60 Protective Styles for Natural Hair (Lovable Low Manipulation Looks)

First things first, there’s a lot of confusion, aka misinformation, about what even constitutes a protective style. So let’s clear that up.

What is the difference between a low manipulation and protective style?

A protective style is one where the ends of your natural hair are tucked, pinned or otherwise put away, shielded from the environment, friction and other destructive factors. The goal is to protect the oldest and most fragile part of your hair, therefore helping with length retention. Low manipulation styles, as the name implies, require minimal handling or maintenance.

With that said, flat twists and two strand twists, are often mistakenly referred to as protective styles. They can be, but aren’t necessarily. That all depends on the final look and whether the ends of your natural hair are actually protected.

They’re still highly beneficial as low manipulation styles, as they help prevent the damage and breakage that could otherwise be caused by frequent styling and mishandling of your natural hair.

How do I choose a protective style?

There are several questions you should ask yourself in order to determine which protective style would be best for you. Is hair growth your goal? Do you want to add weave or just work with your natural hair? What’s your budget? Are you trying to DIY or book an appointment with a stylist? How long do you want your protective style to last? Do you want a look you can maintain for a week or two months? What’s your lifestyle like? Are you going on vacation? Will you be working out? What’s your company culture?

All of these factors can influence your decision, or you could of course just pick strictly based on whatever style you’re feeling and figure it out. No matter your answers, no worries. Just scroll down and click around, we’ve got plenty of protective styling options, for every natural hair type, scenario and skill level.

And if you’re a 4C naturalista looking for protective styles specifically created by others with your hair type, we’ve got you covered too.

How long should you let your hair breathe between protective styles?

A good rule of thumb is to allow your natural hair and scalp at least a week, ideally two, to relax and recover between protective styles. Exceptions can however be made if weave or extensions are not being used, in which case no downtime would be needed.

Protective Styles for Natural Hair

1. Halo Braid

Black woman wearing her natural hair in a cornrowed halo braid hairstyle with gold cuffs
IG: @syeda_bombom

This look is proof that protective styles don’t have to be complicated or time-consuming. Two cornrows, braided loosely, left partless and pinned at the back, is the foundation of this carefree halo hairstyle. Completing it with gold cord and cuffs makes it a fabulous boho festival, or festive holiday look.

2. Bantu Knots

Black woman wearing a bantu knots hairstyle
IG: @iamxcleo

Between the perfect parts, laid edges and impeccable twists, basic bantu knots don’t get better than this.

If you’re feeling brave and want to go a little bolder with your bantu knots, you can play around with shapes, beads, colors and cornrows.

3. Rubber Band Updo Braided Frohawk

Rubber band frohawk with large braid on short natural hair
IG: @tupo1

This style makes sure your frohawk always matches the occasion, no matter where you’re going, simply by switching up the piece in the middle.

Start with a pack of 48″ long Super TZ Braiding Hair, for example and swap it out later for 3 separated packs of FFreetress Wand Curl Braiding Hair. Two or more fabulous looks in one ingenious rubber band updo.

4. Flat Twists with a Kinky Curly Ponytail

Black woman with natural hair wearing a flat twists protective style with gold cuffs into a kinky curly drawstring ponytail
IG: @olushola_

This hairstyle features a diagonally flat-twisted front, along with a middle row of rubber band twists, all finished with a kinky curly drawstring ponytail.

Already gorgeous on their own, adding gold jewelry to the flat twists, truly made this look a gem.

5. Short Auburn Passion Twist Pigtails

Short auburn passion twists pigtails worn as a protective style on a Black woman with natural hair
IG: @beingglowri

Short auburn ginger passion twists are gathered into two pigtails with tendrils for an absolutely adorable look.

6. Straight-Back Cornrows into a Low Curly Ponytail

Straight-back cornrows into a long curly ponytail worn as a protective style on a Black woman with natural hair
IG: @freshlengths

If you can cornrow, then this style will be a cinch. We’ll forever we amazed by how many simple, stunning looks are possible with a ponytail.

7. Red Rubber Band Style Crochet

Black woman wearing a half-up half-down rubber band crochet protective style on her natural hair
IG: @meliszamcfierce

Featuring a laid criss-cross rubber band style at the front and a kinky crochet at the back, everything about this red half-up half-down hairstyle is fire!

8. Bohemian Distressed Twists and Faux Locs

Bohemian distressed twists and faux locs worn as a protective style on a Black woman with natural hair
IG: @syeda_bombom

Why choose between twists and faux locs, when you can have them both? An unexpected mixture of these two types of braids, in addition to gold cuffs, makes this boho look even more beautiful.

9. Crochet Gypsy Locs

Black woman wearing crochet gypsy locs as a protective style on her natural hair

In keeping with the boho vibe, these side-swept crochet gypsy locs with cuffs are super cute and carefree.

10. Butterfly Locs Lob with Deep Side Part

Butterfly locs lob worn as a protective style on a Black woman with natural hair
IG: @marykbella

A bit on the longer side, than your traditional braided bob, a lob offers far more styling flexibility. And butterfly locs are among the easier protective looks to install, especially if they’re pre-looped.

11. Box Braided Wig and Head Wrap

Box braids wig and head wrap worn as a protective style on a Black woman with natural hair
IG: @itsdoreseb

An already awesome protective style can still benefit from a chic head wrap to take the look up another notch.

12. Crochet Kinky Afro

Crochet kinky afro worn as a protective style on a Black woman with natural hair
IG: @deyemmi_ade @gidistyles

Sometimes you want to protect your natural hair, with a style that looks just like your natural hair.

13. Short Dark Purple Crochet Spring Twists

Dark purple crochet spring twists worn as a protective style on a Black woman with natural hair
Pinterest

Showcasing the perfect shade of purple, these spring twists stand out, while still being surprisingly subtle.

14. Half Zig-Zag Cornrows Half Boho Braids

Half zig-zag cornrows half boho braids worn as a protective style on a Black woman with natural hair
Pinterest

Sexy and striking, this zig-zag cornrows and boho box braids combo is everything. 

15. Sleek Bob Wig

Sleek bob wig worn as a protective style on a Black woman with natural hair
IG: @iamlenn

There’s no need to run the risk of heat damage with a silk press. A sleek bob wig lets you explore a straighter texture when the mood strikes and protect your natural hair in the process.

16. Small Knotless Box Braids High Bun

Black woman wearing small knotless box braids in a high bun hairstyle
Pinterest

If you’re already wearing your natural hair in a protective style like knotless box braids, gathering them into a high bun is a simple, but sophisticated switch from just letting them hang loose.

17. Low Ponytail with Deep Side Part

Low ponytail with deep side part worn as a protective style on a Black woman with natural hair
IG: @deograciousdube

While we love a good slicked-back look as much as the next natural, it’s refreshing to see a protective ponytail style that’s still serving sans baby hair and showcasing a texture similar to her hair type.

18. Red Jungle Box Braids

Black woman wearing red jungle box braids as a protective style
Pinterest

Box braids will always be a great, go-to protective style, but opting for a variation like jungle braids in a brighter color, lets you push the boundaries of this timeless look.

19. Short Fulani Braids Bob with Beads

Short grey Fulani braids with beads worn as a protective style on a Black woman with natural hair
Pinterest

Proof that grey hair isn’t just for “old” people, this lovely look is a welcomed twist on the traditional approach to tribal hairstyles.

20. Jumbo Straight-Back Feed-In Braids with Curly Ends

Jumbo feed-in stitch braids with curly ends worn as a protective style on a Black woman with natural hair
IG: @jd_winters

A jumbo take on straight-back cornrows, these braids are big, long, bohemian and beautiful.

21. Jumbo Box Braids Updo

Jumbo box braids updo worn as a protective style on a Black woman with natural hair
IG: @sincerelyoghosa

You can find pretty protective styles at opposite ends of the size spectrum, from jumbo box to small, or even micro goddess braids, both equally appealing.

22. Small Goddess Braids

Small goddess braids worn as a protective style on a Black woman with natural hair
IG: @iamdodos

23. Ginger Coi Leray Braids Messy Buns

Ginger jumbo Coi Leray braids as a protective style on a Black woman with natural hair
IG: @euniceasiedu

Fierce and fiery, these Jumbo ginger Coi Leray braids are smoking hot in this unexpected messy bun updo.

24. Half-Up Half-Down Copper Box Braided Bantu Knots

Black woman wearing wavy copper box braids in a half-up half-down bantu knots protective style
IG: @tatyanaalii_

Equally lit, are the copper-colored bantu knots and wavy box braids, in this head-turning half-up half-down hairstyle.

25. Sleek Low Bun with Accent Braids

Black woman with 4C natural hair wearing clip-ins in a low bun with braided bands as a protective style
IG: @adannamadueke

To copy this look, comb your natural hair back into a sleek bun and cover it with kinky straight clip-ins, added for length, volume and versatility. Use two of the remaining wefts to create a halo braid to carefully conceal the clips.

At that point, you can opt to create the bountiful bun you see pictured above or try out the variety of styles captured in the video below, for edgy, but effortless appeal.

26. Two Feed-In Cornrows with Curly Ends

Black woman with natural hair wearing two cornrows with curly ends as a protective style
IG: @thelolawilliams

Don’t be fooled by the seeming simplicity of two cornrows. There are still so many creative ways to approach this hairstyle. Thankfully, this version is super cute, quick and easy.

After creating two cornrows, wavy hair was crocheted starting a few inches up from the end of the braids. The same needle was then used to crochet gold string throughout in a criss-cross design. And voilá…Done and dazzling in a matter of minutes.

27. Blonde Zig Zag Cornrows

Black woman wearing a long blonde zig-zag cornrows protective hairstyle
IG: @yemialade

Blonde zig-zag cornrows are a bold style choice, but perfect for anyone with the confidence to carry it.

28. Straight-Back Flat Twists into a Low Bun

Flat twists hairstyle into a low bun on a Black woman with natural hair
@brianalynee

Straight-back hairtyles don’t have to be so literal. Slanted flat twists are gathered into a low bun for a chic, simple style. And the best part is, no weave was needed.

29. Crochet Curly Pixie

Crochet curly pixie worn as a protective style on a Black woman with natural hair
IG: @vanitybydanit

While there’s a tendency to gravitate toward longer lush looks when protective styling, we can’t leave out must-try short styles like this crochet curly pixie.

30. Criss-Cross Rubber Band Style Box Braids

Half-up half-down criss-cross rubber band style with box braids worn as a protective style on a Black woman with natural hair
IG: @dadouhair

The juxtaposition of the criss-cross rubber band style in the front, with box braids in the back is pretty badass.

31. Real Blonde Locs with Faux Ponytail

Black woman wearing a blonde faux ponytail over her real dreadlocks as a protective style
IG: @dbellalocs

This lovely look combines real locs with a faux blonde ponytail for an unexpected texture twist.

32. Marley Straight-Back Flat Twists with Beads

Black woman with natural hair wearing a Marley straight-back flat twists hairstyle with beads as a protective style
IG: @monaxbanks

Thanks to length from Marley hair and flair from added beads, this flat-twisted style is fire.

33. Honey Blonde Goddess Braids

Black woman with natural hair wearing a half-up half-down honey blonde goddess braids protective style
IG: @deograciousdube

Loosely gathered at her crown, these lavish honey blonde goddess braids are divine.

34. Half-Up Half-Down Headband Wig

Headband wig worn as a protective style on a Black woman with 4C natural hair
IG: @adannamadueke

Styled on a pre-prepped headband wig, the front half of this hairstyle was originally just a bun that was released and left to hang forward. If you need the full deets on the installation, jump back to the beginning of the tutorial below.

35. Jumbo Havana Twists with a Pop of Color

Jumbo Havana twists with a pop of color worn as a protective style on a Black woman with natural hair
IG: @itsdoreseb

A hint of blonde added to these juicy, jumbo Havana Twists got this peek-a-boo look poppin’.

36. Knotless Rubber Band Box Braids High Bun

Knotless box braids with rubber bands in a high bun worn as a protective style on a Black woman with natural hair
IG: @pearlthestylist_

Colorful rubber bands are a quick and super cute way to add some flair to your box braided bun.

37. Half-Up Half-Down Passion Twists

Half-up half-down passion twists worn as a protective style on a Black woman with natural hair
IG: @slimreshae

From the ease of installation to the variety of possibilities, it’s plain to see why passion twists are hands down, one of our favorite protective styles.

38. Side-Swept Bronze Box Braids

Long side-swept bronze box braids worn as a protective style on a Black woman with natural hair
IG: @olushola_

Long side-swept bronze box braids deliver the effortless slay.

39. Lemonade Braids with Heart Design

Lemonade braids with heart designs worn as a protective style on a Black woman with natural hair
IG: @braidbarldn
Side view of lemonade braids with heart designs worn as a protective style on a Black woman with natural hair
IG: @braidbarldn

Heart designs incorporated into lemonade braids, make a chic straight-forward style, even sweeter.

40. Jumbo Passion Braids

Black woman wearing a jumbo passion braids hairstyle
IG: @dadouhair

Jumbo passion braids don’t get the shine we think they should, because we personally can’t get enough of this pretty style.

41. Ombre Box Braids Wig

Ombre box braids wig worn as a protective style by a Black woman with natural hair
IG: @iammarybennett

Skip the stylist’s chair completely and opt for awesome ombre box braids in an instant, thanks to an amazingly realistic wig.

42. Medium Knotless Box Braids

Half-up half-down medium knotless box braids worn as a protective style on a Black woman with natural hair
IG: @karlatobie

Pretty, simple and protective, not to mention versatile, from size and color to length and style, you absolutely can’t go wrong with classic box braids.

43. Burgundy Medium Box Braids

Burgundy box braids worn as a protective style on a Black woman with natural hair

44. Short Jumbo Box Braids

Short jumbo box braids with jewelry worn by a Black woman with natural hair as a protective style
IG: @beingglowri

45. Ghana Braids High Ponytail with Curly Ends

Ghana braids high ponytail with curly ends worn as a protective style on a Black woman with natural hair
IG: @lerato_falasie

Although your styling options are pretty limited given the direction of these Ghana braids, there’s no occasion or place that this wonderful wavy ponytail wouldn’t be perfect.

46. Head Wrapped Box Braids High Bun

Black woman wearing box braids in high bun with head wrap as a protective style

Not just for laying your edges, accessorize your box braided high bun with a head scarf that complements your outfit for a laidback, but oh so stylish look.

47. Jumbo Pop Smoke Braids

Jumbo Pop Smoke braids worn as a protective style on a Black woman with natural hair
IG:@justrandom75

A little gangsta and a whole lot of gorgeous, these jumbo Pop Smoke braids are banging.

48. Half-Up Half-Down Chunky Fairy Butterfly Locs

Half-up half-down chunky fairy butterfly locs worn as a protective style on a Black woman with natural hair
IG: @blvckhair_ng

A little shabby, and unbelievably chic, these distressed, chunky crochet fairy locs are absolutely exquisite.

49. Bubble Ponytail

Bubble ponytail worn as a protective style on a Black woman with natural hair
IG: @iammarybennett

We’re suckers for a protective ponytail hairstyle that you can pull off in a snap. So this bubble ponytail, also known as a pom pom ponytail, is a great go-to look.

After slicking your natural hair back into a low ponytail, use elastic bands to attach a bundle of hair, above, below and on the side, to conceal it.

Then add elastic bands evenly spaced along the length of the ponytail, fluffing out as you go.

50. Long Wavy V-Part Wig

Long wavy v-part wig worn as a protective style on a Black woman with natural hair
IG: @karrill

Yas! This voluminous 24″ curly wave v part wig is giving body-ody-ody-ody-ody-ody-ody-ody.

51. Straight-Back Feed-In Cornrows

Long straight-back cornrows worn as a protective style on a Black woman with natural hair
IG: @heycurlie

No matter the size or number of your straight backs, going longer makes for an instantly sexier style.

52. Jumbo Afro Kinky Twists

Jumbo afro kinky twists as a protective style on a Black woman with natural hair
IG: @qourtknee

No frills and still lots of thrills, these jumbo afro kinky twists are simply stunning.

53. Bun Hawk with Cornrows

Black woman with natural hair wearing a bun hawk with cornrows as a protective style
IG: @thechicnatural

This bun hawk looks best on stretched natural hair. While her frohawk would have still been fire with just three buns, adding accent braids took it to a whole other level.

She then split a pack of braiding hair into three and used it to top each section off with a knotted bun. Chef’s kiss.

54. Ninja Bun with Two Cornrows

Black woman with natural hair wearing a ninja bun hairstyle with cornrows as a protective style
IG: @jd_winters

In just a few minutes with minimal skills, you can create a tall, taut and gorgeous ninja bun.

Simply gather your natural hair into a high ponytail and split it into two sections. Twist one side with your left hand and the other with your right. Then, wrap each one around the other from the opposite direction, layering vertically, as you go.

If you want to get fancy, and copy this look exactly, you can use braiding hair and create two cornrows going up the back first, but that’s totally not necessary.

55. Marley Twists with Human Hair Blend

Human hair blend Marley twists worn as a protective style on a Black woman with natural hair
IG: @game_of_fros @amaka.mbagwu

For a delicate twist on the typical Marley texture, adding human hair results in a slightly silkier style with spiral ends.

56. Short Butterfly Locs Bob with Deep Side Part

Short butterfly locs bob worn as a protective style by a Black woman with natural hair
IG: @iambebemichelle

For a chic, quick and classy way to elevate a butterfly locs bob, play around with the position of your part.

57. Tribal Braids with Triangle Parts

Tribal braids hairstyle with triangle parts worn by a Black woman with natural hair as a protective style
IG: @zumbahairbeauty

58. Chunky Stitch Cornrows with Star Design

A bit more on the elaborate side of protective styles, these stunning cornrowed looks incorporate triangle parts for visual interest above and crossover braids with star designs that truly sparkle below.

Chunky feed-in cornrows with a star design worn as a protective style on a Black woman with natural hair
Pinterest

59. Half-Up Half-Down Long Silky Faux Locs

Long silk faux locs worn as a protective style on a Black woman with natural hair
IG: @slimreshae

While we adore a chic, short look, the built-in drama of longer lengths, like these silky faux locs, is pretty irresistible.

60. Two Long Ombre Pigtails

Two long burgundy and black ombre pigtails worn as a protective style on a Black woman with natural hair
IG: @dhatgirlbecca

Ombre braiding hair gave this style some pizazz and proved that pigtails can be absolutely adorable at any age.

As promised, we’ve shown you the breadth of what’s possible with protective styling. Now the hard part will be narrowing down all of these amazing options to actually pick your next look.