How to Maintain Braids, According to a Natural Hair Expert

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What’s not to love about braids? From box to Fulani braids, protective styles never go out of season. While they require a lot of time, money and patience (so much patience) to upkeep, the results are always worth it. To keep the style protected, moisturized and long-lasting, we reached out to a natural hair expert to learn how to maintain our braids and keep them looking like the first day we got them done.

1. Moisturize your scalp

“The most important thing to consider when wearing a protective style is maintaining the health of your scalp and adding moisture to your hair,” says Kendall Dorsey, a celebrity hairstylist and the brand ambassador for Dark & Lovely. For most styles (like box braids and cornrows), your scalp is more exposed than usual. As a result, it can be more prone to dryness, irritation and/or flakiness. To combat this, you need to give your scalp and hair the hydration it needs regularly.

Dorsey recommends using a leave-in hydrator to add moisture to your hair and scalp. Following, you’ll want to add a serum to soothe the scalp and ease any tension caused by dryness. If you want to go the DIY route, grab a spray bottle, fill it with water and add hydrating (and lightweight) ingredients like castor oil or tea tree oil to the mix. Once the concoction is made, spritz it evenly onto your scalp. Use this method at least twice a week for the best results.

2. Wash your braids frequently

A major myth is that you shouldn’t wash your hair when you have braids. FYI, that’s completely false. Of course you can wash your braids without having to worry about ruining your style. In fact, it’s essential that you clean your scalp and braids frequently to avoid any product buildup, dryness and/or irritation.

Dorsey recommends using a clarifying shampoo or a micellar water cleanser (like the Dark & Lovely Cleansing Water) to get right to the scalp to remove impurities. You can also dilute your shampoo by combining it with water in a spray bottle. Use one part shampoo (about 2 to 3 pumps) and two parts water (about 1/2 cup). After a good shake, apply the concoction onto your scalp and delicately massage it in (being careful not to scratch the surface). Finally, rinse everything out (yes, it’s OK for the water to run through your braids). Follow the same steps for conditioning.

After cleansing and conditioning, grab a microfiber towel and gently squeeze out any excess water. You can opt to air dry or use a blow dryer on a low setting to dry your braids. It’s important that your hair is completely dry because you don’t want to run the risk of having mildew creep through. (Still need a visual? This step-by-step video is super helpful.)

3. Avoid wearing tight hairstyles

The best part about braids is how versatile they can be. One second you’re wearing them down and the next, you have them wrapped in a ponytail. However, you want to be strategic about how often you wear these fun hairstyles. If your braids are constantly in tight looks (like high ponytails, buns, dutch braids, etc), they’re more at risk for frizz, breakage and weakening along the roots and edges. Now, we’re not saying you should forgo these styles altogether, but to reduce wearing them to twice a week to avoid any pulling and tearing. Trust us, your scalp will thank you later.

4. Redo your edges (and braids along your hairline)

If you have the time (and patience), consider redoing your edges every four weeks using a nice wash and some coconut oil to keep the area moisturized. Aside from sprucing up your baby hairs, also consider retouching the braids along your hairline (depending on the style you’re rocking). This will give the illusion that you re-did your whole look and keep your style fresh.

5. Protect your braids at night

We can go through a whole spiel on why you should always protect your hair at night. In short, when your hair isn’t protected, you lose moisture and shine and are more prone to frizz. To avoid causing friction and dryness while you sleep, Dorsey suggests wrapping your hair up in a silk or satin headscarf (or bonnet). For added protection (and in case you wake up with your scarf on the other side of the room), use a silk pillowcase too.

6. Don’t wear your braids for too long

Yes, braids are a style that can be worn for a long time. However, they shouldn’t be worn for too long. Dorsey recommends wearing protective styles for no longer than four to six weeks. Why? Just like you schedule PTO to take a breather from work, your hair needs a break, too. The longer you keep your braids in, the more likely your hair will be prone to breakage, knots and tangles. Yes, they are protective styles, but they are meant to be temporary.

Can’t live without your braids? Take a break (for a week or so) and redo them with a brand new style. Braids should be a nice way to show off a new style, not be a hardship to your natural hair.

Five Products to Get You Started:

1. Dphue Apple Cider Vinegar Hair Rinse Duo

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Chelsea Candelario

Associate Editor, Ultimate Fangirl, Aspiring Beauty Guru

Chelsea Candelario is an Associate Editor at PureWow. She has been covering beauty, culture, fashion and entertainment for over a decade. You'll find her searching the internet...
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