If you decide to use hair extensions for your braids, it is crucial to choose the right type and quality of hair. Opt for extensions that closely match your natural hair texture and are made from high-quality materials. Synthetic hair can be a more budget-friendly option, but human hair extensions tend to provide a more natural look and feel.

Protecting edges and scalp

Before braiding, apply a lightweight oil or moisturizer to your scalp and hairline to protect these areas from tension and potential dryness. This will help minimize any potential scalp irritation or inflammation. Consider using a scalp protectant product, such as aloe vera gel or castor oil, to further protect your scalp and promote healthy hair growth.

Cleansing the scalp and braids

It is important to cleanse your scalp and braids regularly to maintain hygiene and prevent product buildup. Dilute a clarifying shampoo with water and use a nozzle applicator to gently cleanse your scalp, being careful not to disturb the braids too much. Rinse thoroughly and follow up with a lightweight conditioner or leave-in spray to keep your hair moisturized.

Keeping braids moisturized

To prevent dryness and breakage, it is essential to keep your braids moisturized throughout their lifespan. Use a water-based leave-in conditioner or moisturizing spray to hydrate your hair, focusing on the mid-lengths to ends. Apply a lightweight oil or hair butter to seal in the moisture and increase shine. It is important to strike a balance between moisturizing your braids and avoiding product buildup, so use products sparingly.

Protective Hairstyles Vs. Braiding Hair

Popular Protective Hairstyles

Box braids

Box braids are a classic protective style that involves sectioning hair into small, square-shaped sections and braiding extensions into each section. They can be styled in various lengths and sizes, making them versatile and suitable for different hair types and textures.


Cornrows are a traditional braiding style that involves braiding the hair close to the scalp in rows. They can be created in different patterns and designs, and can be worn as is or used as a base for other styles like buns or ponytails.


Twists, also known as two-strand twists or Senegalese twists, involve twisting two sections of hair around each other to create a rope-like effect. They can be done with or without extensions and offer a wide range of styling possibilities.

Bantu knots

Bantu knots are a versatile protective style that involves sectioning the hair and twisting it into small knots. This style can be worn as is or unraveled to create a beautiful curl pattern. Bantu knots are suitable for various hair types and can be done with or without extensions.

Goddess braids

Goddess braids are large, thick braids that are usually cornrowed close to the scalp. They can be styled in various patterns and designs, and are often adorned with accessories or beads for a unique and intricate look.

Different Types of Braids

Box braids

Box braids are rectangular-shaped braids that are created by sectioning the hair into neat and even sections. This style is characterized by its versatility and the ability to be customized in terms of length, thickness, and the use of extensions.

Senegalese twists

Senegalese twists are created by twisting two sections of hair together, similar to regular twists. These twists are usually done with extensions for added length and thickness. This style is known for its elegance and long-lasting hold.

Ghana braids

Ghana braids, also known as feed-in braids, involve adding extensions to the natural hair while braiding to create a seamless and natural look. These braids are characterized by their neat and intricate patterns, and can be styled in various ways.

Fulani braids

Fulani braids, inspired by the Fulani people of West Africa, are a style that incorporates cornrows or braids with added accessories such as beads or cowrie shells. These braids can be done in various patterns and are often accompanied by a signature twisted or braided parting.

Micro braids

Micro braids are extremely small and thin braids that are typically done with extensions. This style requires a lot of time and patience to create, but the end result is a beautiful and intricate look. Micro braids are known for their versatility and ability to be styled in countless ways.

In conclusion, both protective hairstyles and braiding hair offer a range of benefits and styling options. From reduced manipulation and breakage to versatile and diverse looks, these styles can help you achieve your hair goals while keeping your strands protected. However, it is important to be aware of potential side effects and choose styles that are suitable for your hair type and condition. By consulting a professional stylist, assessing your hair’s needs, and properly maintaining and caring for your chosen style, you can enjoy the benefits of protective hairstyles and braids while promoting healthy and beautiful hair.

Protective Hairstyles Vs. Braiding Hair

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