Vernon François, hairstylist to Solange, Serena and Lupita, breaks down everything you need to know to keep braids in the best possible condition.
Hair braiding is a tricky business and maintaining that beautiful finish takes practice and real skill. Here, Vogue gets the insider track on how to achieve the ultimate finish from celebrity hairstylist Vernon François – the man Serena Williams, Lupita Nyong’o and Solange Knowles all have on speed dial.
Prepping the hair
“The reason for having your hair braided is mostly to give it a rest, or if you’re travelling or on holiday and won’t be paying much attention to the health of your hair,” explains François. “I advise having a treatment beforehand, preferably a protein mask, and to use a hydrating spray every day once you have your braids in to nurture the scalp, lock in moisture and prevent breakage.”
Best products to nourish hair pre-braid
Oils are your best friend when you want to smooth down afro hair prior to braiding to keep the finish polished. François’s own Scalp Nourish-ment Braids and Locs Spray is deeply hydrating but lightweight, so you can still keep the movement in the strands. “Spray onto the roots and mid-lengths of your braids or locs for a beautiful and comfortable finish.”
The best tools for hair braiding
A narrow-tooth comb will keep the finish precise, as well as protect your hair from static. Find one with a good handle so you can “use the tail end to help place sections of hair into accurate position for up-dos and to section”, explains François. “Depending on the texture, I will sometimes do a light blowout and braid with mousse or edge cream for hold or a wet look.”
Treating your hair after setting in braids is important. “Braids should be in no longer than four to six weeks max. It’s important to give your hair a rest. If you keep your braids in for longer, the weight from the extensions can often lead to long-term damage like breakage or hair loss. Using a silk or satin headscarf or pillowcase can really help with locking in moisture, retaining strength and even boosting shine,” says François.
Products to use on braided hair
Seek out the correct shampoo if you’re going to wash your hair while it’s in braids. “A co-wash is your best bet,” says François. “A combination of shampoo and conditioner, co-washes often tend to be quite light on the scalp, clean well and are deeply moisturising, and so less harsh on your kinks, coils and curls.”