Image Source: @protectivestyles
Listen, I will be the first to say that I am a card-carrying member of the box braid fan club. Whenever I get to a point and place where I don’t feel like doing anything to my hair and/or I want some extra length and/or I would like to keep my own hands out of my natural hair (which can be hard for me to do, at times), medium-sized box braids are my immediate go-to. However, I must admit that there have been times when, after taking my braids down, my hair wasn’t as healthy as it should’ve been. That’s because I didn’t take some preventative measures before getting my braids; it’s also because I wasn’t diligent in caring for my hair while I had my braids either.
Again, box braids are dope. You’ll get no argument from me there. But there’s absolutely no point in getting them if your hair is going to be totally jacked up once you take them down. In order to avoid having that be your testimony, check out the rest of this article.
Deep condition your hair before getting your hair braided.
Again, I’ll say from very personal experience that one of the biggest mistakes you can make when it comes to properly caring for your hair while they are in box braids is not prepping your tresses beforehand. And a big part of this includes deep conditioning your hair. Even though some of your strands will be protected via the extensions that you’ll probably be using with your box braids, some of your hair will be exposed as well (because your real hair is braided in with your faux hair). This means that it will be exposed to outside elements and will need to be as moisturized as possible to decrease the chances of breakage. So, within 48 hours of your braiding appointment, make sure to not only shampoo your hair (preferably with a non-sulfate brand unless you’ve got a lot of build-up) followed by a deep conditioning treatment. Oh, and if you’re someone who color-treats your hair, go with a color rinse rather than something permanent. That will also reduce your chances of brittleness and breakage once your braids are put in.
Don’t worry about trimming your ends; do seal them, though.
While it might sound weird at first, one of the worst things that you can do to your hair, prior to a braid appointment, is trim your ends. When you do that, it can cause your hair to not lay down as smoothly into your extensions as you would probably like. If your ends are horrific, trim them and then wait another 2-3 weeks before getting your hair braided. If they’re not, leave the shears alone. However, what you absolutely should do is seal your ends. Sealing is simply a process that helps your hair to lock in moisture in between wash days. You can learn more about the sealing process by checking out our article, “How to Use Oils to Penetrate, Seal and Grow Your Hair”. You can also check out a video on how to properly seal your ends here.
Know the red flags of a bad braid job.
OK, something that I think needs to be talked about, a lot more than it tends to be, is knowing what the signs of a bad braid job are before you go to see a braider. Your edges shouldn’t be so tight that your skin is pulling an inch back. The hair extension quality shouldn’t be poor (the website Product Blockbuster has a review on great hair for braided styles here). If you don’t know the person (and their work) personally, you shouldn’t go to someone who doesn’t have a site with good reviews and pictures on them. Caring for your own hair consists of getting a good stylist to put your braids in to begin with. Do your do justice on researching at least 2-3 people out beforehand. Go to their place of business to watch how they braid. Then make your decision. It’s the best way to know that you’ll get the kind of results that you’re actually looking for.
Watch those shears.
It’s pretty common that, right after you get your hair braided, some of your natural hair is going to “frizz up” (if your hair is natural) or stick out (if it’s relaxed) some. If your braider dips your hair into hot water (in order to seal your extensions), that will take care of some of this. However, they will probably also use some shears to do a little trimming. That is fine because, if they know what they are doing (and they should), a lot of your natural hair will not be removed. But be very careful about attempting to do the same thing at home. Hopefully, a part of your goal in getting box braids in the first place is you want to again a little length. That’s not going to happen if you’re so busy cutting on your natural hair that you end up removing more than you would like and will have to end up with a full trim—if not an all-out haircut—once your braids are removed. Bottom line, use some water-based hair mousse (like Creme of Nature Style & Shine Foaming Mousse orThe Mane Choice Peach Black Tea & Vitamin Fusion Anti-Shedding & Intense Volume Therapy Mousse) to lay those fly-aways down more than your hair shears. You’ll be so glad you did once your natural hair is back out.
Pamper your scalp.
Some people like to wash their hair, every couple of weeks, while their braids are in. I don’t because it can make them look kind of messy. Instead, I put a lot of the focus on taking care of my scalp. For instance, if you want to clarify your scalp or you’re someone who struggles with itchiness and/or dandruff, something that you can do is apply an apple cider vinegar rinse to your scalp (learn how to do that here). Cantu also has an Apple Cider Vinegar Root Rinse infused with ingredients like peppermint oil, tea tree oil, saw palmetto, burdock, nettle, green tea and Vitamin E, that I’ve used that works really well too (especially since it comes with an easy-to-apply nozzle). Also, since your scalp will be more exposed than usual (due to all of the smaller parts that are throughout your entire head), make sure to moisturize it. Some oils that work really well include jasmine (due to its antiseptic properties that can help to remove bacteria and build-up), Moroccan (that is able to help to relieve dry scalp) and rosemary oil (that can help to health scalp irritation). If you want to clear more about oils that are great for your scalp, check out our article “These are the Best Oils for Scalp Health” such as the Mielle Organics Rosemary Mint Scalp & Hair Strengthening Oil or the Taliah Waajid Protective Styles Healthy Hair Under There Bamboo, Avocado And Peppermint Conditioning & Restoring Serum.
Create a moisturizing spray.
While the extensions for your box braids will protect a lot of your hair from drying out, 6-8 weeks (which is the average amount of times that box braids are able to stay in without damaging your hair) is a long time. Something else that you might want to do is create a moisturizing spray that you can lightly spritz your hair and scalp with. For tips on how to do just that, watch this video and this video.
Don’t let your braids wear out their welcome.
I don’t care how cute your hair looks in your braided style or even how much money you spent, if after you take them out, you’ve got to cut your hair 2-4 inches due to all of the breakage and damage, you kinda defeated the purpose of having them in your hair in the first place. Box braids are a low-maintenance style, no doubt, but since you won’t be messing with your own hair while they are in, you should be able to see at least an inch or two of growth once you take them out. One way to insure this happens is to not try and keep your braids in for forever and a day. Real talk? Six weeks is a good amount. Eight should be your limit. More than that and the pressure of the braids could cause breakage. Besides, if you try that “I’ll just wrap the new growth around itself” approach, it could result in matting or locking. To me, it’s not worth the risk.
Wait before getting another set.
The Greek philosopher Aristotle once said something along the lines of, “The excess of a virtue is a vice.” Translation? Anything, in the extreme, can prove to be a bad thing. Protective styles included. That’s why, it really is a good idea to give your hair a 2-3 week break in between braiding appointments. That gives your hair time to break, you have the opportunity to trim your ends and give your hair a protein treatment and your edges to get a break from the strain that box braids sometimes provide. If you follow all of these steps though, your natural hair should be in peak condition while it’s in box braids. That’s for sure!
Have any secrets of your own for long-lasting box braids? Share them in the comments!