In many ways, braids are the perfect go-to protective hairstyle. They are always in style, they're easy to maintain, and they give you a good break from styling your hair daily, which in turn minimises potential damage. However, if you're new to braids, then it's worth noting that there are a few key products and hair practices that will keep your braids looking fresh and your scalp feeling healthy until it's time to remove your chosen style.
The first time I got braids, I scoured the internet for information on maintaining them and was met with a mountain of conflicting advice. From rinsing your braiding hair with apple cider vinegar to using tea tree oil for your scalp health, there's a plethora of tips out there. However, it took a few rounds of having my own braids to work out the absolute essentials for my routine and to determine the very best hair products for braids.
And when I talk about my routine, I mean before, during and after my braids because, like with all good styles, it starts with the prep work and ends with some solid aftercare. So let's start at the beginning.
"Braids should always be done on hair that is clean, so ensure it has been washed at least 24 hours before installing your braids or twists," advises Florence Johnson, owner of SimplyGorgeous. "Use a clarifying shampoo, paying close attention to your scalp, and a moisturising shampoo during this process." She also advises doing a deep-conditioning treatment so the hair is thoroughly moisturised. "This will also help maintain your hair health whilst it's in braids," explains Johnson.
Once your braids are installed, Johnson says that unless you have a particularly itchy or flaky scalp (more on that later), you should leave your scalp alone. "Unless you have a specific scalp condition such as dandruff or seborrhoeic dermatitis, I'd always recommend that you leave your scalp alone, as it's more than capable of regulating its own care," Johnson advises.
If, like mine, your scalp tends to feel a little tight and itchy when you have braids in, then Dionne Smith, celebrity hairstylist and Tangle Teezer spokesperson, recommends scalp oils. "Regularly use oil on and around your scalp to keep your hair moisturised and stop your scalp from drying out," Smith suggests. "This can be done one to two times a week depending on how dry your scalp is."
Ready to remove your brads? Get ready for a deluxe washday. "For the first washday after taking out braids, I recommend mixing a small amount of leave-in conditioner with water in a spray bottle, mixing it up really well so the consistency is still light enough to spray," says Smith. Then, after taking your braids down, "part the hair in small sections and spray each section thoroughly, ensuring it is quite damp, and take a Tangle Teezer Wet Detangler Naturally Curly Hairbrush (£12) and comb through each section—starting at the ends and working your way up to the roots."
Now, it's time to move on to the washing. "Proceed with your washday routine as you would, ensuring that you incorporate a clarifying shampoo," suggests Smith. "This is essential, as your hair has not had the chance to be properly cleansed for a while and would've accumulated a lot of environment and product build-up."
Now that your routine is covered, let's talk products. Keep scrolling for the best hair products for braids that I've tried.
1. Clarifying Shampoo
A lot of clarifying shampoos have harsh surfactants, but this formula is pretty gentle without being very stripping.
2. Moisturising Shampoo
A replenishing milky wash that cares for hair and scalps.
3. Deep Conditioner
With quinoa protein and babassu oil, this conditioner is rich without leaving hair feeling coated. Plus, it smells amazing.
4. Scalp Oil
The lavender in this oil is calming for a tight, dry scalp. The cedarwood oil is anti-inflammatory, too.
5. Root Mist
If you work out often, you might find your scalp gets a little sweaty, causing build-up. This spray extends the time you can leave in your braids before they need washing. Think of it as a dry shampoo for Afro hair.
6. Leave-In Conditioner
Eliminate the need for concocting a spray-bottle leave-in with this one from As I Am. The ceramides in the formula with the Jamaican black castor oil smooth and strengthen even the driest texture.
7. Detangling Brush
This brush makes light work of detangling the post-braid take-down.
8. Pre-Wash Treatment
My holy-grail pre-wash treatment. This bonding treatment resurrects hair from the brink, so if yours is feeling a bit weak after your braids, this needs to become a regular part of your care routine.
I prefer a satin pillowcase over silk. As a natural fabric, silk can sometimes absorb moisture from your hair, whereas satin, a synthetic one, doesn't.
A styling gel is so key to my braid routine. When your braids get to the final stages of life just before they need removing, using a good gel that doesn't flake will smooth down any unwanted frizz.