In what way are braids and other afro hairstyles “protective”?

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I’m curious as to why afro type hairstyles like braids are described as protective. These hairstyles seem to risk pulling out a lot of hair around the hairline over time. They also leave more of the scalp exposed to the sun. What are they protecting against, exactly?

Edit: thanks for the explanations, everyone! I always wondered how those with coiled hair could be bothered to sit for hours getting braids or cornrows done, but I guess if the management of the hair daily takes so long too, then it makes sense! 😄

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8 Answers

Anonymous 0 Comments

One thing I learned only in the last few years is that textured hair is more fragile than straight hair. (The rounder the shaft the straighter the hair; the flatter the shaft the kinkier the hair. Rounder is generally stronger.)

Rather than brush and detangle hair every day, brush, detangle, and braid every few weeks, and you get a lot less breakage.

Anonymous 0 Comments

It’s a hair style designed to minimize movement or exposure to the elements to protect the hair. From wikipedia –

>Common types of protective hairstyles include [braids](, [wigs](, [locks](, and [twists]( These styles are not only functional in protecting the hair from weather-related damage but also aid in retaining hair length and promoting growth. The adoption of protective hairstyles can lead to a reduction in hair tangles and knots. Additionally, these styles can offer respite to the hair from constant styling, pulling, and combing, thus contributing to overall hair health.

Protective hair styles are also very often culturally significant with histories going back thousands of years. They can be a form of expression, with intricate patterns that have their own symbology. There is a whole lot of history surrounding protective hair styles, as well as utility and convenience for the wearer.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Speaking as a white person with wavy hair:

I always braid my hair (a normal braid) before going to bed. This makes me wake up tangle-free and that is veeerrry helpful in making sure my hair doesnt break away if i brush it

Anonymous 0 Comments

As someone else said, it’s to minimize movement. With super curly or kinky hair (think Afro), it’s VERY easy for the hair to tangle or knot. Everything is a chance for your hair to not. Sleeping on it, walking around, leaning on something, resting your head on the headrest in the car. Tangles. 

Think about how wired headphones will tangle when they just sit in your backpack. It’s like that, but the wires are curly instead of straight. 

So you have Option A: detangle your hair regularly. This is extremely time consuming depending on how much hair you have, and risks breaking your hair. The knots are strong but kinky hair is often physically fragile and will break if you just rip a comb through it. Or Option B:  you don’t detangle regularly, which just kicks the can further and makes more work for you later when your hair is fuckin matted together. 

Severity and intensity of all the above is going to vary based on exactly what hair type we’re talking about, but that’s the gist. 

Protective styles are designed avoid all that. Lock your hair down physically so it’s not moving around and getting tangled to shit. That’s cornrows, twists, braids, etc. Dreadlocks too, though slightly different idea there. 

OP is correct about pulling at your hairline though. If you get your hair braided/twisted too tight at the hairline or at the root you can definitely get hair loss. It’s a thin line to walk, and it’s why we’re careful about who we let touch our hair. Where I live it’s a stereotype not to let the Africans braid your hair because they’ll braid you into baldness

Anonymous 0 Comments

Super curly hair breaks off more easily where it kinks compared to straight hair. And even when it doesn’t break it can get easily knotted and matted together. I keep my hair short now, but when I was young, I had a big blown out afro and when I didn’t bother taking care of it I would often find individual hairs tied in literal knots. When I picked it out those knots would also break, tearing out one hair and often splitting the other.

Anonymous 0 Comments

For a frame of reference, since a lot of people have chimed in with their experiences having curly hair – how easily it knots up and mats if you don’t constantly detangle/comb it, and how easily it can start breaking from that abuse. How long they take to brush and comb it to become tangle-free….

I have straight, thick hair. While my hair is currently chin-length, I’ve had it long enough to hang at my mid-back.

Despite that length, I *did not brush my hair*. I just never needed to. My hair doesn’t ‘knot up’ or ‘mat up’ or ‘tangle’ unless I actually stick my head out a car window on the highway, and even then it’ll be fine after a few seconds of finger-combing.

Yes, even when sleeping with my hair loose, on a cotton flannel pillowcase. I can shake my hair out, fingercomb for a couple seconds in the morning, and it’ll be totally tangle-free.

Yes, even in the shower. Under running water, my hair untangles itself automatically even after scrubbing loops into it while shampooing my scalp.

The only bad ‘tangles’ I can remember were because I voluntarily put in a hair style that involved back-combing on purpose to create volume, and then hair-spraying it in place.

Protective hair styles helps keep their hair in place, and avoids the damage that comes with constant detangling.

**I don’t need extra protection for my hair, because I don’t damage it by brushing/combing and detangling it all the time.**

The downside to my hair is that it really is *incredibly dense*. Like a fuckin’ Chinchilla, or a Pyrenees. I keep half my head shaved these days, because otherwise I’d go to sleep with hair damp from the shower and wake up with it *still damp from the shower*. I could shower in the morning before school, and come home with my hair still damp at the roots. It was absurd.

I know it doesn’t tangle badly when sticking my head out the window on the highway because I *regularly did that* to try and get it all dry.

Anonymous 0 Comments


Anonymous 0 Comments

Basically preventing involuntary dreadlocks. Extremely curly hair becomes dreadlocks naturally and is extremely difficult to undo. That’s why it’s so common for extremely tight curled women to have very short hair and wear wigs too.