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Curly Nikki

Preparing Your Natural Hair for Braided Styles, Box Braids, or Twist Extensions

By November 4th, 202325 Comments
box braids curlynikki

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.

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?


Doing Our Own Box Braids

How to Moisturize Your Protective Style to Prevent Breakage

I Love Goddess Braids How I Install Them

A Twist on the Twist-n-curl style


  • Anonymous says:

    Your blogs and information attracts me to come back again n again. link to page

  • Ash says:

    When I braid my hair, I make sure to detangle before braiding. I find this helps later with the take down. I also use coconut oil from root to tip as I braid. It helps make the hair easier to braid and oils it. For regular maintenance, I use witch hazel on a rag to help clean my scalp and make sure to deep condition and oil my hair regularly.

  • Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the tips. I'm concerned because it's only been about a week since getting cornrows with extensions in my hair. And just like in my individual braid extensions, the ends of my hair are starting to escape already from the extensions, giving me the fuzzy bunny look all over my head. I know that does happen eventually. But can you tell me what I could possibly do to make that better for my next go round? Just so you know I am thinking I will try the kinkier hair for next time, but I won't know if that's the solution until I try it.

  • SAIDAH says:

    I use Beautiful textures shampoo while my braids are in.
    When I put my braids in I only leave them in for no more than 3-4weeksONLY. My hair have got use to being out and free.

  • Clip in hair extensions says:

    what type of shampoo do you use for your hair extensions?

  • Jennifer says:

    (in reference to #1, Installation) Does she mean that parts should be *larger* than .5x.5 inches? Her explanation seems to disagree with her initial sentence.

  • Anonymous says:

    @BeeRavie – yes you can wash synthetic hair. I have synthetic hair in currently and I wash and dc every week. I have had no issues.

  • BeeRavie says:

    can you get synthetic hair wet? i feel like the washing process is only for human hair extensions….

  • Alicia says:

    Great post! I like to use dry shampoo during the length of having my braids in and I apply it heavily during the take-down process. I find that using it during the take down process helps to break down the dirt and reduce breakage.

  • Quaneasha says:

    I started getting braids at a very young age- around 8 years old. My hair thrived but when I look at pictures, I cringe at how tight the braids look in my hair. I have a high tolerance for pain so they probably didn't cause much pain. But needless to say, the braids did a number on my edges! I'm a little over 2 years natural and I haven't had braids in a year but my edges are still paying. Braids are a good transitioning/ protective style but like this post said, be sure to take care of those edges!

  • Kuyo says:

    JUST got pixie's put in this weekend, I saw this post and was like, WHAT?!?! But my mama did them, and yup, she puts tlc into the install. I did a henna/dc before I got them put in, and am debating co-washing/shampooing cause my coils are NOTHING close to this kanekalon…

  • Anonymous says:

    I agree…great timing! I currently have braids, been going strong for two weeks and have two more weeks to go! I've been careful but I'm noticing a little thinning on my rather sensitive edges. I religiously rub a little oil twice a day to the edges, and I'm hoping this will help. The rest of my hair seems to be doing fine, I moiturise and spray with a little oil often. The braids have saved me so much time, which was the primary reason I had them done but I'm also hoping some growth!

  • cjayqueen says:

    Thanks for the post! I am long term transitioning and about to have kinky twists installed next weekend. Perfect timing!

  • Beibe says:

    Absolutely agree, I just braided my hair and I have been deep+protein conditioning every week before I did the braids. I use the maintenance tips mentioned.

  • MsChina627 says:

    Great article! I have been thinking about getting my hair professionally braided or twisted and I must say that I've been a little afraid to do it because I don't feel like my hair would be strong enough but I will definitely look into the protein treatments and I'll also make sure that the braider that I have understands that my edges are very fragile and need to be handled with care. Thanks for those tips and pointers because I will surely use them ;-).

  • Anonymous says:

    Great post. I would also add if hair is professionally braided, the importance of carrying one's own supplies, such as a rat-tail comb, towel, hair clips etc. as I have observed braiders using the same supplies in multiple heads on many occasions.

    As far as my routine with extensions, after shampooing and conditioning, I plop for about 15 minutes to minimize the weight of the additional water. I then moisturize my hair and allow it to air dry. Currently I alternate between Care Free Curls Instant moisturizer (good old jherri curl juice) and Shea Moisture Curl and Style milk. I also have been doing an ACV final rinse, and my scalp has responded well to this.

  • Dishon says:

    Thank you for the much needed post!

  • Anonymous says:

    My daughter has been wearing braids/Senegalese twists for a of couple years after major breakage from relaxing. We just took out her long small box braids last night and her hair is now in its best condition ever.
    Normally her hair is DRY and crunchy when we take it down. This last time her braider told her to use Palmer's Olive Oil spray to keep her hair moisturized so her hair was not dry this time. She had some clumps in her hair but using a spray mixture of water/conditioner/olive oil made them easier to slide out. I bought some Ms. Jessie’s Shampoo because she can use it white her hair is breaded (because I had no idea about using diluted shampoo). She used Shea Moisture’s deep treatment masque and used a little Trader Joe’s as a leave-in. Her hair was beautiful after it was washed-shinny, springy curls. Her hair used to not hold water and looked dry.

  • Mo says:

    Great post and perfect timing for me. Just got my hair braided and looking for a good regimen. Thanks for sharing.

  • Anonymous says:

    Awesome post. Would love to see more posts about braid extensions (maintenance, styling, etc)- I'm currently using them to grow out my 4a/4b hair and think that a lot of others are too (especially during the colder months). And if others know of websites that go more in depth on braid extensions please let me know! ~H

  • AJ says:

    im considering getting some box braids this july since i am currently transitioning i will definetely try this regimen

  • Braelynn says:

    This is great. I never thought about deep conditioning my braids after washing them, I always just spray in a leave in conditioner. But I will definitely start doing that.

  • Moonchyldcrab82 says:

    "Parts should be smaller than half an inch by half an inch."

    Probably should have included some sort of limit for how small your braids should be. Micros are notorious for pulling out hair since so few strands are used in each braid.

  • ashley says:

    Thanks for the post, I am getting yarn braids soon, and this will be my first time since going natural that will be getting single braids eek.

  • Anonymous says:

    OMGZz…This post is a life save. I just had braids installed and this will be my guide for maintenance. I will attempt to wash it next week. THANX again for another great article!

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