The art of braided hair: Here's how to properly care for your braids

Whether you're sporting box braids, twists or cornrows, it’s important to care for your natural hair underneath.

Image: Getty Images

As a symbol of African identity, image, and heritage, braiding is not just a trending fashion statement seen on the global runways. It is as personal as a mother lovingly braiding her daughter’s hair. It is as communal as women coming together to groom a bride before her big day.

It is as memorable as the high ponytail twists of Thembi and Lebo from Boom Shaka or as painstakingly beautiful as cornrows and braids woven like a tapestry telling the story of who you are.

Braids have become a functional staple and will shield hair from mechanical stress, traction from excessive combing, and the ever-changing climate. Whether sporting box braids, twists or cornrows, it’s important to care for your natural hair underneath, especially with the addition of extensions, and to guard against having braids that are too tight or too small.

When braids are too tight, they can cause follicular pustules (inflamed bumps on the scalp) or even traction alopecia (hair loss caused by repeated pulling or tension hairstyles). If action is taken early, it’s possible that the hair will grow back over time, but if the hair is pulled repeatedly, this may lead to permanent damage. 

7 SOS remedies for tight braids:

Talk to your stylist: Tighter is not necessarily better or more long-lasting. Ask your stylist to braid with medium tension before she starts, and don’t be afraid to speak up if you think she’s using too much tension.

Use warm water: Lukewarm water can be a remedy for braids that are too tight. Allow the water to run over braids in the shower and, very gently, massage the scalp to loosen up the braids.

Wear your braids down: Wearing braids in a ponytail or bun may increase tension. Wear braids down to allow the scalp to adjust.

Use a spray leave-in conditioner: As the scalp may feel drier than usual with braids in, apply a leave-in conditioner to soothe, hydrate scalp, and loosen upbraids. Be careful not to use too much as it may cause unwanted build-up.

Use a scalp-care product: The scalp is particularly vulnerable during winter when you are more likely to develop dandruff or a dry, flaky scalp. Use an oil or scalp-care product regularly both pre-braid and while braids are in.

Massage your scalp: A head massage increases blood flow, which is essential for a healthy scalp and hair growth. Use a tonic or hair oil.

Know when it’s time to remove: As a rule of thumb, braids should never be kept longer than 4-6 weeks. If braids are very painful and tight despite remedies, it’s time to cut your losses and have them taken out. Once removed, give hair and scalp some extra love with a hot oil treatment and protein masque, or massage with a calming tea-tea oil.

Image: Getty Images

5 trending braid styles:

  • Classic two-strand twist: This is a classic for a reason — you can style it any way you like and it makes a great protective style.
  • Box braids: These are easy to maintain and versatile when styling. Spice things up by adding cornrows in between, or hair embellishments.
  • Chunky braids: This style is best with thick, long hair or the addition of hair extensions to thicken natural hair. Try stretching out hair by blow-drying it beforehand.
  • Halo twists: Resembling a crown twisting around the head, this is perfect for medium to long hair and can be done yourself. Create extra dimension by adding mini twists or cornrows at the top.
  • All-back cornrows: A simple, at-home hairstyle, these can be made extra trendy when worn with different hair accessories such as pearls, beads or clips-ons.


Here's how to master the art of laying your edges to finish off fresh braids or refresh older ones: 

  • Don’t overdo it by forcing your baby hairs into positions or directions that aren’t natural.
  • Make sure your hair is in its natural state before you start and focus on laying down the thin, shorter hairs along your hairline that grow forward and lie flat against your skin.
  • Use an edge control gel and a small bristled brush to gently swoop baby hairs into place.
  • Secure them in place by wrapping the head with a scarf and wait until dry before removing them. This step is important if you have very coily hair that doesn’t lie down easily.