Box braids have been treasured by women of colour for eons. The intricate hairstyle is also a fan favourite, given its versatility, ease of maintenance and extreme time-saving abilities. While the style braids one’s hair away from daily manipulation, breakage and split ends, it also comes with a list of downsides—including tension on the scalp and hair follicles. Reimagining this traditional hairstyle is now a healthier alternative, already placed on the podium by Google’s Year in Search 2020.
Also known as feed-in braids, knotless braids are the knotless variation of traditional box braids. The style borrows box-like partitions from its traditional counterpart but eliminates the knot that is usually formed at the beginning of each braid while inserting hair extensions. The hairstyle uses a feed-in technique instead—where braids are started off with one’s natural hair and infused with extensions along the way.
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By adding small amounts of extensions instead of chunky pieces all at once for thickness and length, knotless braids essentially ease the tension traditional box braids place on the scalp and hairline. The technique, if done correctly, can help prevent traction alopecia—a common form of hair loss among women who have tight braids with large knots installed.
This results in sleeker braids instead of bulky ones, making it more versatile than other hairstyles. The braids are thereby more flexible and easy to manipulate while styling them into ponytails or buns. In terms of its longevity, a finished style can last up to three months. This timeframe, however, depends on your hair growth, texture and care routine. The thickness and length of your braids are yet another factor.
For those with coarse hair textures and tighter curls, knotless braids can hold out for two to three months. For those with silkier texture and looser curls, on the other hand, they may not last as long. The risks of the hair separating from the synthetic braiding hair is higher, and in some cases, the look may only hold up for about four to six weeks. Knotless braids also take about five to nine hours to perfect at a professional hair salon, with appointments ranging between $300 to $600—depending on the length and thickness you want to go for.
The comfort, however, outweighs the time commitment when it comes to its popularity. Knotless braids have witnessed a 150 per cent increase in searches on Pinterest. It has also been adopted by A-listers including Beyonce, Yara Shahidi, Gabrielle Union and Laura Harrier. With 396 million views and counting on #knotlessbraids, need I say more about TikTok’s enthusiastic nod towards the healthier alternative? Users gathered at the hashtag are seen giving styling and self-care tips along with detailed tutorials and colour suggestions to back them up.
With all that information out in the open, you may be wondering—just like I did at 3 a.m. on the night I stumbled across the hairstyle—is it possible to DIY? Contrary to the millions of videos on TikTok and YouTube, it is highly recommended to leave knotless braids to a professional braider. One who doesn’t channel the skill when the clock strikes 12 in a dimly-lit dorm bathroom, you hear me? You have to nail the technique in order for the hairstyle to fulfill its purpose.
A professional can not only tailor the measurements of box-like partitions to your crown, but also ensure that the braids avoid direct tension on your scalp. In the long run, the pros are going to save your piggy banks from drainage and your hair from breakage.
That being said, there are certain steps you can take to prep your hair before your appointment. Doctor Kari Williams, a licensed cosmetologist and board-certified trichologist, recommends a thorough cleanse and deep condition before installing the braids. This helps the style do what you’re hoping for: protect and promote hair growth. “When choosing to wear long-term styles like knotless braids, it’s best if the hair is in its most optimum condition,” she said in an interview with Byrdie.
A deep conditioner may already be a part of your hair care routine, but it’s essential to keep a few ingredients in mind for the next time you’re stocking up. Look out for shea butter, avocado and aloe-based products. They are all excellent sources of moisture and nutrients your hair will thank you for when you’re ready to remove your braids.
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While protective hairstyles are meant to make your life easier, it’s not an excuse to neglect hair care routine altogether. The upkeep process is as important as the prep, if not even more. One of the major benefits of knotless braids is that your scalp is accessible. You can cleanse or spot-treat your scalp much easier than with traditional box braids.
Once you have got the coveted hairstyle installed, make sure to wipe them down with a natural cleanser such as apple cider vinegar once in a while. This helps keep your braids fresh and your scalp healthy. You can also treat your roots to a clarifying spray and slick down any frizz with a lightweight gel or mousse. It is additionally recommended to tie your hair at night with a silk scarf, bonnet or pillowcase.
Knotless braids leverage innovation to reimagine a traditional hairstyle on a healthier note. So, what are you waiting for? Throw those braids into a high ponytail for workouts, style them into a bun or half-updo for a fancy dinner, or accessorise with some flowers and you’re ready to summon your inner bridesmaid. The future is knotless and it’s only a matter of time before the rest follow through.
It’s not every day that I braid my hair. On the days that I do, I skip ten reps of tricep extensions in the morning. To top off the physical strains required to pull off the classic hairstyle is a list of hybrid techniques—with names ranging from fishtail and mermaid to pull-through and rope twisted braids. For those pushed for both time and effort, there’s an effortless hair trend in town that I’d like to introduce you to: bubble braids.
Fuelled back into popularity with the resurgence of Y2K, bubble braids are ponytails or pigtails fluffed up to create sections—generously spaced out with the help of elastics. Hybrids of the trend depend on various factors like the volume, hair texture, number of sections, choice of height (high, mid or low) and the types of embellishment. In this regard, they can be worn in pigtails, half-up braids or high ponys. No matter what hybrid you choose, however, bubble braids are guaranteed to be an Insta-worthy hairstyle you don’t need to be a pro to perfect.
Although bubble braids are not a new trend, they have been sweeping runways, red carpets and social media lately. In March 2021, we saw Doja Cat slaying the trend at the Grammys. Then came Priyanka Chopra Jonas strutting onto the BAFTAs. The following months saw Gigi Hadid celebrating her birthday with a few face-framing bubble braids and Griff—named as 2021’s Rising Star at the Brit Awards—rocking the look during and after her show-stopping performance.
Be it flat sections or full-blown bulbs, bubble braids can spice up a classic braid or ponytail in just a few minutes. So, what are you waiting for? All the A-listers are on it. Let’s catch up to the effortless trend minus five cans of hairspray today.
First up is to decide where the base of your ponytail will sit. You can opt for a high ponytail if you want a sporty look, a mid ponytail for casualness or a low ponytail to channel ultimate sleekness. If you have short hair and your high ponytail ends up looking like a water fountain, two factors have got you covered: extensions and the number of bubbles. With extensions, always make sure to add the same type as your natural hair texture and adjust the number of bubbles to suit the length.
Once you’ve decided on the placement, it’s time to go ahead and commit to the trend. Brush your hair into a ponytail at the choice of height and tie it off with an elastic. This is your base ponytail for all of the bubbling that is to come. Neatly brush out this ponytail before grabbing more elastics and getting to work. Depending on the size of your bubbles—be it flat-sections like Gigi or full-blown bulbs like Griff—take an elastic and tie it a couple of inches down your ponytail. Keep sectioning your hair till you reach the desired tail length for your bubble braids.
It’s not bubbles unless you can see them, right? After dividing your base ponytail into sections, start teasing and loosening the space tied off between two elastics using your fingers. This helps voluminise individual sections into bubbles. Tease all of the sections until you reach the desired shape. Brush out the tail and voila! You’re ready to ride off into the sunset with a hairdo that looks like you’ve put your entire heart and soul into.
Let’s talk about various bubble braid upgrades that come pre-installed with the trend. For starters, you can play around with the colour and type of elastic you use for sectioning. Regular elastics can be switched out with scrunchies. You can also choose to alternate between the colour and the type. Next is the number of sections. While closely-sectioned bubble braids are guaranteed to turn local cul-de-sacs into runways, various foam shapes can be embedded into the sectioning to completely amp up your hair game. Flowers and rhinestones are additional embellishments one can choose from.
Although bubble braids don’t pop or flatten out easily, hairspray is often suggested to seal the look. But you only need to commit to the spraying if you have hair whipping on your itinerary like Doja. If not, play around with the messiness and flyways to curate a personalised look. After all, if you can do a ponytail, you can do a bubble braid.