Protective styles, whether you are fully natural or not, are integral to maintaining the overall health of your hair. From intricate twists to classic braids, these chic styles protect your curls and coils from heat styling, breakage, and environmental damage while contributing to moisture and length retention. Oh, and they look pretty great too. 

However, one of the biggest misconceptions about wearing protective styles is that you can just set it and forget it. While putting your curls into braids, twists, or other protective styles will definitely require less daily upkeep, they will still need a wash day.

We get the desire to keep your protective hairstyle in for as long as humanly possible. After all the time, effort, and money it takes to get your strands on point you don’t want to risk subjecting it to a wash and have your stunning style fall apart after only a week or two. 

Washing black hair, regardless of your texture type, is an essential part of the natural hair care process. It can be tricky however, to determine exactly when you should be washing it, especially if it’s in a protective style. Fortunately, there are six telltale signs that it’s time to suds up your strands with some Shea Miracle shampoo. Discover when it’s time to wash your protective style by signs you might be overlooking, plus the best ways to care for your hair before, during, and after your protective style.

The Basics of Washing Black Hair

woman with towel on head smiling at camera

When it comes to natural hair care, having a tried-and-true wash day routine is paramount. Most of us however, tend to let the dedicated care stop once our hair has been styled. Pre-care and post-care is equally important in maintaining the health of our hair and the integrity of our texture or curl pattern. Your wash day routine will no doubt be specially tailored to your individual hair type and texture, but there are some universal basics to follow.  

First, you should always, always detangle before washing. Reach for our Moisture Miracle Pre-Shampoo and gently work through strands with your fingers or a wide toothed comb. 

Second, when washing and conditioning, spend the majority of your time working product through your scalp where dirt and oil accumulates. If your hair is tightly coiled, long, or thick, separate hair into sections and cleanse one section at a time. Third, be sure to apply a generous amount of Moisture Miracle Leave-in Conditioner while your hair is still soaking wet.

Pre-Installation Natural Hair Care

Many of the best protective styles have a fairly long install time, so you’re likely planning it at least a few days ahead. In the days leading up to your install, ensure your hair is ready for the process. Schedule wash day right before you plan to put hair in a protective style and take special precautions to make sure your hair is healthy, moisturized, and in the best condition for manipulation.  

black castor restorative treatment

In addition to pre-shampooing and washing with a moisturizing shampoo and conditioner, do a Deep Penetrating Conditioner Moisture Restore Treatment that will infiltrate and strengthen strands. Distribute the product evenly from roots to ends, detangle, cover the hair with a plastic cap, and apply moderate heat for up to 30 minutes before thoroughly rinsing.

Since your hair won’t be properly washed for an extended period of time while it’s in the style, make sure your hair is free of any product build-up before installation. Starting with a clean base, especially a clean scalp, helps your hair to stay healthy through the duration of your protective style.

When To Wash Your Protective Style

You know what’s a fun experiment? Waiting to see how long you can keep a protective style in. While things might get dire towards week four, it’s good to see exactly what your hair can handle and when it starts displaying signs of needing a wash day. 

braid and scalp cleansing rinse

Regardless of hair type, length, texture, and density there are some universal signals that it’s time to wash your natural hair so you don’t always have to experiment. But don’t fret! This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to take hair out of its style and re-do it. Instead reach for a Braid & Scalp Cleansing Rinse and read about the best ways to wash your braids with our frizz-free Braid Cleansing Hacks.

Now, let’s dive into the six most common signs that it’s time to wash your protective style.

Your Scalp Is Itchy

Natural hair has a tendency to be dry so some itchiness, especially right after getting your hair done or wearing tight braids is normal. However, if you notice you have uncontrollable itchiness that no matter how much you scratch (please don’t scratch!) won’t go away it’s likely your scalp is feeling extra dry and neglected.

Similarly, it’s more likely that over time the scalp gets increasingly clogged up with grease, oils, dirt, and other products. In addition to being super uncomfortable, not caring for a dry, itchy scalp can lead to an increased inflammation and infections. Plus, clogged hair follicles can impede healthy hair growth. 

To remedy an itchy, dry scalp take hair out of its protected style and wash, paying special attention to conditioning the scalp. Don’t want to take your hair down? Give your scalp frequent massages with African Pride 5 Essential Oils to help replenish moisture. Need more help for your scalp? Learn about 5 Natural Hair Remedies For A Dry Itchy Scalp by clicking here.

Your Scalp Is Greasy

On the opposite side, it’s possible that instead of being dry your scalp is extremely greasy. An oily scalp can happen for many reasons, for example: increased sweating from working out or being outside in the sun and heat, using the wrong hair care products that soak into the scalp and unfortunately, even your genetics. 

Now, oily hair does tend to get a bad rap but not all oils are bad. In fact, the sebum that your scalp naturally produces is key to shiny, happy, and healthy hair and you don’t want to strip those natural oils from your scalp. Wait to fully wash hair until it’s unusually greasy to the touch.

Instead, fill up a spray water bottle with warm water (you can also add some leave-in conditioner or your favorite oil) and spray generously all over your hair. Don’t rinse! Instead, soak up any excess product with a towel.

Your Strands Feel Like Straw

girl tugging natural hair

Okay chances are your hair is typically dry no matter what, especially if you have a tighter texture. Curly and coily hair is prone to dryness so it’s important to be regularly moisturizing the hair to help it fight breakage. 

The signs you’re looking for however, aren’t just if your strands are dry, but if they’re drier than usual. This means your hair is sticking straight up (even in braids), you see increased frizz, and strands feel incredibly dry and damaged to the touch. 

While you don’t necessarily need to take hair out of its protective style, be sure to apply a hydrating braid spray, leave-in conditioner and a blend of natural oils to seal moisture into hair strands. You can either apply directly or mix a nourishing blend of oils with water in a spray bottle. 

Water is one of the best moisturizers for natural hair, so to get extra nourishment use a water-based product. Using products that contain water as a primary ingredient will also help prevent heavy product buildup that will impact the health of your scalp.

You See White Stuff

Flakes or ‘white stuff’ can be a mixture of product build-up or dandruff. Dandruff is a direct cause from dry scalps. Typically, a dry scalp on textured hair types tends to occur because the hair follicles are lacking moisture, whether it’s added moisture from products or naturally produced in the form of sebum. When the dryness gets to a certain level the scalp may get itchy and eventually the skin begins to flake off, turning into dandruff. 

The best way to deal with flakes and dandruff is through scalp care and proper washing. Grab our African Pride 5 Essential Oils and rub into the scalp with your fingertips in a gentle, circular motion. This is not only therapeutic, alleviating stress and giving you a moment of relaxation, but its unique blend of olive oil, coconut oil, vitamin E, and more helps soothe irritation, calm itchiness, and hydrates your dry scalp. 

Moisture Miracle Essential OIls

Washing black hair properly is a big factor in your overall scalp health. Products with sulfates, alcohol, or other harsh chemicals can dry out hair and can end up damaging the delicate follicles of the scalp. Our Coconut Oil Shampoo is a gentle cleansing formula that removes dirt and buildup without stripping the hair of its natural oils. Plus, it’s formulated specifically for textured, curly, and coily hair so it will deliver moisture and care directly to where it’s needed.

Your Hair Doesn’t Smell…Great

Warm weather is wonderful and while it means you get to spend more time enjoying the outdoors, all that activity in the heat and humidity can lead to increased sweating. During summertime the threat of hair becoming greasy or dehydrated is much more prevalent. Opting for a protective hairstyle is usually a great solution for defending your tresses against the warmer, busier time of year. 

However, regardless of your chosen protective hairstyle, working out, going swimming, and generally being outside will cause your scalp to sweat. The longer you have your protective style in the more it will accumulate build-up, dirt, and sweat which can cause odour. 

You can remedy this by spritzing hair with a leave-in conditioner and water combo or immediately absorbing sweat with a towel after working out but the best way to refresh your strands is to fully wash them. 

We know it can be tempting but never spray hair with perfume, most scents contain alcohol which can damage and dry out your strands.

Keeping Your Natural Hair Clean In A Protective Style

It’s obviously difficult to thoroughly wash your hair while it’s in a protective style, but we have to do our best otherwise the buildup will undo all its great benefits. If you notice any of the six signs listed above then it’s time for a quick wash. To wash hair without taking it fully out of its protective style, use a scalp cleanser to gently clean hair without causing frizz.    

Apply formula to the scalp along your part lines and massage with your fingers or a cloth until clean and then rinse with water. A wash will soothe the scalp, refresh the hair, and help the style last longer. Remember to also use moisturizing products and sprays regularly to keep hair hydrated and happy.         

To extend your protective style you can go as far as to redo the perimeter of the hair if you have braids or twists. After about a month, you should see enough growth along your hairline and nape for a touch up. This will give the rest of your hair more time to rest and grow by keeping it in the protective style for longer. 

Whenever you manipulate your hair into a bun or ponytail, be sure to coat your hands in a small amount of 5 Essential Oils to avoid any friction that would cause frizz and breakage. Continue to delicately care for your hair to keep it healthy and moisturized underneath the protective style.

It can be tempting to leave protected styles in for a long time and become a little lax on upkeep but the most important step you can take in caring for your hairstyle is to pay attention to your scalp. Ultimately, it will be your scalp that tells you when it’s time to wash, so give it the attention it deserves. Happy washing!