Nothing brings Black women together like the head tap. You know, the one we can't stop doing while wearing a protective style. Regardless of the hair's quality, the tension of a wig, braids or extensions, usually breeds irritation on the scalp because we assume our normal cleansing routine must cease while our natural strands are tucked away. Au contraire; that's one of the biggest mistakes we make.
According to Nancy Twine, founder of Briogeo (and the youngest Black woman to launch a line at Sephora!), the time we spend wearing a protective style actually leaves our scalp even more vulnerable to bacteria.
"Those with extensions or braids will often wash their hair and scalp less frequently to preserve the style - or when they do, there are areas of the scalp (underneath braids and underneath the base of the extension) that don't get cleansed as well due to the interference of the braid or clip-in," she says.
"Not only that, braided areas of the hair tend to dry slower due to the inability of air to evenly disperse within the area. Because of this, more bacteria (and sometimes mildew or fungus!) can grow on certain parts of the scalp, causing itchiness and irritation."
For starters, remember that you should never keep a protective style in for more than two months. Twine recommends 3-4 weeks as an acceptable amount of time to wear one, with a wash 1-2 times at minimum during that period.
"Some people are able to get away with wearing a protective style longer than four weeks, depending upon how much surface area the scalp the protective style is covering (i.e. box braids generally cover less scalp surface area than cornrows)," she says.
"Also be mindful of how tight your protective style is, as excessive pulling from braids for an extended period of time can cause permanent hair loss due to damage of the hair follicle."
Although the hair under clip-ins and sew-ins can be particularly difficult to reach, it's still important to maintain a weekly or bi-weekly cleansing routine while they are installed. The former is more sensitive to tugging and pulling, so take special care and pay extra attention as you dry the hair.
"Drying the areas near the sew-in...can take longer to dry than other areas of the hair. Damp braids for an extended period of time can become a breeding ground for bad bacteria and mildew."
Briogeo Scalp Revival Charcoal + Tea Tree Scalp Treatment
Available at Sephora | $32
In addition to regular washes and general day-to-day maintenance, there are a slew of sprays and serums that specifically nourish and detoxify the scalp in between washes. Briogeo's Scalp Revival Charcoal + Tea Tree Scalp Treatment is particularly effective because it contains tea tree oil, a natural antimicrobial that helps prevent the growth of bad bacteria.
"Add some to your shampoos and conditioners during washes to ensure a thorough cleanse of the scalp and to prevent excessive bad bacteria growth on the scalp."
Regular head massages with a serum also promote blood circulation throughout the scalp which will in turn, decrease the amount of head taps you subject yourself to on a daily basis.
Click here for a step by step guide to washing braids.