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Braids are a go-to hairdo for the summer. Not only are they versatile and low maintenance, but they also simply stun — no matter the occasion.
Plaited styles have been worn for centuries, dating all the way back to 3500 B.C. in Africa, and are constantly evolving. Today many women opt for braids to give their natural tresses a break from everyday styling, which in turn promotes hair growth. Effortlessly cool and elegant, braids will always be in style. But to reap all the benefits of this look, proper installation is key.
A few starting points
To ensure your locks are flourishing while tucked away, seek out a professional braider who prioritizes the health of your scalp and strands over aesthetics. “The number one thing would be not to get [braids installed] really tight,” says celebrity hairstylist and hair-loss specialist Tamara Johnson. “Some salons that braid hair only focus on making you look good, not so much on the health of your hair.”
And while braids are meant to be a protective style, installing them too tight can lead to folliculitis (aka inflammation of the hair follicles), which usually appears as small, red bumps around the hairline. “After a couple of days, you can even see the cuticle of your hair … being pulled out of your scalp,” says professional braider and natural hairstylist Stasha Harris. Plus, “you’re going to feel it. Your head is going to hurt,” Harris adds. If any of these signs occur, remove the style immediately.
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To prevent this scenario altogether, Johnson suggests finding a stylist who will take the time to assess the condition of your scalp and hair prior to installing braids. Additionally, make sure they’re extra cautious around the fragile parts of your mane, including the hairline and nape area. And if they apply too much tension, speak up right away. Already experiencing hair loss? Give braids a break and consult a dermatologist.
Here are a few things to consider before sporting braids this season.
Look into knotless braids
While not a new concept, knotless braids have recently made a resurgence because they offer more versatility minus the tension often experienced with traditional braids. “You start the braid with [your] natural hair, then you add extensions as you go — small pieces at a time,” explains Harris. This feed-in technique allows you to style your hair freely on day one of installation, because each braid is formed without the knot at the base of the scalp. The result? A sleeker, safer style.
Harris recommends the crochet method for thinning, aging strands. Another low-tension option, this technique involves attaching the braiding hair to natural, cornrowed hair using a latch hook. For extra protection, “you can put a net over [the hair] and crochet the extensions onto the net versus through the hair,” says Harris. Doing so can take some stress off your hair follicles, which is especially important as they begin to shrink with age. Crocheting can also reduce styling time, thanks to those pre-braided packs of hair you can find at the beauty supply store.
Good to know: Some synthetic braiding hair may be coated with an alkaline base, which can trigger an allergic reaction. To prevent this, soak the hair in a mixture of water and apple cider vinegar for 15 to 30 minutes, and let it air-dry before installing.
Avoid ultra-long braids
If you want to give trendy waist-length braids a try, Harris warns that the longer the extensions, the heavier they will be. For this reason, she doesn’t recommend them for thinning or naturally fine strands. “Even if the braids are small, because of the length, it adds weight to it,” she says. Keep in mind that as your mane matures, it may not be able to withstand the weight of heavy extensions the way it once did in your 20s and 30s. So, err on the side of caution by opting for braids above the waist.
Let your scalp breathe
The ease of braided dos makes it tempting to rock them all the time. But neglecting your own hair won’t give you the benefits you’re looking for. Harris suggests removing your braids at the six-week mark; keeping them in longer can cause matting at the roots. Leave a considerable amount of time between installations to give your tresses the rest they need. You can use this time to pamper your hair and examine its overall condition. And since the scalp produces less oil later in life, replenishing with regular deep-conditioning treatments can ensure your strands are in great shape before your next installation.
Anissa Gabbara writes about beauty, health, lifestyle and pop culture. Her work has appeared in Sisters From AARP, Sesi magazine and Maple City Our Town magazine.