What I Learned When I Tried Yarn Braids For The First Time

There are plenty of things I want to try with my hair but I don't out of laziness or fear of irreversible damage. Yarn braids have been on my to do list for a while, because it's such a highly recommended protective style. After trying them, I'm happy to report it's actually worth the hours sitting still — and I've been known to suffer from bouts of thaasophobia.

As I mentioned, I'm not usually very adventurous with my hair. Up until recently, I hadn't thought anyone noticed and foolishly thought I was disguising myself as a risk-taking hair manipulator. Recently, however, one of my closest friends called me out on my fear of the (hair) unknown, saying, "You don't deserve all that hair. What's the point of having hair that will do anything you want if you never do anything with it?" Not one to sit idly by while my hair choices are sassed, I started what became a year-long process of considering to put yarn in my hair.

Finally, I decided it was time to stop talking about yarn braids and actually put some in. I had a million questions and found few answers, so I realized I've have to go into the whole thing a bit blindly.

Since I had no idea what I was doing, I tapped Alisha Acquaye, a new braid stylist, whose braid styles have had me crushing for some time now, for some info. Thanks to her gentle touch and extreme knowledge about the braid game, I was able to find a new protective style. After my yarn experiment was complete, I was even more in love with yarn braids than I had been when I was lusting over other peoples'. Here are 12 important lessons I learned while rocking the protective style for the first time.

1. The Type Of Yarn Matters

Unlike hair extensions, the price tag attached to your yarn doesn't necessarily make it better for your hair. Kristal from advises staying away from any wool blends and choosing 100 percent acrylic yarn for braids; some people, however, have gone the wool route for their braids and found it protected their kinky curls from frizziness. Even though most folks seemed to feel strongly that acrylic was the way to go, I decided to use both in my hair to see for myself. I bought a bundle of brown wool yarn for $20 and used mostly in the front of my hair, then bought two bundles of 100 percent acrylic black yarn for $2 and used in the back of my hair. The amount of the yarn we needed was astonishing, so I also ended up unraveling a handmade brown scarf that was a wool, cotton, acrylic, and bamboo blend.

What I found was in my experience was that it actually made no difference at all in the weight or protection. However the 100 percent wool was slightly itchy at times. I was pretty glad it wasn't the back of my head near my neck because it would have made for some sleepless, itch-fueled nights. Regardless of your hair type, I'd now recommend using a natural blend or acrylic for comfy yarn braids.

2. Separating The Yarn Makes It Go Further

Alisha and I were able to make our supply of wool yarn go further by teasing the yarn, which involves simply pulling the fibers apart. This ended up giving us more control over the size of the braids as well, so if you've got thick yarn, teasing should take place before you start your braids.

Braids are an all-day affair and if you've ever run out of hair when putting in extensions towards the end of a session, you know the panic it can cause. The trouble with yarn, is that it's hard to actually see how much you have when it's in a bundle, another reason to tease ahead of time. Purchase twice as much as you think you'll need — if anything you can save them for another style or return any unopened bundles if you end up with extra. The amount you'll need will ultimately depend on the size of the braids and the density of your natural hair.

3. Burning The Ends Is A Dangerous Task

Perhaps the most important bit of information I wish I had before getting yarn braids was that burning the edges to seal the braids can be pretty risky. Burning the ends of synthetic hair is a fairly painless task, but burning the ends of yarn was downright dangerous. The 100 percent acrylic yarn burned pretty slowly, but the blend and wool braids lit up like a Christmas tree doused in gasoline. My first wool braid lit on fire so quickly that the flame had spread to my hand, creating a few painful blisters. Burning the ends took three of us: One person holding the hair, one person burning, and one to be on stand-by to put the flame out. It took about 60 minutes to burn all the braids and sadly, it didn't last.

The wool and blend braids were so crisp that the ends flaked off and began to unravel after a few days. Since my braids took about nine hours, I was not trying to unravel before week one so I reluctantly purchased tiny brown and black rubber bands to protect my hair. While I prefer the burn edges look over rubber bands, I was able to keep my ends from looking messy by tying at the ends of each braid and then snipping any extra yarn poking out. I highly suggest nixing any ideas of burning wool and stick to rubber bands.

4. You Should Still Protect Your Scalp From The Elements

My hair is no stranger to twists and braids; I tend to keep my kinky strands in protective styling most of the time, but that usually involves some form of coverage when I'm leaving the house. After my first week in yarn, I realized that it was still important to keep my scalp protected in rain or on particularly cold days, just as I would in any protective style. Keeping my scalp moisturized in yarn braids was pretty easy, I just used a spray bottle of homemade leave-in conditioner as I would in any other protective style which for me, is about every other day.

5. Yarn Takes Forever To Dry

I wasn't exactly surprised that yarn braids took longer to dry than synthetic or natural hair; it seemed logical and it was one of the few consistent bits of info I learned when I first started researching yarn braids. What was surprising was just how long they took to dry: Some sources claimed their acrylic braids were completely dry within four hours, but a common complaint was how heavy yarn braids get when wet.

My acrylic braids took just as long as my wool and wool blend braids and my hair was only completely dry after 12 hours. Fortunately I was only uncomfortably damp for about four hours, and the braids weren't that heavy at all. In fact, it seemed about the same weight as when I've had extensions with synthetic hair. Of course they were super heavy while I was washing my hair, but one bonus of the yarn is you can easily ring out the braids and get out excess water to make them lighter while they dry. I got my hair fully wet for cleansing only once while I had braids and used a homemade wet/dry shampoo spray to keep my scalp and hair clean for the rest of the time.

6. Yarn Requires Frequent Trims

My hair stayed tightly braided for the duration of the time I kept them in, but there was still some fraying that occurred in the yarn braids. I figured this would happen to the ends when I introduced rubber bands, but I wasn't expecting them to fray up the perimeter of the braid as well. The cool thing about the yarn, though, is that it's really easy to manage: I was able to trim any flyaways with a sharp pair of scissors I use for knots in my own hair. Even though my yarn braids still required some form of maintenance every few days, it was still better than the hair maintenance I typically have to do to my natural hair.

Using a hand mirror before I styled my yarn braids for the day made sure I was on top of the fraying and I only needed to reach for the scissors a few times. Investing in a large-satin bonnet prevented any extra fraying and kept my own hair from frizzing up as well.

7. Yarn is Light, But Like All Braids, Still Has Moments of Discomfort

For the most part, my braids were extremely comfy. Aside from the slight itchiness of the wool that was easily worked out by lubing up the braids with a moisturizer, the only other comfort-issues resulted in my own styling. I realized pretty quickly that the only way I could sleep or drive in my yarn was if it was completely scooped up on top of my head.

Perhaps the most important thing I learned during this process was that the most comfortable way to be was with my braids fully down. Unfortunately, sleeping this way was impossible, but switching up my styles during the day from updo to hair down kept away any discomfort.

8. Yarn Braids Can Get Very Warm

Since wool is a fabric best for cool temperatures, it should come as no surprise that yarn braids add some extra heat into your ensemble. This was actually another benefit to having yarn braids for me since I'm always cold, but I could certain see how it might be a negative for someone who runs hot. Being able to wrap my braids around my neck whenever felt a chill was like having a built-in scarf.

At least, that was until it became 80 degrees for no apparent reason. I definitely broke a sweat with my yarn braids, which just reminded me this protective style is best suited for winter. If you're thinking about getting yarn braids in the summer, consider acrylic, which isn't quite as insulating as wool.

9. Yarn Can Be Dressed Up

I was pleased to find that yarn can easily be dressed up and accessorized just like synthetic braids. If you plan on putting beads in your hair, you will definitely need to style your yarn braids smaller to fit the beads around them and the beads should be put on before you seal the ends with rubber bands.

Funky clips, flowers, and styles are super easy in yarn braids which makes the style super versatile. Originally, I had planned to use just one color of yarn, but the blend of different browns with black ended up giving my yarn braids a cool ombre effect.

10. Hair Can Retain Moisture More Moisture In Yarn

The main reason for putting yarn in my hair was to see if my hair would retain as much moisture as anecdotal evidence claimed — but the fear of not getting enough moisture was also what kept me from trying them for so long. My hair is used to getting daily doses of some form of nutrients and I worried that regardless of the texture of the yarn, my hair would be so dry it would weaken and cause breakage because I wasn't able to moisturize every single strand.

To ease my fears, I use a hefty, leave-in, hot oil treatment of distilled water, castor oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil before my braids were put in. When I took the first yarn braid out, I couldn't believe how shiny and healthy my hair still was! The synthetic braids I've tried in the past have made my hair so dry that the damage in some sections of my hair was irreparable.

If you're also trying braids for the first time, I'd recommend making sure your hair is clean and super moisturized before you put yarn, because the yarn will ultimately help retain moisture in your tresses.

11. Don't Keep Yarn In For Too Long

Since the goal of any protective style is to protect the hair, the last thing you would want is to keep the style for too long and cause damage. As a rule, I will not keep a protective style for longer than three weeks. I've actually already tested this timeline on my hair by seeing how long I could go without fully cleansing and/or deep conditioning. I've interviewed sources that have claimed braids can be kept in for as long as 12 weeks and other sources that claim the best results for your hair is to take braids out once you've reached the one month mark.

Yarn braids, like any other extensions, are time-consuming and pricey, but don't keep them in for months just to get your money's worth. If your hair is knotted and damaged after you take out your yarn braids, you've wasted your time and money. Once my own hair began to frizz, which was just a few days shy of my 3-week mark, I knew my time in yarn braids was coming to an end.

12. You'll Need Full Day To Take The Braids Out, Too

My yarn braids took almost as long to take out as they did to put in. This time it was only a two-person job and I was thankful I had my mother's quick hands to cover one section while I took on another. As you can imagine if you've ever had extensions, you need to clear your schedule for removing the yarn. The most time-consuming part isn't unraveling the braids — it's restoring the scalp and hair that's been covered.

I made a hot oil treatment to use after I cleansed and conditioned, but the most timely task of this protective style was detangling. One of the reasons I shy away from synthetic braids is because of how brutally tangled my hair gets right at the point of hair meets faux hair. I wish I could say yarn braids were different, but as usual, there were plenty of stubborn knots I had to tend to in order to preserve all my hair.

There is a silver lining to my detangling struggle, since the yarn kept my hair moisturized throughout my time in braids, my hair was strong enough to sustain the manipulation that a detangling session of this nature requires whereas previously with synthetic hair, dryness has weakened my hair causing strands to snap off when removing knots and tangles.

In short, I'll certainly be trying these yarn braids again — just not in the middle of summer.