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Caring for your hair in braids

Protective styles

Those popular sayings about cups of tea and different strokes? Yes, they apply to protective styles too, especially braids. It seems like one of those things that we might never fully agree on. And that’s okay because we’re ‘different in our own ways’.

In fact, it’s such a grey area that some natural hair bloggers and/or YouTubers have publicly switched stances on the topic after initially branding the idea of “protective styling” as either grossly distorted or heaven sent. We won’t go as far as name-dropping for the obvious reason that we can all change our minds once we ‘know better’ or find something that works better for our unique hair.

In this article:

  1. Do braids as a protective style really protect?
  2. 4 tips to help you make the most of your braids
  3. Final thought

Do braids as protective styles really protect?

The short answer is, there is no short answer. 

Like we mentioned before, the topic is really subjective. The rule of thumb is simple – whenever you’re not taking care of your hair, no matter what style you have it in, then it can’t possibly be protected from anything… Or anyone. (Cue ominous music.)

Two of the biggest pros for braid-lovers is length retention (growth in relaxer girl slang) and low maintenance simply because you don’t need to manipulate your hair as much when it is in for instance Fulani braids. On the opposite side of the fence, some stress that the tension that comes with braids is just not worth the time and money spent at the beauty salon. For the record, today we’re talking specially about braids with extensions like box braids and tribal braids. 

Side bar: This is a story for another day but after a brief search on YouTube, it seems that some bloggers don’t actually consider twists or braids with your natural hair to be part of protective styling, hence the BS call on ‘protective styling’ altogether.

Just what are protective styles? If it keeps your hair tucked away and minimises manipulation, then it is a protective style. According to author Audrey Davis-Sivasothy, this gives your hair “safety in numbers” because your hair strands are usually grouped together. Basically when the protective styles table was created, braids had a seat at the table. But again, your braids only protect your hair as far and as consistently as you continue to care for it.

4 ways to make the best of your braids

  1. Things to do BEFORE you get braids – First you want to make sure your hair is clean and moisturised before the salon visit. Once that is done, take a shot, scream in the car, or do whatever it is you need to do just for you to be able to tell your stylist not to pull on your hair too much and to leave your baby hairs alone. We have read about quite a few naturals who just can’t gather up the gut to tell their stylist not to use heat on their hair or to adjust their hard hands. It’s not rude, it’s self-love. (We’re really just trying to get you to bite the bullet and do it!)
  2. Keep your scalp and hair CLEAN – This is not even something we’re discussing… Especially given the season – it makes it so much easier. Based on our team’s experience, we wouldn’t recommend being as generous with product as you would be on a normal wash day, getting moisture back into your hair in braids is tricky so you want to make sure you don’t go overboard on the shampoo and especially conditioner as they not only strip your hair of moisture but may even shorten the wear life of your braids. The question of how often you wash your braids really just depends on you and your preferences.
  3. Keep your scalp and hair hydrated and moisturised – We never stop moisturising, every natural who isn’t having issues with protein:moisture balance knows this. Get yourself a spray bottle and find a mix that works for you. Our most common concoction is water and a dallop of conditioner followed by an essential oil. The mathematics of it is again, at your own discretion. ps: Don’t neglect your edges.
  4.  Sleep like the queen that you are… In satin. There are bonnets, head scarves and pillowcases in every second Instagram sponsored post so you have no excuse.

Final thoughts

[Editor] I’m one of those naturals who don’t want anyone else up in their business, not even for braids. I’ve braided hair for as long as I can remember and I can even do it on myself… So I can’t really relate to the debate anymore. I prefer to keep things simple, with two strand twists every two to four weeks. Remember, your hair journey was never duplicated, your hair is unique and so are you. Not all the things you read online are going to work for your hair or hair type.

The important thing will always be your hair, listen to it. Be observant about how it responds to certain products, conditions and methods and try to adjust your routine or habits until you find The One. I have worn a head of box braids before, and I’ll tell you what, those hours on a chair just don’t tickle my fancy anymore, even though I miss them (the boxes, not the hours) sorely.

If you’re thinking of getting braids, may the gods be with you sis.

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