How to Use Wigs As a Protective Style For Natural Hair Growth

A celebrity stylist reveals all.

Person with natural hair styled in a high slicked-back ponytail
Photo: Getty Images

When it comes to protective styles, Bantu knots, knotless braids, and soft locs rank high on our list. But in case your styling skills are lacking or you don't have time to make it to the salon, there's another option: wigs. Not only will wigs give your curls a break, but they'll also cut down on precious styling time. To show you how, we tapped celebrity hairstylist and author of Get Out Of Your Own Way, Monae Everett to answer all of your questions on wearing this protective style.

Keep scrolling for our complete guide to using wigs on natural hair.

Types of Wigs

Not all wigs are created equal, meaning, there's no one-size-fits-all. You'll want to consider your budget, personal preference, and whether you're new to wigs or not when determining which wig is best for you. While synthetic wigs are more affordable and require less maintenance than human hair wigs, they're also less versatile when it comes to styling and can look less realistic. "Full human hair wigs are my preference for wigs used for protective styling," says Everett. "It will allow all of your hair to be protected, rather than [having leave-out] to be styled and blended in with the wig."

No matter which type of wig you decide on, make sure to protect it from heat styling. "When using a U-part wig or half wig, roller set your leave-out and smooth down your edges," Everett suggests. "I use Sebastian Mousse Forte for any of my roller sets, twist sets, or smoothing sets. It has a heat protectant and helps to blend your natural hair and wig together."

How to Prep Natural Hair

Wearing a wig doesn't mean that you can disregard your natural hair underneath. You will still need to take care of it otherwise you run the risk of doing much more harm than good. Much like traditional protective styles, braids and twists are your best bet. And yes, in this instance, size does matter. "Smaller cornrows allow the wig to lay flatter to the head," says Everett. Also, make sure they're done loosely to prevent any unnecessary tension, which can cause damage to both the hair and scalp.

"Traction alopecia is caused by the hair being pulled too tightly," Everett tells us. "Sometimes people will braid the hairline too tight and it will cause the area to become sore. Some people develop little white bumps or a swollen scalp. These are sure signs that your braids are too tight and need to be redone with less tension. Adding a wig on top of the sore and irritated scalp can cause the hairline to become damaged and possibly break." Fortunately, preventing traction alopecia is easy: braid more gently, says Everett. "Braiding and cornrowing do not have to be painful. Remember that it is an old wives tale that braiding hair tighter allows the style to last longer."

Also, don't get it twisted. Just because your hair won't be out in the world, doesn't mean you can skip wash day. It's still a vital part of your routine, even if your natural strands are covered. "To keep your hair clean, healthy, and moisturized, shampoo your natural hair no less than every seven to 10 days," Everett advises, adding that the hair should be completely dry before placing on your wig. Otherwise, you could end up with mildew growth — and that mildew smell — on both the hair and scalp. So yeah, yikes.

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Wig Styling and Maintenance

Regardless of whether you use a human hair wig or a synthetic hair wig, you should still make it a habit to wash both after every few uses. Human hair wigs will also benefit from using a conditioner. And while you can apply hot tools to human hair, heat styling is not recommended for synthetic wigs since it can damage (read: melt) the artificial fibers. Properly taking care of your wig will not only ensure it looks good, but it will improve its longevity too. So when you're not using your wig, consider storing it on a wig head or in a silk or satin bag.

This is All Natural. From the kinkiest coils to loose waves, we're celebrating natural hair in its many forms by sharing expert tips for styling, maintenance, and haircare.

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