Braids look beautiful, but sometimes, the hair gets wound so tightly that the style causes scalp pain and pulling. Additionally, constant tension on the hair contributes to traction alopecia, a form of hair loss that effects people who wear tight styles. If your braids end up tighter than you'd expected, causing you headaches or skin bumps along your hairline, loosen them to eliminate discomfort and possibly save your hair.
Turn on the hot water in your shower as hot as you can tolerate it. This heat will cause hair shafts to become more elastic, easing the tension on the braids as the hair stretches.
Step into the shower, and soak your braids under hot water for five to 10 minutes. While you stand under the shower stream, manipulate the braids, moving them against the growth direction and pushing them toward the crown of your head to give them more flexibility.
Towel-dry your hair, and wrap the towel around your head for another five or six minutes; the steam will loosen braids further as the towel absorbs excess water.
Apply a touch of oil to your scalp and braids after removing the towel from your hair. Heat can dry skin and hair, so following a heat treatment with conditioner keeps your scalp and braids supple.
Check the tightness of the braids as they dry. If your hair still feels tightly pulled after loosening the braids with heat, relieve the pressure with a comb. Slide the teeth of the comb under the base of a row of braids, and wiggle the comb back and forth; this takes up any slack in the length of the braid and gives hair more play at the scalp, where you feel it.
Notice how tight braids feel as your stylist braids your hair; it's easier to ask a stylist to rebraid an overly tight section than to suffer hair breakage and headaches. If you have microbraids and worry that heat treatment will shorten your style's life, braid your thin braids into a single, thick plait before stepping into the shower; your microbraids won't come undone, but will still loosen at the scalp. Sleep with your hair uncovered so your braids move and flex as you shift in your sleep; they'll feel more comfortable after a night or two of freedom.
Loosening braids with heat and moisture shaves time from the lifespan of your hairstyle; however, scheduling a visit to your stylist a week sooner is preferable to breakage or traction alopecia.
Lauren Whitney covers science, health, fitness, fashion, food and weight loss. She has been writing professionally since 2009 and teaches hatha yoga in a home studio. Whitney holds bachelor's degrees in English and biology from the University of New Orleans.