5 Ways to Prep Your Hair for a Protective Style

Protective Style

Are you getting ready to switch up your style? Whether you're looking forward to summer and kicking off the season with fresh protective hairstyles, or simply eager to give your natural hair a break while your lovely locks grow out -- prepping your curls will make the transition easier when the time to debut your new style arrives!

Protective hairstyles are ideal for those looking to grow and stretch their natural hair while enjoying the versatility of a new look every few months. They are popular for active lifestyles, seasonal hair transitions (think dry winter air and summer heat!), and special occasions. Some of the most popular protective hairstyles include:

  • Braids
  • Locs
  • Cornrows
  • Twists
  • Updo's
  • Knots

Of course, there are endless variations to each style, from fashion colors to delicate beads and braids or twists! No matter the look you choose, prepping your hair for a protective style has some universal ground rules. These tips and tricks will help you get the most life out of your protective hairstyles, dazzle with vibrant locks, and keep your curls healthy, strong, and radiant.

happy and beautiful black African American woman smiling happy taking a shower at home bathroom washing her hair with shampoo

1.) Clarify for a Clean Slate

Fresh hair starts with a clean slate. Say goodbye to leftover hair color, product residue, flaking, and excess oil. The most important step prior to getting a protective style is clarifying your scalp and curls. 

Before you decide on your new look, choose a high-quality, clarifying shampoo that works for your natural locks. Many clarifying shampoos include:

  • Ammonium lauryl sulfate.
  • Ammonium laureth sulfate.
  • Sodium lauryl sulfate.
  • Sodium stearate.
  • Alpha-olefin sulfonate.

You may be thinking "Sulfates? But aren't sulfates on the bad hair ingredients list?" That depends on your hair goals! The reason sulfates often get a bad rap is that these ingredients are naturally drying. However, the goal of a clarifying routine is to reduce oil, dirt, and remove any leftover buildup on the hair and scalp from styling products. With that goal in mind, prioritizing ingredients that are cleansing, if a bit on the drying side, is beneficial to your hair. Remember - clarifying shampoos are not meant to be used for every wash! 

Many swear by DIY clarifying routines as well, with apple cider vinegar and wet baking soda being at the top of some DIY clarifying "shampoo" recipe lists. Add a spritz of essential oils afterwards to give your hair and scalp that fresh smell and beautiful glow.

Beautiful woman observing her hair in mirror after bath, standing in front of mirror

2.) Balance With Deep Conditioner

Life is all about balance. When it comes to preparing your hair for protective hairstyles, the process is a bit of a rinse, wash repeat cycle. 

Once you've set a good clarifying routine in place, it's time to follow that up with a nourishing deep conditioner to restore moisture to your curls. When it comes to the best deep conditioning products for natural hair, the ingredients you'll want to look for include vitamin-dense emollients like coconut oil, jojoba oil, and rapeseed. You can also look for strengthening compounds such as hydrolyzed keratin and hydrolyzed oat protein. This will keep your natural hair from thinning or breaking, especially if you plan to rock a heavier protective style such as long braids or locs.

Cover your hair with a plastic cap and let the deep conditioning treatment sit for 20-30 minutes. Rinse with cool water and comb gently with a wide-toothed comb while wet. 

Your clarifying and conditioning routine may vary depending on hair type. It's a good rule of thumb to use clarifying shampoo once or twice a month with a deep conditioning treatment 3-4 times per month. If your curls are tighter and tend to be drier, you can clarify less often and work in a simple scalp scrub instead.

Black Female Applying Serum Caring For Hair In Bathroom stock photo

3.) Seal the Deal

Conditioning alone doesn't always lock in hydration. In order to ensure your natural hair is moisturized and thriving, it's important to seal the ends. The right sealant will depend on your hair's unique porosity type. Determining your hair's porosity will help guide your style journey as you prepare for your faux locs.

For example, low porosity -- or hair that has trouble absorbing moisture and is characterized by a closely-knit cuticle -- is best sealed with oils such as coconut and jojoba. You can also use heavier butter with this type of hair without risking greasy locks/ This type of hair is water-resistant, so a heavier product will lift the cuticles and allow your hair to soak up more hydration. A pre-poo treatment can help prep low porosity hair prior to adding sealant. You'll want to pair your sealant with a conditioner that offers a lot of "slip" so you can gently work through any tangles during your pre-poo treatment. 

For high porosity hair, lightweight oil is best for maintaining optimal moisture. Rice oil is a great option for this hair type as well as a simple spritz of aloe and olive oil. Because high porosity hair absorbs water, oil, and butter well, dryness is less of an issue than oily residue. You may need to work on an extra clarifying routine for this hair type to ensure excess sebum is removed prior to putting your curls into protective hairstyles.

Hydration is the best way to maintain hair growth with protective hairstyles and keep your natural curls strong and resilient. For extra dry hair, consider wrapping your hair during the sealant treatment. You can leave this treatment on overnight and wake up to amazing, bouncy curls. The results will create less work for your stylist when it comes to protective hairstyles and less hassle for you to comb through during your daily routine.

Woman stretching curly hair for hairstyle

4.) Stretch It Out

Prepping your natural curls for protective hairstyles is a great time to stretch your lovely locks, especially if growing long natural hairis one of your goals. Stretching the hair also reduces breakage when prepping for protective hairstyles. The goal is to gain more length as well as maintain healthier locks.

Looking for the best healthy hair stretching tools? RevAir's reverse air technology is a fantastic styling tool for prepping natural hair for a protective style. Not only does RevAir dry your curls in half the time of a traditional hairdryer, but it's also designed with textured hair in mind. The low-heat technology allows you to stretch and style your hair while minimizing breakage, and it's a great option for those who may not be able to carve out time for African Threading or other popular stretching techniques.

Flat twists, flexi rods, and cornrows can also stretch your locks the night before installing a protective style to your hair that is strong, flexible, and ready to rock a new look. 

If you remember to stretch your hair out prior to getting a protective style, the overall process will be far smoother and your stylist will thank you for coming to your appointment prepared!

woman-with-cornrow-braids-protective-hairstyles- standing-outdoors-on-the-waterfront

5.) Hair on Holiday

Going on vacation? Protective hairstyles are the perfect travel companion!

Many natural hair beauties opt for a protective style for the low maintenance appeal. Protective hairstyles are ideal for beach getaways because you can swim, float, and sunbathe without worrying about damaging your curls. If you're an active traveler, there's no need to carve out time in your itinerary to tame your locks. Simply browse the hottest, trending protective hairstyles for vacation before you leave for the airport. The best protective hairstyles of 2022 include plenty of travel-friendly, Instagrammable options such as cornrow buns, crochet curls, chunky twists, and Havana twists. Add jewelry, colored strands, glitter, or seashells to highlight your amazing style.

The idea of having fresh hair in time for a bag check is tempting. However, we recommend booking your salon appointment at least a week prior. This will give your hair time to settle and adjust to the new look. Any lingering scalp inflammation will have died down and your protective style will still look just as fresh when you hop on that plane.

Prepping for protective hairstyles is a fun and exciting part of the natural hair routine. However, the stress of figuring out the best way to care for your curls before the big transition can sometimes make you want to tear your hair out!

Be sure to go into your next style makeover with a plan. RevAir is bringing our curly hair expertise to the salon chair with these 5 tips for prepping your natural hair for a protective style. Do you have a go-to prep rule that's not on our list? Share your own tips with our community or reach out to the RevAir team