I had plans at the start of the fall to put in my signature protective style - tiny box braids, and wear them for a month or two, but I haven't done so as of yet. I usually put the braids in to keep me from 'messing' in my hair often and to retain length.
But over the past few months I have noticed way less hair breakage and I have been retaining length, all without wearing a protective style for weeks at a time. I've been wearing styles for 1 to 2 weeks at a time, mainly medium sized twists in a bun or ponytail, but I've also been wearing twist-outs for just as long - from 1 to 2 weeks.
I now consider twist-outs, braid-outs, coil-outs etc... as protective styles as well since they require little to no manipulation just as with updos, twists, braids, etc... Also while wearing these 'loose' protective styles, I'm still able to seal and protect my ends.
I think the main reason for the less breakage and length retention is conditioning. In between styling my twists/twist-outs I've been conditioning like crazy, which is the only thing I have changed in my routine. And after taking down a style I pre-poo (before I would do this once in a while, lately I've been doing it every time before I wash).
I wash my hair about twice a month. Sometimes I wear twists for two weeks and will wear a twist-out for a week or so right after. Before unraveling the twist for the twist out - I will rinse (with apple-cider vinegar and water) then add a leave-in conditioner the night before, and unravel when my hair is dry in the morning.
I detangle with my hands first, then spritz my hair with water (you can also use a water/conditioner mix to give your hair more slip). Then I use a wide tooth comb - separate my hair in sections and put in about 6 to 8 loose braids.
Sometimes before braiding, I massage my scalp with oil and work it through to the ends. Other times, I detangle, section, braid and then add the oil after braiding. I've used everything from simple olive, castor and coconut oil to store/Internet bought blended oils. After the the oil, I cover my head with a plastic cap from anywhere between 20 mins to overnight.
I also wash my hair with the braids in. After washing, I do an initial quick rinse, then use a cheap conditioner (a tip I took from Teri of TightlyCurly.com) like Suave as a final rinse. I just pour a handful of conditioner in my hands smooth it over my hair and rinse. I also do this with the braids still in.
After my wash/conditioner rinse, as a leave-in I add a little more of the cheap conditioner mixed with a little oil (olive, coconut, castor etc..) to my still dripping wet hair - and saturate each braided section from roots to ends - really concentrating on the ends.
Once a Month Deep Conditioning
Once a month I deep condition with henna. I use CurlyNikki's routine along with her henna mix of green tea and honey, I add a tablespoon of grapeseed oil. I keep the henna mix on for 4 to 5 hours (Curly Nikki keeps hers in overnight and I've also done that a couple of times). Rinse - making my final rinse with conditioner (I actually end up doing a conditioner wash because it takes a while to get all of the henna out).
After the henna treatment (per Curly Nikki's instructions) I do a deep conditioner. I keep the conditioner in for about 2 hours, covered with a plastic cap. Many people have said that henna makes their hair feel like hay or straw but I think doing the deep conditioner right after prevents this from happening.
Just with my braid first then wash routine, doing the extra conditioning is also time consuming, but the results are great.
Check out the following video which summarizes my conditioning routines.
Peace and Blessings...