A step-by-step guide to French braiding your own hair
French braids are classic. I taught myself how to master doing them as a teenager on the night before my SATs partly as a distraction, and partly because I realized they were the perfect hairstyle for successfully getting my hair out of my face—and keeping it there for many, many hours. But taking matters into your own hands (quite literally) and learning to French braid your own hair definitely takes practice and patience.
While we’re all stuck at home and probably overdue for a haircut, now is the perfect time to learn. It’s a slightly elevated version of your classic three-strand braid that looks just a little bit more put together, and is the kind of hairstyle that you can wear for two or three days straight and won’t budge.
Since I’m no pro, I enlisted the help of hairstylist, braid queen, and author of All Hair is Good Hair Annagjid “Kee” Taylor to provide some expert-backed tips for learning to French braid your own hair. Like I said, practice makes perfect, and the best part about learning this skill now is that if your braids don’t turn out even or are a little bumpy, no one has to see but you.
Set yourself in front of a mirror, grab a brush and a comb, and learn this timeless hairstyle.
How to French braid your own hair.
1. Start with clean, dry hair.
“Clean, dry hair is best when you are putting it into French braids,” Taylor says. She explains that dry hair allows you to have more control of the separate strands when braiding, while wet hair is heavier and more prone to mixing into other pieces, which gets messy. “It also takes less time to braid dry hair and your braids will last longer without visible flakes and frizz,” she says.
When it comes to using products to prep your hair for French braiding, Taylor tells me that less is more. She says that people with thinner hair might want to add a little bit of dry shampoo to the middle of their strands to provide a little extra thickness and body. The grittiness of the dry shampoo might make it easier for the braids to stay in place, too.
Those with coarse or thicker hair might want to apply a dab or leave-in conditioner throughout their hair to add a dose of moisture and keep the braids from frizzing. “Only use a little though, because too much will stiffen your braids,” she says.
2. Separate your hair.
If doing double braids, you’ll want to start by deciding on your part and sectioning your hair accordingly. Most people like to part their hair in the center for two French braids, but I like to keep my side part intact.
I give my whole head a good, thorough brush with my Tangle Teezer before taking a fine-tooth comb and running it horizontally down the back of my head. This will create the part in the back.
Taylor explains that the thicker the sectioning, the thicker and easier the braid will be.
3. Grab a small section and separate into 3 equal pieces.
Once you have sectioned off your hair for each braid, work on one side at a time. Start at the top of your head, next to the part, and grab a small section of hair. Using three fingers, separate the larger section into three smaller, but equal pieces.
4. Begin a normal braid.
Just as you would start a regular braid, begin by crossing the right piece over the middle, then doing the same thing with the left. If it’s easier to think of without sides, think of having two outer pieces and one inner. Each outer piece must be crossed over the inner piece once.
5. Add hair from each side and cross it over the middle.
The only difference between French braiding and regular braiding is that now every time you go to cross a section over the middle, you add a little more hair.
After you’ve got your start with your regular braid, continue to hold all three pieces, but grab a small section from the front of your hair to add to the right piece, then cross it over the middle. Then, grab a small section of hair towards the back of your head to add the left side, and cross it over the center. Pull tightly as you go to eliminate any bumps.
6. Keep doing this down the head.
Keep gathering and adding hair from the left and right until you have reached the nape of your neck and all of the hair is accounted for in three large sections.
7. Braid the bottom normally and tie off.
Once all you have no more hair to incorporate, continue the traditional three-strand braid to the ends of your hair and secure with an elastic. Repeat these steps on the other side (making sure to pull tightly each time you cross a section) and you’ll have two beautiful French braids. Oh, and did I mention the whole process doubles as an arm workout?
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