Calling all naturalistas: Do you have urgent tress questions? If so, you’re in luck. Every Thursday, natural hair blogger extraordinaire CurlyNikki will be solving your curly hair conundrums! Submit your questions by tweeting them to @EssenceMag with the hashtag #AskCurlyNikki.

READER QUESTION:  I have dry strands and would like to try protective styling to keep my ends from breaking, but wrestling my hair into a bun is usually impossible and it always looks lumpy and messy. Help!

CURLYNIKKI’s RESPONSE: It sounds like you’d like to explore protective styles for length retention and improved hair health. Great idea! Everyone defines “protective styles” differently. For me, a “protective” style is one in which your hair isn’t loose. Whether your hair is twisted, braided, bunned or cornrowed beneath a weave, your strands are woven together and more resistant to breakage – plus, they hold on to moisture very well. Some feel that two-strand twists or box braids don’t meet the qualifications since your ends are still exposed to the elements. This is why I prefer the label, “low manipulation styles.” I consider roller sets, twists, twist-outs, braids and braid-outs low manipulation styles because once you’re done with the initial styling, you can keep your hands out of your head for three or more days. And for folks with fine hair like me and you, whether your ends are hidden away or not, minimizing styling time and reducing the number of times you have to style in a week does wonders for length retention.

PHOTOS: Celebrities Wearing Protective Hairstyles

It sounds like putting your hair in a bun is a feat for you. If that’s the case, in the process of trying to wrangle that hair into a ponytail holder, you’re in danger of pulling your ends too tight which could lead to damage down the road. Maybe you can opt for twists or braids for now. If that’s not your cup of tea, you could always wet-set to stretch the hair in order to bun later. For example, you’d wash, condition and chunky twist or braid the hair. You’d allow your hair to air dry in this stretched state and once it’s dry, pull it up into a loose bun. Easy peasy! This is how I prep for my buns and the results are always smooth, uniform and moisturized!

Another thing I’ve learned about creating buns as protective styles is that it’s much easier than trying to bun hair that is wet (which for me causes splits over time) or hair that has been allowed to dry unmanipulated (i.e. completely shrunken and somewhat tangled). The best part about the twists is that if you choose to, you can wear the twists for a few days (I wear mine under a cute beanie), then rock a mean twist-out for a day or two and finally wear a bun until wash day. The point is, the twists (or braids) are great if your main goal is to minimize manipulation and retain length and moisture.

Nikki “CurlyNikki” Walton is a successful psychotherapist and creator of one of the most credible online sources about natural haircare, maintenance, and decoding the psychological ties between black women and their hair. Visit her at her blog CurlyNikki or follow her on Twitter @CurlyNikki.