box braids 700

Image: @love_brittanyneal

The last time I got braids, I was much (much) younger. But in the present-day effort to grow out my natural hair, this past spring, I decided to get some medium-sized box braids. Since they weren’t cheap—they were done really well but still, not cheap—I also decided to go all out and get them past my bra strap. When I tell you that they had me looking super cute?! Girl, I must say so myself!

My braids looked so good that I got them done twice, back-to-back. Each time, they stayed in for about seven weeks or so and, not one day went by when someone didn’t compliment me on them. Also, folks had a consistent look of shock if they asked me how long they had been in and I said more than a month. “Wow! They look like you just got them done” was the consistent response. My reply was usually along the lines of, “When you’re spending a couple of hundred bucks a pop, you want them to last for as long as possible.”

Currently, my braids are out but that’s only to give my hair a bit of a break. My appointment to get them back in a couple of weeks has already been made. And since I’ve gotten back into the saddle of box braid maintenance, I wanted to share with you what I’ve discovered has kept my braids looking fresh and new—no matter how long it may have been since they were first installed.

Style with care. Your braids are killin’ the game and yes, there is nothing like being able to pull all of them up into a ponytail, look fly and go on about your day. But just like your natural hair can experience wear and tear, so can your braids. If you are rough with them, that can create those ugly fly-aways (more on that in a sec). Or, if some of your hair is on the shorter side (like the nape of your neck), you could end up pulling them—and sometimes your own hair—out. That’s why, even if you do have extensions, it’s important to style them with extreme care. Watch your nails. Make sure that all bobby pins and ponytail holders have a protective coating on them. And always use your fingers to style; styling tools will just pull the braids a part…strand by strand.

Trim fly-aways. I’m not sure if people still use lighters to “seal” the ends of their braided hair. My stylist uses water. And as far as the fly-aways, she removes those with a pair of scissors. Once I get home, in order to get any additional fly-aways under control, I use the shears that I have too. The key is to make sure that you know where your natural hair ends and where the extensions begin. Otherwise, what you’ll end up doing is cutting your natural hair in the process, which, I’m assuming, totally defeats a part of the reason why you got box braids in the first place…right?

Use water-based mousse. Because we discuss all things curly-haired on this site, we’ve done quite a few features on mousse before (you can check a couple of ‘em out here and here). I’m bringing them up because if your braids have gotten to the point where your fly-aways have gotten under control and you’re honestly not sure what is your hair and what isn’t, something else that you can do is apply some mousse to your braids, pull them back in a low ponytail and tie them down with a silk or satin scarf. In about an hour, they will be looking fresh and smooth again. Just make sure that the mouse is water-based (to reduce build-up) and that you apply a little grapeseed or jojoba oil to your hair once you take your scarf off. Otherwise, you could end up having a white, flaky mess on your hands—and hair.

Pamper your edges. Here’s something to keep in mind. If you’re going to a braider who is really good at what they do, you shouldn’t leave the shop feeling like you’ve just experienced a round of Botox shots topped with a triple-strength migraine. In other words, good braiders can “catch your hair” without you feeling like it’s all being pulled out. At the same time, pulling on hair is pulling on hair, so it’s important that you pamper your edges. Apply a little coconut oil on them and, if you want to lay your edges do, make sure the product you use is alcohol-free and that you don’t apply the product every single day.

Spritz your scalp. Some people wash their box braids just as much as they do when they don’t have them. But usually what I do is focus more on my scalp than anything else. Typically, if I put some witch hazel (which is a powerful astringent), some tea tree oil (which contains properties that kills fungus bacteria and yeast) and some lavender oil (it soothes the scalp and fights dandruff, dry scalp and flaking) into a bottle that is filled up half way with distilled water and spray it onto my scalp when it’s itchy or irritated, that gets the job done. “Done” when it comes to reducing flakes and soothing my scalp without risking that my natural hair will frizz up by washing it. (Bonus tip: If you put a little grapeseed oil and distilled water into another spray bottle, it can add sheen to both your scalp as well as your braids.)

Wrap it up at night. Yes, your braids are fabulous. But they are also still hair. Your extensions will only fray more when the friction of your bedding hits them, and you’re in for some pretty puffy roots once your new growth comes in. Something that can significantly reduce both of these things is tying your hair down at night. Whenever I have braids in my hair, a big silk or satin scarf is my saving grace when it comes to keeping my hair intact.

Re-touch the front in-between times. Let’s be real. Pretty much all that people see of our braids is the perimeter—front, sides and back. So, if you’re someone who has “old-looking braids” by week three (hey, it happens), buy yourself some more time (and money) by only getting the perimeter redone. Your braids will look like you got all of them installed again, it’s cheaper than paying for your entire head, and you can keep the others in for another month or so before it’s time to take your braids down. #brilliant

Check out these braided looks, too!