For many black women, summer is when the curls go away and the box braids come out to play. Natural hair is wonderful and versatile and able to shape-shift if and when you need it to, but it’s also a hassle to deal with in the warmer months because it gets drier faster than usual. Protective hairstyles like box braids provide a much-needed reprieve.
That said, I never ascribed to the beauty is pain mentality until I got box braids for the first time. For those who have never had to sit through the five-plus-hours-long process, it’s as arduous as that time frame suggests. For one thing, you’re required to sit still for what feels like forever, which means you have to make your own entertainment. It's a long time to just stare at your phone. For another, not only are you bored, but you’re bored while a woman pulls and tugs at your hair. Ouch. And then even once you're up and out of the chair, you've got another harsh reality to face: Your braids will hurt for the first few days—like, really hurt.
There are a couple of reasons for this. Your head likely isn’t used to carrying all the extra hair that’s required for box braids. And, whoever braided your hair, likely did so very tightly on your scalp, so that the style would last longer.
All in all, it's a terrible couple of days, especially because there seemed to be no way to ameliorate the pain. All I could do was complain until either my friends got tired of my whining, or a couple of weeks had passed, and the style loosened up.
For me, Shea Moisture’s ingenious track tension and itch relief serum was a saving grace during my first couple of braid days. The product's mini dropper allowed me to carefully squirt the shea butter, witch hazel, and peppermint and jojoba oil concoction directly onto my scalp, providing instant relief. I’ve even been using it weekly when I feel the urge to scratch my hair. It's simple to use, too. Just apply, massage in, and keep your complaints to a minimum.
Ahead are some additional products great for box braids and other protective styles. Beauty is pain, sure, but it doesn’t have to make you completely miserable.
Yes, you should still be washing your hair when you have box braids. Yes, it's very annoying to do so when that requires you to get them wet. This no-rinse cleanser is an easy work-around. It not only works to cleanse the scalp but will save you the hassle of carrying around pounds of wet hair all day.
Shea Moisture, Jojoba Oil & Ucuuba Butter No-Rinse Foam Cleanser, $9.97, available at Walmart.
This Cantu product, made specifically for weaves, braids, locs, and extensions, is also great for when you don't feel like completely washing your braids and waiting a half day for them to dry.
Cantu, Apple Cider Vinegar Root Relief, $4.99, available at Sally Beauty.
It's a gross fact, but your braids can start to smell if you're not careful. A couple spritzes of this mist, though, will dissipate any foul odors.
Shea Moisture, Jojoba Oil & Ucuuba Butter Odor Neutralizing Mist with Carrot Seed Oil, $9.97, available at Walmart.
I apply a leave-in conditioner daily to moisturize my braids. It's easy to forget about your actual hair when it's woven in with synthetic additions, but taking care of it is still key. It's also easy when the hydration comes in a spray bottle form.
Briogeo, Rosarco Milk Reparative Leave-In Conditioning Spray, $20, available at Sephora.
After washing and moisturizing, apply some of this pomade to keep up appearances. It will keep your hair looking refreshed on the inside and outside of your braids.
Carol's Daughter, Mimosa Hair Honey, $10, available at Carol's Daughter.
Oh, did I say the braiding process is the most annoying part about having box braids? Yeah, that was a lie. It’s the takedown. Because when you’re getting your hair braided, you’re just sitting there and someone’s doing all of the work for you; it’s the restlessness, mixed with boredom that drives you crazy. This time around, you’re doing all of the work—unbraiding, detangling, all of it. This detangler, which comes with a ton of slip, will become your new best friend.
Shea Moisture, Jojoba Oil & Ucuuba Butter Braid Up & Take Down Hair Detangler, $11.97, available at Walmart.