10 things you didn't know about getting your hair braided (and which you might not get told since the hair salon is used to dealing with people who know better).
First of all, when I say 'braids' let's just clarify what we're talking about. For anyone who hasn't run into me in the last couple of months, I'm not thinking of some straight up-down french plait. I'm talking about 8 millions 6 hundred thousand 1 thousand 9 hundred and 12 little bitsy braids all over the head (okay, so maybe that number isn't 100% accurate, but it's got a good feel to it). The overall look was pretty dramatic and people stopped to comment on it all the time, which was awesome. Now it's all out though, I thought it might be interesting to recap on the things I learnt.
(1) Most of the hair braids are made of synthetic hair. I think I did know when I saw braided hair that synthetic hair was wound in with it, but I didn't appreciate how much. Apparently, you can just braid the hair as it is, but the braids end up super-fine which means they don't last that long and the whole look is rather thin, which rather defies the point of braiding it to begin with. Synthetic hair is cheap (only a few dollars per packet and I think I needed 4 packets for my shoulder-length hair) but if you have light coloured hair, you will need to get this in advance because chances are the salon will only have black and dark brown hair in stock. Since you're weaving in hair, it might be fun to put a totally different colour in with it. I had strands of blue added to each of my braids.
(2) Hell, it takes ages. The reason braiding is expensive is that someone has to sit there for hours and do it. You're looking at 3-5 hours depending on how thick the braids are you want. Also...
(3) .... if you get beads put on the bottom, then you can only have the finest braids and the beads take a lot of extra time. This was something I didn't appreciate until too late. If you heat the ends of synthetic hair, it seals itself which is a quick way of securing the end of the braid. If, on the other hand, you want a bead on the end, then you have to add the bead and an elastic band which will add several hours onto the process. On the other hand, the beads are cool so....
(4) Your braided hair will be longer than your normal hair. Apparently, it's normal to continue braiding the synthetic hair several inches past the end of your hair, so the bottom part of each braid does not contain any of your natural hair. Quite useful if you just want to cut the beads off rather than undo each one.
(5) For the first couple of days, the braids feel really tight. After this, the synthetic hair relaxes and it's much more comfortable. I read on the web that some people take aspirin for the first few days, but mine wasn't painful enough for that, just a bit sore.
(6) Sleeping took longer to get used to, largely because of all those beads! It's hard to know where to put them. I wrapped a scarf around the top of my head to protect the braids a bit while I slept (though the presence of the beads means I didn't move around too much in the night).
(7) Washing was no problem. Everyone asked me how I managed this, but I just soaped down the braids as usual in the shower and then used a spray-on conditioner afterwards. It seemed to work fine, since my hair wasn't a nasty mass when I removed the braids, although the synthetic hair felt a bit sticky as I unwound it. Possibly this is because it's harder to wash the shampoo out of it.
(8) I had my braids in for about 6 weeks (I lost count, but it's close to that +/- 1). After that time, I could see I had about an inch of hair growth before the braids started. A few braids near the back which didn't have much real hair woven in slid clean out which was an effective, if creepy, way of removing them. The braids themselves get frayed over time as parts of your actual hair escape. I thought this might be a bigger problem than it was for me, but there comes a point when the hair style is clearly at the end of its life.
(9) You loose an alarming amount of hair when you unbraid yourself. It's not really surprising, since for the last x-weeks you've lost no hair, whereas you'd normally loose a bit everyday from brushing. Now you loose all that at once. But it's still a little disconcerting. I found I had a number of small but ferocious tangles but largely my hair was in good shape.
(10) Beware of sunburn for the first few weeks. Your scalp is very exposed!