12 Fresh Protective Styles for Natural Hair

12 Fresh Protective Styles for Natural Hair

black female flicking hairMike Harrington//Getty Images

Natural hair is known for its versatility, resilience, and beauty. But wearing your natural hair is also associated with hard work, trial and error, diligence, and dealing with tresses that at times quite literally seem to have a life of their own. While often gratifying, trying out new ways to do our hair can sometimes be time-consuming or stressful. Like many naturals, we love our hair and take pride in the coils, curls, and waves, but sometimes we need a small break from daily styling.

Here comes the protective style! From braided ponytails and two-strand twists to box braids, quick weaves, wigs, and sew-ins; protective styles are that girl for the girls who need a week (or four) off from doing their hair. These styles not only give us a new look but, if taken care of properly, aid in length retention, hair growth, and sometimes last just long enough for us to miss our "regular hair." As we end Black History Month and head further into the new year, wearing a new style or two might be just the thing to keep us feeling refreshed. Whether you’d like to hit up YouTube and try them out yourself or go to a professional, treating yourself with a new look will always scream Black girl magic. To help get you started, we have compiled a list of protective styles that are a must-try this year.


The Braided Ponytail

"bones and all" red carpet 79th venice international film festivalAndreas Rentz//Getty Images

Do you have an event coming up? Style commitment issues, but would love a week or weekend without having to do your hair? If you answered yes to either question, then the braided ponytail is perfect for you. Trading an hour and a half or less of styling time for two to five days of a classy sleek look is a win-win. Whether you add colored extensions, like a high or low pony, or spice it up with a middle or side part, this style is both versatile and easy to do. From the red carpet (like Tessa Thompson, pictured here at the Venice International Film Festival in 2022) to a friend’s birthday dinner, a braided ponytail is always a good idea. Lengthen wear time by twisting it into a bun or turning it into a wavy ponytail!


Bohemian Box Braids

zoe kravitz saint laurent box braids hair styleC Flanigan//Getty Images

Bohemian (micro) box braids are a go-to style, and Zoë Kravitz is one celebrity who really has taken them and made them her own. Bohemian braids have come to encapsulate Zoë’s personal aesthetic. Instead of the hair being braided throughout each lock, only the first inches (6-8 or so) are braided, leaving the ends loose, wavy, and wonderfully whimsical.


Faux Locs

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There are at least three different types of faux locs floating around the internet, and we encourage you to try them all (or at least one type) this year! Whether it’s the traditional style as pictured here on Logan Browning, butterfly locs, or the new distressed style going around, faux locs are one of the coolest styles out there. Try a newer version of the style by getting them collarbone length for a cute low-maintenance look.

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Small Box Braids

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Box braids are a staple hairstyle for the stylish natural (if you’re willing to sit for them). They’re beautiful, versatile, and long-lasting (about four to eight weeks). Tessa Thompson wore the look on the UK gala screening of Thor: Love and Thunder in 2022. While the style can take up to eight hours, the benefits might just be worth it. From buns and half-up, half-down styles to simply wearing it down, small box braids are beautiful and dressy with half the effort. Upkeep includes washing your scalp regularly, oiling your scalp when needed, and using mousse to refresh the style. Try this look on vacation for maximum good, low-maintenance vibes.


Medium Box Braids

2020 sundance film festival "sylvie's love" premiereGeorge Pimentel//Getty Images

Want the braided look with half of the time? Medium box braids might be for you (shou- out to Tessa Thompson, pictured here at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival for the great hair inspo). Lasting just as long as the smaller counterparts, medium box braids are for the not-so-patient natural and are usually cheaper to get! If you’re newer to the long-term braid game, you might look at getting this medium-size style as a soft launch into protective styling. With an estimated styling time of three and half to four and a half hours, try this new trend: Leave more of the bottom of the braid undone, and curl the ends and or cornrow the very beginning of the braids starting from a middle part to add a little pizzazz! Try these styles to fall in love with braided extensions.



street style paris fashion week womenswear springsummer 2023 day sixJeremy Moeller//Getty Images

Cornrows are a look that will never go out of style. Whether you braid your own hair similar to the pictured model or add extra hair for a little flair, this simple but beautiful style goes with almost anything. One can either do "straight backs" or have the braids done to curve at an angle. If you’re a fan of twist or braid-outs, you can wear cornrows throughout the week and take it down for a well defined braid-out during the weekend.

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Tribal Braids

celebrities visit build july 9, 2018Rob Kim//Getty Images

Tribal braids scream summertime fine. Whether you’re visiting the islands or simply ready to try a new look, this might just be the style for you. The top layer is cornrowed with a bottom layer of box braids, so this style is both feminine and versatile. Serayah Ranee McNeill owned the style at Build Studio back in 2018. Add some spice by incorporating varying designs on the sides or colored highlights similar to the reference picture.


Feed-in Braids with Curly Hair

celebrities visit siriusxm february 8, 2023Jason Mendez//Getty Images

This semi-new hairstyle has taken over the internet ever since Tyla’s appearance at SiriusXM Studios in 2023. The Black hair version of business in the front, party in the back, this style is all kinds of feminine fun. Lasting two to four weeks, this hairstyle is perfect for the natural going on vacation, attending events, or simply looking for a new braided style to try.


Goddess Braids

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We love goddess braids over here! And no one does them quite as well as Ariel Thompson. If you’ve ever wanted to try a softer version of box braids or twists, then you might want to add the "goddess" effect (inserting loose curly hair into the braids) to your next style. Not only does this make styling a little more fun, it somehow makes box braids look even better. Who knew?

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premiere of disney's "a wrinkle in time" arrivalsMichael Tran//Getty Images

While our fav Storm Reid got the small version of the style, a small, medium, or large version of Senegalese twists will all give effortless beauty. Just as versatile as box braids, these twists make you want to book a vacation (or a red carpet appearance) just to show them off. Lasting four to eight weeks, this twisted style looks good in a boardroom or on a beach—you decide!


Jumbo Twists

"l'ombre d'emilie a simple favor" paris premiere at ugc normandiePascal Le Segretain//Getty Images

Jumbo or Marley twists can be done in a myriad of ways, from having a head full of twists, as pictured on French singer Alicia Aylies, to having only 10 to 12. This simple yet stylish look is sure to garner you loads of compliments while also giving you a four- to six-week break from styling your hair. As we barrel toward spring, keep this stye in mind! New trend: Try it with larger parts, or add loose tendrils of curly hair.


Conrows into a Curly Ponytail

29th annual screen actors guild awards arrivalsAxelle/Bauer-Griffin//Getty Images

We recently saw this look worn by Ariana DeBose at the SAG Awards and were instantly obsessed. With a styling time of two hours or less, this beautiful ponytail can last up to two weeks. While more of a set style than box braids or twists, one can always turn this ponytail into a bun for a more subdued look. Whether you’re on the red carpet or looking to switch things up, this new take on a braided ponytail is a must-try.


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