This is Texture Talk, a weekly column that deep dives into the dynamic world of curly hair.
Through all the twist-outs, wash-and-gos and high puffs in my six years of being natural, protective styles that use synthetic or human hair extensions reign supreme as my favourite way to style my afro-textured hair and help it thrive.
From cold winter air to wet summer humidity, protective styles tuck your own hair away from the elements, encouraging growth and moisture retention. They also prevent product overload and keep your hands out of your hair which helps avoid breakage, says Zaynab Logun, a stylist in Edmonton who is known for her protective styles that incorporate extensions. Installing may be time-consuming at the get-go, but adding in hair is key to making protective styles long-lasting and low-maintenance, which will make your morning routine a breeze. “With extensions, a hairstyle can last up to six to eight weeks,” says Glenna Sandy, a Toronto-based stylist who has been styling natural hair for over 15 years.
But here’s the thing: Sandy says people can make the mistake of turning to these styles when their hair is too fragile to support the added hair, so to avoid damage, make sure your hair is well-moisturized and fairly healthy before trying them out. Logun and Sandy recommend prepping your hair by washing and deep conditioning and using a light leave-in conditioner. Next, it’s important to choose a style compatible with your hair texture and density (the number of individual strands per square inch on your head). If your hair is fine and low density, you risk breakage with a heavy style. And when done the right way, protective styles shouldn’t hurt you or your head, so avoid styles that are too tight, which can cause headaches and traction alopecia.
With this in mind, we’ve rounded up four popular added-hair protective styles to consider for your next in-salon appointment and the key need-to-knows for each.
Box braids are three strand braids that get their name from the square parting that is often used when doing the style, but they can refer to any parting shape. Classic box braids involve parting a section of hair, wrapping extension hair around it and braiding the extension hair with your own. A variation of this style are knotless braids, where the braid starts with your own hair and extension hair is then fed in as you braid. This particular style is low-tension, lightweight and currently Logun’s best selling hairstyle. For both styles, a smooth synthetic hair like kanekalon is used.
Chair time: This style typically takes three to six hours to install depending on the size and length.
Life span: Box braids last six to eight weeks with proper care.
At-home maintenance: Sandy recommends spritzing your scalp with rose water daily to hydrate and clear buildup, and oiling your scalp once a week to keep it moisturized. Both hair experts like castor oil. If you wash your braids, use a clarifying shampoo but skip conditioner, as it’s hard to rinse out and it can cause buildup. Tying your hair up and covering it with a silk or satin scarf or a bonnet while you sleep will keep your braids fresh.
Senegalese twists are a two-strand braiding technique that takes extension hair and twists it together with your natural hair from the root. Traditionally kanekalon extensions are used for a silkier finish but the same technique can be done using kinkier textures of synthetic hair, often called marley hair. A variation of this style are passion twists which are done with curly synthetic hair, creating a textured look. Passion twists can be installed by crocheting; taking pre-twisted hair and using a crochet tool to loop and tie the twist into single braided or cornrowed hair. Crochet styles provide low-tension and lightweight alternatives to traditional twists.
Chair time: Generally two to six hours.
Life span: Senegalese twists lasts six to eight weeks but passion twists typically last only three weeks because of the hair texture.
At-home maintenance: Unlike braids, your hair is less secure and washing it will cause your hair to stick out from the style, so stick to oiling your scalp and spraying rose water to keep buildup at bay.
Meant to imitate natural locs, faux locs are created by wrapping hair, often marley, around braided sections until the entire braid is hidden. Faux locs are a higher-tension style, so if you have fine hair, crochet locs are a good alternative. These employ the same technique as crochet twists and take less time to install.
Chair time: Faux locs can take five to 10 hours depending on the length and hair used. For crochet locs, it takes about two to four hours.
Life span: This style can last up to two and a half months, but beware of keeping it in too long as the take-down process becomes harder.
At-home maintenance: Faux locs can’t be washed so stick to the same scalp cleaning and moisturizing methods, like rose water and castor oil. If you have issues with buildup, Logun suggests using a face towel to scrub your scalp with shampoo and then using a wet towel to clean residue.
Fulani braids are named after the traditional cornrow styles of the Fulani people, who live mainly in West Africa. Using kanekalon hair, this braiding technique incorporates smaller cornrow patterns divided in the centre, as well as cornrows braided towards the front at the sides of your head. Sandy notes that language is fluid and stylists define Fulani braids differently, so make sure to find an inspirational photo of the style you want.
Chair time: Three to five hours.
Life span: You’re looking at about three weeks before your cornrows begin to frizz.
At-home maintenance: Any water will contribute to aging the style faster, so skip the rose water spray for this style and just oil your scalp. The cornrows allow your scalp to breathe and be easily moisturized. As always, cover your hair when you sleep to help prolong the style.