Talk of  the braid shop simultaneously strikes joy and fear into the heart of many, especially naturals. We excitedly relish the thought of our new funky- fresh ultra fly hairstyle, combined with the added benefit of “protective styling” for our beloved tresses, and then the glorious fact that we don’t have to do much to maintain this beautiful all be it temporary look.  All of the pros of hair braiding seem to dreamily dance around our minds overshadowing the potentially hair and health hazardous cons.  One of the main cons being the braid shop itself.   I have personally had nothing but negative experiences every time I have gone to a braid shop.  Now once or twice sure, everyone has an off day and things don’t always run smoothly that is just a part of life; but every time?   Repeated and consistent negative experiences means there is a problem!

Now don’t get me wrong African Hair Braiding is a beautiful art form that takes skill (even talent) and has a impressive and long standing history.  I’m not talking about decades, but centuries.  The oldest known images of hair braiding are found in artifacts found in 2630 B.C.

815 B.C. Artifact housed at the Birmingham Museum of Art

Hair braiding has been one of the most enduring and long-standing  traditions in the African  and now the African-American culture.   “Cornrows or Canerows” for example have their roots (pun intended) in the early agricultural responsibilities of African slaves.    African slaves were forced to work the fields as farmers, and the Africans took the techniques they applied to the fields of their owners and applied these to their hair. They used “tools” or combs to make parts in the hair symbolic of the soil, and then fertilized their crop by oiling the scalp, and then trimmed and shaped the crop they had worked to cultivate.   This beautiful practice has been reduced, at least in my personal experiences, to “The Braid Shop”.  A place where dirty surroundings, unprofessional attitudes, and shady fluctuating  prices (literal by the minute) seem to be the norm.  And if you have “natural” hair you are often met with complaints, told your hair is too thick to deal with, charged more money, given an attitude of exasperation by your hair braider, or even told straight out ” to get a relaxer”.

Why Braid

Well style preference aside, hair braiding can help in retaining the length or the growth achieved during the period of having the braided  in the hair.  This protective style means less manipulation like brushing, combing, or heat styling and since less stress is put on our strands they have less chance to breaking.  Minimizing damage to the hair means maximizing length retention!  When hair is added to braid styles, the extra hair can act as a protectant for the hair shielding it, and when the hair is gathered together, grouping the strands, this gives them added strength and resilience.

A common misconception is that braided hair requires no care, untrue!  Hair and scalp should be kept clean and moisturized.  This will optimize the benefits of this brief vacation for your hair and from your hair.

Dangers For You and Your Hair

A common side effect of tight braids is traction alopecia,  a hair loss condition caused by damage to the dermal papilla and hair follicle by constant pulling or tension over a long period. It often occurs in persons who wears tight braids, especially “cornrows” that lead to high tension, pulling and breakage of hair.  Traction alopecia at the nape or hairline aka “edges” is usually reversible, however when this condition occurs in the center area of the scalp it is usually not.

Hair that has been damaged, newly chemically processed, or weak and brittle is not  recommended for braiding. We often braid hair to hide damage strands, but the added tension and stress on hair that is already in a weakened condition can do more harm than good.

If unclean hair combs, clips, etc. are used on your scalp there is risk of infection.  This risk is even greater if the skin on the scalp becomes compromised or damaged during the braiding process. Infection occurring in the skin could lead scarring of the scalp and permanent hair loss!  We opt for tighter braids to longer preserve our hairstyle and stretch our dollar, but the discomfort and damage tight braids can cause is not worth the extra week or two you get to keep your style.

Back To The Braid Shop

My latest trip to the braid shop was unfortunately no different from the ones before.  I called ahead and was very specific as to the style I wanted, and asked the time frame which it would take.  When I asked her how much it would cost to have my hair braided her response was, ” How much do you usually pay?”.  I kid you not, and this should have been my red flag to call a different shop.  I told her I had not had this style done before, to which she said  “ok” and then quoted me their price, I scheduled my appointment.  I showed up the next morning, 15 hours after I made the appointment, and as I walked in the shop and sat down I was told it was going to cost more money.  When I asked why I was told that she misunderstood what I wanted when we spoke over the phone, and the price she quoted me was for a style that would take 20 min, the style I wanted was going to take an hour.  I then reminded her that when I asked her for the time frame to braid the style I inquired about over the phone she told me it would take an hour, but if the price was now going  up I was not longer interested in getting my hair braided.  I was then told that she would make an exception because I was a new customer and I could pay the price originally quoted to me over the phone.  As the hair braider began to work she asked me to change the style I asked for ( I asked for 5 fat cornrows, one in the center and two on each side), she asked me to do 6 rows 3 on each side.  I politely declined, and she said, “no problem” and began braiding.  After my hair was half completed I was informed that she would have to do 6 rows instead of 5 because my hair was thick.  I said no, and asked her if what I asked for was impossible to do, her reply ” no, but it’s more work, and it’s the same thing”, I said it is not the same thing it changes the style I want and the placement of my part- not a fan of center parts- the hair braider then begrudgingly took down a portion of my hair to re-braid my hair in the style I originally asked her for.  After she was done my braids were uneven in size, not uniform in direction, and did not look like the work of a professional African hair braider.  I realize I could have had her take it all down and redo it, but 1) if she did such a poor job the first time, why would the second time be any better and 2) my “tender-head” could not have taken another session.  So in short me making her repeat her work would have hurt me more than it would have hurt her…and therefore was not an option.

My “professional” braids

As you can see, my braids are not done very well, I could have done this myself…and I can’t braid.  In expressing my frustrations to others I have learned, and sadly so, that my string of bad experiences with braid shops is common.  I have not been to every braid shop on the planet so I cannot say they are  all bad, not only is that unfair but I’m sure untrue.  A braid shop with consistent prices,   clean environment, professional attitude, and cares about the health of your hair as much as their bottom dollar- MUST exist! At the very least,  I can dream…

xoxo hippiechicchick

References:

Me:)

History of Hair Braiding

Traction Alopecia, Emedicine.com, Basil M Hantash, MD, PhD, Robert A Schwartz, MD, MPH, Updated February 2005

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