I Tried Doing My Own Box Braids For the First Time, and It Was a (Well-Worth-It) Journey

POPSUGAR Photography | Danielle Jackson
POPSUGAR Photography | Danielle Jackson
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I get frustrated every time I think about the fact that I'm a Black girl who can't braid. To clarify, I can easily complete a simple, three-strand braid, but my attempts to do anything more complex than that — cornrows, french braids, fishtails — always prove to be a joke. I know I'm not alone in this, and it's tough when you're someone who frequently wears protective styles, but it's even tougher at a time like this when hairstylists aren't so easily accessible. It was for this reason that I decided out of sheer desperation that I'd try my hand at doing my own box braids — and you can imagine my surprise when I actually didn't hate the results.

I can't think of a more perfect style to wear than braids (or any protective style, really) when making an appointment with a hairdresser is close to impossible. Protective styles give you the option to tuck away your ends and lay off your hair for at least a few weeks at a time so you don't have to worry about manipulating or styling it every few days. I chose to wear box braids because I knew it'd be an easy way to keep the manipulation to a minimum, but I knew going into it that doing the style on myself wasn't going to be an easy feat by any means.

It was a journey, but I managed to get the job done. Here are a few of my biggest takeaways.


Tip #1: Wash and Moisturize Your Hair First

It's much easier to style hair when it's clean and properly moisturized. Before getting started, I shampooed with OGX Nourishing + Coconut Milk Shampoo ($10) and followed up with the Dove Beauty Moisture Recovery Mask ($7) to deep condition for 30 minutes afterward. I then applied Dove Beauty Moisture Locking Leave In Conditioner ($7) and let my hair air-dry instead of blowing it out, but I made sure to moisturize with jojoba oil before installing each braid.

I'd recommend you also consider washing your braiding hair. If you've ever dealt with itchy box braids, know that it's not always the result of a dry scalp; some synthetic braiding hairs contain an alkaline coating that can irritate the scalp if you don't wash them before installing. I used three packs of Xpression Braiding Hair ($8) and soaked them all in apple cider vinegar to get rid of the coating before rinsing them out a day ahead of time. Once I was done, I hung up the bundles on a towel rack to let them air-dry before starting my braids.

Tip #2: The Internet Is Your Friend

Never underestimate the power of a YouTube tutorial (or two). Choosing to box braid your hair on your own is probably one of the most difficult things you can do when you don't have experience braiding, but the occasional how-to video can definitely make things easier, especially since so many of them are beginner friendly. Plenty of these demos can teach you everything from how to part your hair and how large your sections should be to how to grip your hair so your braid is tight enough to hold.

Tip #3: Use All the Help You Can Get

Did I mention how hard it is to braid your own hair when you have very little experience? More specifically, the hardest part for me was parting my hair into clean sections, since I couldn't see the back of my head without using a hand mirror. I ended up making my mom help me out with this part, so in the event that you're at home with a family member or a roommate with a steadier hand than you, feel free to ask for help when you need it.

Tip #4: It's Not Going to Look Perfect the First Time

I went into this telling myself that I didn't care if my braids turned out looking professional or not — I mostly just cared about getting the job done, especially since it'll be a while before I actually have somewhere important to go. I'm no expert, but I think it's a good mentality to have when you're doing something for the first time with nothing to go off of except a few YouTube videos.

Tip #5: It's Going to Take a While

I have a pretty small head, so when I get it professionally braided, I can normally expect for it to be done in four hours or less. But as I've mentioned, I'm no professional, so this took me around six hours to complete in total, which is way less time than I expected, but a long time nonetheless.

I should also mention that I chose to do large box braids, even though I'm used to getting medium-size braids, so this (and the fact that I counted 28 total braids on my head) could also account for why I was able to get it done in a shorter amount of time.


Tip #6: Don't Forget to Accessorize

The only thing more fun than wearing braids is wearing accessories with said braids. Once I was done braiding, I decided to liven up my hair a bit by tying some gold yarn around a few of my braids and decking some others out in hair rings. Of course, this isn't a required step, but it's a fun and cheap add-on.