Box braids are a fan favorite. In fact, when Google released its "Year in Search" trending data for 2020, this specific how-to made the list. If you've ever gotten the beloved protective style installed, you know how much of a time-saver it can be, and let's be honest, the braids make us feel beautiful. (Well, at least that has been my experience.) Even with the style's time-saving capabilities and versatility, there is one downside: Box braids can be heavy and can sometimes put a strain on the scalp and our delicate edges.
Lucky for us, there may be a solution to those drawbacks: knotless braids. If you've spent any time on Instagram or enjoy watching red carpets, you've likely gotten a glimpse of the new it style on influencers like Alissa Ashley along with celebrities like Gabrielle Union, Jhene Aiko, and Beyoncé. Here, we're going to chat about how to prep the hair for your knotless braid installation, explain the difference between this style and traditional box braids, and share the pros and cons of giving these braids a try.
Meet the Expert
- Dr. Kari Williams is a licensed cosmetologist, board-certified trichologist, and member of DevaCurl’s Expert Curl Council.
What Are Knotless Box Braids
Simply put, knotless braids don't have the traditional knot you likely grew up with at the start of each braid. Knotless braids uses the feed-in technique, infusing the hair mid-braid to create a lightweight braid that some would call more natural-looking. Not to mention, the braids are coveted for their comfort and ease on the hairline. "Knotless braids are definitely a better option because [they put] less stress and tension on the hair and scalp," says Williams.
"Braids can still be heavy if too much hair is used in the extension," she adds. But, she notes that when the technique is done correctly, you can help prevent traction alopecia. "The benefit of the knotless technique (when done properly) is 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. This technique can take longer to install, but it's worth the health of the hair and scalp."
How to Prep Your Hair
Now that you know the how, the why, and benefits of knotless braids, let's chat about how to prep your hair before your next appointment with your braider. Hair prep before any protective style is a must, and knotless braids are no different. Dr. Williams recommends a thorough cleanse and deep condition before braiding to help your style do what you're hoping for: protect and promote hair growth. "To preserve the health of the hair, make sure you thoroughly cleanse and deep condition the hair before installing the braids," she says. "When choosing to wear long-term styles like knotless braids, it's best if the hair is in its most optimum condition."
You may already have a deep conditioner in rotation that works for you, but keep a few ingredients in mind when you're looking to replace an empty. Shea butter, avocado, and aloe-based products can provide an excellent source of moisture and nutrients your hair will thank you for when you're ready to remove your braids.
How Are They Installed?
You may still be asking yourself "Okay, so what's the difference between traditional box braids and knotless braids?" Well, it starts at installation. "Traditional box braids are created by wrapping [the] extension hair around the base of the natural hair and creating a knot attachment at the scalp," says Dr. Williams. "Knotless braids are created by incorporating the extension hair into the base of the natural hair invisibly (without a knot)."
Remember when Dr. Williams mentioned that knotless braids could take longer to install? That is generally the case. Mainly because your braider has to stop to add extra hair as they finish each braid. This not only means you're in the chair longer, but the time required and the thoughtful technique used to create each braid can bump the service price up.
Pros and Cons
Knotless braids seem to have more pros than cons. However, if adding a few additional hours (and coins) to your braiding session feels like too much, traditional box braids may be your best bet. Your time spent in the chair will vary depending on your hair length, thickness, and how long your braids are—so check in with your stylist before booking to get a guesstimate. You can plan for up to nine hours (five at the least) and a bill that can cost up to $300 or more per session, but again, this will vary.
How Do You Care for Them?
Like any protective style, you'll want to take care of your scalp and remove any buildup over the course of the four to six weeks you're rocking your latest 'do. One of the benefits of knotless braids is your scalp is accessible. You can cleanse or spot-treat your scalp without much fuss.
However, knotless braids present a challenge that can happen with traditional box braids (but could be a little more difficult to hide since the hair at the scalp isn't intertwined with kanekalon hair): Frizz and dryness. Washing your hair and scalp is important so you can prevent buildup and keep your hair moisturized, even while it's protected. You'll also want to follow up each wash with a leave-in conditioner to seal in moisture.
There is one product you'll want to keep on hand (well, two): mousse, plus a blow-dryer. Applying mousse to your roots, wrapping them in a scarf, and blowing your roots dry can help keep the hair near your scalp defined and fresh. If you find frizz is still a challenge, you can book a retouch with your stylist to refresh your knotless braids, or try watching a few YouTube videos (like this one by Brandi Lofton) to see how people fight frizz in action while keeping their hair in tip-top condition.