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Low Manipulation and Protective Styling

Posted by Adria Marshall on


I mentioned in my previous blog post, Lemons into Lemonade, that one of the ways that I've achieved increased hair growth during the pandemic is through Protective Styling. In today's blog post, I'd like to talk more about Protective and Low Manipulation Styling. We'll discuss the difference between the two, the benefits and downsides of each, examples of each Style Type and how to care for your hair before, during and after each of them. It's a ton to cover, so let's get started!

What is Protective Styling?

In a nutshell, a Protective Style is any style that keeps the ends of the hair tucked away. As we've all heard by now, the ends of our hair are the oldest and most fragile. Most times when we remark that our hair isn't growing, it's not true at all. Unless there's an underlying scalp condition, our follicles are producing hairs at a consistent rate. The reason that hair growth isn't noticed is because we are not retaining our length due to hair breakage. Protective Styling protects these precious ends so that length can be retained.

What is Low Manipulation Styling?

A Low Manipulation Style, on the other hand, is a style that keeps our hands out of our hair! Naturals and Curly-haired folk tend to have systemic Hand in Hair Syndrome. Those pretty spirals, kinds, coils and twists are just so damn juicy that we can't keep our hands off! We continuously fuss with them....pulling them up....putting them down....pulling them up.....putting them down, washing and re-washing, twirling, twirling, twirling! Unfortunately, this over-manipulation leads to frizz, split ends and breakage. A Low Manipulation Style is one that reduces the temptation to continuously fuss with our hair so that it can be left alone to flourish.

Some Low Manipulation Styles are also Protective. For example, if your hair is in a bun with the ends tucked in, I'd consider it to meet both requirements. However, your messy bun might be Low Manipulation but not Protective. Likewise, if your hair is in braids with extensions, the ends might be tucked away nicely making it both Protective and Low Manipulation. However, if you are continuously changing styles, it might not be considered Low Manipulation only Protective.

Benefits and Downsides of Low Manipulation and Protective Styling

There are several benefits of Low Manipulation and Protective Styling, some of which I've already alluded to.

Low Manipulation:

1. Promotes damage reduction by significantly reducing the overall friction of the hair strand.

2. Opens up new style possibilities, kicking us out of a Wash n Go rut. 

3. Gives a bit of time back (in the morning and/or what would normally be Wash Day)

Protective Styling:

1. Promotes length retention by reducing the friction of the ends of the hair strand.

2. Often increases scalp accessibility, making it easier to apply scalp oils and treatments.

3. Opens up new style possibilities, kicking us out of a Wash n Go rut. 

4. Gives a bit of time back (in the morning and/or what would normally be Wash Day)

Of course, as with anything, there are some downsides to Low Manipulation and Protective Styling:

1. It can be quite time-consuming to put your hair into these Styles, depending on the one that you choose.

2. When I frequently put my hair into Protective Styles, you can find yourself missing your curls! Although I knew that Protective Styling would help me achieve my hair goals, sometimes it was a little difficult to stay the course. To mitigate this, I would insert a week of Wash n Gos into my rotation just to mix things up and take the opportunity to appreciate all of my hard work!

3. Leaving your hair in a Low Manipulation or Protective Style for too long a period of time can lead to dry, matted hair, completely defeating the purpose of the Style! So, it's very important to learn to take care of your hair when embarking upon these styles.


How to baby your hair when Protective and Low Manipulation Styling

Full Disclosure: I changed the title of this section just to include a picture of these cuties! I mean, just look at them!

As I mentioned, if your hair isn't treated properly before, during or after a Protective or Low Manipulation Style, it can be absolutely pointless to go through the trouble. Before putting my hair into one of these styles I like to:

1. Clarify my hair to remove all build up and start with a fresh, clean scalp. I love using a half Water, half Apple Cider Vinegar mix to clarify, but you can choose the clarifier of your choice!

2. Protein treat so that my hair is as strong as possible before going into the Style. If you don't have a good protein treatment on hand, consider my Matcha Boost Protein Shake.

3. Deep condition so that my hair is moisturized and pliable. Check out my Banana Cream deep conditioner if you're looking for a good one!

When your hair is in the Style, especially if it's a long-term, it's important to not get lazy! Take time to apply oil and massage your scalp. Even if your hair is on the oily side, a low manipulation style will often hide it! So take advantage of the opportunity to get some nourishing oils applied and that blood flowing! If you're looking for some outstanding oil blends, consider my Moonshine or Cayenne Lemon Squeeze. Also, remember the importance of protecting your hair at night. Not doing so will reduce the duration of the Style, forcing you to redo your hair and defeating the entire purpose!


Protective Styling and Low Manipulation Examples


Protective Styling Examples

Ya'll, I came across this article with FIRE examples of Protective Styles. The only one that I disagree with is the "Curly Fro Ponytail" (or "High Puff") - I'd consider this Style a Low Manipulation one instead of Protective Style since the ends are not tucked away. Although most of the Styles in the article display extensions, Twists, Braids and Buns can be Protective Styles as long as the ends are twirled together to protect each other even if not completely tucked away but Bonus Points if they are! And don't forget wigs! Wigs are a great Protective Style option, just don't forget to take care of the hair underneath!


Low Manipulation Styling Examples

Any of the styles mentioned above can also be Low Manipulation as long as you keep your hands off! Also, Wash n Gos can be considered Low Manipulation Styles as well if you figure out how to minimize your Refresh Routine and can resist the urge to twirl your tendrils throughout the the day! Some Styles that make it super easy to live the Low Manipulation life are:

1. Buns

2. Ponytails

3. Space Buns

4. Crown Braids

5. Bantu Knots

6. High Puffs


Thanks so much for making it to the end of the blog! I hope that you found this informative and helpful and will consider trying out or sprucing up your Low Manipulation and Protective Style game!


Happy Slaying!


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  • Awesome article! I’m so glad you explained the difference between low manipulation styles and protective styles. What category do we place flat twists in?

    Rachel Akewushola on

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