Braid extensions have been around since forever and many women have used them over the years as protective styles to grow longer, stronger hair. But for every one women who reaches her hair goals with braids, there are several more who experience damage and breakage from this style. To avoid making the common mistakes many women do when wearing braids, read on for helpful tips to ensure that you get the most out of this style.

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Preparing for Braids
Before even considering installing braid extensions, you have to ensure that your hair and scalp are strong enough to handle the extra weight and tension of the braids. To prepare your hair for braids, I would suggest doing a strong protein treatment followed by a moisturizing one at least twice before even thinking about braiding your hair.

You want to make sure your strands and scalp are clean before getting started. Use a clarifying shampoo to remove any excess product or residue. I personally prefer As I Am Curl Clarity Shampoo because it doesn’t leave my scalp irritated but still gives a good cleansing. You can use whatever one is your favorite. When washing, pay special attention to your scalp to make sure it is thoroughly cleaned. This will help you to better manage your box braids later without too much buildup.

Once you are done washing your hair and scalp, it is important to make sure your strands are properly moisturized and prepped for the next step. The better moisturized your hair is before you put in the braids, the better hydrated it will stay for the entire time your braids are in. I recommend using a product rich in natural ingredients known to offer deep moisture such as coconut oil or olive oil. One of my favorites for adding extra moisture to my hair is Coconut Restore Curl Control Leave-In Conditioner.

You can’t braid hair with tangles! Make sure you work through any tangles to make braiding easier. Use a wide toothed comb to make sure you aren’t putting stress on your strands. Use your fingers for those tiny fairy knots, or anything that’s too tangled. You don’t want to pull down on your hair and break it before your box braids.

Also, try to solve any scalp issues you might have that may be weakening your hair. For instance, try to focus on curing dandruff, dry itchy scalp, any fungal infections, etc.

Tips for Properly Installed Braids
Properly installed braids are the key to maximizing your hair growth. Failure to install your braids correctly can do more harm than good, and leave you with breakage and thinning hair. Here are some guidelines to follow when installing your braid extensions:

  1. Parts should be smaller than half an inch by half an inch. By creating smaller parts less hair is being incorporated into each braid. This means that fewer strands will have to bear the weight of the added hair creating more tension than if a larger part was created and more hair was used.
  2. Braids should never be bigger than the part. In order to achieve a fuller look and hide some of the parts you may be tempted to use a lot of hair per section to braid. The problem with doing this is that you are forcing only a few strands of hair to bear a lot more weight than they are accustomed to. This could cause the strands to snap from tension created. See the guide below for further detail.
  3. Do not try to braid all of your edges. The edges of your hair are very weak and fragile and susceptible to breakage. Most people experience breakage from doing everyday things like brushing their edges and wearing too many back to back ponytails, so you can only imagine the breakage that can be caused by braiding the edges tightly and leaving that tension on it for a prolonged period of time. Try to use larger sections when braiding the front to distribute some of the tension throughout more hair strands. Also, avoid braiding the very front of the hair. Try leaving out the very front and simply applying a pomade and a scarf for ten minutes to smooth it down.
  4. Use less hair near your edges to avoid adding too much extra weight and try to redo them whenever they get loose to prevent tension from remaining on the same region of the hair shaft continuously.
  5. Ensure braids are not too tight. Contrary to popular belief tighter braids will not increase hair growth. The tightness, apart from causing damage, can lead to tension headaches and unsightly bumps and sores.

Maintenance & Cleansing
There are many ways out there to wash braid extensions. I find that the most effective way is to split the hair into four sections, then using watered down shampoo and your fingers, apply the shampoo to the scalp and rub gently to lift the dirt off of the scalp. If you have a lot of product buildup from using greases, oils and growth aids then the use of a soft and small baby toothbrush can help. Just ensure that you do not rub too hard.

  1. Once the dirt has been lifted off the scalp, band your four sections of hair to ensure that the braids remain in a downright position and do not mat during the washing process. Take more diluted shampoo and pour it over your head and squeeze sections of your braids to ensure that the shampoo penetrates the braids and cleanses the hair inside. Once done run your head under the water until it rinses clean ensuring your hair is still banded to avoid tangling.
  2. You can now apply your deep conditioner, then conditioner, avoiding your scalp to prevent build up and squeezing the hair to ensure that it penetrates the braids. Rinse really well as conditioners and deep conditioners tend the be thick and could cause build up which can make removing the braids and detangling the hair once they are out difficult.
  3. Keep braids banded until they about about 50 percent dry, then remove then bands and gently finger detangle if you have loose ends. Removing the bands before the hair is completely dry will prevent your hair from drying with the shape of the bands in them.

Moisturize Regularly
It is important to remember that you still have hair underneath your braids that require TLC. The same way you moisturized your hair when it was loose, you need to ensure that your hair is moisturized while in braids. In fact, your hair may need more moisture as the braided hair can absorb some of the moisture from the hair. To ensure that your tresses do not become thirsty, use a liquid moisturizer or braid spray twice daily, spraying it on liberally. A liquid moisturizer is best as it can penetrate the braids and get to your actual hair better rather than simply sitting on top and will help to prevent build up on your braids, especially at the root.

Also this is a good time to keep your scalp happy with oils.

Uninstall Braid Extensions
The procedure used for removing braid extensions is just as important as the one used for installing them. The right technique is key to ensure that you hold on to as much your new growth as possible. To help to make the hair more slippery and pliable, try using a water, conditioner and oil mix to unravel the braids. Once it is out, detangle that section of hair right away rather than trying to tackle one large section. Do not run a comb through it, simply remove any residue at the base and gently pull the hair apart.

Also keep in mind that a lot of hair shedding is normal. It is estimated that we shed about 100 hairs per day, so if your hair has been braided for a prolonged period then that shed hair is only now being removed from your hair.

Lastly, to prevent a nightmare of a detangling session, do not leave braids in your hair for more than 2 months, and even that is pushing it. You will end up losing more hair to tangles and knots than you will gain in hair growth.

The entire braiding process can take a few hours, depending on how much hair you are working with, but it leaves a pretty style that keeps hair safe from harm. When you think about it, a few hours of your time for weeks of style is a pretty fair deal!

This article was originally published in February 2012 and has been updated for grammar and clarity.

Do you use braids and twists as protective styles? How do you prepare your hair for them?