Think of box braids for natural hair as the oldest sibling in the protective style set. It’s the style that many people start with on their first foray into the braid world. Not only is it one of the easiest options to master, but once you have them in, there’s tons of flexibility to create even more looks. They act as a base style or a jumping-off point for all sorts of natural hairstyles and braided looks. There’s lots of versatility that comes with creating free-flowing braids, and the benefit of box braids in particular is that you can either use just your own hair or add in some extension hair for added length and volume or to make your braids last longer.
Depending on your preference and hair texture, there are a couple of ways to create box braids. Naturally, the idea of DIYing this style may seem intimidating, but it’s actually a lot easier than you may think. It does require some time and a bit of patience, but the silver lining is that if you can twist a basic braid, and have the right products for box braids, then you can most likely install your own box braid style. And to prove it, here’s an easy box braid tutorial you can follow along with at home.
What Are Box Braids?
Let's start with the basics. What are box braids? This braided hairstyle refers to a head full of classic three-strand braids. They are usually thin, but you can make them as big as you want—and your fingers can handle. They really get their name from how the hair is parted. Each braid is sectioned out into the shape of a box. The actual size of the box can vary, and this is what determines how fat or skinny your braids will be. Typically, box braids are done in one-inch or smaller squares. The smaller the braids, the more flexibility you have to style the hair even further.
What Hair Products Do You Use For Box Braids?
We’re almost ready to break down how to create box braids, but first, you need to arm yourself with the right products. While you won’t need a ton of styling hair products during the process of braiding your hair, you’ll need a few natural hair product essentials to prep your strands. It’s important to make sure that your hair is in good shape before applying braids. In addition to washing your mane well with a hydrating, sulfate-free shampoo like the Black Vanilla Moisture & Shine Sulfate-Free Shampoo, top off your moisture with the Black Vanilla Moisture & Shine Hydrating Conditioner. Be sure to detangle really well with Sacred Tiare 4-in-1 Combing Creme, too. You don’t want any tangled sections when you start to braid.
Before blow-drying, spray on the Sacred Tiara Leave-in Conditioner to help fortify hair and smooth away any frizz. You’ll also want to utilize and some type of heat protectant like the Pracaxi Nectar Straight Blow Dry Cream.
As for necessary box braid care after the fact, once your braids are installed, you can lightly swipe a pomade over the top of the braids to help smooth down any stray strands and add some shine. You can also slick down the baby hairs around your face with the Black Vanilla Edge Control Smoother.
How to Do Box Braids: Step by Step
You can do box braids using only your own hair or with extension hair added in. The method only varies slightly, but let’s walk through each. First, let’s focus on braiding just your hair. If you’re wondering how to do box braids for beginners, this is the tutorial for you! Even if your strands aren’t super lengthy, box braids on short hair are super trendy, so give this step-by-step breakdown a try.
Step #1: Prep your hair. No matter which style you’re doing, it’s best to start with freshly washed and detangled hair. Apply a leave-in hair moisturizer before styling.
Step #2: Blow-dry. Although it’s not required, you’ll have an easier time styling if you do a light blowout using a comb attachment on your dryer.
Step #3: Part your hair. Starting from the back of your head and working your way forward, draw a horizontal straight line from one side of your head to the other. Use a claw clip to help keep your hair corralled as you work your way around your head.
Step #4: Braid. With the line that you created horizontally, box out smaller sections of hair vertically. You should have a line across and then shorter lines going down. Remember that the bigger the box, the thicker your braids will be, and you’ll end up with fewer braids.
Due to the way box braids fall, your parts will be visible. Straight lines are key to creating clean and smooth-looking box braids.
Step #5: Keep going! Braid each square straight down and off of your head. That’s all there is to it!
How to Do Box Braids with Extension Hair
This slightly more advanced box braids tutorial involves adding extension hair to your braids. If you want a box braid style with more volume or length, try following this how-to instead.
Step #1: Prep. The starting point is the same: wash, detangle, and blow-dry.
Step #2: Get the extension hair ready. Once you have the prep work done, lay out your extension hair so that it’s easy to grab as you work. Each braid will require a chunk of extension hair that’s about a half of an inch wide.
Step #3: Part your hair. Part the first section of your own hair like mentioned above: a line across and then shorter lines down.
Step #4: Incorporate the extension hair. Take the strip of extension hair and fold it in half. Since you will be using the traditional three-strand braiding method, think of your hair as one arm and each of the two sides of your folded extension hair as the other two arms.
Step #5: Braid. Put your sectioned off piece of hair in between the folded hair and begin to weave it all together to the tip like you would a regular braid.
Step #6: Repeat. Keep going, repeating this process for each section.
What Hair Is Best For Box Braids?
If you go with the second box braid method we outlined, you’ll need to give your extension hair some thought. The type of braiding hair that you use can make a big difference in your braiding experience. Not just in how easy it is to twist, but how your braids hold up over time. Look for pre-stretched synthetic hair that won’t be rough on your fingers as you braid and won’t tangle easily as you weave it with your natural hair.
How Do You Make Tight Box Braids?
Despite what you might think, you don’t really want your braids to be super tight. Not only can it be damaging to your hair, but it also hurts. If you’re using adding extensions into your braids, the way in which the additional hair is incorporated with your own will really determine how tight your braids are. This is why many people are looking for “knotless” or “feed-in” options where the extension isn’t added at the root. Instead, it’s woven in further down the braid. This method takes some of the tugging and tension off of the root since you don’t need to twist as tightly to keep the extension in place. It’s also a bit more advanced to DIY, so you may want to have it professionally done.
Your braid tightness also depends on the type of hair that you use. If it has more of a silky finish, there’s a chance that you’ll experience some loosening. Look for extension hair that has a slightly more textured feel or a bit of grit to it. Many types of braiding hair are already prepped for this purpose.
How Long Do Box Braids Last?
Keeping your braids frizz-free, tight, and smooth really depends on how you take care of them. Like any protective style, you should tie your braids up at night in a silk scarf. Once a week, you can swipe on a light coat of hair gel or a pomade like the Mimosa Hair Honey, applying the product before you tie your scarf. This helps reset your braids and can smooth any looseness. Be careful not to apply too much product so that it doesn’t cake up on top of your braids. Depending on how you preserve them, box braids can last for anywhere from four to six weeks.
Can I Wash My Box Braids?
If you’ve given box braid care any thought, you’ve probably started to wonder about whether you can wash your hair when it’s braided. The short answer is yes, you can wash your box braids, but it’s a little tricky. Keep in mind that if you blew your hair out before installing, once you wash, it will revert back to your curls. This can cause the hair to look frizzy once it dries. Limit your washes to once or twice per install and focus on the scalp instead of the braids themselves. Use a scalp cleanser or shampoo and gently rub without being too abrasive. Too much tugging can loosen your braids at the root.
When washing the actual braids, sweep the shampoo in a downward motion like you’re smoothing them down. Be sure to rinse and dry thoroughly. If the moisture settles in, it can make it smell, almost like when a towel isn’t dried properly—not ideal! Once your braids are completely dry, use the styling gel or pomade tactic to tame any frizziness.
Need another protective style idea? Learn how to DIY a flexi-rod set with this easy tutorial: How to Use Flexi-Rods on Natural Hair.