African hair braiding has become increasingly popular over the last few years as more and more men and women have embraced their hair’s natural texture and color in their daily style. Rather than dye, heat style, or chemically straighten their hair, many are choosing to style their locks through intricate braiding. The absence of heat and chemicals can do wonders in helping your client’s hair achieve a healthy, vibrant look.
There are near-endless combinations and patterning styles that you can learn as you become skilled, but all fall within three basic categories:
- Twist outs
- Box Braids
This style embraces the natural texture of your client’s hair by creating simple, natural curls without heat. Wearing this style on a regular basis protects the hair from heat and chemicals, so you might recommend to clients who not only love the look but want to give their hair a rest from treatments. You can create twist-outs on wet or dry hair.
To create a twist out on wet hair, make sure your client’s hair is saturated with leave-in conditioner or hair butter, then carefully detangle the hair strand by strand.
Next, you’re going to separate the hair into several sections, twist these sections tightly, and secure them to the head while they dry. The twists will air dry, and you can later remove them to reveal the curls. You can personalize this style however your client would like by creating larger or smaller twists, and you can also add volume by running your fingers through the twists.
You can create the same look on dry hair by moistening the hair with leave in conditioner and then creating the twists and leaving them to form curls.
Box braids are standard three-strand braids, usually created with synthetic hair to add volume and length.
You can start braiding near the hairline and working your way backwards to the back of the scalp. You’ll start by braiding the natural hair, and incorporate sections of synthetic hair so that they blend seamlessly together.
When box braiding hair, you’ll need to apply leave in conditioner to make the hair easier to manipulate.
It can take up to eight hours to braid the entire head; this is where your clients will be relying on your expertise to create smooth, beautiful braids in a shorter period of time than they could braid their hair themselves. As you gain experience braiding hair, the technique will become smoother and quicker.
Box braids often incorporate beads to add a flashy element. This easy-to-wear style is simple and great for clients who don’t want to spend a lot of time manicuring their hair on a daily basis. You’ll simply need to instruct your clients to moisturize their hair with hair oil or butter each day in order to keep the natural hair from becoming brittle and breaking. The braids will also need to be washed after about three weeks.
Box braids can be left in the hair for up to two months at a time, but you’ll want to redo your client’s braids or give them a fresh new style after two months to prevent the braids from matting.
Unlike box braids, cornrows are meant to be left in the hair for a longer period of time—usually for several months. At that time, you or your client will need to remove them to prevent damage to the hair and scalp.
Cornrows are braids that are fastened to the scalp. You’ll begin by sectioning off hair in divisions (smaller divisions for smaller cornrows, larger divisions for larger cornrows), and then you’ll separate each section into three parts as you would to begin a braid.
To attach the braid to the scalp, you’ll add hair from the scalp as you braid the parted-off section. You’ll continue to add hair as you braid all the way down the back of the head.
You may choose to use synthetic hair to create longer cornrows. You’ll simply braid the synthetic hair into the base of the braid, near the scalp, and then continue braiding until it blends seamlessly with the natural hair.
You’ll need to detangle as you braid the cornrows, using your fingers and hair oil or butter to more easily manipulate the hair.
Once you reach the end of the scalp, you’ll keep braiding as usual. You can fasten the ends of the braids with rubber bands. If you’re working with the natural texture of the hair, the braids might not need to be fastened—they may stay tightly wound on their own.
Licensing Requirements and Certification Options
If you’d like to offer African hair braiding to your clients, you’ll need a hair stylist license –but only in certain states. The stylist license is distinct from a cosmetologist license and is only available in states where it is required by law.
In the following states, you may offer hair braiding services without a license, provided you aren’t offering any other services, such as hair coloring, shampooing, or trimming:
With the exception of the 10 states listed above, you’ll need to hold a valid cosmetology or license in order to offer African hair braiding services to your clients. Unfortunately, most standard hair stylist programs don’t offer courses in African hair braiding, and at best, the topic is generally only briefly covered.
Because of the lack of instruction in your hair stylist program, you might consider learning more about African hair braiding through online courses such as those offered by Rare Essence Academy or through styling schools in your area.