Natural hair is one of the most versatile hair types out there. It can easily be manipulated into curls, straight, wavy, and more. But due to humidity, pollution, and moisture, many naturals enjoy protective hairstyles (braids, wigs, and weaves) to prevent their real hair from any of the negative side effects of these elements. Not to mention, protective styles can be worn year-round and significantly cut down daily styling time. Out of all of the varieties, cornrow hairstyles are among the most popular. They involve a type of three-strand plait that is woven flat to the scalp in straight rows with a raised appearance, helping protect natural hair by minimizing heat, combing, and pulling placed on the hair.
“Cornrows are a good protective style to wear because you are not applying heat to your hair or styling it every day which can cause damage,” says Stacey-Ann Houston, Ulta Beauty design team member and master hairstylist. Depending on how they are installed and maintained, they can last up to two to eight weeks, making them a great protective option and low-maintenance hairstyle choice.
Seen on A-listers like Zendaya and Zoë Kravitz, there are countless ways to wear the versatile look. From elegant updos, zig-zag, classic straight-back, to ponytails, the options are limitless.
Ahead, top hair stylists share the most buzzy cornrow options to try out all year-round. Plus, they offer tips and products to maintain the just-stepped-out-of-the-salon look.
Braided High Ponytail
Cornrows braided upward into a high ponytail are both chic and edgy. This means that despite their stationary position, the look can easily go from a glamorous event to a casual day of running errands. For an even more elegant look, wrap loose strands around the pony to create a braided waterfall effect.
Boho braids have all but taken over TikTok and Instagram, but the look, which features loose waves and whimsical tendrils, can be done with cornrows, too. This version of the style offers sleek twist with the same flowing effect. In addition to its trendy appeal, it’s also quick to do, which means you’ll sit less in the salon and spend more time enjoying your new look.
Swooped Low Bun
Small cornrows are prefect for gathered styles like a low bun due to their smoothing effect, which mimics a slicked-back finish. To get the appearance of a side-parted bang as shown above, have your stylist braid the cornrows asymmetrically.
Jumbo Fulani Cornrows
Much like traditional Fulani braids, these jumbo-sized cornrows offer an array of versatility with little upkeep and maintenance. The style starts with small braids at the root of the hair that are used to feed into larger individual braids for a voluminous look.
Of course you can opt for a fancy design, but there is something to be said about the classic straight-back plait. Add a few thick sections (extensions optional) and you’ll be set for a bold and natural look. Erinn Courtney, StyleSeat hairstylist, loves traditional cornrows for their versatility. “From high ponytails, accessorizing with beads, and adding in colored locs, you can style them in many different ways.” The expert recommends BEAUTYBEEZ’s Edge Booster for maintaining your hairline and new growth in between braiding sessions to allow your style to look new daily.
According to Houston, in order to create this style at home, always start with freshly washed hair. Use a blow dryer with a comb attachment to make sure the hair is dried completely. The expert recommends a tail comb, hair pins, two elastic scrunchies, hair clips, and a couple packs of 57’ pre-stretch braiding hair. “Use TGIN's edge control to go around your one-inch vertical parting section and take one-inch strands of braiding hair, crossing over each to make an X,” the pro tells TZR. “Braid the extensions and the hair together in an upward motion to create a raised row.” Once you braid the hair down to the ends, keep repeating till you’ve completed the entire head and secure with one to two elastic hair ties. To put it up in a bun, grab the loose braids and swirl in a bun at the top of your hair, secured with hair pins. To finish, spray in Redken’s Shine Flash Spray.
Micro Cornrow & Afro Combo
Popular in the ‘90s, this combination of cornrows and a sew-in is a great statement protective style that will help your natural hair retain growth, says Evalyn Denis, Los-Angeles based braider and protective hairstylist. To maintain the style, Denis recommends moisturizing the scalp with Pravana Intense Therapy Leave-In Treatment, followed by Mizani Scalp Care Calming Scalp Lotion to ensure the scalp is hydrated enough to withstand the braids. To avoid frizz and maintain shine, she encourages her clients to use Nairobi Wrapp-It Shine Foam with Style Factor Edge Booster Edge Control for the edges. As a pro tip, the expert recommends tying hair down with a silk scarf for at least 10 minutes post styling tools to really soak in all the benefits.
Paired with intricate baby hairs, long cornrows are the hairstyle that keeps on giving. Wear yours tied up, with hair accessories, or simply long for a true hangtime look. Houston suggests Pattern Beauty's Scalp Serum, to soothe, cool, and calm your roots from tight styles, and Redken's shine flash spray, to add instant shine to any style.
No matter what Gen Z says, a defined middle part always makes a statement. This style combines cornrows with Fulani braids for a beautiful symmetric look. According to Courtney, they also look great when some natural hair is left out. “These braids line the face so closely, so having natural texture near the hairline makes this style unique.” The expert suggests Juices & Botanics Drip Health Hair Growth Elixir to nourish the scalp and braids in between braiding sessions, aiding hair growth with a combination of Ayurvedic herbs and oils.
Courtney enjoys stitched cornrows as they look good in low ponytails, pigtails, and low buns. “As the braids are flush to the scalp, it looks best to pull the remaining hair away from the face to focus on the patterns of the braids,” the expert tells TZR. She recommends Damn Gina’s Silk Turban to protect hair from drying out and minimizes friction caused by cotton pillowcases. The silk cocoons the braids, allowing for a longer-lasting look.
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