Wearing minitwists, weaves, braids, or twists with extensions can be a great way to protect your natural hair from the elements, or just to give your triceps a break from doing your hair. But after wearing these styles for over a month, especially if you wash your hair while in the protective style, the takedown process can be a nightmare. Here’s how to take down long-term protective styles without losing all your hair:
Set Aside Time
The biggest mistake you can make before taking down a protective style is having somewhere to go. It ALWAYS takes much longer than expected, and failing to set aside adequate time to undo, detangle, repair, and style your hair will result in you attacking your poor strands with a comb, which will leave you with way more hair on the floor than necessary. Get yourself a movie or two, pick a Netflix marathon, or even invite a girlfriend to help the time go faster!
You’re going to need more than a rat-tail comb to take down your protective style. Gather a liquid based leave-in conditioner or detangling product — or make a quick and cheaper mix of 2 parts water, 1 part any conditioner, and a few drops or tablespoons of an oil (depending on the bottle size) — to spray on your scalp, strands, and fingers to ease the takedown and detangling process. You’ll also need clips or hair ties to section off your hair, as well as a wide-toothed comb if you desire.
[OPTIONAL: Get More Life Out of the Style]
If you know you need to take your hair down, but don’t have the time to do a good job, consider going a few more days by switching up your do. If you’re wearing minitwists, do a mini twistout and then turn it into an updo. For braids or senegalese twists, consider cutting the hair into a style, like the cute bob above from a set of Senegalese twists I had done in early 2012. For Havana twists, check out my style secrets for a havana twistout:
How I Achieved My Havana Twistout
So I stumbled upon this style purely by accident. I had worn my Havana twists for about 6 weeks and wanted a different hairstyle for my birthday. Dreading the wash day process looming ahead, I hunkered down with all my protective style takedown tools, and got ready to go to work. After untwisting the first twist halfway, I noticed that the Havana hair was incredibly defined from being twisted up for so long. Rather than untwist all the way, I started untwisting each twist about 3/4 of the way up. Some threatened to come fully undone, so I strategically bobby-pinned any misbehaving twists together with my own hair to the base of my scalp. The result was this huge fluffy but defined Havana twist out! I thought this style would be a fantastic way to get an extra week out of what was already my favorite protective style, but unfortunately I could only wear it for a day, maybe two. After pineappling my twistout, I woke up with more than a few pieces of Havana hair threatening to shame me in public. If I had bobby pinned each twist, then I could’ve been able to go a few more days with it, but I didn’t feel like going back and securing over half of the twists. Regardless, this was a great way to extend the life of my twists until I was mentally prepared and had adequate time to properly take down my hair.
Detangle As You Go
This is probably the most crucial step to ensure that you retain any potential length you gained while wearing the protective style, without succumbing to the tangled mess that shed hair can create. Detangle each braid/twist/cornrow as you undo them with your fingers, by first loosening any buildup at the root, and then carefully separating your moistened strands with your fingers BEFORE using a wide-toothed comb if you want. Having a greater amount of hair come out than usual during the take down process is normal, because there will be shed hair trapped in your twists/braids, but if there is more hair than twice as normal (depending on how often you normally detangle and how long the style remained), take caution! Twist or braid up your loose, detangled hair after several pieces to prevent more tangling.
Evaluate Your Hair Needs
Depending on how your hair and scalp feel after taking down your protective style, assess what conditioning treatment will help return your hair to greatness. If your strands are dry or your hair is breaking or snapping (you know it’s breaking versus shedding because you’ll see the bulb), deep condition with a moisture-rich penetrating hair mask such as the Carol’s Daughter Monoi Repairing Mask or Elasta QP Deep Penetrating Conditioner. If your hair feels limp and stretchy, use a protein-based conditioning treatment like Organic Root Stimulator Hair Mayo or Aphogee Treatment for Damaged Hair. If your scalp is itchy, flaky, or dry, apply a mix of jojoba oil with a few drops of tea tree oil to your scalp and either cover for a hot oil treatment, or just let it sit on your hair while in a steamy shower. If your edges seem to be suffering, massage castor oil after washing to encourage repair and growth.
Wash and Style
You should not wash your hair after wearing box braids for 6 weeks and then head back to the salon! Give your hair a chance to breathe, for at least two weeks, before installing another long-term protective style. You can opt for short-term protective styling like medium sized twists using your own hair, or loose hair updos that protect your ends while allowing your hair to breathe.