What Can I Do About Braids That Are Too Tight?

woman with black braided hair
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Depending on where you live and who braids your hair, you may pay anywhere from tens of dollars to hundreds on your 'do. In most cases, kitchen braiders charge much less than those who work in salons—either way, you still want your money's worth. There are two signs that your hair has been braided too tightly:

  • A: You're in pain. A lot of pain. For days.
  • B: You notice little bumps around your hairline that weren't there before. Oh, and you're in pain.

Beauty shouldn't hurt. If your head hurts, it's because your hair is braided too tightly, or you have too much extension hair added. In either situation, this doesn't bode well for the future of your hairline. Some braiders may tell you to take an aspirin and the pain should be gone by morning, but any pain is an indicator that something is wrong. Bottom line: if you feel any pain, there's room for concern.

A braider may braid tightly so that the style lasts as long as possible, which is what most of us want, especially if we've saved up our hard-earned dollars to get the style. But tight tension is not good for your hair, hairline, and scalp. Medium tension is best for fashioning braids; they may not last as long as tight braids, but your hairline will last much longer.

If you're a victim of headache-inducing braids, there are steps you can take to alleviate the pain and potential damage to your edges.

What to Do When Your Braids Are Too Tight

  • Use warm water to loosen them: Take a shower and let the water cascade over your hair. You may need to gently rub your scalp to loosen the braids a little. This is not the time to worry about how much money you just spent and how much time it took to style these braids, so don't think about that. Instead, concern yourself with loosening up the tight style and saving your hairline. There's no need to rough up your hair, so simply allow the water to fall over your head and do most of the work on its own.
  • Wear your hair down: Believe it or not, wearing your hair up in a ponytail or bun post-braiding can further trigger a lot of pain. Think about it—your hair is being pulling upward along with already feeling tight. Wear your hair down to loosen any tension, thus weighing the braids down. This is a simple way to not tug at the roots or scalp for a period of time.
  • Use leave-in conditioner: When braids are too tight, your scalp feels the brink of it. If your scalp feels dryer and more tense than usual, apply a leave-in conditioner to soothe the area and loosen up the braids. However, you must keep in mind that too much leave-in conditioner can cause unwanted build-up and residue. Try using a spray leave-in conditioner that you can easily spritz between your braids and evenly across your scalp. A fan favorite is Carol's Daughter Sacred Tiare Leave-In Conditioner ($12).
  • Give yourself a scalp massage: Sometimes you need to take matters into your own hands—literally. A scalp massage isn't only stimulating, it soothes tension too. A quick scalp massage can increase blood circulation, which can aid in alleviating pain all around. Apply some hair oil on your fingertips before getting in between your braids and massaging for a few minutes. Try Pattern Beauty's Jojoba Oil Hair Serum ($25) for maximum hydration and soothing effects.
  • Apply Heat: Sometimes your braids need a little steam. Not to be confused with a hooded hair dryer, a hair steamer can open up the pores on your scalp. This makes it easier for braids to loosen up on their own, while your scalp retains more moisture. To get the maximum benefits of steaming your braids, try this Portable 3-in-1 hair and facial steamer ($65).
  • Remove them: Yes, remove any braids that are causing little bumps to pop up on your scalp. This is not normal and can lead to hair loss down the road, especially if you make a habit of wearing tight braid styles. Do yourself a favor and see how your head feels when you're still in the stylist's chair. Does it hurt while she's braiding? That's the time to ask her to ease up. It's much easier for her to take a step back and possibly redo any braids during your appointment than it will be to call her up and ask her to redo them later. Plus, let's face it: not all braiders are going to take kindly to second-day phone calls and they may refuse to do them over.
  • Do not return to tight braiders: Some braiders are notoriously hard on hair. Once should be enough to tell you that this is someone who doesn't care about the health of your scalp. Hopefully, you live in an area where you have options, but if you don't, you may need to rethink braid extensions as a regular hairstyle.
  • Have open-communication with your stylist: The next time you get your hair braided, keep an open line of communication with your stylist. If you're sitting in the salon chair and your braids feel too tight, let them know. On the other hand, you can always let them know beforehand that you're tender-headed and do not like extra tight braids. If a stylist won't alter their technique for you, then they're not the stylist for you.


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