The Protective Style That Won't Leave Your Edges For Dead

You know that saying, "no pain, no gain." Well, there are a lot of beauty treatments that require a little bit of pain before the final result. There's the ripping of eyebrow wax, the pinch of extractions, and the headache that comes with getting a fresh set of box braids. Some braiders tug tightly on the roots to get a flawless finish, and that ache can last days after your styling session, making things as simple as sleeping or putting your braids in a bun a — literal — pain.

That's why we're asking for the knotless (also called feed-in) method at our next appointment. Unlike the traditional braiding technique that adds extensions right at the root, the knotless method starts with your natural hair and gradually adds pieces of hair to the braid as you go. This creates less tension on the scalp and minimizes the chance of breakage.

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The knotless technique isn't new by any means. Hairstylist and expert braider Kamilah has been using it on her clients since 2016, and she tells Refinery29 that she fell in love with the method because of its flexibility. "I love it because it looks extremely natural — like they've grown out of your head," she tells us. "It's a great alternative to other techniques because there is very little pressure put on the hair. You can tie your hair up in a bun or ponytail, and sleep comfortably immediately after with knotless braids."

Before your next salon appointment, we rounded up some knotless looks — and some pro tips — to get you inspired. Fair warning: Once you go knotless, you'll be fully committed to the technique forever.

Though the knotless method might be less painful, prepare to devote a considerable chunk of time to the install. The style, generally, takes longer than other box braid methods because your are consistently stopping to add extra hair as you braid. "Everyone's hair is different, but I would recommend allocating at least five hours for knotless braids," says Kamilah. The amount of time spent in your stylist's chair will also depend on how long you want your braids to be. If you're after booty-length hair (like Beyoncé in her Formation music video), tack on approximately two additional hours to your salon time.
Because the knotless technique starts with braiding the natural hair and then adds in extensions, you can easily — and painlessly — put the braids up in a bun or ponytail right away. "My clients can always put their braids in a topknot or whip them back and forth immediately after appointments," Kamilah says.
You aren't limited to straight braids only. Using the feed-in method, you can also add wavy pieces of hair throughout your plaits to create a boho look.
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Because your natural hair isn't pulled taut with knotless braids, you won't be left with redness or sensitivity on your scalp, meaning you won't need to take two Ibuprofen to run your fingers through your hair when you're done.
With proper maintenance, knotless braids can last you weeks. However, Kamilah warns: Don't get too excited. "It's not about how long you can keep your style, but how long you should keep it," she says. "I wouldn't recommend anything over six weeks. Beyond that is an absolute no." She explains that proper scalp care is also an essential part of any hair-care routine and that you should regularly wash and remove buildup from your scalp. "I recommend using a clarifying treatment or diluted ACV to absorb buildup," Kamilah says.

Yolanda Lenzy, MD, of Lenzy Dermatology in Massachusetts, points out that even though the knotless method creates less tension on the scalp, it can still impact your follicles if left in for too long. "You're still weighing down your hair follicles because you're adding extra hair to your strands," she says. "It's heavy on your natural hair, so I don't advise going beyond three or four weeks with any protective style that has added hair."
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