Every time I get some braids, you basically can't tell me nothin'. Then when you take the cute factor up a couple of notches due to how convenient braids are, sometimes I have to literally talk myself into taking a break from 'em (like now). Anyway, while I'm not sure if I'm going to get my signature box braids in for the summer that is only a few weeks away (can you believe it?!), I definitely know that if I do happen to book an appointment, I'm going to do all of the things that trial and error have taught me is an absolute must.
A wise person once said that she who learns, teaches. Keeping that in mind, if you're seriously considering getting some braids soon, please take a moment to run through this 10-point checklist. That way, you can be confident that your hair will turn out just the way you want it to—and that your natural hair will be good and protected in the process as well.
1. Find Someone on Referral (or Meet with Your Potential Braider First)
I can't think of one time when I didn't go to get my braids done based on either a referral from a friend or by doing a thorough amount of research beforehand. When I got them as a teen, I only went to one person. When I got them a couple of years ago (and wore them for a few "rounds"), I not only read the online reviews of that particular salon, I also met up with my braider before booking an appointment. Listen, you're going to be spending too much money, sitting in that chair for far too long to be out here wingin' it. You need to go to someone you trust, so that you can get the best results. The extra time it takes to look into who is qualified is definitely well worth it.
2. Discuss the Types of Hair That Are Available
A huge mistake that a lot of women make when it comes to getting their hair braided is believing that all hair is the same. IT. IS. NOT. I remember once getting my hair braided by a dope braider yet the quality of hair was on the cheaper and itchy side (which is oftentimes the case when synthetic hair is packaged poorly and/or it's coated with a base that can trigger an allergic reaction). That's why it's also a good idea to ask your braider what kind of hair they have available and what would be the best kind for the style you want to have. Sometimes they may have the right hair on tap. Sometimes they may not.
For instance, the last set of box braids I got, I wanted a really natural ombre look, so I ordered some ombre-colored braiding hair online myself. It was one of the best decisions I ever made because the hair was good quality, felt really light on my head and the color ended up looking fabulous once the braids were in. I also got to knock some of the price off of my braiding appointment since, most times, the hair is factored into the prices. That made it a win, all the way around.
So yeah, don't just hop in a braider's chair without knowing what kind of hair they'll be working with. It matters just as much as the price, style and how long they presume everything will take.
3. Be Open to Getting More than Just One Style
Not all braided styles are created equal. That said, if you've got a good braider, while it is their job to make sure that you're happy as a customer, they should also offer up a few options that could be more complementary and/or take less time and/or could last longer than what you initially have in mind. Shoot, there have been several times when I thought I wanted something like Janet Jackson's hair inPoetic Justice, only to walk out with smaller braids in a lob (long bob) and I had absolutely no regrets.
I've also had moments when I thought I was married to jet black (my favorite color) braids and yet wound up with some random white and brown braids throughout my look and adored every minute of my reflection. Sometimes, the style we're after isn't the best when it comes to our face structure. Or, it's going to end up being heavier and hotter than we thought. Or, we just aren't aware of how many different braided styles actually exist. That's why going into a braids appointment with a couple of looks and also an open mind can never ever hurt. I can certainly testify to that.
4. Understand the Required Maintenance Beforehand
There are a couple of people in my world whose braids end up looking crazy about three weeks in while mine don't really need a retouch until week seven or so. The difference? They seem to think that braids require no type of maintenance at all and chile, that couldn't be further from the truth. Braid sprays can help your hair to retain moisture. Hot oil treatments can soothe and nourish your scalp. I don't know why folks think that they don't need a silk or satin scarf or bonnet to wrap their hair up at night (it reduces frays and frizz). High ponytails and top knots can put too much tension on the middle of your head and lead to breakage.
Wash days are still required (kinda; more on that in a sec). You definitely need to care for your nape and edges (more on that in a sec too). And, if you know that you're going to experience a good amount of regrowth, getting your edges tightened (which basically means getting the front and sides of your hair re-braided) is something that you need to schedule in too. While all of what I said may not hold a light to what you currently do, my point is you shouldn't overlook that braided hair still requires a regimen. Just something else to keep in mind.
5. Exfoliate Your Scalp
OK, now the prepping for the braiding itself. Remember how I said that sometimes the kind of hair that you use can lead to itching? It can cause a lot of irritation too. That's because our scalp is used to natural strands not synthetic fibers. Oftentimes, our scalp is already not in the best shape on braid day, so maybe 2-3 days before your braid appointment, consider prepping your scalp by exfoliating it. That can help to detox it and also remove any flakes.
Some people do detox their scalp by giving their scalp a massage with a bit of a warm carrier oil (such as jojoba, avocado or, my personal favorite, grapeseed which is great at treating dandruff) with a few drops of lavender (it cleanses the scalp) or peppermint (it invigorates the scalp) essential oil.
Others opt for making their own scalp scrub out of ingredients like brown sugar, sea salt or even lemon juice. If you'd prefer to go the second route, there are some easy recipes that you can try here.
Speaking of scalp irritation, another tip to keep in mind is to keep your scalp nourished once your braids are in. Sweet almond oil is great when it comes to providing moisture. Chamomile is wonderful if you want an oil that will soothe your scalp. Just get a bottle that has a nozzle for its top (that makes it easier to apply the oil in between your braids) and commit to oiling your scalp, eh, every couple of days or so. A soothed scalp means your braids can remain in longer without you being bothered by them.
6. Deep Condition Your Hair
Braids are definitely considered to be a protective style. The main reason why is because, two of the main benefits of getting them is 1) you literally don't have to do anything to your hair for 4-8 weeks and 2) your natural hair can get a break from constant styling and manipulation. However, there's no point in getting braids if, when you take them out, your own hair is a hot ass mess because it's dry and brittle due to lack of proper pre-hair care. That said, your natural hair needs as much moisture as possible before it's covered up in synthetic strands. That's why it's so important to deep condition your tresses, 1-3 days before braid day.
It will hydrate your hair. It will make it soft and manageable. It can also make it easier to either find fairy knots or prevent them. I've shared before that I like to deep condition my hair by mixing some regular old conditioner (pretty much any braid will do) and then adding some Chebe powder and sometimes some Jamaican black castor oil. After shampooing my hair, I'll apply the mixture and leave it all on for at least a couple of hours. My hair feels so amazing, every time I do it (which is every wash day). If you'd prefer to take another approach, check out "8 Hair Masks & Deep Conditioners That Revitalize Dry, Damaged Hair" and "5 Deep Conditioners Your Curls Deserve". You should be able to find a conditioner that you like there.
7. Prepare to “Baby” Those Edges
I know someone who was so used to wearing braids that she no longer has any edges left. Y'all, if constantly pulling, tugging and even brushing and combing your hair can weaken your edges, just think about the weight of what braids can do over time. This is why your braider shouldn't braid your hair so tightly that you basically look like you got a free facelift. As far as the kinds of styles that can take some of the pressure off, feed-in braids or halo braids are ones that can do it. Whatever look you decide to go with, definitely keep the updos to a bare minimum.
Oh, and the baby hairs that so many of us still try and make happen? Please don't make that a daily occurrence and, when you do go with an edge control, make sure it has no alcohol in it (alcohol can dry out your hair and lead to breakage). One more thing, "feed your edges' follicles" by applying some olive, coconut or that Jamaican black castor oil that I already mentioned. Since your edges will still be (somewhat) showing, they need to be "babied" a little more than the rest of your hair does; especially while your braids are in.
8. Understand What Your Wash Day Requires
Wash day is interesting when you've got braids. The reason why I say that is because some people prefer to shampoo their hair, pretty much like normal while their braids are in while others would actually like to cleanse their scalp only (so that their braids can remain as intact as possible). Me?
Usually, I just keep my scalp clean by either parting my scalp and cleansing it with something like Sea Breeze astringent or Cantu's Apple Cider Vinegar Root Rinse (I really like it because it has a nozzle that makes it easy to apply to the scalp). If your braids are only going to stay in for about a month or so (and you don't typically experience a lot of flaking when it comes to your scalp), focusing on your scalp only can reduce the chances of your braids frizzing up.
Oh, and if you're thinking that dry shampoo can do the trick, please avoid that at all costs. It will definitely have your braids looking dusty and could irritate your scalp as well. If you do decide to all out wash your braids, it's probably easiest to do it in the shower. Be sure to go with a mild shampoo (preferably one that is sulfate-free because you still need to protect your natural hair and sulfates can dry it out). Put your shampoo into an applicator bottle (that's one that has a nozzle attached) and apply the shampoo directly to your scalp.
While you are washing, use your fingertips on your scalp and DO NOT rub your braids together. Let the shampoo naturally flow down to your braids, let it sit for a couple of minutes and then rinse your hair thoroughly. As far as conditioning goes, spraying some leave-in conditioner onto your scalp and braids is probably all that you will need to do. I won't lie to you—wash day with braids (especially if you've got a lot of 'em or your braids are long) can take several hours.
Many people just let them air dry; however, you can sit under a hooded dryer (or put on a hood attachment to a handheld dryer). Just make sure that your braids dry thoroughly because they can get mold in them (yuck, I know). Anyway, if you're more of a visual learner like I am, the YouTube channel Shanique Buntyn has a video that can walk you through the steps of how to wash your braids so that they come out looking as frizz-free as possible. You can check it out here.
9. Keep Them in No Longer than Eight Weeks Tops
Listen, I've seen plenty of videos out in cyberspace where sistahs have tried to "rig up" keeping their braids in by knotting up (literally twisting the hair or tying the roots into a knot) the new growth. Yeah, don't do that. All you're ultimately doing is asking for your hair to either lock up or for it to be pure hell for you to get everything untied when you're ready to take your braids down. While most stylists will say that six weeks really needs to be the limit for how long braids stay in, please don't push it past eight.
Otherwise, your natural hair could start to break, your scalp will probably get irritated (dabbing some peppermint oil onto your scalp with a Q-tip is a great hack for this), your hair follicles could weaken (due to the weight of the new growth combined with the weight of your braids)—it's just not a good look all the way around. Oh, and don't book your next braid appointment to be a mere couple of days after you took your braids out either. Even though braids are indeed a protective style, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing; your natural hair needs to breathe.
Two weeks off to wash, deep condition and let your hair rest are ideal.
10. Get Your Mind Right When It Comes to Taking Those Babies Out
I don't think there has been one time when, about halfway through a braiding appointment (for the size and length of the braids that I typically get, two women on my head ends up being 5-6 hours of braid time), I won't think, "Damn. I'm gonna have to take these out at some point." When your hair is relatively short, it's not that big of a deal because you can kinda cut the braids wherever you want and unravel them. Get a little length in, though, and it can definitely turn into an all-day process. SMDH.
The main things to keep in mind is 1) you need to be patient when cutting the braids so that you don't cut your own hair; 2) you need to find something fun to do to distract you (like binge-watch a television show), and 3) you definitely need to wash and super deep condition your hair once all of the braids are out. However much time you need to set aside to accomplish those three goals, that is what you need to purpose in your mind to do.
Putting braids in requires some hours. Taking them out does too. Both are worth it yet lawd, they both can get on your very last nerve. So, when it comes to getting braids (and getting rid of them), please make sure your head is—pun not intended—in the game. Happy braiding, y'all.
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Different puzzle pieces are creating bigger pictures these days. 2024 will mark a milestone on a few different levels, including the release of my third book next June (yay!).
I am also a Professional Certified Coach. My main mission for attaining that particular goal is to use my formal credentials to help people navigate through the sometimes tumultuous waters, both on and offline, when it comes to information about marriage, sex and relationships that is oftentimes misinformation (because "coach" is a word that gets thrown around a lot, oftentimes quite poorly).
I am also still super devoted to helping to bring life into this world as a doula, marriage life coaching will always be my first love (next to writing, of course), a platform that advocates for good Black men is currently in the works and my keystrokes continue to be devoted to HEALTHY over HAPPY in the areas of holistic intimacy, spiritual evolution, purpose manifestation and self-love...because maturity teaches that it's impossible to be happy all of the time when it comes to reaching goals yet healthy is a choice that can be made on a daily basis (amen?).
If you have any PERSONAL QUESTIONS (please do not contact me with any story pitches; that is an *editorial* need), feel free to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org. A sistah will certainly do what she can. ;)
Exclusive: Gabrielle Union On Radical Transparency, Being Diagnosed With Perimenopause And Embracing What’s Next
Whenever Gabrielle Union graces the movie screen, she immediately commands attention. From her unforgettable scenes in films like Bring It On and Two Can Play That Game to her most recent film, in which she stars and produces Netflix’s The Perfect Find, there’s no denying that she is that girl.
Off-screen, she uses that power for good by sharing her trials and tribulations with other women in hopes of helping those who may be going through the same things or preventing them from experiencing them altogether. Recently, the Flawless by Gabrielle Union founder partnered with Clearblue to speak at the launch of their Menopause Stage Indicator, where she also shared her experience with being perimenopausal.
In a xoNecoleexclusive, the iconic actress opens up about embracing this season of her life, new projects, and overall being a “bad motherfucker.” Gabrielle reveals that she was 37 years old when she was diagnosed with perimenopause and is still going through it at 51 years old. Mayo Clinic says perimenopause “refers to the time during which your body makes the natural transition to menopause, marking the end of the reproductive years.”
“I haven't crossed over the next phase just yet, but I think part of it is when you hear any form of menopause, you automatically think of your mother or grandmother. It feels like an old-person thing, but for me, I was 37 and like not understanding what that really meant for me. And I don't think we focus so much on the word menopause without understanding that perimenopause is just the time before menopause,” she tells us.
Photo by Brian Thomas
"But you can experience a lot of the same things during that period that people talk about, that they experienced during menopause. So you could get a hot flash, you could get the weight gain, the hair loss, depression, anxiety, like all of it, mental health challenges, all of that can come, you know, at any stage of the menopausal journey and like for me, I've been in perimenopause like 13, 14 years. When you know, most doctors are like, ‘Oh, but it's usually about ten years, and I'm like, ‘Uhh, I’m still going (laughs).’”
Conversations about perimenopause, fibroids, and all the things that are associated with women’s bodies have often been considered taboo and thus not discussed publicly. However, times are changing, and thanks to the Gabrielle’s and the Tia Mowry’s, more women are having an authentic discourse about women’s health. These open discussions lead to the creation of more safe spaces and support for one another.
“I want to be in community with folks. I don't ever want to feel like I'm on an island about anything. So, if I can help create community where we are lacking, I want to be a part of that,” she says. “So, it's like there's no harm in talking about it. You know what I mean? Like, I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change. I'm just getting better and stronger and more intelligent, more wise, more patient, more compassionate, more empathetic. All of that is very, very welcomed, and none of it should be scary.”
The Being Mary Jane star hasn’t been shy about her stance on therapy. If you don’t know, here’s a hint: she’s all for it, and she encourages others to try it as well. She likens therapy to dating by suggesting that you keep looking for the right therapist to match your needs. Two other essential keys to her growth are radical transparency and radical acceptance (though she admits she is still working on the latter).
"I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change."
Gabrielle Union and Kaavia Union-Wade
Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images
“I hope that a.) you recognize that you're not alone. Seek out help and know that it's okay to be honest about what the hell is happening in your life. That's the only way that you know you can get help, and that's also the only other way that people know that you are in need if there's something going on,” she says, “because we have all these big, very wild, high expectations of people, but if they don't know what they're actually dealing with, they're always going to be failing, and you will always be disappointed. So how about just tell the truth, be transparent, and let people know where you are. So they can be of service, they can be compassionate.”
Gabrielle’s transparency is what makes her so relatable, and has so many people root for her. Whether through her TV and film projects, her memoirs, or her social media, the actress has a knack for making you feel like she’s your homegirl. Scrolling through her Instagram, you see the special moments with her family, exciting new business ventures, and jaw-dropping fashion moments. Throughout her life and career, we’ve seen her evolve in a multitude of ways. From producing films to starting a haircare line to marriage and motherhood, her journey is a story of courage and triumph. And right now, in this season, she’s asking, “What’s next?”
“This is a season of discovery and change. In a billion ways,” says the NAACP Image Award winner. “The notion of like, ‘Oh, so and so changed. They got brand new.’ I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
"I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
She continues, “So I'm just trying to figure out what's next. You know what I mean? I'm jumping into what's next. I'm excited going into what's next and new. I'm just sort of embracing all of what life has to offer.”
Look out for Gabrielle in the upcoming indie film Riff Raff, which is a crime comedy starring her and Jennifer Coolidge, and she will also produce The Idea of You, which stars Anne Hathaway.
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Victoria Monét has had an incredible year. Thanks to the success of the widely popular “On My Mama” that went viral, the singer/ songwriter’s Jaguar II album debuted in the top 10 of Billboard’s Top R&B Albums chart. She also went on to headline her own sold-out tour. So, when the MTV VMAs happened in September, everyone was surprised to learn that Victoria’s team was told that it was “too early” for the “Smoke” artist to perform at the award show. However, a couple of months later, the mom of one received seven Grammy nominations, including “Best R&B Album” and “Record Of The Year.”
Victoria is currently in London and stopped by The Dotty Show on Apple Music and shared how she feels “validated” after being dismissed by the VMAs.
“It really does feel nice and validating because, in my head, the reason why I wanted to be a performer at the VMAs or award ceremonies like that is because I felt like I am at the place where I should. I would work really hard to put on the best show that I could, and I was excited to do so,” she said.
“And I guess the best way to describe it for me is like when you're like on a sports team, and the coach is like, ‘No, you gotta sit this one out.’ When they finally put you in, and then you score all these points, and it feels like that feeling. You're like, yes, I knew it wasn't tripping, but I knew I worked hard for this, and so it's been super validating to just have these accolades come after a moment like that, and I know the fans feel vindicated for me.
While her fans called the VMAs out on their decision, the “Moment” singer kept it cute and is still open to performing at the iconic award show. “I feel no ill towards them because it's just maybe that's just truly how they felt at the time, but I hope their mind has changed,” she admitted.
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