Everything You Need to Know About Getting Braids

Winter is right around the corner and before you get braided up for cold months to protect your hair, let's discuss everything you need to know before you get braids. The first (and last) time I had braids I had no idea what to expect. The entire experience from the time I sat down in the chair until the time my hairdresser took my braids out was straight misery. Sure, there were days where I happily flicked my long braids over my shoulders, but for me the luxury of long hair wasn't worth the damage to my skull and tresses. It wasn't until I started wearing my hair natural that braids were something I knew had to be a part of my hair care regimen even if it meant braiding my own hair.

Finding someone great at braids is like finding a great slice of pizza. The shops may be on every corner, but that doesn't mean every stylist is going to know how to give you a good set of braids. With that in mind, I've combined my own hair knowledge and that of hair braiding expert, Tanya Pebbles of East Coast Style salon, to put together everything you need to know before you get braids.

1. Stalk The Person Who's Going To Braid Your Hair

This is a time when social media is going to be your best friend. During my quick search, I found many African Hair Braiding salons don't actually have websites to view their work. It may also be hard to find a Yelp review written within the past five years. Find their IG account or do some detective work to see if anyone you know has been to a particular hair dresser. Choosing who braids your hair should not be like choosing which restaurant to order delivery from — I'd take food poisoning over hair breakage any day of the week.

2. Figure Out The Style You Want Before Your Appointment

If you've found extensions that are the business, then tell your hairdresser you will be bringing your own hair upfront. If you have no idea if you want human hair or synthetic, do a little research on what your chosen hair salon carries and if it suits your hair. According to Tanya Pebbles, the thing that matters is the what you do while you're in your new hair. "I've worked with all types of hair, it's all about how you take care of it, synthetic hair is cheap, but human hair lasts longer. It's really all about moisture and [personal preference]."

3. Don't Braid Right After You Relax

Braids are great protective styles for naturals and relaxed babes, but according to Pebbles, "relaxing the hair before you get braids is a big no-no because the relaxer stretches the elasticity of the hair, stressing the pH balance; the weight of the braids will pull and [cause] breakage at the root." She recommends waiting about eight weeks before getting braids, so you have at least half an inch inch of new growth.

4. Make Sure Your Braids Aren't Too Tight

Personally, the point of braids for me is to keep my hair in a protective style and avoid the day-to-day wear and tear in my hair. If your braids are too tight you'll likely experience some moderate to serious breakage. Communicate with your hairdresser; if that first braid tugs something terrible, say something. Your braids should not pull your scalp or be painful. Pebbles agrees, saying "tight braids will give you an instant face-lift. Some people think it makes the braids last longer, but it's a lot of stress on the hair which causes thinning." Not exactly the look I'm going for.

5. Keep Up With A Hair Care Regimen

One of the biggest misconceptions about wearing your hair in braids is that you don't need to do any regular maintenance. No, child, you must keep your scalp clean and moisturized! According to Pebbles, "if you don't moisturize, you end up with dread locks," which will inevitably lead to breakage when you try to get rid of them. She advises that you should be able to run a wide tooth comb through your hair after your braids are taken out.

"Use a stocking cap to shampoo the hair without disturbing the braids," Pebbles says. "For moisture, use shea butter to keep the hair growing and the scalp moisturized," she continues. There is no such thing as a protective style where you don't have to do any work.

Titan Dreadlock Stocking Cap, $4, Amazon

5. Style With Caution

Giving your hair a break from styling is usually the reason we get braids in the first place, to allow the hair to grow and rest. Pebbles suggests caring for your new braids like a baby since braids are tighter in the first few weeks. "Whatever you're doing, in terms of styling, pull loosely and try not to [over-manipulate] especially if you have shorter hair around the edges. Not only will your braids fall out faster, but you will have hair breakage." Styling braids can be super fun, but nothing could be less fun than taking those braids out and realizing you've pulled wayyyy to much at the crown.

6. Protect Your Hair While You Sleep

There is nothing worse than someone peering into your head of braids and picking out a piece of lint. We all hate that person in the moment, but are secretly glad they got the lint of our hair. Sleeping in a satin bonnet not only protects you from lint and crumbs (I know I'm not the only person eating nachos in bed), but it's also going to keep your braids from getting frizzy. Pebbles suggests sleeping in something protective to make the braids last longer. "Put your hair up in a bonnet or stocking cap [before bed] to keep the hair intact [and the snags away]."

7. Remember, These Braids Won't Last Forever

Exactly how long you can keep your braids in for is debatable as it is determined by how well your braids are put in and how well you treat your braids throughout. According to Tanya Pebbles, 12 weeks is the absolute longest time your hair should be in breads. "If you take care of [your braids], keeping up with moisture and scalp cleansing, you can keep your hair in for 12 weeks. Any longer and the hair starts to dread and break." Braids are an excellent way to protect your hair for a while, but eventually you'll have to let it free.

Image: @ParisPaige300/Instagram; Courtesy Yves Amazan (1); Courtesy Nasrin Jean-Baptiste (1)