It’s hard to deny the allure of braids in the summer. Between vacations, outdoor activities, and new styles popping up on Instagram weekly, it’s common to switch up looks throughout the warm weather. But when the temperatures drop, you may be ready for a protective style with a bit more flexibility and longevity. For many naturals, micro braids are the answer. Unlike the trendy knotless options, the teeny tiny individual braids move, look, and feel like hair — offering prolonged protection and versatile styling.
Of course, the technique is nothing new. During the early ‘90s, micro braids were frequently worn by TV characters like Moesha and Angela Moore from Boy Meets World. However, today’s styles have a fresh, modern appearance. “There are a lot of benefits micros provide that you just don’t get with traditional box or knotless braids,” says Je’Ne Saisquoi Calcote, a micro braider based in Inglewood, Calif. While they can be worn much longer and are light enough to create any hairstyle, they must be installed properly.
As a specialized skill set, micro braiders are few and far between. Finding a good one takes effort, but is worth it in the long run. Below, TZR tapped two specialists and a hairstylist for a complete rundown on micro braids, including how to maintain the sleek look.
The Benefits Of Micro Braids
Micro braids hold two main advantages over other protective styles: longevity and versatility. While knotless, box, and boho braids can last several weeks, it doesn’t compare to the three to four-month lifespan of micros. “This isn’t the kind of hairstyle you change up every couple of weeks. Instead, they’re meant to be long-wearing,” says Calcote. One of the biggest reasons why they last longer is they’re lightweight and aren’t typically braided as tight. They can also be created with synthetic or human hair. As a result, the individual braids are thin and airy.
Styling is also a breeze with micros, thanks to their pliable texture. According to Andrea Carter, hairstylist and owner of Beau Monde Salon in Baton Rouge, La., they’re a popular choice because they can easily be arranged into many different styles. The options are endless, be it a half-up, half-down look, a bun, or a free-flowing ponytail. They also fall into the low-maintenance hairstyle category, which is always a plus when you’re busy or tired in the morning. “Braids, in general, are easy, but with micros, you wake up and instantly have a sleek style,” adds Calcote.
How Long Do Micro Braids Take To Install?
If there is one downside to these braids, it would have to be the time it takes to get them done. Given their tiny nature, the installation can easily extend over 10 hours. For this reason, both Carter and Calcote note that it’s beneficial to have an assistant on hand to help speed up the pace. “It’s a long process, and I prefer not to have clients sitting down all day, so I often break the installation up into two days,” says Calcote. While the size of the braids is the main factor, the texture of your natural hair can also affect how long you’ll be in the salon chair. Naturally thick, dense curls or long hair can increase the installation time.
How To Care For Micro Braids
To last the full four months, micros require a bit of work at home. Washing your braids at home is the best way to prevent build-up. To do so, Carter recommends cleansing them with a homemade spray of apple cider vinegar and water. “Saturate the crown and braids with the mixture and let sit for 15 minutes. This will help break down any build-up around the roots,” she says. Next, gently massage the shampoo throughout the length of the braids. “I like to do a light lather followed by a leave-in conditioner to make sure they stay smooth and don’t fray,” says Calcote.
When you’re ready to dry your braids, House of Frieda stylist, Elba Rodriguez notes to avoid towels as they can cause frizz. “It’s important to dry the hair thoroughly, but you don’t want flyaways or any kinks,” she says. Instead, try using a handheld or hooded dryer to prevent mildew. For daily maintenance, the experts agree that scalp oil, hydrating mists, and a silk bonnet are all key to keeping them fresh.
How Often Can You Get Micro Braids?
Micro braids are an easy look to wear year-round. That said, if you plan to have them in long-term, you should be getting them done two to three times a year. “You can keep them in for a while, but it’s good to let your hair rest and allow for deep conditioning or hot oil treatments in between styles,” says Carter. However, during the four-month term, you can opt for touchups to the perimeter of your hair to keep the roots from looking overgrown.
Unlike other styles of braids, tension is less of an issue with micros. However, you should still be cautious about breakage. “If you have overly-processed or thinning conditions like alopecia, this may not be the best style for you,” says Calcote.
The bottom line: Micro braids are an investment of time and money, but they can be a stylish way to protect your hair. “Consulting with your stylist about follow-up appointments and salon maintenance will ensure that your natural hair remains healthy,” says Rodriguez.