Tips & Techniques, Wellness / Self-Care

How to avoid buildup while wearing Braids

The buildup is so gross.

words by: Natasha Marsh
May 19, 2022

Braids are a great protective hairstyle, but taking them out can leave you with a massive challenge. If left in for 10 or so weeks, braid extensions can lead to matting at the roots and a lot of yucky buildup. Thus, leaving you with greasy hair and tangles that are hard to wash out. Plus, you might experience a ton of shedding.


If you’ve run into this problem during removal before, or want to learn about cleansing while wearing braids, we got you. In fact, many people get buildup when wearing braided styles. All it really entails is a few extra measures to ensure your scalp is healthy while your braids are in.


What is buildup?

It happens to everyone, especially the longer you wear braids. But buildup occurs with most protective styles—locs, shake outs, weaves, etc. It comes from dirt, natural oils from the scalp, and hair products you’ve used while braids are in. Unfortunately, even if you’re paying the utmost attention to your hair, buildup is probably going to happen. The most annoying part about it is that it can be a struggle to get rid of.


Product buildup can be what stops hair from getting the nutrients it needs, especially if you over-wash your hair—then you’re stripping your scalp of its natural oils. However, the worst buildup is due to wearing braids and other protective styles past their expiration date. It makes sense that as time goes on, more residue from shampoo, conditioner, and other products will increase buildup around the scalp and roots. So, how long should you keep your styles in?


How long should you wear a protective style?

Of course, it depends on your specific hair type, but the benchmark is about a month. To give you an example, I wear a protective style. I keep them for about 3-4 weeks before my stylist takes them out, deep cleans my roots, hair, and scalp, and then replaces the old hair with fresh hair. For me, this is fine, but it could be a long stretch for others.


Most suggest washing braids every 2-4 weeks, including the hair underneath. The biggest thing to take note of here is making sure your scalp is taken care of in between washes.


How to remove buildup with or without braids

Next, let’s cover how to remove buildup, starting with those who have a dry scalp, or a scalp condition, like psoriasis. Be mindful if you have a sensitive or dry scalp. You might not be able to keep your braids in for as long as others because your scalp grows skin at a more rapid rate. Try hydrating and using oils to soothe your scalp.


Of course, some oil will sit on your hair, but the main point is hydration. A tail comb is going to be your best friend here. Use it to get rid of weight between braids and within your strands.


If you’re going to remove your protective style, do it on a day you’ll have time and perseverance. You don’t want to risk hair breaking off, especially if it hasn’t been washed for a while. Taking a wide tooth comb, separate and detangle your hair from the bottom of the ends to the roots.


Use this time to detangle and get rid of buildup because a wide tooth comb won’t damage your hair as it gets rid of dead strands. Gently pull any matted sections apart. Areas that are hard to get ahold of, implore the use of oil or conditioner and comb it out.

After detangling and removing dead hair and buildup, you’re ready to wash them. Use a clarifying or hydrating shampoo, so your curls stay moisturized, yet clean. Some people like to do a co-wash, washing with conditioner. It takes shampoo out of the equation, cleanses, and moisturizes.


For those using shampoo, make sure your hair is saturated in water to reduce the chance of tangles (this also helps if you’re in the shower, rather than over a sink).


When you’re washing, pay close attention to your scalp. If you have to lather, rinse, and repeat a couple times, that’s okay—as long as your hair gets clean. But be sure you’re moisturizing accurately to make up for it.


We’ve talked a lot about scalp care in this post, but that’s because it really is key. Here’s what you need to remember about your scalp.