Now that warmer weather is upon us, many ladies — myself included! — are looking into braids and twists with extensions. This low-maintenance protective style can offer the styling versatility of long hair without the commitment (you can remove them and be back to TWA status within hours) or the upkeep (no detangling while they are installed?! HELLO!) Those who wear braid extensions can retain a significant amount of growth, if they are properly maintained. Incorporate these tips into your braided hair regimen to maximize the health and growth of your natural hair!
(1) DO make sure your natural hair is in tip-top shape before installing braids or twists. Deep condition your hair on a weekly basis for at least 3-4 weeks prior to installing braid or twist extensions to ensure that your hair is moisturized and strong from the inside out. Consider doing a strong protein treatment (followup with a moisturizing DC to prevent brittle and/or dry hair) the week before your install. Remember to moisturize your hair daily and seal in the moisture with your favorite oil or butter!
(2) DON’T braid the hair around your edges too tightly. Redness or white bulbs visible at the scalp OR headaches after your install are signs that your follicles are being damaged by tight braids. Try leaving out some of the hair, especially at the temples, or use larger sections with less braiding hair to lessen the damage.
(3) DO use large, diamond-shaped parts if you are braiding your own hair. Pencil-sized parts are the perfect size to avoid too much stress on your strands, and the diagonal parts will help the braids lay flatter.
(4) DON’T use braiding hair straight from the pack. Braiding hair contains an alkaline base over the fibers that can cause mild itching or even hives on the skin/scalp in many braid wearers. This base is easily removed by soaking the hair in a sink full of water with one cup of vinegar added for at least 15 minutes. Be sure to dry the hair by laying it out on a towel before installing.
(5) DO keep your hair and scalp clean and buildup-free while wearing braids. Witch hazel or apple cider vinegar can be applied to a cotton ball and then dabbed in the parts between braids, or for a more thorough cleansing, add diluted shampoo to a spray bottle and thoroughly soak the scalp and braids. Clip or tie up the braids to avoid breakage from the weight of the wet hair, and leave the shampoo on the hair for 20-30 minutes. Rinse well with warm water.
(6) DON’T forget to deep condition with your braids installed! Use your fingers or a relaxer brush to “paint” deep conditioner onto the roots of your hair (NOT your scalp) and down the length of your braids. Cover with a conditioning cap or plastic bag and let the conditioner stay on your hair for 30 minutes or so. Rinse well, ensuring all the conditioner is removed from your hair. Alternatively, you can use a mixture of oils to “prepoo” before cleansing the braids as detailed above — simply mix your favorites, such as olive oil, jojoba oil or Jamaican black castor oil and apply to both the scalp and braids. Rinse and proceed with cleansing.
(7) DO run a light oil (such as sweet almond, jojoba or coconut oil) down the length of each braid after cleansing them to seal in moisture. If your hair feels especially dry, you can add a creamy leave-in to them as well. It is essential to also keep them moisturized between washes. Use a braid spray or leave-in every 3-4 days to keep hair supple and healthy. You can also make a braid spray from a 50/50 mix of water and aloe vera juice — feel free to add tea tree oil if your scalp is itchy or dry.
(8) DON’T go to bed without covering your braids with a satin scarf or bonnet! Just as you do when your hair is loose, continue to tie your hair up nightly, or at least sleep on a satin pillowcase. Cotton pillowcases can draw moisture from your hair whether it is loose or braided. Bun the braids, tucking in the ends, if you opt for the pillowcase.
(9) DO indulge in regular scalp massages to soothe your scalp (and nerves!) and promote hair growth. Jojoba oil most closely matches our own naturally occurring sebum, so it makes a wonderful carrier oil for your favorite essential oils, such as tea tree (soothing), peppermint (stimulating) or lavender (moisturizing/antibacterial) EO. Jamaican black castor oil is equally as healing and is especially good for promoting growth — see my list of its benefits here.
(10) Most importantly…DON’T keep your braids in too long!!! Loose braids caused by new growth and/or accumulating shed hair can cause the hair to become severely tangled or matted, resulting in extreme breakage or the need for a large cut. Get a touchup (or redo your braids in sections, if you self-install) every 4-6 weeks if you plan on keeping your braids in for longer than 2-3 months.
Following these tips can not only help your braids look newer longer, but will also ensure that your hair thrives while protected from the elements.