Happy Sunday lovelies!!
With summer now making its mark and the mercury (significantly) rising, many of you have probably said 'Man, bump this hair thing' and have ran out to get your hair braided. While braids are a perfect low manipulation style, if you are using braids as a protective style, there are certain things you have to do to prep your hair for the braiding process. Since your hair is going to be put away for weeks/months at a time and braids can stress your hair, you want to make sure that your hair is in the best possible condition. Here is what I do when I am preparing my hair for braids:
1) Shampoo. This seems like a no brainer but you would be surprised at how many people don't do this step and roll up to get their dirty hair braided. The key thing that I aim to do during my shampoo step is to clarify my hair. That is, I want to remove everything that is on my hair: dirt, oil, -cones...everything!! With braiding, you want to remember that whatever is on your hair when you put the braids in, will be on your hair when you take your hair out. So if you have a nice coating of silicones on your hair prior to braiding, they will be on your hair when you remove them...and you will have dry hair to boot. So, one lather with a clarifying shampoo (ORS Creamy Aloe and KeraCare Sulfate Free 1st Lather shampoos are good for this) should be sufficient. Follow up with a moisturizing shampoo. Don't rely on your braider to do this step. Please don't.
2) Do a protein treatment. Braids are stressful on the hair. Seriously, they are. You're putting these extensions on your hair which puts extra weight on them and the whole braiding process is a lot of tugging, pulling, combing, etc. For those reasons alone, you want to make sure that your hair is strong enough to withstand all of those stressors. If your hair is in fairly good health, using Joico K-Pak Reconstuctor (or the Sally's version) or Aphogee 2 Minute Reconstructor is sufficient for a treatment. However, if your hair is on the more damaged side (and you don't want to/can't wait for your hair to get a little stronger), use Aphogee 2 Step Treatment.
3) Deep Condition w/ a Moisturizing Deep Conditioner. Definitely take this time to infuse the strands with the moisture that they need. Although you should be moisturizing your hair while your hair is in braids (with a nice braid spray or leave in), you want to make sure that you start out you braids with moisturized hair. It just seems like the right thing to do. Don't forget to put a nice moisturizing leave in on your hair when you finish!
4) Stretch Your Hair. You know what I can't stand? Folks ripping through my hair. Since I typically get braids when I am around 8 weeks post relaxer, I have a bit of new growth. And I don't want people ripping through it. So to prevent this, I will blow dry my hair straight. I will air dry for about an hour (to cut down on blow drying time) and then blow dry my hair. It takes about 30 minutes and it leaves my hair straight enough to braid without incident. I'm sure that there are other ways to stretch your hair, but blow drying is the most efficient way for me to straighten my hair.
5) Trim Those Ends! You want to make sure that you retain all that growth that you will get while your hair is braided up and you can't do that if you start with raggedy, split ends. You can actually get trimmed or do a 'search and destroy' (with hair shears!) to make sure your ends are split free.
That's it! These are the things I do to ensure that my hair is in the best possible condition for braids. I think these tips will also work well for those who are prepping to get a sew-in weave. The key thing to remember that with braids (and any other protective style where your hair is hidden away for extended periods of time) is that they aren't as 'no-maintenance' as people like to think that they are. While the day to day component of styling your hair is removed, you still have to ensure that your hair is getting what it needs...and this care starts from the moment you prep your hair for braids.