Friday, February 24, 2012

Healthy Hairstyling #6: Braid Extensions

I remember as a little girl sitting in a hard wooden chair while a woman braided my tresses. Tears rolled down my face as each strand on my head was pulled tightly to blend with the extension hair. I remember the final outcome: a head of protected hair with which my Mom and I did not have to bother for the next three months.

Braid extensions were painful in those days, but over time I've learned that that does not have to be the case. I've also learned valuable lessons for proper care of the hair while in braids. Some lessons have come with experience. Some with mistakes. Some with advice from others. From Senegalese twists to micros to individuals to kinky twists, whatever braid extension style you choose to wear, it is important to know the truth about maintaining a healthy scalp and hair underneath it all. Let's dispel some myths:

MYTH: Braid extensions pull out the hair.
FACT: It depends on your scalp's condition, the way your braids are done, the duration of wear, and the care you give to your hair while in braids. Extremely tight braids may damage the follicle and also contribute to hair loss. Not properly caring for your hair while in braids may lead to hair breakage and loss. What are other factors? Leaving the extensions in for too long. Roughly removing the braids. Wearing heavy braid extensions. Wearing styles that tug on the hairline. Not re-doing the edges when needed. Avoid these habits and your hair will flourish. However, those with a sensitive scalp/hairline or a history of alopecia may want to refrain from braid extensions altogether.

MYTH: The only way for braid extensions to last long is if they are done excruciatingly tightly.
FACT: A big false on that one. Poorly done braids age quickly. Very loosely done braids age quickly. However, braids that are installed neatly and snugly (but comfortably) close to the scalp will last long. You do not have to go through severe red-blister-forming pain to achieve a long lasting braid style.

MYTH: It is okay to wear braid extensions for 6 months.
FACT: I do not recommend wearing braids for this long.  The length of wear depends on how fast your hair grows, how much your hair sheds, how quickly your hair locs, and other factors. The faster your hair growth rate, the shorter the time frame you can wear the extensions. The more your hair sheds, the shorter the time frame you can wear the braids. The quicker your hair locs, the shorter ... you get the point. Many people generally keep braid extensions in for 2 to 3 months.

MYTH: Deep protein treatments are required before installing braids.
FACT: It depends on what your hair needs. I recommend a deep conditioning session before installing braids, but whether your hair requires protein, moisture, or both is entirely up to your hair. Those with chemically straightened tresses may find a deep protein treatment followed by a moisturizing session most beneficial. Naturals, on the other hand, are a mixed bunch. I (natural) perform a strictly moisturizing deep treatment before installing braids because 1) my hair thrives on moisture and 2) my hair does not require protein. Learn what your hair needs.

MYTH: It is necessary to blow dry your hair before putting in braids.
FACT: It depends on whether you want to avoid heat, your schedule, etc. Before braiding, I stretch my hair via jumbo twists or big braids. Some people may stretch via banding or roller sets. Some people blow dry because it's more efficient, straightens better, etc.. Others simply braid their hair from its shrunken or regular state. Do not assume that blow drying is your only option for stretching your hair. If you want to avoid the heat usage and manipulation of blow drying, there are other methods.

MYTH: I do not have to wash my hair while in braid extensions.
FACT: It is simply good hygiene to cleanse every part of your body on a regular basis -- including your hair. How you cleanse your hair and how often depends on how quickly your hair gets dirty and how much product you use. Understand one thing though: being in braid extensions does not exclude you from having to wash your hair.

MYTH: It is not important to condition regularly while in braid extensions.
FACT: It is important to condition after each wash while in braids. In the past, I have retained length using Pantene Pro-V for about 10-15 minutes after each wash. That was all my hair required at the time. While transitioning, I used protein deep conditioners because my demarcation line and relaxed tresses were weak.  Learn what type of conditioner your hair needs. Some level of conditioning is necessary after washing, if at the very least, to smooth down the cuticles that have become raised during the cleansing process.

MYTH: I do not have to moisturize my hair while in braids.
FACT: Braids, particularly those done with synthetic hair (and even more so those done with yarn), have a tendency to suck the moisture from your hair. For this reason, it is important to moisturize regularly while in braids. Additionally, it is harder for sebum -- our natural conditioner -- to travel down to the ends of your hair. Thus, we must get our moisture from somewhere.

For a braid extension regimen, check out:

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