So you've been sporting a protective style for a few weeks and it's starting to look, well, rachet. Don't feel bad for letting it get to this point －life's busy and it can sometimes be hard to part with a style you've thoroughly enjoyed. However, did you know leaving a protective style in for too long can be detrimental? I know it doesn't make sense; as its name suggests, a protective style is supposed to PROTECT your natural hair! But the longer you leave it in, the more likely you are to experience breakage and even hair loss. Think of your hair as a precious crop that needs to be rotated regularly to grow fertile. If you switch up your hairstyles from time to time, you give your scalp a much needed break.
At any rate, we've already established that this time around you've left your protective style in for too long! So what can you do in the future to avoid this situation? Here are the biggest signs it's time to take down your protective style.
1. Disappearing Scalp
One of the main reasons I opt for protective styling is to allow my hair to grow uninterrupted. Some people (including yours truly) even notice accelerated growth when rocking 'dos like box braids and Marley twists. While growth is often the goal, it will also eventually indicate that your protective style needs to come out. My personal rule of thumb is to wait until I can no longer see my scalp anymore. It's usually around the 4 - 6 week mark that my new growth has emerged far enough to completely obscure my scalp, thereby making moisturizing much trickier. I can no longer simply spritz and walk away; I must separate section by section to ensure the moisture is reaching down to my scalp. This is less than ideal because it takes longer and doesn't guarantee that my entire head will be equally moisturized. In other words, time to take down!
Another obvious signal is product build-up. If you can't rinse out your oils easily, or you notice dust and grime coating your roots, take that protective style out! Letting that stuff sit there literally suffocates your strands and scalp, which can ultimately lead to stifled growth. This usually happens when your roots have grown out too long, as mentioned above.
3. Unkempt Roots
When this happens in conjunction with product build-up, you have a real nightmare on your hands. Your roots will likely start to get matted if growth is left unchecked after about 8 - 10 weeks (depending on how quickly your hair grows). I notice twisting happens on the extensions installed at my temples and edges, probably because those sections tend to be smaller. The individual braid or twist feels tighter than the rest, and when I look at it in the mirror the roots of those hairs have twisted around each other into a thin coil. PLEASE do yourself a favor and immediately take the braid/twist out if you experience this! Leaving it alone will put an enormous amount of stress on your hair follicles, resulting in breakage and/or hair loss.
4. Popping Ends
While your roots are growing in, your ends might also be growing out of your extensions. You'll see that over time your protective style will go from looking sleek and tame to a little rough around the edges. This isn't a huge problem as long as you keep the ends moisturized, but after a while your look will no longer seem as polished.
5. Losing Extensions
This shouldn't happen often if your hair is past the TWA (teeny weeny Afro) stage, but it's still something to pay attention to if it does occur. Each extension that falls out leaves a section of hair unprotected and thus vulnerable to breakage. If you don't know how to reinstall the braid or twist, just wrap the loose section around an adjacent braid/twist and secure it with a pin or ouchless hair tie.
6. Getting Bored
This may sound like a frivolous reason, but it's just as legitimate as any of the previous signs. If you're no longer in love with your hairdo, change it up! There's absolutely no reason to walk around with an unflattering style just because you haven't reached the 6 week mark yet. Of course give it some time to grow on you, though. Pull it up in a bun. Accessorize it. Leave it down. If nothing works, don't feel bad. Just remember what you didn't like and try something new.
What's the longest amount of time you've left a protective style in? Tell us in a comment below!