Monday, October 6, 2014

Hair Braidng 101: Understanding Proper Ways to Add Extentions w/o Damage.

Wearing braids (cornrows and individual braids) with or without extensions in my opinion is one of the best protective styles for Afro textured hair.  Reason being, braids keep the hair in a stretched state which helps avoid shrinkage.  For textures like mine allowing my hair to shrink up causes tangles and knotting on the ends and makes it difficult to retain length if done all the time.  Braids get a bad rap due to too many of us allowing unskilled braiders in our head.  By unskilled I don't mean the stylist won't make you look good once the style is completed.  I mean your hair's health and thickness being compromised from stylists braiding too tightly and the overuse of adding extension hair, which to me is an even bigger problem than braiding too tightly.

When adding extension  hair to braids it's important to educate clients on what is healthy and what isn't and sticking by what you know to keep your integrity in tact.  Many women don't know this but when you see someone with individual braids and they have no scalp showing the only way that is healthy is if the person has extremely dense hair.  For women and children with fine hair however, adding extensions really has to be done with caution.  Over using extensions causes balding around edges and overall thinning to the entire head of hair.  The amount of extension hair added should be determined by each individual clients head of hair.  Clients with very strong, dense natural hair can wear styles like the Poetic Justice braids we loved to see Janet Jackson wear because those braids require lots of hair to be added to achieve long thick braids.  On a client with fine thin hair, adding chunky amounts of thick extension hair can be damaging to the hair follicle due to the weight not being able to have proper support from the clients natural hair with extensions attached at the base of the scalp. I hope I'm making sense. Sometimes is hard for me to explain this to clients in a way where they can understand not wearing a specific look is to their benefit.  Especially when now days anyone with a fresh relaxer can walk into a braid shop or salon and get anything they ask for without being properly educated on what is best for the health of the clients hair. 

[source google image]
I don't know who's work this is and I hope if the stylist ever reads this post doesn't get offended by me using the image as an example.  My intention is not to disrespect anyone's craft.  When I saw this photo it was the perfect example of what I am trying to explain.  As you can see, the tightness around the hairline has caused the person in the photograph to have an unevenly rounded hairline and swelling at the base of each braid.  It's also evident each section of hair is much less then the amount of synthetic hair that was added.  You see no scalp at all just braids as if mimicking a braided wig, aside from the spacing around the damaged hairline area.  I recently watched a YouTube video where sadly the stylist is demonstrating how to "properly" install box braids and again no scalp and no spaces.  I have to strongly disagree.

[source: google image]

Again, no disrespect to the stylists work.  I am only using this image to educate.  There are several issues with these cornrows. First, the client does have spacing which tells me for the braids to be that thick in size and still have spaces, the clients hair is very fine and thin.  Way too much hair was added. I'm not saying the client isn't necessarily a candidate for cornrows, however, they probably would have been healthier by adding more braids and less hair.  Second, the braids are not started by using the feed-in method of braiding which I highly recommend for all clients.  Wearing braids with the large knot at the start of the cornrow is a very outdated technique.  Beginning a cornrow with that much hair at the hairline is a sure way to end up with a receding hairline if repeatedly worn.  Skilled stylists keep up with the latest techniques and trends.  This ensures the client will not be walking around wearing braids in 2014 that look like they came from 1982..I'm just sayin'.

I'm writing his post because it breaks my heart to see and know how many women and children of color that love wearing braids, are suffering from balding either around the hairline and/or thinning all over their head.  A skilled hair braider will only use the SAME AMOUNT OF EXTENTION HAIR AS THE SECTION OF HAIR PARTED OFF FROM THE CLIENT OR LESS.  This can be altered to some degree if the stylist is doing feed-in cornrows (braids to the scalp where very small amount of hair extensions are added in small increments as the braid continues, starting from the hairline on down to the ends).  With the feed-in technique because only a small amount of hair is added at the start of the braid where the hairline is and where hair tends to be the most vulnerable to thinning and balding, adding a heavier amount of extension hair to natural hair can be done.

Photos below are of work done by myself, of what I consider to be healthy braiding practices when using extension hair.
Box Braids on client with loosely curled fine natural hair. Scalp is showing but it's ok, it should always show.  Unless the hair is so dense and thick when an equal amount of extension hair ratio is added to the clients natural hair and it comes out with no scalp showing.  Less than 5 packs of 100% kanekalon braiding hair was used.
Feed-in cornrows on child with medium density natural hair.  For a more natural look, extension hair should not be detectable. Less than one pack of 100% Kanekalon braiding hair was used.
Feed-in cornrows done by myself on my own naturally kinky/curly medium density natural hair.  I used less than ONE pack of synthetic braiding hair to achieve this look.

 Even with feed-in cornrows being a healthier way to add extensions to natural hair for cornrows, stylist should still use caution and not over bear the clients hair with extension hair.  When a hair braider takes a very small section of a clients natural hair and adds double the amount of extension hair to it, the result will not be positive in the end. Yes, the style will be much fuller but the clients natural hair cannot support such heavy weight.  I cannot stress this enough.  It is important you seek a hair braider who understands the proper natural hair to extension hair ratio is being used at all times. I have experienced clients with scalps that are very pliable due to extra skin. For those clients I prefer not to use any extension hair.  Braiding their own natural hair is best since adding hair can greatly increase the likeliness of the braids coming out too tight. Even with a light handed hair braider. If the client refuses to take the advice, I won't compromise my integrity as a stylist by just giving the client what she/he wants.  Instead, I make use the opportunity to educate, offer alternative suggestions, and hope the client understands you're advice is coming from a place of concern and supporting their healthy hair goals.