Whether you’re looking for a semi-permanent style for your upcoming vacation or just want to give your strands a break from harsh daily heat styling, braids are the perfect solution to your problem.
There are tons of ways to braid your hair, but these African hair braiding styles are some of our favorites. From micro braids to cornrows, we’ve got you covered. We’re going to share everything you need to know about the most popular styles and how to properly care for them.
Caring for Braids
The first step in the care of any braid is to make sure your braids are installed properly. The number one mistake people make when getting braids is having their hair braided too tightly. Any style that is too pulled too tight puts 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 potentially permanent hair loss. If you feel like your hair is being pulled too tightly, don’t hesitate to speak up. Hair professional insists on pulling tightly? Well then. It’s time to look for a new stylist.
With proper care, braids can often last several weeks (which is what makes them so great). However, just because you’re wearing one hairstyle for weeks doesn’t mean you can slack off on your haircare routine. 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. Shampoo your hair using your everyday technique, making sure to be gentle and avoid disturbing your style too much. Follow up your shampoo with a hydrating 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) means a risk of developing dandruff, fungus, or even mildew. That’s not cute.
If you don’t have time to completely wash and condition your hair regularly, invest in a good astringent—we recommend 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.
Micro braids are exactly what they sound like: tiny braids so small they often resemble thick strands of hair. As you might imagine, 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 so thin they 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. When styling micro braids with added hair, only a few of your natural strands are used for 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.
Box braids are usually the first style the comes to everyone’s mind when they think of African braiding. This braiding style is popular for a reason: Whether you decide on a regal bob or waist length locks, box braids are always chic. The beauty of box braid 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 all depends on personal preference.
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.
Cornrows are the quintessential African hair braiding style. Cornrows—a three-strand braid woven close to the scalp—are often mistaken for French braids, but have one key difference. 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.
As far as braids go, crochet braids are often considered the perfect protective style. 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 as of late 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 in the past 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.