I was NEVER a fan of braids as a youngster. I've always enjoyed having my hair out and free, but I will admit, with age, they really have grown on me. 4-6 weeks of not having to comb my hair everyday, and wash it every week is bliss. I can literally count the number of times I've had braids in my hair on one hand. I'm not patient enough to sit for hours while a person (or people depending on where you get them done) yanks my hair in different directions. I get restless easily. I have an extremely sensitive scalp which means that even when you don't think you're pulling my hair, I FEEL IT AND IT HURTS!
In 2004 when I was in Nigeria I got long braided twists. I sat OUTSIDE in the sun for 5 hours while 4 women ravaged my scalp with their parting combs, and hard hands, and although I did like the results, I wasn't crazy about them, or the whole experience.
Fast-forward 6 years to 2010 September. I don't know what possessed me, but I suddenly decided that braids would be a great idea. The pain wasn't unbearable this time. It was one woman, and she was done in about 4 1/2 hours. Pretty impressive really.
Fear of losing my front hair, fear of my hair literally falling out, and boredom moved me to take the braids out after about 3 weeks. I made all sorts of excuses claiming they were looking untidy and would start to fuse with my hair. There was nothing wrong with my braids at all.
In March, I decided to do braids again. This time because I was going on holiday and didn't want to have to worry about finding ways to style hair in transition.
It was a smart move. I had someone who could do my hair, didn't charge too much, didn't take too long, and who didn't leave with a throbbing headache and an over-tender scalp so why not? I could get up in the morning, lightly oil my scalp, and be on my way. I still didn't keep them in for more than 5 weeks but that's because my hair had grown out quite a lot and the braids particularly at the front had started to pull at my hair.
You'll often hear natural hair fanatics talking about "protective styles". Well, braids are just that; a protective style. I've had my hair washed, steamed, treated and cut since I took out the braids so it is very healthy. The plan is to do braids again next week. My hair has had a 3 week break. I have let my scalp and hair rest, cut away the dead ends, and I'm good to go.
Pros and Cons...
- Braids are great if you're constantly on the go and don't have time to give your hair all the attention it needs everyday, or if you just want to take a break from the constant styling and washing etc.
- Very little hassle; you don't have to worry about what you're going to do with your hair because with braids it'll look fine up or down.
- Great for transitioning, because they blend well with both natural and relaxed hair.
- Don't require straightening or curling (less heat damage)
- They keep for around 6-8 weeks. Some people do indeed carry them for much longer, but my advice is don't keep them in for longer than 2 months to avoid hair damage.
- They help protect your hair from damage (as long as they aren't kept in too long)
- Versatility: Believe it or not there's a lot you can do with braids. Pin them up, ponytails, buns, half up styles etc.
- Braids suit everyone, there are so many different types and styles; normal plaits, twists, kinky twist, chunky braids, tiny braids, it's completely up to you.
- Your scalp may become dry and itchy. Be sure to oil your scalp when needed. Do not completely abandon hair care simply because you have braids.
- With little free hair to soak up oil, you have to be careful with the amount you use on your scalp or you just end up with oil patches on your pillow, your skin, your clothes etc. Initially I used pure coconut oil. I was using too much and leaving oil patches on the heads of leather sofas. My pillow was one giant grease patch, and my face and neck were always oily. Very unpleasant.
- Using too much oil and grease can also cause build up around the base of the braid which increases breakage when you're taking them out. This can be problematic if you have very dry scalp, because you end up with the whole dilemma of whether to moisturise your scalp and risk grease and dirt build up, or whether to just suffer in silence with itching and flaking.
- Dry Scalp WILL BE OBVIOUS.
- Having them done, and taking them out can be time-consuming.
- I chose to wash my hair rather than battle it out with the whole dry, itchy scalp Vs. dirt and grease build up. Some people say this is bad for your hair and makes the braids untidy but mine looked better after I washed them. The trick it to focus solely on the roots. Use your fingertips to gently massage your scalp when you lather up the shampoo. I used Head & Shoulders to combat dandruff. Condition as you normally would, and just take the extra time to make sure you dry your hair properly. A blow dryer on medium heat will do the trick. Oil your scalp, and you're good to go.
- If you don't want to wash your hair, a friend suggested Apple Cider Vinegar. Apply to cotton wool, and gently rub the surface of your scalp. Some people also use white spirit and cotton wool to clean their scalps, this can dry out the skin so if you chose to do this, be sure to moisturise your scalp afterwards.
- I always tied a silk scarf over my braids at night. Well, I tried to when I did remember. It kept them looking shiny and neat.
- Invest in some braid/synthetic hair spray. They help add extra softness and shine.
- To limit hair breakage, take braids out if they start to come loose or pull on your hair too much.
- Make sure they aren't too tight. Yes you want to keep your hair tidy, no, you don't want to go bald in the process.
- Try to keep them dry. If you're not washing your hair or swimming, avoid water.
- DO NOT leave your braids in for more than 2 months. It's just not good for the hair...