Braids are one of the best ways to style your hair whether you’re hoping to wear them for the first time or are a plaited veteran. You can utilize braids to protect your dark brown hair from the heat and humidity of summer or keep your strands hidden from the harsh winds of winter. If it sounds like braids are your ideal hairstyle match, you’ve come to the right place.
There are tons of ways to braid your mane and these African hair braiding styles are some of our favorites for natural hair types. From micro braids to cornrows, we’ve got you covered. We’re breaking down everything you need to know about some of the most popular african hair braiding styles and how to properly care for them.
The History of African Hair Braiding Styles
African hair braid styles have been making rounds in the hairstyling world and these styles are so much more than a fad. Braided 'dos give many Black women a dose of childhood nostalgia and have a rich and inspiring history that everyone should know. These popular styles actually go back thousands of years.
“Images of women in cornrows can be found in Stone Age paintings in the Tassili Plateau of the Sahara, and have been dated as far back as 3000 B.C,” according to BlackDoctor.org.
You may think that braided African styles were strictly for women, but men were no stranger to slaying braided looks back in the day.
“Male styling with cornrows can be traced as far back as the early nineteenth century to Ethiopia where warriors and kings were depicted wearing cornrows,” BlackDoctor.org shares.
Different braided looks were also a way to showcase tribal pride and your social standing.
“A specific look could indicate the clan you belonged to, your marital status, or your age,” ESSENCE notes. “A traditional style symbolizing heritage for the Fula women of the Sahel region consisted of five long braids down the back with a small tuft of hair gathered at the top of the crown.”
As slavery became a huge part of history, African hair braid styles began to shift in meaning. Gaining freedom was of the utmost importance and slaves used braid hairstyles as a means to escape bondage.
“They became a secret messaging system for slaves to communicate with one another underneath their masters’ noses,” ESSENCE explains.
It’s safe to say that African braiding are powerful and prideful techniques that have spanned centuries. As we fast forward to the present world, the looks have become synonymous with the cool-girl style. A-listers and social media gurus have flaunted variations of braided looks and have encouraged their followers to try them for themselves.
Caring for Braids
The first step in caring for any braid style is to make sure that your braids are installed properly. The number one mistake people make when getting braids is having their hair braided too tightly. Hairstyles that are pulled too tight can put you at risk of developing traction alopecia, a form of hair loss primarily caused by pulling the hair. The pulling is often caused by tight styles such as braids and ponytails.
Regularly styling your hair in ways that require pulling can cause scarring and lead to permanent hair loss. If you feel like your hair is being pulled too tightly, don’t hesitate to speak up. Does your hair professional insist on pulling tightly? Then, it’s time to look for a new stylist.
With proper care, braids can often last several weeks and that’s what makes them such a popular style. Just because you’re wearing one hairstyle for weeks, however, doesn’t mean slacking off on your hair care routine is an option. Your hair and scalp need lots of love to stay healthy, just like when your hair isn’t braided.
If you’re keeping braids in for more than a week at a time, you’ll need to wash your hair while it remains braided. Using your everyday technique, shampoo your hair with the Mizani Moisture Fusion Clarifying Shampoo to cleanse your hair of dirt and oils. Make sure to be gentle and avoid disturbing your style too much. Follow your shampoo with a hydrating conditioner like the Mizani Thermasmooth Conditioner to make sure your hair looks and feels moisturized.
Once you’ve washed and conditioned your hair, you’ll need to make sure your mane is completely dry before styling it. If you’ve added extra hair to your 'do, you may want to use a blow dryer or hooded dryer. Leaving your hair even a little bit damp (particularly near the scalp) can lead to developing dandruff, fungus, or even mildew. Be sure to use a heat protectant like Biolage Thermal Active Heat Protectant Spray.
Invest in a quality astringent if you don’t have time to completely wash and condition your hair regularly. We recommend using witch hazel. It will remove dirt and buildup, keeping your scalp healthy between washes. Apply the astringent with cotton swabs to ensure you clean every nook and cranny of your scalp. Your head will thank you!
The Best African Hair Braiding Styles To Try Now
Photo Credit: @cesar4styles.
Micro braids are exactly what they sound like: tiny braids so small they often resemble thick strands of hair. Micro braids take hours to install and sometimes even longer to remove. The time spent is well worth it because this look offers a level of versatility that not many other braid styles can. That’s because the braids are super-thin and can often be treated and styled like your natural hair.
Because the braids are so small, this style is not ideal for ladies with thinning or fragile hair. Only a few of your natural strands are used for styling each braid. The extra weight of the added hair leaves weak locks at a serious risk of breakage. Think twice if you’re already worried about the health of your mane.
Photo Credit: @rachel_redd.
Box braids are usually the first style that comes to everyone’s mind when they think of African braiding. Whether you decide on a regal bob or waist-length locks, box braids are always chic and are popular for this reason. The beauty of box braids is that the style is very versatile. Style your braids short, long, thick, thin—or even try them with bangs.
Senegalese twists are a rope twist style of African braiding that’s closest to box braids. Whereas box braids call for the traditional three-strand braid, Senegalese twists are created with a two-strand twist. Like box braids, Senegalese twists can be worn cropped or lengthy—it’s all up to you.
Havana twists are another style of twists that look very much like Senegalese twists. The main difference here is the type of hair used to create the respective looks. Senegalese twists are usually styled with smoother synthetic hair to create sleeker twists. In contrast, Havana twists are typically created with fluffier synthetic hair for a more voluminous appearance.
Photo Credit: @rutgerhair.
Cornrows are the quintessential African hair braiding style. They are three-strand braids that are woven close to the scalp and are often mistaken for French braids. When creating cornrows, you cross the sections of hair under each other instead of over. This causes cornrows to appear raised on the scalp, while French braids tend to lie flat against your head.
Cornrowing is the perfect braiding technique for anyone looking to get creative with their look. Have fun playing with a variety of styles from something as simple as two cornrows braided straight back or braid several cornrows into an elaborate updo.
Photo Credit: @alstyling.
Crochet braids are often considered the perfect protective style as far as braids go. When done properly, your hair has the double protection of being cornrowed and tucked beneath added hair. Crochet braids also have the added benefit of being extremely versatile. Once your natural hair has been cornrowed, you can crochet in box braids, Senegalese twists, straight hair, curly hair—really any hairstyle you can imagine.
Crochet braids have gained popularity because the installation process is often much faster than that of traditional braids, twists, and sew-in weaves. Crochet braids are also perfect for those who have steered clear of African braiding with added hair for fear of the tight pulling and added weight. After your natural hair has been cornrowed, your stylist will loop your desired style through your braids with a crochet hook and gently secure it.
Photo Credit: @darycetolliver.
Goddess braids are a style of cornrowing or French braiding that are larger and more pronounced than traditional braids. The best part about this simple and chic style is that it doesn’t put as much tension on the hair and scalp as other protective styles like box braids.
Because goddess braids are defined by their massive appearance, the style often requires stylists to add extra hair to the braid for the braids to look as full as possible. It is best to let a professional install braids that require extra natural or synthetic hair to ensure they don’t damage your strands.
Interested in a braided style? Use our salon locator to book an appointment at a salon near you.