Braids. A protective style that dates back over 5000 years in African culture. The beauty of braids knows no bounds. The three-strand technique is not only versatile but offers an opportunity to give our kinks, coils, transitioning, and relaxed hair a break from manipulation. In many cases, giving hair a break can promote hair health and growth. But there are a few things to keep in mind to get the most out of your next protective style, which is where our experts come in.
Meet the Expert
For starters, hairstylist, educator, and L’Oréal-Mizani Artist Jada Jenkins says to beware of tension. "[Make] sure the braided style doesn’t have too much tension [to prevent irritating] the scalp." Celebrity hairstylist Nikki Nelms agrees. "Be mindful of the amount of tension being applied during the styling process. Any styles that feel uncomfortable during styling need to be adjusted immediately."
If you're transitioning from a relaxer or have relaxed hair, Nelms tells Byrdie, "Braided styles are a classic, low maintenance style for hair that is relaxed and/or transitioning." But, installing braids after a fresh touch-up can do more harm than good, so chat with your stylist before you schedule your appointment. In addition to monitoring tension and timing, cleansing the scalp to remove dead skin and product buildup was at the top of our expert's list of things to do. We know that frizz and prolonging the longevity of a style can be a wash day deterrent. But with the right cleanser and tools, keeping frizz at bay is possible.
The first tool that can help with frizz: shampoo with a nozzled bottle. Among Jenkin's favorites is Mizani's Wonder Crown Scalp Foaming Pre-Cleanse. The gentle, hydrating pre-cleanser is formulated with tea tree oil, cannabis Sativa seed oil, and honey. When using any cleanser, using the pads of your finger to gently rub your scalp can ensure your scalp gets the cleanse it needs without disrupting your braids. If you see frizz crop up, a foam mousse and silk scarf will be your protective style best friends.
Now that we've gotten the hair health tips out of the way, here are 17 braided styles perfect for natural and relaxed hair.
Chunky braids are a win-win because they typically take less time to install but help stylishly protect natural, transitioning, and relaxed hair.
Braided Beaded Pixie
Even if you have short hair, braids san extensions are an option. When washing braids without extensions, frizz will likely crop up, but applying foam styler post-wash and securing the hair in a silk scarf as it dries can help smooth the frizz.
Loose Braided Bun
Braids are so versatile, so much so that you can rock them up or let them do their thing wild and free. Laura's loose braided bun is a simple switch-up but beware of tension at the crown of the head and edges. If your find your scalp or edges need a little TLC, The Mane Choice Rejuvenation Solution EnhanceMINT Scalp Drops soothe and nourish.
Beaded Braided Bob
Rocking beads on the ends of braids can feel like you're taking a step back into grade school, but truly, we're here for the nostalgia.
Straight-back cornrows are a classic. If you find your scalp feels tender or itchy, Pattern Beauty's rosemary, peppermint, and lavender-infused scalp serum is a refreshing drink for the scalp.
Braided Bantu Knots
Adding texture to Bantu knots by braiding the hair is a simple way to add a new spin to a beloved staple.
Butt-Length Jumbo Braids
Butt-length braids are always a protective style. Saweetie's addition of clear beads and the trendy parting brings this braided style into a new era.
Beaded Shoulder-Length Fulani Braids
Beaded braids are among my favorite looks. Clear, wooden, bright, sparkly—the possibilities are endless.
Jumbo Braided Bob
A shoulder-length bob always makes a statement, and turning the classic silhouette on its head by adding large braids adorned with shells is what the world of beauty is all about.
Yellow Box Braids
Brightly hued braids are perfect for summer or brightening your world any time of the year.
"While wearing braided styles, do not forget to cleanse the scalp and keep the hair moisturized," Nelms tells Byrdie. A three-to-five minute mask—Sebastian Professional Dark Oil Mask is one of her favorites—she says is a must.
Angled Blue Braided Bob
Trying bold colors or a new cut can feel daunting. However, You can give it a go for six-to-eight weeks with a protective style without a permanent commitment.
Pop Smoke Braids
Pop Smoke braids pay homage to the late rapper and are beloved by many.
If you're seeking a protective style that doesn't require a visit to the salon or hours in the chair, this unique play on braids can keep your hair protected for up to a week.
Box Braid Ponytail
Janet Jackson's Poetic Justice braids are timeless. When trying this style, be sure to give the crown of your head and your edges a rest at night when you secure your braids with a silk bonnet.
The lyrics of Destiny's Child's Say My Name come to mind when we see this style of cornrows. No matter the size of your braids, you'll want to ensure there isn't an abundance of tension or stress on your edges or scalp as these are installed.
Cornrows are a classic, but that doesn't mean you can't add a little spin. Play with braid sizes and lengths if you want to experiment.
Blunt Braided Bob
The '90s are inspiring us all in everything from fashion to beauty. Rightfully, so. This chic bob says it all.