21 Protective Styles Perfect For Transitioning To Natural Hair

Photographed by Rochelle Brock.
Making the decision to transition your hair from relaxed to natural requires a commitment. Out goes your lazy-day routine and in come the new styles and methods required as new growth replaces straight strands. But just because handling multiple textures at once might mean more time each morning, it doesn't mean you're boxed in when it comes to styles. There are countless looks to try that not only preserve new growth, but make you feel fabulous during the in-between phase. 
Ahead, we've rounded up some of our favorite protective styles to try when you're transitioning to natural hair. 
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Transitioning phase: start one year in

If you want to preserve your curls after a twist-out, a high ponytail with a sleek base like Ada Rojas' is the best (and cutest) way to do so.
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Bantu Knots
Transitioning phase: start to one year in

Bantu knots — like the ones created here by Houston hairstylist Aprille Kaye — are a great way to mask your two different textures from the beginning until the end of your journey. Plus, they will give you much-needed practice for mastering the notoriously frustrating style.
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Perm Rod Set
Transitioning phase: any

Craving some serious definition like beauty entrepreneur Nisha? After washing and conditioning, section your hair off and saturate it with a setting lotion, curling cream, and a little bit of oil. Then, wrap your sections around perm rods that are most appropriate for your length. You can let your set dry overnight, or sit underneath a hooded dryer for the curls to form.
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Straw Set
Transitioning phase: any

It's like a rod set, except with cut-up straws. Sounds odd, but the tinier curl formers are ideal for those with smaller Afros, and it results in small spirals like these on natural hair influencer Gloria Powell.
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Top Bun
Transitioning phase: one year in

The one-year mark is when the struggle starts to get real. Finding a cute, chic way to tame your new texture might be tricky, and this is an inconspicuous way to keep it under wraps. If you have longer hair, this is a great go-to style for when you want to wear it away from your face (or are just having one of those lazy days). Just throw a cute scrunchie on it like Zeena Edwards did and you're good to go.
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Marley Twists
Transitioning phase: start to one year in

This option, as seen on YouTuber Michále Mercedes, is great if you want to give yourself a break from DIY styling.
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Knotless Box Braids
Transitioning phase: start to one year in

There's a good reason why knotless braids are up 150% in search on Pinterest. Unlike the traditional braiding technique, the knotless method starts with your natural hair and gradually adds pieces of hair to the braid as you go. This creates less tension on the scalp and minimizes the chance of breakage. The style has become a popular choice among celebrities like Zendaya, who opted for smaller braids.
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Braided Updo
Transitioning phase: start to one year in

Another protective style to consider when transitioning to natural hair is a braided updo like this one by pro braider Stephanie Kay. Similar to box braids and Marley twists, it will keep your ends tucked in and shielded from the environmental stresses — and it means your hair is already styled for you.
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Three-Bun Updo
Transitioning phase: any

Issa Rae's hair always manages to wow us on the red carpet, and her looks are also great inspiration if you're in a rut with styles. In this video, her stylist Felicia Leatherwood breaks down how to achieve her signature three-bun updo. All you'll need are three vertically-lined buns, some extra hair (depending on your natural length), and lots of edge control.
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Goddess Braid or Twist
Transitioning phase: nine months to one year in

Some women worry that natural hair is "not work-appropriate." We think that's a load of BS, but if your coworkers aren't as enlightened as you, this wraparound braid modeled by Sweden-based blogger Yahneake Sterling is an elegant and finished 'do that will work in any environment.
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Curly Fauxhawk
Transitioning phase: any

This cut, as seen on beauty influencer Alyssa Marie, isn't for the faint of heart, as it takes some skill. But if you can master cornrows and spiral curls, it's an edgy look that's sure to turn heads.
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Voluminous Curls
Transitioning phase: one year in or more

Trimming off your damaged ends will add major bounce back into your curls and give you volume like you've never seen, like these curls on influencer Alicia B. Make sure to have a lightweight hydrating serum on hand to restore any lost moisture.
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Half Up, Half Down
Transitioning phase: start to one year in

For the days you can't deal with your hair in your face or too much product, go for the half-up pony, which doubles as a chic special-occasion style when you add barrettes like Courtney Bryant did.
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Crochet Braids
Transitioning phase: any

If you don't want to deal with the hassle of a weave, crochet braids are your best friend. Instead of stressing out your strands with a sew-in that can damage your hairline, simply latch your extensions on to your cornrows with a needle. The results are equally lightweight and beautiful. Just use YouTuber's Mary K. Bella as a reference before your next hair appointment. 
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Crochet Locs
Transitioning phase: any

If you don't want your hair out, then crochet locs (installed the same way as braids) are a great option. YouTuber Shainna Tucker pulls them off flawlessly. 
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Tree Braids
Transitioning phase: any

With tree braids, your stylist creates small braids but leaves the bulk of your extensions loose. It creates a wavy look similar to Syleena Johnson's in this glowing selfie.
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Flexi-rod Set
Transitioning phase: any

Flexi rods are a great tool for creating spiral curls, like the ones seen on natural hair YouTuber Curly Candi. The style is especially great to help mask straight ends when you're in that "in-between" stage where your roots are curly and ends are not.
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Lemonade Braids
Transitioning phase: any

If you want to wear cornrows but want to switch up your look, take a screenshot of these Lemonade braids done by pro-stylist Koni Bennett to your stylist. The side-swept plaits, which can be big or small, were dubbed after Beyoncé's iconic Lemonade album cover and will look stylish during any phase of your switch to natural.
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Passion Twists
Transitioning phase: any

If Senegalese twists and goddess locs had a baby, it would look like passion twists, as seen on content creator Gabriella Elena. The style was created by Kailyn Rogers, a Miami-based natural hairstylist, who wanted to create a protective style that looked like unraveled twists. To achieve it, start a normal twist and push the hair up as you go to get a scrunched, lived-in effect.
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Fulani Braids
Transitioning phase: any

The Fulani braid pattern is named for the West African ethnic group it's inspired by, and features cornrows that fall in various directions on the head (usually front to back and back to front). Gabrielle Union took a half-up-half-down approach to the protective style while celebrating her 46th birthday, which we've already saved to copy this summer.
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Straight-Back Cornrows
Transitioning phase: Any

Straight-back braids always come in handy, whether you're full-on natural or just transitioning. The style, while sleek and classic, takes minimal maintenance and keeps hair out of your face — just look at how fly they look on natural hair vlogger Romance C.

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