So you got your braids done. The parts are crisp, your edges are polished, and you're looking and feeling fierce AF. But even though you're all braided up, that doesn't mean you don't have to wash your hair while the braids are in. Quite the contrary, actually — if you skip washing altogether or don't wash enough, you could be reversing the benefits of your protective hairstyle.
"Braids are protective because they shield the dry ends of the natural hair within the braid," shares Ellen Marmur, M.D., a New York City-based board-certified dermatologist. Braids are especially helpful in the winter months when the heat indoors is blasting, pulling moisture from the air, drying out your skin and hair.
Styles like braids and cornrows give you direct access to parts of your scalp and hair follicles, making it easier for nutrient-filled leave-in conditioners and oils to do their jobs. However, the best moisture for your scalp and hair comes straight from Mother Nature: water. Scalp health is the root (literally) of healthy, happy, hair. For many naturalistas, protective styles aren't just an opportunity to switch up their look, but also to give their hair a break and to help with growth.
However, New Jersey-based cosmetic chemist Ginger King explains that a stressed scalp will lead to the exact opposite. "When there is buildup on the scalp, it leads to itchiness and people tend to scratch. With the force, the hair is more likely to fall out," she says. "If the scalp is oily with buildup to start, it is more likely to be inflamed and be painful — similar to having a pimple."