By Kelly Carson, AHLC Editorial Consultant

You’re going to be hearing a lot about the importance of protective hair as the once do-it-yourself method of hair restoration moves from the kitchen to professional studios and salons.

Protective hairstyles are designed to keep hair tucked away and free from manipulation through braids, dreadlocks and twists. The styles are designed to guard against breakage and damage. Because wearing protective hair for prolonged periods is suspected in some traction alopecia cases, those who choose the style are turning to hair specialists for advice.

Angela H. Brown

“Protective styles have become a hot commodity,” said Angela H. Brown of the Collierville, Tennessee-based D’Serv Healthy Hair Care LLC. “Protective styles are here to stay.”

Part of the reason, she says, is the nearly two years we’ve spent under the yoke of COVID-19 and its restrictions and limitations. Plus, COVID-19 is known to contribute to hair loss. As people ease back into society, they are returning to their hair-care professionals.

“And the professionals are showing they care and can help your hair and give you a wonderful style,” Brown said.

It’s no secret that people of color, especially Black women, have spent decades and decades processing and manipulating their hairstyles so they tick some arbitrary box of what it means to be “normal” in mainstream society.

A’Lelia Bundles

“People who have over-processed their hair or have been pressured to have a certain look get to be 30, 40, 50, 60 years old and now they have hair loss,” said A’Lelia Bundles, an author, journalist and academic who is the great-great-granddaughter of Madam CJ Walker, an icon of the hair-care industry catering to women of color. 

It is Walker’s climb to fame and fortune that Bundles examines in her 2001 work, “On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam CJ Walker.” The book was adapted into the 2020 Netflix limited series “Self Made” starring Olivia Spencer as Walker.

Madam CJ Walker

And, it was Walker who launched a nationwide distribution of products created specifically for Black women.

“When Madam Walker was starting, there just was no national cosmetics industry whether for Black or white women,” Bundles said. “Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein were trying to normalize treatment for white women. Women understood women’s needs when they were creating that industry.”

Walker’s original product.

Walker began selling her self-made hair care formula in the early 1900s while living in Denver, Colorado. In 1906, she brought her daughter A’Leila into the business. A’Lelia Walker later became president of Madam CJ Walker Co. In 1910, Walker relocated her company from Denver to Indianapolis, Indiana, where her national drive began. The women brought Walker’s products to market in 1910 after Walker had suffered years of hair loss.

“The kind of hair loss she was experiencing was from hygiene — a lack of indoor plumbing, water, etc.,” Bundles said of her great-great-grandmother. Today, however, it’s about overprocessing and other factors.

“There are all kinds of reasons people lose hair,” Bundles said. “People over process their hair or are pressured to have a certain look. If they’ve not had a proper diet, have stress, use chemicals, or have worn wigs too much, you’re going to have problems with hair.”

Walker’s company is alive and well today under the name Madam CJ Walker Beauty Culture, part of the Sephora line of products. 

Ynohtna Tureaud

Ynohtna Tureaud of the Louisiana-based Anointed Hands Trichology Center for Hair Loss readily admits to being the “last resort” for some of her clients.

“People have gotten away from the basics,” she said. “There are a lot of individuals going to what is considered as something protective, but it’s not healthy. Some people are getting artificial hair and weaves and some of that is damaging hair. When it comes to protective hair, the goal is to not cause more damage.”

Continuing education, she says, is a must for industry professionals. Not only does she take courses, but she also offers training in protective hair “do’s and don’ts.”

As protective hair moves more into the mainstream, the concept of natural hair design is changing.

“I do believe, being African American, sometimes African Americans are stereotyped by the texture of our hair,” Tureaud said. “Everyone is not the same. In the workforce, I know several African American women who are very intelligent and wear their hair naturally. As long as it’s cared for, is decent and in order, people should have the freedom to be able to wear their hair as they choose.”

Shonda King

Shonda King, whose Gifted Creations Salon and Gifted Creations Restoration Hair Loss Clinic are based in Georgia, says the protective hair trend has been emerging for several years.

“We have transitioned hundreds of clients from chemicals such as relaxers and perms to chemical-free styles,” King said. “Clients are now understanding that natural hair is much healthier, and keeping the integrity of hair texture will allow the hair to be stronger and less prone to hair damage or hair loss.”

And it’s this trend that has moved King and her staff to expand their knowledge.

“Our increased clientele wanting natural hairstyles have demanded advanced education for our staff to have the knowledge and techniques as well as to understand what each type and texture needs to remain healthy,” she said. “These hairstyles included natural twist, two-strand twist, crochets braids and all types of weave extensions, etc.”

Christal Mercier

Christal Mercier of the Texas-based Hair by Christal, says protective hairstyles require specialized techniques to ensure no further damage is done.

“Too many people are going online reading and looking (at videos) rather than paying a professional,” she said.

Salon stylists should be willing to invest time in a client to promote healthy hair. They should engage in honest conversation while not insulting the client.

“I give them the spiel about it (their protective style) being done wrong,” she said. And then she gets down to the truth of the matter.

“What I do in my salon when people have hair loss is view everything with a microscope,” Mercier says. “I show them the spreads (areas on the scalp where hair loss is occurring) that are not going to grow. You have to learn to attach things and keep what they have.”

But the most important part of the process, she says, is for the stylist to listen, “then tell them what will be best for them.”

“You have to work together to accomplish what it is they want,” Mercier said. “I find in a lot of shops, instead of listening to the client and working with the client, the stylist thinks they know everything. The stylist can always learn something new.”