When it comes to braiding hair, the market has pretty much been solidly Kanekalon or bust. Sure, braiding stylists have their favorite and preferred types of hair to work with, but for the most part, when one goes to the beauty supply store to pick up their packets of hair, we tend to reach for the same brands (unless you’re really bougie and are a human hair braids kind of person).
For the longest time, braids have been a go-to protective style but they also come with a lot of unprotective traits. How often are we really thinking about what goes into the synthetic hair that we lay on our scalps and strands for up to two months, really? A 2023 study showed that prolonged exposure to the harmful chemicals and ingredients used in some types of synthetic braiding hair may be carcinogenic. This feels like the antithesis of a protective style to me, and could potentially cause yet another serious public health issue in Black communities, much like the lawsuits around hair relaxers. As I install my braids, maybe it’s time to take a second to think about how they impact my scalp and hair itself. That’s why brands like Nourie Hair intrigue me.
What is Nourie braiding hair?
Nourie is the world's first sustainable braiding hair that delivers nutrients to the scalp. Founder Osahon Ojeaga experienced scalp trauma and hair damage from a young age and was frustrated by the limited options available to Black women for protecting their hair, so she wanted to create a line of vegan, sustainable hair extensions that help the hair in a 360º fashion. Each strand of Nourie hair releases a balanced nutrient complex over time during wear, designed to nourish the hair and scalp. So of course, my ears perked up. As someone who is often worried about the fake hair I wear, particularly its impact on the environment and my natural hair underneath, I had to know more.
How does Nourie braiding hair work?
Nourie prides itself on innovation. When developing the nourishing complex for the hair, Ojeaga and her team looked at which nutrients the scalp naturally produces and carefully selected ingredients with similar moisturizing properties. The strands — which mainly come into contact with your natural hair but also your scalp once braided — are packed with ginseng root extract. This, says the brand, supports scalp health and helps combat both hair loss and environmental damage on hair, as well as promoting hair growth. Additionally, jojoba mimics naturally produced scalp sebum leading to improved length retention, as well as hair growth, and thickness. Rosemary is also found in Nourie hair, an ingredient which is thought to stimulate blood circulation and encourage hair growth. It’s also great for dry or itchy scalps. Then there is niacinamide, which supports keratin (a type of protein that makes up the structure of your hair strands) and the scalp’s ability to retain moisture.
It’s scalp care meets skincare. This feels like a breath of fresh air when you consider that traditional synthetic braiding hair can have a negative impact on scalp and hair health. “Many women experience allergic reactions to synthetic hair, such as itching, tenderness, and hives,” Ebony Riley, Nourie’s stylist in residence and board certified trichologist explains. “Even if you don't have an allergic reaction, braiding with synthetic hair can dehydrate your natural hair, causing breakage and damage over time.”
Ojeaga and the Nourie team went back to the actual root (pun unintended) of how the synthetic hair on today’s market was created in a mechanical sense. Basically, the tension that is used to pull leather into belts is the same mechanism used to create synthetic braiding hair — using tension pulling forces to stretch the fiber into a long, thin strand — and that strand is pulled so thin, it has the potential to slice and damage your actual hair. “The forces that it takes to break the hair are just so high,” says Ojeaga. “What ends up happening is that braiding hair often ends up becoming more of a knife to your hair than supporting your hair, and human hair doesn't do that. You pull the human hair, and it’ll break, but it won’t be ripped off.” Of course, there are some steps you can take to help reduce the risk of hair loss and scalp damage from traditional braiding hair, such as using leave-in conditioners and making sure your actual hair is clean and conditioned before install. If you can really swing it, having a professional install and uninstall your braids (Ojeaga recommends this for anyone who wants to reuse Nourie hair) is best.
Riley says that there are inadequate regulations when it comes to creating fake hair — human or otherwise. A lot of the time, it is simply created in a machine. As clients and beauty operators are exposed to dangerous carcinogens, Riley urges us to think about the potential impact on our scalp, hair and overall health.
Not only is the hair vegan and made of high quality, renewable biomaterials, it’s also compostable and intended to be safe for both you and the planet. It’s hair for the person who recognizes that how they feel about their hair — not to mention how their scalp is feeling — plays a big role in how they show up anywhere: in the workplace or at the grocery store, for instance. It’s hair for the person that wants to make the best decisions around the products that they're putting in and on their body.
This isn’t like traditional synthetic hair, either. Nourie has “human hair properties”, meaning that it can withstand water, gel, some high heat temperatures, and other common styling techniques — but we’ll get to those later. The hair feels different than traditional synthetic braiding hair, too — and the price point reflects that. One pack, or two bundles of Nourie hair, costs $70 and a two-pack of four bundles will run you $125 at nouriehair.com. Ojeaga describes feeling synthetic hair at the beauty supply store as a child and compares it to when your parents would put pantyhose on your legs back in the day. It felt awful and foreign. Ojeaga asked, “What goes into making braiding hair? Who's making braiding hair?” With the information she gleaned, she was sure she could make better decisions. “I can create options so that people can make better decisions when it comes to what they're buying for braiding hair, what kind of experience they want to have when it comes to braiding hair, and what the braiding hair actually does for you,” she tells R29.
How is Nourie braiding hair, really?
I got the chance to try out Nourie for myself and I was pumped. I had finally reached my “It’s too hot for a wig” threshold this summer, so I gave a call to a stylist at Swivel, an app that connects those with textured hair to stylists who know what they’re doing. They sent a braider to my apartment where the install took place. To achieve medium knotless box braids, I needed three and a half packets of hair for my entire head, which is a good yield when it comes to braids. If they were smaller, we likely would have used the full package. I asked for the darkest shade, After Dusk, which is closer to a 1B, or off-black, and the color was more of a slate gray. As a person who has never feared going gray and embraces a silver tone when I can, this was fine, but if you are expecting a true off-black like Kanekelon has perfected, you won’t get that here. I also asked my stylist for curly ends and to possibly have a few curly pieces left out in a bohemian / goddess braid style. The curls were more wavy than curly, and she opted out of the left-out pieces after a few attempts, because the traditional way of curling those pieces by wrapping them around a curling rod and dipping them into hot water didn’t work. I later went in with my Beachwaver, however, and that worked much better, but I doubt I’ll be doing that on a regular basis.
The braids themselves looked fantastic until I took them out. The hair installed held up in my hair and didn’t thin it out too badly — sometimes when using other synthetic braiding hair, by week 4 it can feel like the braid is one misstep away from being tugged out of my scalp because the synthetic hair itself had become too fragile to hold onto anything.. My braid install lasted about four weeks. Admittedly, I am a rambunctious sleeper and only sleep on silk because I have never woken up with my bonnet still on my head. I take personal responsibility for the fact that I didn’t get a traditional 6 to 8 weeks out of my install, like the brand suggests. But where things went south for me was the shedding. By week four, I felt like my skin was covered in a tiny layer of fibers, and I was finding them everywhere — in my bed, on my robe, in my moisturizer… I realized what had happened: It was my braiding hair. When it’s hot and sweaty in Brooklyn, there’s no relief from shedding fibers. They’re there, and they’re sticking to everything. It was giving five o'clock shadow. Perhaps I could have resolved this by re-applying mousse on my hair to try to re-seal the fibers in place, but when I had tugged a braid out in my sleep, I knew it was time to say sayonara, adios, goodbye to you.
On the other hand, my hair felt stellar when I took it out of the braids. Usually after an install, I’m battling tangles and leftover shed hair when taking my braids out, but that wasn’t the case with the Nourie hair — it felt strong, smooth, and noticeably easier to manage than before. Installing braids is an easier process if you have the budget and time, and especially if you have the patience to call in someone who can take it out, wash it, and re-install it for you. I think that Nourie would be great for quick installs that can be easily managed, like if you’re going on vacation. Washing my hair with the braids in was easier than I’ve ever experienced before, and I didn’t feel like I was walking around with a heavily-soaked sheet on my head after waiting for it to dry.
Overall, Nourie is for the people who want to take the time to really consider what’s going into their hair and touching their scalp. However, the entire hair market needs to move with the curve that Nourie is trying to break into, and I think it’ll be a bit before the mass public, especially at the current price point, gets on board. I’d be interested in trying out Nourie again, especially if I’m going on an island vacation or a long beach stay, but I’m going to need the performance of the hair to match the innovations from the brand before I can really invest in a full 6-8 week install.
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