When it comes to styling natural hair, the options are endless. But when it comes to protecting your hair from damage, maintaining optimal hydration, and retaining length, it's all about protective styles. “Protective styles can help you give your strands a break from damage incurred by styling, like heat styling or color treatments,” explains celebrity hairstylist Lacy Redway (opens in new tab). “Your hair is hidden and tucked away, which sometimes prompts growth as well.”
To help get your hair in the healthiest state possible, make sure you load up on moisturization while your hair is in a protective style. If you are wearing braids, Redway recommends using a hydrating product on both the scalp and throughout your the length of your hair. Some of her favorites to get the job done? The Nexxus Curl Define Leave-in Conditioner (opens in new tab) and the TRESemmé One Step Style Smooth Cream (opens in new tab).
Of course, there are old faithfuls like box braids, cornrows, and twisted styles to choose from when deciding on your protective style. But there are also tons of looks that are anything but basic. From low-tension ponytails and flower-embellished box braids to bobs perfect for summer, we’ve rounded up inspo for every occasion. Read on for 30 of the most stunning protective styles.
Laura Harrier’s Long Box Braids
For a look that’s lower-tension, Redway suggests braids that leave the hairline out—and no one rocks the look better than Harrier.
Amandla Stenberg’s Blonde Bob
One of Redway’s biggest predictions for summer 2022 is a turn toward more bob looks, such as this braided masterpiece. “I’m really into bob-length hair at the moment – particularly chin-length bobs and in all textures,” Reway says. “The weather is warming up, so it’s nice to see hair moving away from the neck and shoulders as we begin to wear less.”
Brandy's Multi-Colored Marley Twists
Experiment with color without a permanent commitment by opting for fun pastel extensions to incorporate within your protective style. Emulate Brandy's sweet Marley twist with various hues of pink.
Issa Rae's Low Puff
Jazz up your low puff by embellishing with accessories like a rope, like Rae's look created at the hands of Felicia Leatherwood (opens in new tab).
Tessa Thompson's Stitched Cornrows
There's nothing like a classic low-maintenance cornrow look to keep your strands protected. Look to Thompson's effortless stitched style, dreamed up by Redway (opens in new tab).
Jourdan Dunn's Twisted High Pony
The high ponytail will forever serve as one of the most effective means to easily securing your strands. Dress it up with a statement accessory. Then do as Dunn (opens in new tab) has here and finish with a bouncy twist for added flair.
Logan Browning's Flat Twisted Updo
Browning stuns in a side swept flat twisted look, complete with mini buns.
Joyjah Estrada's Braided Top Knot
Reimagine the top knot by braiding your strands before wrapping into a high bun. For even more flair, style out your baby hairs, like Estrada.
Gabrielle Union Senegalese Twist
Union effortlessly slays Senegalese twists on the red carpet in an elegant side swept fashion.
Marsae Martin's Low Bun
It's safe to say that a classic low bun will never go out of style. Martin stuns with a braided low bun and strategically placed swirls of baby hairs on the red carpet of the 50th Annual NAACP Image Awards.
Zazie Beetz's Effortless Bantu Knots
Keep your tresses protected while making a statement with this Bantu knot look. Redway (opens in new tab) created an effortless iteration on actress Zazie Beetz.
Teyonah Parris's Floral Box Braids
Take a cue from Parris and play up your box braids with the strategic placement of flowers throughout your style.
Yara Shahidi's Braided Faux Hawk
Imagined by Redway, Shahidi's intricately braided faux hawk is a masterpiece!
Ciara's Two-Toned Faux Locs
It's clear that Ciara can pull off every hairstyle that she debuts, and this two-toned look is no different. Whether you're contemplating a loc journey or seeking to temporarily switch up your look, faux locs are a bold and low maintenance style to try on your natural hair.
Karrueche's Blonde Cornrows
Get into these '90s-inspired straight back cornrows. Add a bold statement to the classic style by going blonde like Karrueche.
Meagan Good's Goddess Locs Into a Side Braid
Goddess locs are another style iteration to keep on your radar. These faux locs complete with curly ends adds a whimsical boho touch. Make like Good and try a side-swept French braid.
Beyonce's Finger-Waved Cornrows
Bey hit the red carpet of the 2019 Lion King premiere rocking finger waves, reimagined. The singer shows off intricately styled cornrows braided into a swirled pattern reminiscent to the 1920s look.
Ashley Blaine's Embellished Halo Braid
ICYMI: Going for a braided style is the perfect go-to when wearing protective styles. Blaine looks absolutely regal here, wearing a statement-making halo braid complete with gold cuffs.
Solange's Beaded Fulani Braids
Dress up your Fulani braids by adding beads and hair cuffs. Solange lets her blonde braids do the talking by accenting her look with statement-making red beads.
Tracee Ellis Ross's Ribbon Braid
Play around with your favorite scarf by adding the accessory into your hair. Here, hairstylist Araxi Lindsey (opens in new tab) complements Ross's eyeshadow and ear cuffs by intertwining a scarf into her super long braid.
Ryan Destiny's Long Braid
Destiny stuns with her hair pulled back into a Rapunzel-like braid on the red carpet at the 2019 BET Awards.
Jhene Aiko's Knotless Braids
Jhene Aiko's braided styles never cease to amaze. Here, the singer shows off long knotless box braids. Give this look a try if you're looking for a versatile style that lasts six to eight weeks.
Justine Skye's Bunned Faux Hawk
Justine Skye reimagines the classic high bun by parting her hair into three sections and adding mini space buns in the form of a faux hawk.
Tessa Thompson's Jumbo Box Braids
Here, Redway (opens in new tab) played around with proportions by creating jumbo knotless braids on Thompson. The beauty in this look: the install takes half the time of traditional box braids.
Amandla Stenberg's Cornrowed Bun
How stunning is this look? Hairstylist Vernon François (opens in new tab) worked his magic on Stenberg to create stitched cornrows complete with a chic bun and gorgeous subtle swirls of baby hair.
Brandy’s Side-Swept Braids
While you can’t go wrong with a center part, embracing a deep side part is an easy way to switch up your vibe. Let Brandy serve as your inspiration. This look came together thanks to the genius work of hairstylist Nikkia Nelson.
Keke Palmer’s Space Buns
Want a look that’s going to be off your neck in the summer heat? Take a page out of Palmer’s playbook and recreate her braided space buns.
Lupita Nyong’o’s Contoured Sisterlocks
Francios created a literal work of art here. Thanks to a combination of basket weaving, wefting, and loc extensions techniques, he was able to create this insanely intricate updo. If you have a big event coming up, something along these lines is hands-down a way to make a statement.
Chloe Bailey’s Bleach Blonde Locs
The singer-songwriter is always having fun with her protective styles—just look to her Instagram for proof. For the 2021 Met Gala, she played with color, giving her dark roots a bleach blonde contrast.
Kiki Layne’s Glitter-Embellished Headband
The star took her braided headband to the next level by weaving glitzy jewels throughout. While her diamond piece might not be the easiest to get a hold of, a shimmery ribbon or jewel accents can give the safe effect.
Chelsea Hall is the Assistant Fashion and Beauty Editor at Marie Claire, where she covers celebrity style, fashion trends, skincare, makeup and anything else tied into the world of fashion and beauty
- Samantha Holender Beauty Editor
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