I love wearing my curly hair in knotless braids. The protective style gives me a reprieve from all the work that comes with caring for my natural texture, and even helps my hair grow. However, when it comes time to take out those braids, the aftermath is usually a huge mess.
Truth be told, I’ve always considered the post-removal tangles a necessary evil that I would just have to deal with if I wanted to keep wearing my hair in braids (which, I do.). But after years of struggling for the sake of the cause, I decided to reset my routine to make the transition feel more like a spa treatment than work.
I love my curls—they’re a huge part of my identity—so when I take out my braids, I want to make sure they’re given proper TLC. My scalp needs a good clean to get rid of buildup and my strands are thirsting for moisture, and there are certain standard steps like using a clarifying shampoo and deep conditioner that are non-negotiables in any post-removal routine. But I like to go a step beyond and take the time to really luxuriate in the process—because in my opinion, having smooth, soft curls at the end of wash day is the ultimate self-care moment. Here’s how I make that happen for myself.
1. Pre-shampoo overnight
The night before wash day, I go all in with a pre-poo treatment. “Pre shampoo treatments are typically applied on either wet or dry hair and can be an oil, a hair or scalp mask, or a heavier conditioner, et cetera,” Faith Huffnagle, director of education at hair-care brand Prose, previously told Well+Good. “These can soften, detangle, deeply hydrate, address scalp concerns, or even repair hair with repeated use. They’re a great way to elevate your wash routine.”
After I remove my braids, I divide my hair into sections and apply my pre-poo oils—I like to use coconut oil for added hydration, and olive oil to seal in moisture. I start by massaging them into my scalp to help break down any buildup, then focus on slathering them on my ends where my hair is driest and weakest. Once my whole head is coated in product, I cover my hair with a cap and bonnet to prevent my pillowcase from getting stained, then let the pre-poo treatment soak into my strands while I sleep.
2. Set the mood
To make wash day more enjoyable, I like to set a spa-like vibe before I shampoo. I used to just hop in the shower and wash my hair, but these small routine tweaks—soothing 90s music, dim lights, my favorite scented candle—work magic in transforming the process into a tranquil, pampering experience.
3. Shampoo and condition
Because I oil my scalp frequently when my hair’s in braids (usually around four times a week), I tend to have a lot of product build-up by the time wash day rolls around. Because of this, I use a clarifying shampoo.
“Clarifying and detoxifying shampoos provide a deeper clean that will help clear any product, oil, and mineral buildup on the hair and scalp,” Garret Bryan, founder of New York City’s Hawthorne salon, previously told Well +Good. I use my fingers to really scrub the product into my scalp, which allows me to get a deep clean in all the right spots without having to worry about stripping my strands.
After shampooing, I move on to my favorite part of washday: deep conditioning. As with my pre-poo, I section my hair and then apply my deep conditioner, working my way from my ends up toward my scalp.
4. Apply a hair mask
To give my hair some extra hydration, I follow up my deep conditioner with a hair mask. “Hair masks provide a surge of moisture and nutrients, so they are perfect for reviving hair—especially when it’s looking and feeling dry or generally lackluster,” Tara Foley, beauty expert and founder of Follain, previously told Well+Good. As I wait for the mask to do its magic, I slip into the tub with a glass of wine for a long, well-deserved soak.
5. Take my time
I have to admit: Sometimes it’s tempting to go get another set of knotless braids immediately, but I know how important it is to give my hair a breather from the protective style, so I usually take a two to four-week break. I use this time to really take care of my natural hair with a trim and hot oil treatment, and am grateful for the chance to enjoy my curls.