8 Protective Hairstyles to Try This Winter (And the One to Avoid)

Winter can do a number on natural hair, leaving it dull, dry and brittle. Which is why many women turn to protective hairstyles in the colder months—styles that reduce tension on the hairline, protect the ends and require minimal manipulation.

Curl expert and salon-owner, Daryce Tolliver, explains that naturally curly hair typically requires more frequent rehydration than straight hair since its spiral form can make it harder for the scalp’s natural oils to reach the entire strand. And during the winter, the lack of humidity in the air can cause even more dehydration. Combine that with the friction caused by cold-weather accessories like beanies and scarves, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for hair breakage and split ends.

But in order to determine the best protective style for you, it’s important to evaluate the state and health of your hair. Tolliver recommends taking note of your hair density, porosity and the amount of time your hair can stay hydrated between wash days. In particular, ask yourself these three questions before landing on your next protective style:

1. How full is my hairline?

Look at the first inch of your edges and determine whether the hair there could benefit from a style that requires less weight, pulling and product.

2. How long am I planning to keep the style in?

Daryce explains that keeping in a hairstyle for more than four weeks is counterproductive because the longer the time between wash days, the longer your hair is being deprived of much needed moisture.

3. What am I looking to achieve from my hairstyle?

Whether you want to retain length, save time, or just need a break from your hair routine, determining your intended outcome plays a major role in selecting the right style.

To get you started, here are the best protective styles Tolliver recommends to try this winter—plus, the one style you should definitely avoid.

We Asked a Derm What Is Porosity, and What Does It Mean for Your Hair?

protective styles cornrows
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1. Straight Back Cornrows

Straight back braids are making a comeback, with looks just as sophisticated as they are casual. This is a stylist-favorite because it requires very low tension on the hair and there is no tangling since the braid is attached to the scalp.

protective styles bun with added hair
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2. Buns With Added Hair 

Perhaps one of the most versatile styles, buns are a great low tension, minimal manipulation option. Just make sure it’s not too tight, and be sure to reduce tension on those edges by loosening the grip of that hairband.

protective styles bantu knots
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3. Bantu Knots 

If your goal is to retain length and protect your ends, then you might want to try out bantu knots.

protective styles box braids
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4. Box Braids 

Whether you have a hectic schedule or just don’t want to ruin your blowout during your weekly HIIT class, braids are a great option for women on the go. Be wary of styles that are super tight around the edges, since that kind of tension can lead to breakage and possibly traction alopecia.

protective styles sew in weaves
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5. Sew-in Weaves

For a low maintenance hairstyle, look to sew-in weaves. However, to keep this hairstyle from causing more harm than good, make sure to remove it after a maximum of four weeks.

protective styles wigs
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6. Wigs

Arguably the trendiest of protective styles right now, wigs are great for quick styling while maintaining accessibility to your scalp. They’re especially good for weather protection while also eliminating any friction that might result from cold-weather accessories.

An important thing to keep in mind is the quality of your wig’s lace cap, as some units can be made of rough lace that may result in hair breakage. That being said, make sure to wear a wig cap over your natural hair and you should be good to go.

protective styles dreadlocks
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7. Dreadlocks 

While this style can be perceived as a militant option for some women, Tolliver explains that dreadlocks are actually a healthy method for length retention. Since the hair strands are literally matting up, they require more maintenance than many other styles, but if you’re willing to commit to the loc life, this might be a great option for you.

protective styles twists
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8. Twists

For naturals who choose to wear their hair out, but seek to prevent dry strands and split ends, twists are a classic choice. Style your twists as-is or unravel each one the next morning for an easy two-in-one hairstyle.

protective styles faux locs
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Avoid: Faux Locs Aka Goddess Locs

I hate to break it to you, but if the one style Tolliver deemed a no-no is faux locs. See, the faux dreadlock look is created by wrapping synthetic braiding around your natural hair. That means that the synthetic fibers making up the braiding hair are literally suffocating your natural hair, while also stripping it of its moisture. Sure, they’re cute, but the bottom line is, the potential damage may not be worth it.

Okay, so I’ve taken out my what?

As mentioned before, Daryce explains that a protective style shouldn’t be left in for more than four weeks at a time. So after your month is up, make sure to comb out your style with a detangling brush to get rid of all the shed hair.

Next, you’ll want to wash it thoroughly with a clarifying or hydrating shampoo to get rid of any build-up.

Finally, follow up with a deep-conditioning treatment to ensure your hair is regaining any lost moisture and ta-da! Your hair is revitalized.

The natural haircare journey is as rewarding as it is challenging. But as you can see, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to protective styles. While everyone’s individual hair needs are unique to them, there is one thing in common among all naturals—our curls require love, care, and patience.

Oh...and a regular trim.