Tips from the Pros
When well looked after, box braids last for at least six weeks–stylists warn against keeping them for much longer than that. Anu Prestonia, owner of NYC’s Khamit Kinks hair salon (which specializes in natural hair styling), notes that, beyond looking untidy, braids left in too long can stretch and damage fragile new hair.
Freelance hair-braider Susy Oludele agrees, citing hygienic reasons as well. Washing box braids can feel like an all-day activity. They absorb a ton of water, are insanely heavy when wet, and take several hours to dry. While washing every two weeks is ideal, sometimes you just don’t have the time–or it’s way too cold out to walk around with wet hair. Thankfully, Prestonia shared a nifty little trick: Dampen a wash cloth with warm water and witch hazel astringent. Then part the hair, wiping your scalp down in sections. Et voila: You are once again a mean, clean braided machine.
“Attaching any sort of hair, including weaves and box braids, also poses the risk of long-term traction alopecia–the thinning or damage of the hairline,” warns Prestonia. At best, it’s reversible. At worst… well, we’ve all seen those pictures of weave enthusiast Naomi Campbell. It ain’t pretty. Oludele says, “Hair braiders attach braids too tightly, I always plant the front row a little looser and thicker, where the hair is more fragile and visible.” Prestonia advises her clients to avoid a damaged hairline by returning to the salon after a month to undo and rebraid the front few rows. Another tip? Don’t wear your hair tied up everyday to avoid pulling on your hairline constantly.
One more thing: Both stylists warn against using anything other than naturally derived oils to keep your own hair moisturized while it’s braided. Most important to avoid are mineral oils–key ingredients in most popular black hair moisturizers. Instead, go for natural oils like shea butter, coconut oil and almond oil, which work wonders massaged into the head twice weekly. Oludele and Prestonia strongly suggest a natural leave-in conditioner for non-greasy moisture.