Are Protective Styles a Thing of the Past in the Era of “Effortless Undone” Hair?


How do protective styles make you feel? Do they make you feel safe? Protected? Is it something you’ve even given thought?  

Lately, I’ve been pondering the term “Protective Style”… if I may be honest, it makes me feel guarded. If we were to liken the word guarded to a person, we could characterize them as cautious, having possible reservations, one who is careful not to give too much information or show how they really feel. When we are guarded we are typically afraid of being vulnerable.  Afraid to show who we really are whether through shame, lack of confidence, self-awareness or some form of trauma from a past experience that may have pushed us further into being protected by our armor. I can’t help but think about how our hair has been the key to our freedom through history yet described as an unkempt “dreadful” type of hair to have. Our hair carried the tears of mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, grueling journeys. It shared routes to freedom and agriculture with seeds and grains that were braided into its resilient fabric.  

Now we can also flip it and say that these styles were protective; they were strong enough to sustain us through time. Years later our hair is still a central part of our lives and others— side-eye. What’s the first thing we do when we get ready for vacation; book a braid/weave/ponytail appointment to put our hair up to prevent damage. Or is it we don’t want to manage our hair because we deem it difficult, hard to work with on the fly. The reality is it takes time and ritual to truly care for our hair. It is not bad hair or hard to manage for that matter. It’s actually a very delicate fabric that needs the most loving care, just like us. Our hair is an extension of all that is in our lives, it can determine your overall health, if you’re stressed, in need of water, or vitamins and minerals. 

I know we are in the season of soft living, and I appreciate it because Sis be tired. I know many of you can relate! I would love while we are living the soft life that we lean towards Gentle Styling in place of protective styling. Gentle Styling is being intentional about your hair’s overall health,  using styles and techniques that are tension-free, scalp aware and nourishing to the hair that grows naturally from your head.  

Recently mentions of the “Effortless Undone” hair trend have me thinking about the term Gentle Styling even more. In the space of caring for oneself, effortless or undone is rarely the case. Even the things that look effortless still have prep time, care and execution attached.  Another question is it truly a trend or lack of understanding how to care for highly textured kinky, coily or afro hair? When no one knows how it leaves a lot of room for interpretation.  

The road to gentle styling is along the lines of going natural, you have to be ready. It is more of an emotional journey than anything else. You won’t be able to lay your edges, you won’t be able to wear the slicked back ponytail that has your scalp snatched or the lace front with the  Hollywood waves. It will just be you and your hair embarking on a new experience, one day at a time. The process can be less strenuous by being open to further exploring and becoming educated about the natural hair you were born with. 

Here are 3 ways to get there:  

  1. Start by reevaluating the products you use in your hair every day, are they for your hair type and texture. Are they hazardous? Can you locate an SDS sheet that lists the harmful ingredients and what they may cause? Apps like Yuka and Think Dirty are great to find out information by scanning the barcode about your product’s level of safety. Remember our hair is vast, there are over 12 variations and counting. You may have multiple variations in your hair alone.  
  2. Find a licensed natural haircare professional who understands the connection between inner and outer beauty wellness, one who is trained and educated in various hair types,  textures and scalp health. Bonus: They maintain a relationship with a dermatologist or trichologist. 
  3. Take your time, be gentle with yourself and the thoughts floating through your head when you step into gentle styling. Know it is a learning curve and it will likely be uncomfortable, to the point you may call yourself names, friends and family may have unkind words or jokes which can be discouraging. Not everyone is aligned with self-discovery which is essentially what it is about. Lifting the armor, being our true authentic selves. 

*Gentle styling is a new approach and term coined by myself Erin H. Maybin; to styling natural hair that focuses on minimizing damage and promoting growth. It focuses on being mindful of the hair’s needs and avoids practices that can cause damage. This can include cleansing regularly, using proper tension, the right tools, detangling gently, using moisturizing products, steam treatments, scalp analysis/treatment, avoiding heat/mechanical damage, and getting regular trims.

Photo Credits: Photographer @marqwill.raw – Agency @andreadcharlesstudio – Model @mariannegarces – Hair by @erinhmaybin – MUA @andreadcharles – Stylist @karen.neckles – Jewelry Designer @treeoflifeoriginals 

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Erin H. Maybin

Erin H. Maybin is a licensed Cosmetologist in NY, Pa & Ca, Educator, Advocate, and influential member of the NYS Appearance Enhancement Advisory Committee. As EVP of Education Development and co-founder of the Natural Hairstyle & Braid Coalition Erin spearheads the transformation of textured hair education in both private and public sectors. Her groundbreaking initiative, Hair S.T.E.A.M. LAB™ is an education platform that explores the science and artistry of hair using steam.

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Follow me @erinhmaybin and @the_nhbc

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