Braids have always been a hairstyle staple that brings flair and creativity to any beauty look. From the zipper braid to the fishtail braid to waterfall braids, all types and styles are always having a trending moment. Some braids offer a fun style and a protective functionality that those with curly and coily hair often gravitate towards. Box braids in particular have remained popular because of their versatility, long wear and customizable nature. Not to mention, they’re relatively easy to do, even at home without the help of a professional.
Black women and other women of color have been indulging in box braids for centuries, but through the last five years, the style has had a renaissance of sorts amongst all circles. Celebrities and TikTok influencers aren’t shy to show off their protective style on the red carpet and in style tutorials, garnering endless inspiration to try your own hand at.
Whether you’ve been wearing box braids for years and want to brush up on your technique or you’ve finally decided you want to try the style at home, read on for a step-by-step guide on how to do box braids on your own.
What Are Box Braids?
Box braids are a form of protective style that is most popular with Black women and other women of color. It’s considered a protective style because the braiding process wraps natural strands in moisture for longer wear which limits damage and helps promote growth.
It’s not only a functional style but a fashionable one as well. You can create box braids in numerous styles with knotless box braids, triangle box braids, micro box braids and curly box braids being some of the most popular types. It’s a completely customizable look with people of all ages braiding their hair into box braids while adding hair accessories, colors and charms for a trendy hairstyle.
What Products Do You Need for Box Braids?
Before you begin styling your hair into box braids, take stock of your hair supplies to determine what additional products and tools you’ll need. In addition to braiding hair (if you want to use extensions), you’ll want a roster of moisturizing and holding hair care products for the best box braids.
Moisturizing Shampoo and Conditioner
A clean and conditioned base is the first step for braiding your hair into box braids. You’ll want to use a shampoo and conditioner that will keep your hair moisturized through the process. Try the L’Oréal Paris Elvive Dream Lengths Curls Moisture Push Shampoo and L’Oréal Paris Elvive Dream Lengths Curls Moisture Seal Conditioner for detangled and nourished strands. This shampoo and conditioner is formulated with castor oil and hyaluronic acid to seal in moisture without weighing down curls, making it the best hair base for box braids.
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Hair Holding Styling Products
As you braid your hair you’ll want to use a styling gel like the L'Oréal Paris Studio Line Invisi Gel which offers natural hair and hair extension an extreme hold. You can also use a hair mousse like L'Oréal Paris Advanced Hairstyle CURVE IT Elastic Curl Mousse, which offers a similar hold with a more lightweight texture. Products like hair gel, hair wax or hair mousse create a controlled hold that makes hair easier to braid without worry of flyaways or loose pieces coming undone.
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Smoothing Styling Products
On the subject of flyaways, they’re bound to happen as you manipulate and style your hair. To minimize frizz use a smoothing styling product like L'Oréal Paris Elvive Dream Lengths Frizz Killer Serum Leave-In, which will add moisture without disturbing braids. You can use a product like this before braiding hair or afterward to keep box braids flyaway-free and to add shine.
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In addition to hair care products, you’ll want to have hair tools on hand to help you do box braids on your own. Pick up a wide-tooth comb to detangle hair, a rat tail comb to create even hair parts, hair clips to keep hair sectioned and hair rubber bands for securing braids.
Some box braids can be done with your natural hair length. However, if you want maximum length pick up some braiding hair that is made specifically for protective styles and extensions. You can also use acrylic yarn (knitting yarn) if you want a more colorful or textured look. Play around with the colors and hair textures for a personalized box braid look.
Is It Better to Box Braid Your Hair Wet or Dry?
You may be sitting in front of your vanity with a head full of damp hair wondering if you can start your box braids now. As easy as it may seem to braid hair when it’s wet, it’s better to create box braids when your hair is dry.
Not only will creating box braids on wet hair make them unnecessarily heavy (the longer your braids, the heavier they’ll already be), but braiding wet hair can lead to tangles. Additionally, braiding wet hair can create too much tension on your scalp and cause breakage. Braiding tangled hair is another way to experience breakage as you’ll lose more hair when taking box braids out. Ultimately, braiding wet hair would defeat the purpose of box braids, which is to leave hair protected for longer.
How to do Box Braids Step-by-Step
Doing your own box braids is as simple as following the steps below. Be patient, and keep in mind the type of box braids you want to create. If you opt for thin and long braids it’ll take longer than thick and short box braids. Overall, the process isn’t complex for a gorgeous braided hairstyle, you just need to give yourself ample time.
Step 1. Cleanse and Condition
Start by washing your hair — and don’t skimp on the conditioner. Since your hair is meant to last in box braids longer than most hairstyles, you’ll want to keep your hair as hydrated as possible.
Give your hair a wash with the L’Oréal Paris Elvive Dream Lengths Curls Moisture Push Shampoo and L’Oréal Paris Elvive Dream Lengths Curls Moisture Seal Conditioner. If time is a concern for you, wash your hair the day before you begin braiding your hair.
Step 2. Detangle Strands
Detangle your wet hair using a wide-tooth comb and a hair care product that will loosen knots. Try the L’Oréal Paris Elvive Dream Lengths Curls Leave-in Conditioner to add moisture and detangle hair. If you have a hair texture that doesn’t normally tangle, you can let your strands air dry. If you want to speed up the drying process feel free to blow dry your hair, just remember to use a heat protectant like the L’Oréal Paris Advanced Hairstyle Sleek It Iron Straight Heatspray first to shield your hair from damage.
Step 3. Separate Your Hair into Sections
Next, divide your hair into four sections using your combs — breaking the process down this way will make braiding more manageable and less daunting. Create even sections by using the long, thin handle part of a rat tail comb to divide the hair into four quadrants on the head.
Step 4. Minimize Frizz
Apply a bit of leave-in hair cream or the L'Oréal Paris Elvive Dream Lengths Frizz Killer Serum Leave-In to the lengths of your hair. A little bit of product can go a long way in keeping your strands protected, hydrated and frizz-free. Using a hair clip or hair tie, pin back three of the four sections you created earlier to keep them out of the way when you begin to braid.
Editor’s tip: Start at the back of your head as it takes less arm strength to tackle. Plus, if you need to take a break and run an errand or leave your home, you can put the front section up in a bun and your hair will still look stylish.
Step 5. Separate Sections (Again)
Starting at the back of your head, create a mini hair section that’s about one inch by one inch. These small sections will make up the square braided sections on your head. You can also have fun with the shape of these sections — some have created triangle box braids or even zigzag braids based on skill level.
To streamline the braiding process, you can create mini bantu knots with the hair from these smaller sections to easily loosen and braid when the time comes. Before you braid your hair, you’ll want to use a holding gel to keep your sections smooth and sleek. Apply some L'Oréal Paris Studio Line Invisi Gel to the start of your section and lightly brush and stretch it through your hair so the strands are longer and combined tightly.
Step 6. Tie in the Braiding Hair
This might seem tricky, but it’ll make sense soon. Grab some braiding hair that’s slightly thicker than the natural hair from one small section that you’re about to braid. Separate the braiding hair into two pieces (one slightly thinner than the other). Take the thin piece and loop it around the center of the thicker hair. The goal here is to make three strands of braiding hair to tie within your natural hair for the box braids.
Line up the middle piece of braiding hair with your natural strand and start braiding, blending the three parts of braiding hair into your natural hair as you go. For bigger braids, use a two-inch piece of natural hair and increase the amount of braiding hair you use. When braiding, keep things tight but not too tight — you don’t want to damage the hair in any way. Continue the process all over your entire head until you’ve covered every section.
Step 7. Lock Your Look in Place
Add a quarter-sized amount of L'Oréal Paris Advanced Hairstyle CURVE IT Elastic Curl Mousse to each completed braid to lock in the style.
Once the hair is dry, gently dip the ends of each braid of hair in boiling water to seal the strands. The hot water adheres the hair together to prevent it from unraveling as you sport your box braids over the next several weeks.
How to Maintain and Care for Your Box Braids
Because box braids can be kept in for up to two months, they require their own hair care plan. Below, find a few tips for keeping your box braids clean and looking fresh as day one.
1. Wash Your Braids and Scalp
If someone once told you that you didn’t need to wash your hair while it’s in a protective style, we’re here to tell you that this is a myth. Any style you sport for weeks at a time will need to be cleaned from time to time, however, you won’t need to shampoo your hair every day, or even every week with box braids. Instead, move your wash day to every two to three weeks — or when your scalp starts to feel extra flaky with buildup.
Make it easy on yourself by reaching for a shampoo that has a pointed nozzle that lets the product get directly to the scalp. Opt for the L’Oréal Paris Elvive Dream Lengths Curls No Build-Up Curls Micellar Shampoo, which is formulated with castor oil and hyaluronic acid for soft hair that doesn’t feel weighed down. The micellar shampoo starts as a liquid and lathers into a subtle foam to rid hair of dirt, oil and product buildup without stripping hair of the natural oils it needs to stay moisturized.
2. Keep Scalp and Braids Nourished
Box braids are used as a protective style to give your natural hair a break from poor hair care habits and outside stressors like pollution. That doesn’t mean the braids themselves won’t need maintenance. Keep braids full of moisture and hydration by using a spray styling product to penetrate the braiding hair and your natural hair tied together.
Use the L’Oréal Paris Elvive Dream Lengths Curls Refresh & Reshape leave-in spray to add hydration and shine to the braids with the formulated hyaluronic acid and castor oil. Don’t forget to care for your scalp as well, especially since it’s more exposed with the sectioned braids. Add a lightweight oil like the L’Oréal Paris EverPure Sulfate Free Simply Clean Sheer Oil to nourish the scalp and hair.
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3. Sleep in a Silk Scarf
Before you go to bed each night, wrap your head full of beautiful braids in a silk or satin scarf. This will help keep your braids smooth and can also help your hair retain moisture.
4. Take Your Braids Down at the Right Time
Leaving your box braids in for too long can lead to matting, tangling and hair breakage. So once you hit the six or eight-week mark, it’s time to give your hair a break and remove your box braids.
Photography: Chaunte Vaughn, Art Director: Hannah Packer, Associate Creative Producer: Becca Solovay, Digital Tech: Katy Andrascik, Photo Assistant: Sam Kang, Makeup Artist: Jonet Williamson, Hairstylist: Akihisa Yamaguchi, Wardrobe Stylist: Melina Kemp, Wardrobe Assistant: Kayla Martinez, Model: Juli Deng
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