Lesson Learned: Transitioning with Braids

20 Oct

by Janday Wilson


Toward the end of my senior year of high school, I grew tired of relaxing my hair. I wanted to try something different, and I did not have any particular style in mind, so I put some braids in my hair just in time for graduation. I was honestly so scared to deal with my hair, and I hoped the braids would buy me some time to figure something out.

The Big Fall Out

Unfortunately, I installed my braids without cutting off the relaxed hair. And for the entirety of my freshman year of college I just left my hair in braids so I would not have to worry about it. I never trimmed my hair.

When I came home for the summer after school I was finally ready to debut my natural hair. I was so proud of the big halo of hair that I had grown over the year, until it all fell out weeks later. I had no idea that my big ol’ ’fro was mostly dead hair.

If you are brave enough to do the big chop before getting braids, go for it. If not, get your transitioning hair trimmed every 4 to 6 weeks, preferably by a professional. And once you are all natural, your hair should be trimmed every 8 to 12 weeks.

Otherwise, you will end up like me.

Say No to Stress

While I was at school, I was concerned about making my braids last, and I figured that the tighter my braids were, the longer I would be able to maintain the style. So I winced my way through braiding sessions and headed straight to the medicine cabinet to pop some Advil when I came home from the hair braiding shop.

The front of my hair started developing little bumps that led to hair loss in a small section of my hair.

In addition to regularly trimming your ends, you must maintain your hairline and roots. Despite the fact that it is a protective hairstyle, braids can actually put a lot of stress on your strands because the extra hair weighs your own hair down, particularly when the braids are synthetic.

Make sure to alert your hairdresser when the braids are too tight and do not let her pull at your hair too much as she braids it. One trick that I use is to place my finger over the beginning of the braid to ensure that the hairstylist does not yank at my hair.

You can also ask them to not braid your edges at all. Just use edge control lotion to ensure that your hairline looks fresh if it is not braided up.

If your braids are too tight, soak your hair and scalp in warm water under the shower. Rub your scalp to loosen the braids even more. You can recover from hair loss by massaging your scalp every day with a variety of oils (a method I have been practicing religiously), including peppermint oil, olive oil, castor oil, coconut oil, almond oil, and more.

Gimme a Break

I probably never trimmed my hair in between braiding sessions because I rarely gave my hair a break. I would simply braid it, unbraid it, and then braid it again.

I suggest that you give your hair a break of at least one to two weeks in between braiding sessions to allow it to breathe and regain strength. Make sure to deep condition your hair and do strengthening treatments. And while your hair is out try something new. Find some hairstyles that will allow you style your transitioning hair, while hiding the relaxed strands you may have been afraid to completely part with. Some styles include the Bantu knot-out, a twist-out, a braid out, a straw set, curling it on flexi-rods, and the faux Marley bun.

I also made the mistake of keeping my braids in for too long. There would be times when I was on campus and could not find a hair braider that charged me the reasonable prices of my stylist back home, so I would wait for four months or more before getting my hair redone.

You should keep your braids in for no more than two to three months. Keeping them in for longer increases the chances of your hair getting matted and breaking off.

Take Care of Hair In and Out of Braids

The one thing that I learned to do properly early on during my braided transitioning process was to wash and condition my braided hair every two weeks. I found that braids that previously looked dull and old looked as good as new after I carefully washed them. And I always made sure to lightly oil my scalp after washing my braids.

If you are afraid that constantly wetting your hair will cause the braids to get fuzzy or fall out, there are some spray-on shampoos and conditioners that will “dry” clean your hair. Some great brands include Organic Root Stimulator and African Pride.

One aspect of hair care that I occasionally fell short on was properly detangling my hair after taking out my braids. Braids tend to fill your hair with dirt, and even faithfully washing your braids cannot get rid of all of the dirt that they store. When taking out your braids use braid ease out spray to prevent breakage, or you can shampoo and condition your hair the day before or the same day you take the braids out.

Imagine all of the hair that might still be attached to my head if I took the time to detangle it properly after taking out my braids! I used to get so frustrated with the clumps of dirt and mass of unyielding knots that sometimes I would even – gasp! – comb sections of my DRY hair. I would cut out the thinly attached bits of hair that were left from the ravages of my comb.

Avoid this travesty by dividing your hair into sections and moisturizing each section with a water-based conditioner mix to soften the hair. Then gently comb each section from the tip to the roots.

Don’t Go It Alone

To this day I regret dropping so many stacks on hair products after my year-long transition.

Instead of getting information about how to take care of my hair throughout the whole year I wore braids, I took a crash course in natural hair during the few days after I took my braids out. I was overwhelmed by all of the different kinds of advice and product suggestions in the natural hair blogosphere so I thought, why not try them all?

I went crazy in the store and online, buying any product I thought might work on my hair. It has been about 7 years since I went natural and I still have some unused products sitting in my room.

In retrospect, I would have paced myself and learned about my hair by actually fiddling with it in between braid installations. I would have also consulted a natural hair stylist and gotten some in-person advice on the right products to use for my hair.

Braids are an incredible, mostly low maintenance, protective style that can help you retain length. And there are a plethora of cute styles that you can create with braids. You just have to be vigilant about taking care of your braided hair. I had to learn the hard way, but you don’t have to!

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