Braided hairstyles are a lifesaver. They can last for weeks, they require minimal upkeep, and they give your natural hair a much-needed break from your hands, the sun, the air, and life in general. Plus, there are so many great options from which to choose: box braids, cornrows, feed-in braids…the sky is the limit.
Even though braids do protect your hair from the elements, they also tend to put extra stress on your edges. Over time, that stress can result in damaged, broken edges. Nobody wants a self-inflicted receding hairline, but luckily, box braids and thin edges do not have to go hand in hand. It’s very possible to install braids that don’t damage your hair.
Don’t braid too tightly
Braids are supposed to last—that’s kind of the whole point—so they need to be relatively tight and secure. On the other hand, the tighter the braid, the more tension on your scalp. The hair on your edges is typically more thin and fragile than the rest of your hair, so pulling = breakage = eventual bald spots. No, thank you!
Avoid pulling the hair too tightly. Your scalp should never hurt after your braids are finished, and you should be able to move your forehead with ease. If you’re working with a hairstylist, don’t be afraid to speak up if your braids are too tight.
If your edges are already struggling, but you don’t want to give up braids, you can just leave them out of the braids entirely. Yes, that’s an option. Gel down the edges that you’d like to leave out. It looks just as sleek, and your edges will thank you.
Choose your style wisely
Not all protective hairstyles are equally hard on your edges. Opt for a braid style that’s looser at the base of the hair and/or starts further back on the scalp. Popular braid styles that protect your edges include feed-in braids, Havana twists, and halo braids.
It’s not just about style, though, but also about how much hair you use. The heavier your braids, the more tension on your hair. You do look freakin’ fabulous with those booty-length jumbo box braids, but your poor edges may complain after a while. Instead, go for a more modest length and thickness, and add drama in other ways, like a fun pop of color or an intricate cornrow pattern.
Skip the up-dos
Up-dos strain your edges whether you have braids installed or not. With the tension of braids added to the mix, you can often even feel the extra tugging happening, so you can only imagine what effect that has on your edges over time. Try to wear your braids down and loose with minimal tension as much as possible.
Pamper your edges
Lastly, take care of your edges by keeping them moisturized and protected. Use Jamaican Black Castor Oil, which nourishes the hair and promotes hair growth at the same time. If/when you do gel your edges down, opt for a moisturizing, alcohol-free gel or edge control. When you sleep, use a satin or silk scarf or pillowcase to prevent your edges from drying out overnight.
Give it a rest
It’s always a good idea to take a break from protective hairstyles regularly. The longer you leave in each style, the more you risk damaging your edges (and the rest of your hair). Avoid leaving in the same hairstyle for longer than two months.
Give your natural hair a break in between braided hairstyles too. Wear it loose for a couple of weeks, deep condition the hell out of it, and opt for looser, nonprotective hairstyles.
With these tips in mind, you can rock braids nearly all year long and still have full, fluffy edges to die for.
Kim Wong-Shing is a writer, lipstick junkie, and plant mama in New Orleans. She grew up in Philadelphia and went to Brown University. She's previously written about wellness, beauty, pop culture and other topics for LittleThings, NaturallyCurly, Lifehacker, HelloGiggles, Wear Your Voice Magazine, and other publications.