How To Braid Your Own Cornrows — So You Can Skip The Salon This Spring

Protective style season can be, well, any season. We love them during the fall and winter, when it's too chilly to wash and go, and during the spring and summer, when we'll be hitting every rooftop pool party imaginable. And there's no greater resource than being your own hairstylist. Think about it: Wouldn't you rather allocate your funds towards mint mojitos and that adorable two-piece, rather than a fresh sew-in or getting your crochet braids touched up in the salon?
It may take a few tries and a whole lot of patience, but if you're armed with these tips from celebrity braiders Susan Oludale (AKA Hair by Susy) and Perineé Preston, then you're in better shape than you think. Check them out ahead, then grab a mirror and get started.
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Photo: Via @curlsbycandace.
Prep Properly

"First you must detangle all of your hair with a wide-tooth comb and a spray bottle with water and oils," Susy says. "This softens your hair, making it pliable for braiding." She also recommends an in-shower deep conditioning treatment, which helps prevent breakage after your install. Once your hair is prepped, it's time to blowdry. Pro tip: Some stylists use a comb attachment to get all of those pesky tangles out.
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Photo: Via @hairbeenatural.
Section It Off

"Use the end of a tail comb to get the most precise parts," Susy said. "And clip your sections as you go along. I prefer duck clips, but any clips are fine." You can either section off your entire head beforehand, or make your parts as you go along. And don't feel restricted to go straight back. Make zigzags, triangles, waves, or whatever shape you desire — this is where you can really get creative.
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The Process

Braiding cornrows seems simple enough, but perfecting your technique is what keeps the braids from unraveling. "Use three strands and overlap them over each other from the root," Susy says. "You have to make sure the hair is pulled tight and firm to ensure it will stay while you're overlapping." See a helpful tutorial above.
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The Process... With Extensions

You can always add extensions to your braids for dramatic length or to protect your natural hair from damage. Preston, who works with Taraji P. Henson, recommends Kanekalon hair, which is synthetic. Its coarse texture mimics naturally coily hair, so the braid holds better. Plus, it's really cheap — and you might need to buy it in bulk, depending on what style and length you're going for. Most people need a minimum of five packs, just to be on the safe side.

When adding hair, take a small section of your extensions and wrap it around your hair, picking it up and overlapping it in your braid as you would with your real hair. There's also the option of soaking your extensions in a mixture of apple cider vinegar and hot water before installation. According to blogger Sincerely Crys, this removes the alkaline base coating on the hair that can cause uncomfortable itching.
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Seal Them

For extra security, many braiders opt to seal their cornrows with extensions to prevent unraveling. You can dip them in boiling hot water for a few seconds and blot them on a towel afterwards, or burn the ends with a lighter. (Be very careful, obviously.) Boiling your ends gives you a straight finish, while burning them gives you a retro bend. If you're working with your own hair, simply braid all the way down and use small rubber bands at the end of the plait.
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Don't Forget Your Scalp

Sometimes, the tension from your braids can cause scalp discomfort. Susy likes to spray the hair with a leave-in or apply coconut or castor oil all over, which can also add shine to the style. Or, try Taliah Waajid's Ditch The Itch Bamboo, Basil And Peppermint Anti Itch Serum. It has a nozzle tip, which allows you to pour the product directly where your hair is itching the most.
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Wrap It Up

Preston says that most times, there's no need for a finishing product aside from a little sheen. The most important method of protecting your style, she says, is to tie your braids up with a satin scarf to keep fly-aways at bay. Ideally, your cornrows should last up to six weeks with proper maintenance. And if you follow the steps above, you won't even have to book an appointment with your stylist for your next round.
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