Certainly in Britain there is less humidity, less moisture in the air, which tends to leave afro hair drier, more brittle, less supple, and this is before any chemicals have been used. Braids are ideal if done correctly as they do not place additional stress or tension on the hair.
The first definite evidence of braiding was found in a site in Upper Egypt – in a place called Hierakonpolis this was 3500 BC. It has been a popular technique in the rest of Africa for thousands of years. They wore them in a variety of styles to reflect their status – such being married or single. The technique is sometimes referred to as plaiting but strictly speaking hair is plaited into braids.
During the 1980’s hair braiding became fashionable again and was known as the ‘ethnic look’. Nowadays, many women with Afro hair will, at some stage, wear their hair in braids – particularly between looks, particularly when going from one style to another may mean growing out the old. Braids offer the advantage of keeping the hair tidy – no need to worry about the in-between stage.
Damage caused by braiding
Although there are many advantages of wearing braids, the damage that can occur from braiding cannot be ignored. There is often excessive tension applied to hair during the plaiting, particularly around the hairline. This sometimes leads to a condition known as ‘cosmetic traction alopecia’ which means the hair loss occurred could be permanent, and this is due to excessive trauma on the hair follicle. Another condition that can occur is folliculitis caused by inflammation of the hair follicles and this may lead to secondary infection. Without treatment the condition is painful.
Although the main concern is the tightness of the braids, some individuals do not regularly wash their hair and this could result in fungal infection on the scalp. Adding too much oil based moisturisers particularly in the summer period not only creates an unpleasant odour but blocks the natural flow of sebum from the sebaceous gland. Sebum is important because it prevents you from losing too much water through your skin, it also protects skin from bacterial and fungal infections.
Do’s and Dont’s of braiding
Do choose this style if you want a low maintenance hairstyle.
Do wear a scarf at night to keep braids tidy. Preferably silk as this does not deplete hair of moisture like other materials.
Do apply moisturisers to the ends of the hair to keep the ends together.
Do wash hair regularly – use a shower spray and do not rub the hair but gently apply the water and shampoo to the hair surface, and allow the power of the shower to wash and shampoo in and the dirt out.
Do re-plait on a regular basis – 2 to 3 months depending on hair growth.
Do trim hair when you remove the plaits to maintain hair in between.
Don’t apply heavy pomades to the scalp, this will only attract particles which clog the hair and can give hair a dull appearance.
Don’t have your hair plaited too tight. You may feel that this may keep your braids in for longer but this could cause irreversible damage to your hair follicles and result in scarring. Once there is scarring the hair will not regrow. No matter how tempting, if your hair is very short then it is probably better to wait, rather than put extra tension on the hair. Remember tension on the follicle leads to stress on the follicle which could be permanent.
Don’t use cheap synthetic hair as you run the risk of tangling or tearing your own hair when you come to take the extensions out.
Don’t relax hair immediately after taking your plaits out. Wait for a period of at least two weeks, as the hair is more fragile and prone to breakage from the additional tension.
Many women braid hair for a variety of reasons…
For fashion – braids can look elegant depending on the type of style worn. It can also be changed to suit the occasion.
Single plaits to rest hair from everyday combing, brushing and chemical processes.
To grow a particular hairstyle.
To go from chemically treated to natural hair particularly, as there will be inevitable breakage due to the difference in texture from roots and ends.
There are other disadvantages to hair braiding which include:
Due to infrequent washing, scalp can be very itchy.
Depending on style, limited hairstyle possibilities.
Can look untidy, if care has not been applied and this is not easily rectified until braids are removed.
Considerable amount of time and hours to achieve desired style.
Individuals with fine hair should consider whether this is an appropriate style as some styles don’t always work on fine hair and extensions can add tension to the hair.
About Shirley McDonald MIT – Consultant Trichologist
Since qualifying in 1991, Consultant Trichologist Shirley McDonald has studied advanced nutrition for practitioners with the Institute of Nutrition I.O.N and Natural Nutrition with the College of Natural Nutrition. Shirley has been a freelance writer for BH Magazine (Black Hair). Her features include braiding, chemical applications and dry scalp conditions. She has lectured at various hair events, including Alopecia UK 2015 . She has also been interviewed extensively both in print and broadcast media, appearing on shows like Radio 4’s Celebration of Women programme, BEN TV, Colour Radio and featured in Pride magazine.