All about box braids: an expert's guide to this classic style plus our fave braid looks

Everything you need to know about box braids plus inspiration pics aplenty

Smiling woman with box braids on a pink backdrop
(Image credit: Getty images)

If you've ever considered box braids for your own hair, that consideration probably included a lot of questions. Yes, this is a classic braided hairstyle, one you've probably seen countless times everywhere from the red carpet to the streets of your home town. But do you know how box braids are created? Do you know how to care for them or how long they last? Don't worry, we've got you.

And when I say 'we,' what I really mean is award-winning hairstylist, braiding guru, and author of bestselling Good Hair; The Essential Guide to Afro, Textured and Curly Hair,  Charlotte Mensah. And then a little smidgeon of visual inspiration from me, rounding up a selection of the most beautiful box braid looks on social media. 

With anything hair-related - whether that's picking the best hair dryer or perfecting a messy bun - it's a good idea to submit to the superior knowledge of experts. And hairstylists don't come more expert than Charlotte, a member of the British Hairdressing Awards Hall of Fame whose clientele includes Zadie Smith, Erykah Badu, and Janelle Monáe, to name but a few.

Are you ready to learn all about box braids? Discover more about this classic style and get inspired for your next braided look today. 

Charlotte Mensah's box braid guide

"Braids have always been popular with women with Type 4c hair because they afford a certain level of freedom. Women can work out, sweat, or even swim without worrying about the repercussions of shrinkage and maintenance. Braids come in all shapes and sizes, and there are many styles and techniques to employ, such as Senegalese twists (double-strand twists), micro-braids (very small single braids) and cornrows (braids attached to the scalp)"

How do I care for box braids?

"Braids can be achieved with human or synthetic hair, although the former is the most desirable as it tends to look more natural and is gentler on the scalp. Braids should be washed weekly as dirt, and product build-up accumulates quickly in the hair. The hair at the scalp should also be washed and involves lightly massaging the scalp with a moisturizing shampoo. It’s best to use gentle movements to avoid friction and frizziness at the roots." 

"Always remember that when you’re wearing braids (or locs or any other protective hairstyle), it’s important to massage the scalp with a light oil. A good massage with the fingers in a circular motion increases blood circulation and stimulates the natural flow of oil from your scalp to the rest of your hair." 

How often do box braids need refreshed?

"Braids can be refreshed every four weeks, especially at the front, and then rebraided to protect the hairline. Braids can be worn anywhere between six and eight weeks, depending on your needs, but should be restyled to incorporate new growth and to prevent your natural hair from tangling into the extensions. Hair that’s fine and straight may loosen faster than curlier, kinkier textures. Wearing braids for long periods of time can cause hair loss and damage, so it’s advisable to wear your hair naturally, if you can, from time to time."

Are box braids bad for hair? 

"The biggest factor to note when wearing braids is the possibility of traction alopecia. Braids should never be painful when being applied, and hair should never be tugged or pulled tightly. If you ever notice bumps or small white pimples on the scalp or experience itchiness, redness or soreness, and a generally very tender scalp, braids should be removed immediately as these are all symptoms of traction alopecia. Although it is possible to do box braids on your own, most women prefer having them done by an expert braider for ease and efficiency."

How to do box braids at home

Many women choose to have their hair professionally braided in a salon, but if you've got the skills, it's possible to create box braids at home, too. Here is Charlotte's step by step guide:

You will need

  • Tail comb
  • Human hair or synthetic hair
  • Pomade for edges
  • Jug of hot water

Step by step

1. Part a small square section of hair.

2. Take a similar section of hair from the pack of extensions.

3. Fold your extensions in half and place the center of the extension in between the section of the hair.

4. Begin braiding all three strands until the natural hair disappears.

5. Gather a bit of hair from the two other strands to create a third strand.

6. Braid until the end.

7. Dip hair into hot water (be careful) to melt the extensions and seal the

braids.

Box braid inspiration

Social Media is full of box braid inspiration for every hair length and style. This is just a selection of the looks we love - take a look at these box braid specialists' Instagram accounts for more.