Sleek box braids and cool twists can often leave your scalp feeling uncomfortable as they’re not the easiest hairstyle to wash – and especially if they’ve been installed too tightly. Here’s how to avoid and treat the dreaded braid itch.
Braids are a great protective hairstyle for afro and mixed heritage hair. They shield your strands from daily wear and tear, plus using heat tools becomes near impossible. Despite the benefits, the risk of an itchy scalp can be off-putting for many. But being uncomfortable doesn’t need to be a side-effect of braids. These expert tips and cherry-picked products will sort out your scalp and eradicate the risk of permanent follicle damage, so you can swing those divine Fulani braids with ease.
“Just like your skin, the scalp can only stretch so far,” says afro haircare expert Charlotte Mensah. “Start by making sure your stylist doesn’t pull too tight when installing your braids.” Too much tension on the hair follicles can cause traction alopecia - a condition which can lead to irreversible hair loss. A common myth is that the tighter the braids, the longer they’ll last. But the risk of permanent hair loss definitely isn’t worth being able to rock a hairstyle for a week or two longer. Look out for the warning signs of irritated follicles (inflamed, red bumps on the scalp’s surface, extreme itching, or any thinning areas).
Choose your hair
Braids work best with plastic rather than human hair, the latter being too slippery and fine to stay in place. Synthetic Kanekalon hair, made using an acrylic fibre with an alkaline coating, can rub up against your own hair and the scalp, causing further irritation. Before taking your synthetic hair to your hairstylist, make sure to soak it in an apple cider vinegar bath to neutralise the alkalinity for 20 minutes: just mix 1 part vinegar with 3 parts hot water, then shampoo thoroughly. If you’re reading this with untreated synthetic hair that’s causing itchiness, then have no fear; just pour the vinegar solution over your braids, then shampoo it off.
Wash with caution
Braids take forever to dry, so it’s tempting to go for longer stretches between wash days. “Your scalp collects dead skin cells, sebum and dust, which then becomes trapped at the roots and needs to be cleared as it can cause itchiness,” says trichologist Anabel Kingsley. “Daily shampooing isn’t realistic for those with braids, but I advise doing so as often as possible – maybe every three days. Try an antimicrobial toner like the Philip Kingsley Scalp Toner in between washes to help eliminate bacteria.” For a deeper cleanse, douse a cotton bud with toner and rub in between braids to dislodge dead skin cells.
Nourish, but not too much
“Ensure that your scalp is well-nourished with a dry natural oil, but ensure you don’t overly grease the scalp as this can actually block pores and make the scalp even more uncomfortable,” advises natural hair guru Vernon François. Gently massage in some coconut, castor or jojoba oil to stimulate blood flow to the hair follicles and lift dead skin cells. For a lighter dose of moisture, rub pure aloe vera gel onto the scalp, or pop into your gym’s steam room to help open up the scalp’s surface.
A lot of braid itch remedies can easily be DIY’d with kitchen cupboard ingredients, but there are plenty of products on the market that cater specifically to protective styling and will keep your scalp itch-free…
Not only does this come in a handy pointed nozzle to really get in between each braid, but the dreamy blend of shea butter, tea tree and jojoba oils makes this a serious treat for your scalp and hair. Jojoba oil is incredibly similar to the sebum we naturally produce, meaning it absorbs seamlessly into the skin and won’t cause a reaction, and tea tree’s antibacterial properties help keep everything squeaky clean.
This lightweight jelly uses Jamaican black castor oil to seriously nourish the hair and scalp. Use it sparingly to slick down your edges and lend a helping hand to any thinning areas, encouraging hair to grow back in.
Ideal for braids and locs alike, this lightweight spray keeps the scalp moisturised and supple and provides relief from any tension. It works just as well on the rest of the hair as well, so spray away for polished, nourished hair from scalp to ends.
Dry winter air will wreak havoc on your exposed scalp, so an oil-infused shampoo is a must. Charlotte Mensah’s uses manketti nut and ximenia fruit oils to nurture the scalp and lengths without feeling greasy.
With soothing camphor and anti-itch ingredient piroctone olamine, it’ll totally save your scalp in between washes - plus the water-based formula means you won’t get a greasy build-up.