How to French Braid Your Own Hair in 10 Simple Steps

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How to French Braid Your Own Hair in 10 Simple Steps

28 August 2017
woman with red hair getting hair braided

Emily Arata

Senior Editor,

As an employee of L’Oréal, Emily works with celebrity stylists to make finding the right cut, color, or style easier than ever before. She's previously written for Allure, Elite Daily, and First We Feast.

Ah, the French braid. It’s a work of art when done well, all perfectly-sized segments interwoven in a way that looks infinitely more complex than it is. Unlike the traditional braid, this one is far less likely to fall apart or end with bits of hair hanging out the sides. If you’ve always wondered how to French braid, now is finally your moment to master the style.

Like all hair techniques, this braid will take a bit of practice to get it exactly right. We recommend sitting down with a hairbrush and a few no-tangle hair bands to try it out the first few times. While it may seem natural to take up a position directly in front of a mirror, the reversed image can be quite confusing to beginners. Instead, rely on your hands to tell you which strand should be pulled next.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need 25 fingers, octopus arms, or any kind of glue to make the French braid happen. After this tutorial, you’ll be braiding like the professionals.

What is a French braid?

Good question. The French braid has a reputation for being difficult to learn, but that may be a result of confusingly detailed tutorials. Unlike a traditional braid, this one adds a piece of hair to the braid every time a strand crosses over. Instead of a braid that hangs free, the resulting plait sits close to the scalp and involves an entire head of hair.

Step 1: Start with dirty hair.

Here’s a fact of the universe: Clean hair, while looking and smelling positively delightful, doesn’t lend itself to styling. It slips and slides, generally making the process more complicated than it needs to be. Instead of trying a braid directly post-blow dry, wait a day or two. A little oil at the scalp may help your braid stay together.

Step 2: Detangle.

Many a hair savvy woman has started a complex braid, only to realize halfway through that her ends are snarled and impossibly tangled. Don’t let this happen to you! Before starting any styling, brush through your hair from ends to roots in short strokes.

For this step, we recommend you use a boar bristle brush to help re-distribute oil throughout your hair. If you’re working on just-shampooed locks, try a texturizing spray to ensure your hair has enough grip to last in a braid.

Step 3: Section off your hair.

Here’s where you plan your braid ahead of executing it. Using either your two thumbs or a comb, you’re going to divide off a U-shaped section of hair from your hairline around the crown of your head.

If you’re only interested in a short French braid, it’s also perfectly acceptable to pull your first section from the back of the head. (Imagine making a half ponytail, then use that hair to start the braid.)

Step 4: Get your hands in position.

Now that you’re holding the top section of your hair, it’s time to get your hands in position. Divide the section into three smaller strands. Adjust the size of the strands based on the thickness of your hair. These will become the foundation of your brand-new French braid.

If you’re not sure about your ability to hold all three pieces at once, don’t worry. French braiding is all about muscle memory. Once you’ve tried it out a few times, you’ll find the hand position that works best for you.

Step 5: Cross over.

The basic premise is this: Cross a strand from each side over the center of the braid. Every time you cross, add a little more hair to the strand. Try to keep the braid tight (you can always loosen and fluff it later) and close to your scalp. Make sure you’re crossing over, never under.

Taking the three strands in hand, cross first the left and then the right over the center strand. It’ll take some practice to figure out how to manage all three strands at once, but try thinking of your fingers as a built-in divider system.

Step 6: Add more hair.

Congratulations, you’ve reached the second stage of your braid. Stick with it! For this next step, you’re going to cross the left strand over the top of the braid. Using your thumb, pull a horizontal section of your hair into the strand as well. Once you’ve mastered that, repeat the same step with the right side of the brain.

Be sure to hold the strands tightly as you go for a braid that will last all day—you can always artfully loosen them after you’ve tied off the braid. There’s nothing worse than a braid that immediately falls apart.

Step 7: Repeat.

Now, you’ve mastered the technique and it’s your time to try it out. Repeat step #6 all the way down your head until there’s no more hair left to add to the braid. Again, be sure to keep the braid tight to your scalp for better staying power.

Step 8: Switch back to a standard braid.

Whew, just when your arms were probably getting tired. It’s time to finish with a standard braid. It’ll amaze you how simple this feels after French braiding!

Step 9: Tie it off, and pat yourself on the back.

Grab a hair elastic that matches your hair color, and tie off the braid. For a more sophisticated look, leave several inches of unbraided tail. Now, there’s only one thing left to do before you take your new style to the streets: take a girlish style and turn into a style.

Step 10: Fluff the braid.

Starting at the top of your head, loosen pieces of the braid. We like to use the forefinger and thumb to grab each section and gently pull. Fluff the braid all the way to the bottom, adjusting your hair band when necessary.

As a final step, spritz the braid with a light coat of hairspray to ensure its longevity. Congratulations! You did it.

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