Photo Getty
How to Style Box Braids 2022. Photo Getty

Box braids have been around for thousands of years and can be traced all the way back to Africa, according to Ebony. The style saw a big resurgence in mainstream media when Janet Jackson wore them in her 1993 film debut, Poetic Justice. Since then, we've seen more and more celebrities proudly rocking them everywhere from the red carpet to magazine photoshoots.

What Are Box Braids?

For the uninitiated, box braids are three-stranded plaits. They aren’t too different from standard braids, but they are certainly more defined since the tension that is applied to the braids are enough to prevent fly-aways. And unlike cornrows, box braids are not braided flat against the scalp—hair is sectioned off into precisely shaped squares (or boxes) all throughout the scalp and gets braided down its entire length, so you can shake your freestanding plaits to your heart’s content. To get added length, volume, and protection, many naturals and relaxed heads opt for extensions.

Kanekalon, a synthetic fiber that is used in most braiding hair packs, is commonly used to achieve the style due to its affordability and ability to withstand extreme heat for sealed ends (if rubber bands aren’t used). However, bulk human hair can also be used for a more natural look that’s environmentally friendly and sustainable. Though, this option is pricier and takes a bit more work since it’s real hair.

Whichever, hair extension type you choose, it can be reused for future box braids or other braiding styles.

READ MORE: 50 Interesting Facts about Hair

How to Choose Your Braid Size?

Photo Getty
Photo Getty

The hardest part about getting box braids is deciding on the thickness of your plaits. Making a decision becomes easier when you take consideration of your environment, says trichologist and stylist Bridgette Hill of Paul Labrecque Salon and Skincare Spa.

In her own words, “The right size depends on your goals and purpose of choosing a braided style. Are you looking for a Bohemian beach beauty look for your week-long girls’ trip to the Caribbean? Or are you looking for a protective style to give your hair fibers a break from styling and manipulation?”

Aside from thinking about the climate you’ll be in, Hill stresses that your planned box braid duration should be discussed with your stylist. “The longer you plan to keep them in, the smaller the sections should be,” she says, though, she advises her clients to stay away from micro-sized braids. “I suggest that sections, at minimum, [should] at least be two fingers in width.”

There are different sizes of box braids:

Small braids are often called micro braids and they’re itty bitty plaits.

Medium braids, which are the most popular size request, have about the same width as a pencil or pen. We can thank Poetic Justice star, Janet Jackson, circa 1993 for this iconic look.

Large braids are chunky and thick and make quite the statement. These plaits can have a width between the size of a Crayola marker and a jumbo Sharpie.

Is There Discomfort?

As many protective stylers know, traction alopecia can occur if your braids are too tight. To ensure that your hair stays intact, you’ll have to monitor your stylist’s technique for any discomfort.

If discomfort does occur, Hill advises clients to speak up. “Address the discomfort immediately,” she urges. “The braider should loosen any braid in real-time to reduce discomfort.” In her line of work, she says any reputable braider will want to know a client’s scalp sensitivity, so they’ll know how much tension to use throughout the service. Therefore, the instant you feel uncomfortable, you should let your stylist know.

How much do box braids cost?

The cost of your installation is determined by the size and length of your style, as well as where you live, but Williams says you can expect to pay anywhere between $200-900 for the installation. And keep in mind that highly skilled technicians will come at a higher price point.

What Is the Braiding Process Like?

Photo Pinterest
Photo Pinterest

Box braids are not a monolith. The style can be long or short, thick or thin. And depending on the look you’re going for, the hours you spend in a stylist’s chair can vary.

“The time it takes depends on the skill and technique of the braider and the hair type of the client who is getting the braids—not so much on the braid style,” Hill says. “On average, a quality braid style can take anywhere from four to eight hours.”

Real talk: If you’re going for a really elaborate or Rapunzel-length box braid style, you might want to bring a few magazines, a phone charger, and snacks with you.

How Long Do Box Braids Last?

It might be tempting to leave your box braids in for as long as possible. Especially if your braids still look good months after the first installation. However, if you keep your braids in for too long, it can cause breakage, matting, and buildup on your new growth, which completely defeats the purpose of a protective style.

“Braids can last a maximum of 10 weeks if the hairline and nape are redone at the six-week mark,” Hill explains. “If the hairline and neck are not re-done at the six-week mark, eight weeks is the maximum amount of time you can keep your hair in a braided style.”

When you're ready to uninstall your box braids, Groover leaves us with two essential tips. Detangle first. Cleanse second. "Detangle the dry hair with only your hands and no product for the first round. For the second round, I suggest detangling with a wide-tooth comb while using a rich, intensive, detangling conditioner," she advises. "Taking this extra step can help prevent tangling and excess shedding.[This] works to soften, condition, and removes knots and buildup from dry, tangled hair. Once you have rinsed out your hair mask, follow up with your regular cleansing and conditioning routine."

READ MORE: 9 simple TIPS for Haircare in Winter

How Can You Style Box Braids?

1. Bow Tie

Photo Youtube
Photo Youtube

This cute and quirky style looks great on long box braids.

If you have some spare time and few hairpins, then this adorable box braids bow tie is a cute way to dress up your box braids. Learn how to do this style in our bow braids tutorial.

2. Half-Up

Photo the right hairstyles
Photo the right hairstyles

If you’re going to work, school, or just running around and don’t have time to style your hair, put your long box braids in a half-up style.

When you’re on the run, you don’t have many hairstyles for long box braids to choose from that can be ready in a flash. That’s when the half-up hairstyle comes in: It’s as easy as grabbing a clip and pulling some braids back! If some strands are popping out of your braids, control and pat them down with a hairspray like Dove Style+Care Extra Hold Hairspray.

3. Multi-Colored Braids

Photo Pinterest
Photo Pinterest

Multi-colored box braids are a funky and vibrant way to dress up your style.

Make your hair a unique waterfall of color with these vibrant, beautiful braids! They’re oozing with personality, and add an extra boost of color to just about any style.

4. Crown Braid

What’s one way to style box braids? Putting them in one giant crown braid, of course.

Just because your hair is already in braids doesn’t mean you can’t put it in an even bigger braid. A half-crown braid is the best style that’s truly fit for a princess, and can easily be achieved with long box braids.

5. Braided Bun

If you’re going anywhere formal, this style is the perfect up-do for your braids.

We’re all about big, chunky braids made out of smaller box braids (so meta!). The look adds texture and detail to an already classic updo, and it’s very simple to recreate: Just simply braid your set of long box braids into a bigger, fatter braid, and wrap them in a bun style. Tip: To keep your edges smooth and sleek, use Emerge Edge Control.

6. Simple Bun

This easy bun can be made while on the go! Photo credit: Dvora

This is one of the simpler long box braid styles on this list, yet it still looks so chic. Wrapping your braids in a big, voluminous bun is one of the easiest (and most popular) box braids styles there is.

7. Half Twist Bun

Photo Pinterest
Photo Pinterest

Twisting your hair into this intricate half bun is great for a night out.

We’re all about the bun style with long box braids. A half twist bun is a fun play on a regular half-up style and looks great for any occasion: Whether you’re going to the club or heading to brunch, this style steps up to any event.

8. Two Tones

Play with your braided locks by adding splashes of color to your hair. Photo credit: Allyson Allapont

Go all out with your box braids by adding some pops of color. Whether you want some neon blues or more subtle blonde, adding more hues into your weave gives off a more vibrant, unique appearance.

9. Top Knot Bun

A top knot bun keeps braids out of your face while adding extra volume.

A top knot bun, done in a half-up style, is another simple long box braid hairstyle for you to try out.

10. Scarf

Photo Pinterest
Photo Pinterest

Haven’t gotten to wash your hair, or just having a bad hair day? Then tie a scarf around your head for a bohemian look.

If your roots are looking a little greasy, there’s nothing a whimsical scarf can’t fix! Just spritz your hair with Nexxus Dry Shampoo Refreshing Mist to suck out excess oil, and wrap any scarf of your choosing around your crown.

Is it true that box braids can damage your hair?

It’s been said that some protective styles using extensions, like box braids, can cause damage to the hair or scalp, but Williams says this is only the case if the braids are installed or removed incorrectly. “The hair becomes ruined when the braids are installed improperly with too much tension or weight.” To prevent damage, make sure you follow these pro tips:

Interview your stylist before booking your appointment. “Ask to see pictures of their work, talk to current clients, and find out if the stylist has received any specific training in installing braids the healthy way,” Williams says. “You want to work with someone who is experienced so you have the best results.” So don’t shy away from doing your research.

Opt for the knotless technique if breakage is a top concern. “When done properly, it prevents traction alopecia, which is a common form of hair loss for women who have braids that are installed too tight with the large knots,” says Williams. She does warn that the knotless technique does take longer to install, but it’s worth it for the health benefits of the hair and scalp.

Use proper hydrating products after installation. These are essential to maintain the style so the hair doesn’t become dry and brittle and more susceptible to breakage. Try applying an oil-based hydrator to your braids a few times throughout the week to not only hydrate your plaits, but to give them added sheen, too. Williams suggests sticking to oils and water-based products only — they can be easily absorbed into the hair instead of sitting on top making your braids gunky or sticky.

When removing your box braids, make sure to use a product to soften build-up and matting of the hair. This can be a conditioner, detangling spray or oil. The goal is to create some slip on the hair so your extensions glide out with ease and you can avoid any pulling or tugging.

Caring tips

Like all protective styles, box braids are meant to be low maintenance and cut you some slack in the morning when it comes to styling your hair. But there is some maintenance that is required to keep your braids looking and feeling fresh for longer. The biggest maintenance requirement is moisturizing: Yes, even though your hair is intertwined with extensions, it still needs moisture! This is even more critical if you plan to wash your braids with shampoo to avoid product buildup.

Be sure to give your scalp a little TLC, too. Williams says you can wash your braids with shampoo, but make sure the cleanser is a gentle, hydrating formula and your frequency isn't too often that your braids begin to loosen or frizz. For most curly hair types, washing braids once a week should suffice.

As you wash, you want to avoid any rough movements or scrubbing. Focus on cleansing the scalp first and then move hands in a downward motion to gently cleanse the length of your braids. Even better if you can find a cleanser or scalp purifier that can be applied with a nozzle tip to ensure you’re sloughing away all dirt and debris from the scalp. In most cases, you don't need conditioner, but if the ends of your braids need some sprucing, feel free to add a dollop of conditioner to the ends only!

Although box braids are meant to be a low-maintenance, protective style, there is still some upkeep that’s needed to ensure both your plaits and scalp are in tip-top shape.

Hill advises that the physical braids get spritzed with a moisturizing oil at least three to five times a week. The scalp, however, needs a little more TLC since it is the foundation for healthy hair.

“The scalp should be cleansed with natural cleansing oils such as citrus-based rosemary, which should be applied with a nozzle applicator bottle weekly,” she says. “Some scalps may need a diluted shampoo every other week or so.”

If that’s the case for your scalp, Hill suggests mixing shampoo and water in a nozzle applicator bottle and working the contents onto your scalp before getting into the shower. The mixture can sit for five to 10 minutes before it needs to be rinsed under a shower head. Post-shower, you can apply a moisturizing oil spray and let the braids air-dry to completion. If you feel a hooded dryer or blower dryer is necessary, Hill says to make sure it is at a cool temperature.

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