Like so many other black girls, hair has always been a highly emotional and personal subject for me. My early teenage years were characterized by countless hours of straightening, searing, blow-drying, and sobbing in front of the mirror; snapped hair bands and combs; and tens upon hundreds of “miracle products” rinsed down the drain. We’re often so heavily exposed to messages that natural hair isn’t good enough; that it needs to be straighter, tamer, and thus whiter. I certainly wasn’t invulnerable to this. I felt like I would never find a quick, simple, and sustainable hair routine that I would be comfortable donning in the halls of my majority-white school that didn’t involve seriously damaging my hair.

And then, on a blessed day this year, I discovered the joy that is the braid out. Boy, I wish I’d found this one sooner. By comparison, braid outs are infinitely simpler, easier, and lower-maintenance than any style I’ve ever worn, and are a great way to wear your hair if you’re looking for something a little closer to natural with more curl definition. They’re also solid testament to the infinite beauty of afro hair—the kinks and coils you get from this technique are so gorgeous. Let’s do it!

What you’ll need:

braidout step 0 - you will need

  • Your choice of leave-in conditioner, oil, hair moisturizer, or other holding product
  • Small hair bands
  • Shower/spray bottle
  • Optional: Silk scarf/du-rag

Note: With braid outs, a general rule is that the slower you let it dry and set, the more defined the curls will be, and the longer it’ll last. Because I’m going for the real deal this time round, I’m not cutting any corners. This means the overall process takes about a day and a half to set, but I’ve also achieved less defined/not-as-long-lasting versions of this style overnight—so I’ll point out the steps where you can speed the process up if you don’t have much time.

How to Do It:

Step One: Get Your Hair Wet

Braidout step 1- wet hair

I jump in the shower and get my hair completely wet, but you can also just pop your head under a faucet and get it damp, or use a spray bottle if you want your braid out to dry faster. The wetter your hair is, the more malleable it will be, and the better your results, so I avoid towel drying and usually end up dripping everywhere.

Step Two: Apply Your Hair Product

Braidout step 2 - Product

For this step, I use the LOC method, which means applying a liquid leave-in conditioner, oil, and creme, in that order. The specific products aren’t too important. I’m using my all-time faves: Mixed Chicks Leave-In Conditioner, Parachute 100% Pure Coconut Oil, and Shea Moisture Coconut & Hibiscus Curl-Enhancing Smoothie. I also slather on some Eco Styler Olive Oil Styling Gel, which makes for extra hold. The more product you use, the longer your drying time, so if you’re looking for faster results, a dollop of leave-in conditioner alone should do the trick! Make sure to rake the product through a little with your fingers to get rid of any major tangles.

Step Three: Braid It Up

Braidout step 3- Braiding

Now that your hair’s prepped and pampered, it’s time to part your hair however you’d like to wear it when it’s dry (I go for a deep side part), then put it into french braids. A quick scan of YouTube can teach you how to do a french braid if you don’t know how, but the idea is pretty simple—you’re basically splitting your hair up into large cornrows. It’s the same technique as a normal braid except you start braiding with a teeny tiny section of hair at the front and keep borrowing hair to add to the braid as you go along. You may get a little excess product oozing out as you braid like I do, but this will soak in eventually. You can also give it a little dab with a towel when you’re done.

Doing a number of smaller braids makes for a faster drying time, but I prefer wearing my hair out and about in two big braids. Braiding tightly also makes for tighter curls, but again—it’s a longer drying process.

Step Four: Drying Time!

Braidout step 4 - wait to dry and durag

Now we play the waiting game. Depending on the thickness of your hair, how wet you got it, the amount of product you used, and the number of braids you did, it could take anywhere from a night to two days to dry. Blow drying your braids on a low heat can speed up the process. Covering your hair up with a silk scarf or a du-rag while you sleep will keep your braids looking super neat if you need to wear them out during the next day while waiting for them to dry. Giving them a little squeeze or pushing a finger through the middle of your braids near the top will help you figure out when they’re fully dry. Do not take them out until they’re bone dry, however tempting it may be!

Step Five: Take It Out!

Braidout step 5 - ready to take out

After what might seem like an eternity of eager anticipation, when your braids are dry to the touch, it’s time to take them out. Rub a little oil on your fingers and very carefully unravel each braid, being careful not to disrupt the curl pattern too much.

Step Six: Style

Braidout step 6 - style

Give your hair a bit of a fluff and separate the curls as you wish. The back of your hair will need some messing up if you parted it in two like I did, so get that part covered! You’re now ready rock those curls.

Step Seven: Maintenance

Braidout step 7- maintenance banded pony

This style can last a good four or five days if you cover your hair with your silk scarf/du-rag while you sleep and keep your curls compact and protected. I tend to sleep with a du-rag and a trusty banded ponytail, with three or four bands spaced evenly all the way down. Finally, rubbing a tiny bit of oil on your hands while you handle your hair in the mornings can go a long way in keeping your hair looking fresh and moisturized.

Happy braiding! ♦

Micha is a London-born writer, musician and Psychology undergrad who hiccups after every meal and lives most of her life on the internet. Follow her on Twitter.

How We Live is a series centering on the lived experience and thought of black teenagers.