Loosening Tight Braids

Contributor: Rebecca Wiseman
Rebecca Wiseman Rebecca Wiseman

Rebecca is a licensed cosmetologist who has worked in a salon and booth. She has experience providing cuts, perms, and coloring services to all different hair types.

Girl with tight braids

The art of loosening tight braids is critical for anyone who wears braided hair styles whether they are simple styles or more complex micro braids. Besides creating split, frayed ends and irregular, broken areas, tight braids pull painfully on the scalp, causing redness, sensitivity and even rashes. In extreme cases, tight braids may damage hair follicles, causing permanent hair loss. With the right technique, however, uncomfortable braids can often be loosened or removed without damaging the hair.

Recognizing Tight Braids

Many individuals have their hair braided because it is an easy style to maintain and requires little daily maintenance. Most braid styles should be tight enough where they will stay intact for several weeks or even months. However, in some situations braids can be done too tightly. If you have constant headaches and your scalp feels very irritated, your braids are too tight. If this is occurring and you feel a bump at the base of your braid or cornrow, remove your braids completely to prevent damage. However, if the braids cause slight discomfort, or they feel like they're pulling your scalp, then you may be able to loosen your braids without removing them.

Loosening Tight Braids Without Destroying the Style

If you want to loosen braids without removing the hair style, there are several gentle methods for easing the tension.


Taking a hot shower and applying a conditioner to the hair while the braid is intact is one way of loosening braids. Do not massage the hair vigorously; instead use an intense moisturizing conditioner and carefully smooth it onto the hair. After the shower, pat the hair dry with a towel and then let it dry naturally.

Moist Heat

Moist heat is also an effective way to loosen tight braids, especially small, tight braids that lie close to the scalp. To loosen these braids, place a warm wet towel around your head and cover with a hair cap. Leave the towel on for at least an hour so that the warm air loosens the braids. Applying steam directly to the head with a handheld steamer, or by standing in a closed bathroom with hot water running, can also help loosen braids.

Leave-in Conditioners

Using a leave-in conditioner can also help soften and loosen tight braids, whether they are large or small. Take care not to use too much conditioner, however, and work it gently around the tight portions with your fingers for the best effect.

Braid Spray

Some braid sprays are created to help relieve the dryness and itching associated with braided hair while other types are also designed to help with the braid removal process. Both of these types of sprays are effective treatments for tight braids because they soften the hair and make the braid looser, healthier and more comfortable. These sprays are designed to treat the scalp which often becomes irritated with cornrows and other braids.

  • Carols Daughter Mimosa Hair Honey Protective Spray
    Carols Daughter Calming Tension Spray
    Murray's Spray Unlock is a medicated spray designed to prepare the hair for braid removal and helps to keep hair strong, healthy and well conditioned. This spray can also help to loosen tight braids as it conditions the hair and scalp. It can be purchased online for less than $10.
  • Parnevu's T-Tree Medicated Braid Spray is designed to condition the hair and scalp when in braid form. This spray contains tea tree oil and keratin to relieve the stress on the scalp while treating the hair. It can be used multiple times a day and can be purchased online for less than $10.
  • Carol's Daughter Mimosa Hair Honey Calming Tension Spray is a daily braid and scalp spray that is alcohol and paraben free. It prevents breakage, relieves itching, and calms the scalp. It has received great reviews from customers. This product can be found online and at Target for less than $15.

Scalp Massage

A gentle scalp massage helps relieve much of the pain associated with tight, uncomfortable cornrows. Gently rub around the areas of the scalp where the hair is attached to the braid. Gentle rubbing will help slightly pull the hair away from the scalp and loosen the braid. You will want to be careful when doing this so you don't mess up your cornrows. Focus on the exposed scalp between each row of braids.

Braid Manipulation

Braid manipulation differs between the type of braids. For instance, using a comb or pencil will not loosen box braids. Box braids and braids similar to them are best manipulated by gentle massage of the scalp using oils or conditioners. Cornrows and braids that lay close to the scalp, however, can be gently manipulated using a rattail comb or pick. Cornrows often cause discomfort for people when they are done too tightly because the scalp gets irritated while it is exposed.

If you do not wish to put further tension on your scalp, lightly tap on your braids. This is called tapotement, which is a tapping massage. If you feel that manipulation of the braids will work better, follow these simple steps to ease the tension of your braids.

  1. Using the tip end of a rattail comb or a pick, gently insert the tips under the braid making sure not to break any hair.
  2. Slightly lift up or rock the comb. If too much tension or force is made here, it will result in hair breakage.
  3. Remove the comb and repeat through the area where the braid touches the scalp.

Avoiding Damage

The best way to repair damage from tight braids is to see that the hair does not become damaged in the first place. Steps you can take include:

  • Loosen tight braids as soon as the style is finished to prevent prolonged strain and try not to keep braided styles in place for longer than recommended.
  • Don't bind smaller braids into tighter, more elaborate styles or this can cause additional stress on the hair and scalp.
  • Drink plenty of water to keep your hair internally hydrated.
  • Consider oils, conditioners, and other protectants to keep it externally hydrated as well.

Severe damage may require intense conditioning treatments or trims after the braids are removed. Damaged follicles can be permanently harmed and cannot be repaired, resulting in permanent hair loss.

Care for Your Braids

No matter what the hair style is, it may be necessary to loosen braids to minimize damage and discomfort. By properly caring for hair styles with braids, however, it is possible to enjoy intricate and beautiful styles without the pain and risks.

Was this page useful?
Related & Popular
Loosening Tight Braids