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Image Source: @salemmitchell

Before this past March, the last time I had braids in my hair, I was a teenager. The reason why I decided to get some now is because I’ve been rockin’ some variation of short for most of my adulthood and I’m ready to get some length to my locks. But if you’ve ever tried to grow out your hair before, you can personally attest to the fact that there is more than one “awkward phase”’ that will make you want to forget your long-term goal and go back to whatever ‘do you had in the first place with the absolute quickness!

Anyway, aside from (sigh) how long I have to sit in the chair to get my box braids done (typically around seven hours for the size and length that I like), I’m feelin’ everything about making this protective style decision. Come to think of it, the only thing that drives me crazy are these flakes that I tend to get; ones that I always have, mind you (because my scalp is naturally dry and sometimes dandruff creeps up), but is so much harder to manage when you’ve got a billion-and-one braids in their way.

If you can totally relate to where I’m coming from, I’ll share with you some hacks that have helped to reduce the appearance of my flakes while still keeping by braids looking pretty darn good.

Before the braids:

Deep condition your hair. Ever since you can remember, you probably knew that it was important to condition your hair. But, it’s even more crucial to deep condition it, no less than a couple of times a month. By applying a thicker conditioner (something along the lines of a hair mask) and letting it sit for 30-60 minutes before rinsing it out, not only do you help to protect your tresses from experiencing heat damage, it also helps to replace any proteins (and moisture) your hair may have lost. When it comes to prepping your hair for braids, deep conditioning will give your hair softness and strength, and your scalp the extra pampering that it needs while your tresses are in a protective style for the next several weeks.

Exfoliate your scalp with baking soda. If you struggle with dandruff, there are two main things that cause it. One is a type of yeast called Malassezia. The second reason is connected to it. When the yeast irritates your scalp, it causes the cells on your scalp to grow at an accelerated rate which leads to lot of itchy and sometimes sticky flakes. Something that will help to reduce this is massaging your scalp with a mixture of baking soda and a few drops of lavender oil. The granules in the baking soda will remove the flakes, plus baking soda will help to restore the pH balance on your scalp so that the yeast has a more difficult time surviving. Lavender oil will also keep the dandruff at bay while soothing your scalp in the process. Just make sure to exfoliate your scalp on newly washed hair, about 2-3 days before your braiding appointment.

Image Source: @salemmitchell

Once your braids are in:

Create a witch hazel and tea tree oil hair spray. Hands down, one of my favorite treatments for an irritated scalp or scalp flakes is witch hazel. Because it’s a natural astringent that contains anti-inflammatory properties, witch hazel is able to both cleanse and soothe your scalp without drying it out. If you add a few drops of tea tree oil to it, its antifungal properties will keep bacteria, yeast and fungi from developing. You can apply the combo with a few cotton balls. Personally, I like to pour it into a spray bottle, pull my braids apart and spray the solution directly onto my scalp a couple of times a week. It’s cooling and super effective.

Dab some jojoba oil onto your dry spots. Something that our scalp naturally produces is sebum (a type of oil). If you’ve got flakes because you know that your scalp doesn’t get enough of sebum to it, jojoba oil mimics sebum in many ways. Not only that but it’s the kind of oil that is rich in antioxidants so that your scalp and hair remain nice and healthy.

Or apply peppermint oil with a few Q-tips. This is another awesome scalp tip. Not only does peppermint oil feel super invigorating (thanks to the menthol that’s in it) with a scent that makes me smell like a piece of candy, its anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties fight off dandruff (even lice). Peppermint oil is also able to absorb excess oil while still keeping your scalp moisturized in the process. If you want to apply the oil without making the roots of your hair all frizzy in the process, all you need to do is dip a couple of Q-tips in the oil and rub it along the parts in your hair. You’ll immediately feel relief.

Keep product use to a minimum. One of the best things about having braids is there isn’t much of a need for hair products like gels, mousses and sprays (except for maybe where your baby hair goes). But if for some reason, there’s a style that you want to try that does require one of these, just so your scalp doesn’t end up with a ton of build-up, make sure to apply the “less is more” principle. Towards the end of your braid run, your scalp—and even the appearance of your braids—will thank you.

Watch some YouTube how-to-shampoo videos. You probably wouldn’t wait a month (or more) to wash your hair if you didn’t have braids in them, so it’s not a good idea to do it now. If you’re worried about washing them because a lot of water on braids (especially box braids) can make them feel heavy or you think that doing so will make your braids frizz up (which is the absolute worst), YouTube world has videos that can provide you will all kinds of helpful shampooing and conditioning tips. Click here, here and here for a few great ideas.

Try some Cantu Apple Cider Root Rinse. Something that I tend to do is make sure my scalp is clean more than worrying about washing my entire head every couple of weeks. One product that works pretty well is Cantu Apple Cider Root Rinse. This is a rinse that contains apple cider (it’s also great for restoring pH balance and removing build up), tea tree oil and even shea butter, it comes with a handy nozzle that makes it easy to apply, and it’s formulated for natural hair, locs and extensions (including braid extensions).

Consume a dandruff-fighting diet. Did you know that a part of how to manage your dandruff flakes is by watching what you eat? Certain types of foods that are able to keep your dandruff under control, including ones that are high in zinc (spinach, almonds, dark chocolate), protein (lean meats, quinoa, peas), iron (broccoli, pumpkin seeds, red meat) and omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, walnuts, basil).

Don’t keep braids in for longer than eight weeks. Braids are super-convenient and (to me) one of the best ways to grow out your natural hair. But even too much of a good thing can cause problems. No matter how well you take care of your hair, there is bound to be some sweat and oil build-up that can only be fully removed by taking your braids out. When should you do that? I’d say after eight or 10 weeks should be your absolute max. Once you do remove them, if you do the first two things that I mentioned again, any remaining flakes should go away and your scalp will be refreshed and restored. Awesome!

Check out these braided hairstyles as well!