Can protective styling actually hinder your hair growth journey?

During my hair analysis consultation, I received a piece of advice that I thought was worthy of an entire post.  We were talking about my stress point breakage when I mentioned that I was wearing buns to work pretty much on a daily basis  for quite a while (over 2 years).  As soon as I said that, she immediately gave me two pieces of advice.

1.  Try to move the location of my ponytail to avoid stress on the same area day after day.
2.  Try to wear my hair down for at least part of the day.

After she made her second point, I asked if she could repeat her statement because I thought I heard her wrong.  When she spoke again, the consultant shared that she recommended that I wear my hair down as often as possible. Her reasoning behind this is:

"when the hair is pulled up all the time, it slows the growth of the hair by placing too much tension and restraint on the follicles, which can stun growth."

She used her daughters as an illustration of her point. One of the girls, has type 3B, 3C and type 4A hair.  The other only has one texture, 3B.  The one with the 3B hair, wears a ponytail all the time and is currently shoulder length.  The other, wears a loose braid and have very long hair.  We've all heard the advice not to wear our hair pulled back too tightly for the sake of our edges and hair lines but could wearing ponytails, tight buns, etc impact our growth?  After a quick search online, I found a couple of sites that supported this argument.

My consultant and a few online sources confirmed that hair has a "natural growth direction."  Meaning, when left in it's natural state our hair grows in a set direction as determined by the placement of the follicle.  When we put our hair in certain styles like tight ponytails and high buns, we pull our follicles in a direction that goes against the natural flow.  This added weight and pressure can restrict blow flow to the scalp and slow growth if repeated daily for long periods of time. Those of us with thicker stands need to be extra aware of this risk.  In my situation, I can say that I've been guilty to throwing my hair in tight buns and calling it a day.  By the time I let my hair down, my scalp feels tight and welcomes the newfound freedom.  Immediately, I have to engage in a scalp massage to bring some much needed relief.

Is wearing your hair down the secret to longer lengths?  It would be if not for the fact that doing so also invites other factors that work against your progress.  Manipulation related breakage is one of the first things that come to mind.  Wearing your hair down also allows for constant friction to your ends. Both of these destroy our ability to retain length so even if grow is improved, retention goes out the door.  For this reason, we must operate in a way that makes both sides work for us.  On the one hand, we want to avoid wearing a daily style that could restrict blood flow to our follicle, on the other, we want to keep our ends fully protected from friction & manipulation.  It's a delicate balance.

I'm trying out new ways of wearing my hair that doesn't put excess strain on my follicles.  This does not mean that I won't wear my blessed high bun again. But the high bun won't be my go to style day after day.  Or, I will just take the bun down when I get home, moisturize my hair and do a scalp massage to allow the blood to flow freely to my hair strands.  Ultimately, I don't want to sacrifice growth for retention and vise versa. So I plan on being very intentional whenever I wear my hair up or down.

What do you think of this theory, does it make sense to you?


  1. I certainly agree with this due to personal experience. I made a decision in April this year that i'd have to limit the amount of buns i wore as i have breakage due to always wearing a bun/pony tail. Even though i did everything right by not pulling it too tight and changing the position, it didn't make much of a difference.

    I've had to wear my hair in a weave and braids so that i can give it a rest from the bunning and gain some length to counteract the 4 inches i need to chop off in a few months.

    Once i've evened my hair out, i'll be wearing loose french braids and only bunning once or twice a week. I have to cut my hair from almost APL down to shoulder length as it is now so uneven.

    But to be fair, i think protective styles (no matter which) work for some people and don't work for others. It's all about trial and error at the end of the day

    xo Stephanie

  2. I've been saying this for a while. Ever notice the tiny little white bumps on the hairline when being constantly pulled on. Even when those tell-tale signs don't show up, there's still pressure on the hairline. Taut buns are not the best protective style on the block. There are other protective style that don't aggravate the hairline or follicles and will discourage wear and tear of the ends of the hair. Switch it up and have fun!

  3. Buns are so easy to do and cute but I switch it up and do french braids every other week to give the hair a break from being in a pony tail.

  4. I think styling the hair gently in general will help with length retention. In the begining of my natural hair journey I did no protective styles, yet retained a lot of length. Protective styles are but one piece of the puzzle.

  5. This is why messy buns of all flavors, sizes, and locations on my head are my friends. I don't bother pulling my hair too taut and I could care less if my roots are poofy. Sometimes, you just have to causal it up!

  6. This is really interesting though I've had both long and short hair whilst using buns as my go-to style so I'd say for me personally retaining length by avoiding other factors (heat, relaxing too often etc) is more important. I think I'll still continue to bun frequently but I'll definitely make sure from now on that they're loose and worn in different positions
    Great post x

  7. wow! this has been one of the first posts in a while dealing with hair that had me with my mouth open. usually protective styles are the saviors of retaining length especially the almighty bun (which i love even though i cannot wear at the length that i am at). I wear my hair in a milkmaid type hair style and wonder if this can hinder my growth as well. Do you think a low manipulation style would be the best way to go then? Decisions, decisions lol

    Tall and Texturized

  8. very interesting! so I guess the best thing to do is to do low loose protective styles vs. high tight ones. lately, I've been doing pigtail/ponytail braids as a protective.

  9. I completely understand her reasoning and agree that hair should not be pulled too tightly and should be placed in different positions, but I have to admit I disagree overall. My hair has benefited greatly and grew to much longer lengths when I wore buns rather than wearing it out. I have seen many women achieve great lengths with protective styling. But maybe it's a personal thing.

  10. Protective styling is going to remain an important method to retain length for black women. I think the issue is not so much bunning and protecting your ends but rather having too tight ponytails and always putting the ponytail in the same position. I am currently protective styling everyday but my go to style is the Southern Tease Bun made popular by Mane and Chic. I use only bobby pins to put this style together. I am trying to grow out the front of my hair which never gets long because my ponytail holder keeps breaking that section off.

  11. I found out that was exactly my problem! Once I stopped wearing ponytails for the most part and I learned how to make loose buns without hairbands (I could care less about laying down my edges), my hair flourished and I stopped having breakage in the back of my head. And where it took me two years to go from shoulder length to armpit length, I went from armpit length to bra strap length in just 9 months, just from that simple change. My hair doesn't like tension of any kind, so I let it have its way--and it rewards me with some lovely length! :-)

  12. myafrolifestyle.blogspot.comAugust 9, 2013 at 4:51 AM

    wow this sounds so interesting and I will definitely try it.

  13. Thanks for sharing this interesting point with us.

    Diva Dealzz


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