Hair-Care Tips

How To Wash Your Box Braids To Keep Your Hair and Scalp Healthy

Kara Jillian Brown

Photo: Stocksy / Jimena Roquero
One of the most appealing things about box braids is that they’re low-maintenance, but that doesn’t mean they’re no-maintenance. Stasha Harris, hairdresser and owner of Magic Fingers Studio in Brooklyn, learning how to wash box braids properly is the first step in keeping your hair healthy.

“With box braids, people tend to keep it in longer than regular cornrow braids,” says Harris. “It’s important to cleanse your scalp because a lot of people keep their box braids in for six to eight weeks.”

Often, people don’t want to wash their box braids for fear of messing them up. Because box braids involve synthetic hair attached to your natural hair, when you wash, you may notice some frizz from your natural hair getting wet. To prevent that, Harris says to ask for tucked braids.

“There is this tuck method where they tuck the clients’ hair underneath the braids,” says Harris. “So when they wash their hair, their hair won’t frizz because it’s on the inside of the extensions, or in the back of the braid, depending on how it’s braided. If the hair is not tucked, however, then it’s going to be kind of hard to get away from preventing their hair from frizzing.”

To keep your hair healthy, Harris says you should wash your braids every two to three weeks. If you’re not washing your hair and scalp, that means all of the buildup of products and dry skin just stays on your scalp, which can lead to flakes and itchiness.

“You want to cleanse your scalp so [it can] breathe,” says Harris. “And then you can put back in your moisture and your oils and lock that moisture in,” she says. To wash box braids the right way, follow the steps below.

How to wash box braids

1. Soak and shampoo

Before shampooing, Harris says to soak your braids with water and then add your shampoo.

Illeisha Lussiano, founder of The Way, a salon on New York City’s Lower East Side, says you want to make sure you thoroughly cover your scalp with shampoo. “Pour shampoo into your hand and with your fingers, apply to your scalp, and rub in until scalp is fully saturated,” she says.

2. Rinse thoroughly

“Rinse thoroughly; repeat if needed,” says Lussiano. “Be sure to rinse your scalp and braids, not leaving any shampoo.”

3. Condition

To add some moisture back in, Lussiano says to use a light conditioner. That way, the formula can penetrate your braids and is easy to wash out. Harris adds that when you put the conditioner on to leave it there for three to five minutes.

4. Fully dry your braids

“Finally, be sure to wrap your hair in a large towel to soak up a majority of the water,” says Lussiano. “From there, you can either choose to [air] dry or use the help of a dryer.” Be sure to fully dry your braids—the last thing you want is mildew growing in them—yikes!

5. Apply product

Both Lussiano and Harris recommend to add oils to your hair after you’ve washed it. Harris’ go-to is the Ampro Vitamin E Oil ($7). For styling, Harris says you can use some gel on your edges, like the Shine ‘n Jam Magic Fingers Gel ($12) and add mousse to your braids. Run the mousse through your braids with your fingers and then tie them up with a durag to dry. “[Your braids] should look fresh. Not brand new, but fresh,” says Harris.

The dos and don’ts of box braid care

Do: Ask your stylist about maintenance

“When it comes to washing your box braids, always speak to the stylist that installed them regarding their suggested maintenance and care,” says Lussiano. “If that isn’t an option, you should find a different stylist.”

Don’t: Style wet braids

It’s essential to let your braids fully dry before pulling them into a ponytail or any other style. If you style them wet, they don’t have the air to fully dry. “You don’t want [them] to smell moldy or anything,” says Harris.

Do: Pay attention to your scalp

If your scalp is feeling super dry and itchy, give it a wash.

Don’t: Use dry shampoo

Lussiano says using dry shampoo on braids is a terrible idea.

“This will only increase your visible build up and residue,” she says. “Plus, dry shampoo is meant to dry up any oil in the hair. When wearing box braids, oil is essential for maintaining a hydrated and moisturized scalp and lasting style.”

Be sure to take good care of your braids

Braids are great because they help protect your natural hair. When your hair is tucked inside of a braid, you’re not combing and manipulating it in ways that can lead to breakage. By washing your braids, you’re helping to keep your hair even healthier.

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