If you are experiencing discomfort from tight braids and looking for quick relief, this guide offers tips to help relieve scalp tension and soreness caused by stiff, tight braided styles like box braids and cornrows.
Having braids that are too tight can have a significant impact on the health of your scalp. Constant tension can overwhelm nerve endings, mimicking a painful hair-pulling sensation. It also dilates and constricts blood vessels, potentially triggering migraines. Moreover, persistent, tight braiding can result in gradual hair loss associated with traction alopecia.
This guide will show you how to relieve the discomfort of overly tight braids instantly. By using these methods you can enjoy your hairstyle pain-free and without risking long-term damage to your hair and scalp.
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Massage Your Scalp
Massaging your scalp can provide temporary relief from the tightness caused by braids. Use your fingertips to massage the areas where the braids feel tightest. While this may offer momentary relief, the pain could return once you stop massaging.
Regularly move your braids around in different directions and massage your scalp as you do so. This can help the braids get more used to movement and make them less stiff.
You can also try massaging your scalp with skin-safe oils, including castor oil, jojoba oil, lavender oil, or natural oils like avocado, almond, olive, coconut, or a nourishing scalp oil. Massaging with these oils can help loosen up your braids and provide a soothing effect.
Instead of using your fingers, you could also gently massage your scalp with the back of a makeup brush handle or another tool. This may be less irritating and more effective at reaching tight spots.
Loosen Braids Gently
Using a Pencil or Comb
Gently insert the end of a pencil or comb underneath the base of each braid. Move it back in a circular motion to help loosen the braids and relieve tension on your scalp.
You can also use a tail comb or the end of a brush. Carefully insert either one into the roots of your braids to provide some relief. This can loosen the braids and make them more comfortable.
For another option, you can carefully use something smaller, like a needle, to separate your natural hair from the extensions. Push the needle up while gently pulling the extension down. Doing this can help loosen the braids and reduce pain.
By Moving Braids in Different Directions
Sometimes simply grabbing the braids and gently rotating them can loosen them up. Also try gently moving the braids in different directions to reduce stiffness. This includes pulling them up and letting them drop, moving them back and forth, and swinging your head to loosen the braids.
Don’t try to loosen all the braids at once. Start by loosening a few braids at a time, gradually working your way through your whole head. Doing it this way will help prevent breakage and discomfort.
If you have twists, faux locs, or similar styles, gently try to undo them to create some slack. This might cause a bit of unraveling but can significantly reduce the tension.
Once you’ve loosened the braids, take the time to deep condition your hair. This helps restore moisture and repair any damage caused by the tight braids. It helps keep your hair healthy and strong.
Also, exercising and sweating may help loosen the braids at the roots a bit. As time passes, the braids will naturally loosen some too.
Take a Soothing Hot Shower
If your braids are extremely tight, taking a warm shower or running the braids under warm water can help loosen them up. Shower with warm to hot water, completely soaking your whole head.
Apply a generous amount of conditioner while in the shower. Then, hold your hair close to your scalp and gently wind sections of hair back and forth to help loosen up the braids.
This method may cause some frizziness since you’re completely wetting the braids. While you may not want to soak a brand new protective style, the warmth from the water can provide tension relief by opening up the hair cuticles and making the braids more elastic.
So if the tightness is really bothering you, try letting warm water run over your whole head in the shower to loosen those braids.
Apply a Warm Towel or Cloth
Instead of completely drenching your braids, you can use the steam from hot water to treat them instead. Applying a hot towel can increase hair elasticity, making the braids looser.
Hand towel method: Boil some water and soak a large hand towel in it. Wring out the towel so it’s damp but not dripping wet. Place the warm towel on your head until the steam evaporates. Repeat if needed.
Another option is to wet a hand towel, place it in a plastic bag, and microwave it for about 2 minutes. Apply this hot towel to your head. The heat helps seal in moisture and provides relief. It’s recommended to do this twice.
You can also try pouring boiling water over a washcloth. After checking that it’s not too hot, gently dab the warm cloth on painful sections of your scalp.
The steam from a warm towel or cloth helps relax the hair roots and scalp muscles for some relief. You can also tie your hair back and hold your head over boiling water, allowing the steam to penetrate the roots.
These steam methods are often highly effective for loosening braids and can bring quick and instant relief.
Use Leave-in Conditioner
Applying a leave-in conditioner can help reduce itchiness and loosen up tight braids. Look for a spray moisturizer or leave-in conditioner to apply directly to your scalp. A spray bottle allows for easy targeting of the product and can provide a cooling sensation for soothing relief.
Try spray-on leave-in conditioners like Uncle Funky’s Daughter Midnight Train or Terabyte Organics Curl Refresher. Mist it directly onto your scalp, then gently massage it in. The moisture and oils will help soothe the scalp.
You can also apply a generous amount of regular leave-in conditioner directly to your scalp. Gently work it down to the roots of your braids. The conditioner helps lubricate the hair and scalp, making it easier to loosen up the braids.
There are specialized braiding sprays too that contain ingredients to specifically help loosen braids and moisturize the scalp. These can be particularly useful when dealing with a lot of tension.
If you have aloe vera gel, try applying that to your scalp after washing. The soothing, moisturizing properties reduce irritation. Other moisturizers like shea butter, hair greases with oils, or sulfur8 work well to provide relief too.
Steam Your Hair
A handheld hair steamer is a tool you can use that works kind of like a blow dryer. Thanks to its comb-like design, you can accurately work the steam through your braids right at the scalp.
Just fill the steamer with distilled water, plug it in, and press a button to release a fine hydrating mist. Steaming your hair for about 10 minutes can open up pores and provide pretty instant relief for tight braids.
This method is beneficial for your scalp and skin too. The targeted steam relaxes the roots for relief from braids that are too tight.
Spray with Essential Oils
Spraying your scalp with essential oils like peppermint can stimulate blood flow, soothe irritation, and significantly reduce tightness and pain from braids.
You can make your own oil spray mixture at home. Fill a spray bottle with warm water, warm enough to wash hair but not hot enough to burn. Mix in about a tablespoon of affordable conditioner until dissolved. Then add 4-5 drops each of tea tree and peppermint essential oils, or up to 9 drops each if you want a stronger tingling sensation. Adjust amounts based on your scalp sensitivity.
Section hair into quadrants for easy application. Then generously spray the oil mixture directly onto your scalp, not the hair, to avoid buildup. Spray in the direction of hair growth to minimize frizz too. After spraying, gently massage your scalp for 4-5 minutes to distribute the oils and help loosen the roots.
You may already have a braid spray formulated to soothe scalps. Look for ones containing aloe vera, tea tree oil, menthol, lavender, or similar. The cooling, anti-inflammatory properties provide relief from tight braids. If you don’t have a braid spray, you can find them at beauty supply stores.
Apply Oils to Scalp
Applying oil directly to your scalp can help soothe tightness and irritation from braids. Try using a targeted scalp oil like Earthborn Organics Herb Infused. Apply it section by section, then massage it in gently. The oil helps condition the scalp.
You can also pour some coconut oil into a spray bottle or apply it directly. Massage it into your scalp. The oil provides slip to help loosen braids slightly. Any oil good for your hair type can work. Oils prevent dryness too.
Other options are olive oil or a nourishing scalp oil, warmed before application. Gently massaging the warmed oil into the scalp loosens braids through moisture and the heat.
Focus this method on the scalp rather than the length of the braids. Apply small sections and massage thoroughly down to the roots.
The added moisture from massaging oils into tight, tender areas of your scalp helps soothe and loosen the braids.
Sleep on a Silk Pillowcase
Sleeping on a silk pillowcase can help protect braids overnight. Avoid tying up your hair before bed, especially in the first few nights after getting new braids put in. Instead, let it fall freely to reduce tension on the scalp.
In general when going to bed, let your hair hang in its natural state. Avoid putting it in a bonnet or pineapple tying it up, as this can create more pressure on tender areas. Find a comfortable sleeping position where your hair can lay as loosely as possible with the least pressure.
Some find relief sleeping with the back of the head pressing into the pillow. This allows your scalp skin to shift forward a bit, temporarily easing tension from the braids.
You may also try wrapping a scarf around your head to gently force tension and stretch the scalp, like massaging a sore muscle.
If you haven’t already, certainly look into switching your regular pillowcase for a silk or satin one. The smooth texture prevents frizzing, damage, and disruption of sensitive braided hair.
If tight braids cause severe, persistent pain, you can consider taking an over-the-counter pain reliever. Painkillers like Advil/Motrin (ibuprofen), Tylenol (acetaminophen), or other generic brands can help reduce inflammation and make the scalp less sensitive.
By doing this, you can manage the discomfort, especially at night, helping you to fall and stay asleep more easily.
Try taking one of these simple pain pills about 30 minutes before bedtime. When taken on a full stomach with plenty of water, they will effectively silence our brain’s pain receptors overnight. This reduces the sensation of a tender, throbbing scalp from overly tight braids.
Use pain medication sparingly and avoid extended use. While it may initially be helpful, rely more on gentle, natural relief methods if you can.
Avoid Tight Styling
Avoid styling your hair too tightly for the first few days after getting new braids. Keeping the hair in a loose ponytail or leaving it down can help reduce scalp pain and relieve tension from braids that are too tight initially.
When you wear your hair down, the weight of the braids will be distributed more evenly across your scalp, reducing concentrated tension in one area. Give your scalp a day or two to adjust before attempting any tight hairstyles.
To help alleviate pressure on certain parts of your scalp, you can try wearing your hair in a half up, half down style. This can provide some targeted relief by avoiding tension in sections of hair while allowing the lower braids to hang loosely.
Loose styles for a few days can allow tight new braids time to loosen up bit by bit until they are more comfortable to manipulate into your preferred hairstyles.
Wearing your hair in loose styles for the first few days gives new tight braids time to stretch and relax gently, making them more comfortable to manipulate into your preferred hairstyle once the tension eases.
Be Patient with Braids
Being patient and gentle with your scalp and hair is essential when trying to loosen tight braids. If you’re experiencing pain from braids that are too tight, take it slow and try gradual methods to relieve the tension. Waiting it out for about two to three days is often necessary for the pain to subside.
Understand that braids will naturally loosen over time as the hair and scalp adjust. It can take up to a week for tight braids to loosen up to a comfortable level, depending on how tightly they were installed.
The key is not to try forcing the braids loose all at once, as this can damage the hair and prolong the discomfort.
If soreness sets in, focus on gently massaging the scalp, applying moisturizing oils like coconut or olive oil, and giving them time to loosen. The discomfort is likely to go away gradually. With patience and gentle care, tight braids can naturally loosen up to a comfortable level.
Undo Your Braids
If the tightness of new braids becomes truly unbearable, consider removing them entirely to avoid potential damage to your hair and scalp. Taking braids out is the most direct solution to relieve painful tension immediately.
If you’ve tried gentle loosening methods for a few days with no relief from discomfort, it may be best to take out the braids. Leaving overly tight braids in too long can pull on the hair follicles and can potentially lead to breakage or more severe conditions like traction alopecia.
Listen to your body. If a headache or soreness from tight braids persists beyond a reasonable adjustment period, take them down for your hair’s health and comfort.
Your scalp will get a break and you can have new, properly fitting braids installed later on. Prioritize your hair’s well-being by removing braids that remain too tight to tolerate.
Pre-Treat Your Hair
Get a protein treatment on your hair 1-2 weeks before getting braids installed. Sitting with a protein treatment on your dry, unwashed hair for 30 minutes can strengthen strands and prevent breakage from tight braiding. Healthier hair is less prone to damage if braids end up being too tight.
Avoid styling your hair for a few days leading up to your braid appointment. Styling can increase scalp sensitivity and make tight braiding more painful. If you style your hair, wait at least 3-4 days before braiding it to allow the scalp to rest.
Thoroughly moisturize your hair after washing, but well in advance of braiding. Products like cholesterol, leave-in conditioners, oils, or creams can help soften the hair, making it less prone to damage during tight braiding sessions.
Finally, wash your hair 1 week prior to braiding, not right before. Washing immediately before braiding can overly dry and irritate the scalp, worsening discomfort.
Space out these pre-braiding hair treatments for healthy, resilient hair.
Discuss with Your Stylist
If tight braids often cause you headaches or scalp pain, avoid excessively tight braiding in the future. Looser braids will be more comfortable long-term and less likely to damage your hair.
Before your next braiding appointment, discuss your concerns with your stylist. Clearly express the importance of having the braids done loosely to maintain hair and scalp health. Inform them you do not want the braids overly tight.
If you have a sensitive scalp, be sure to ask for gentle braiding by carefully separating strands and mindfully placing extensions onto the scalp without pulling hard.
You can also assist by holding onto sections of hair extensions as the stylist braids them in. This helps reduce scalp tension and discomfort during braiding.
With good communication, you can guide your stylist to customize your braids to a comfortable tightness that won’t cause pain.
Take Breaks from Braiding
Avoid wearing tight braids for too long. Let your scalp rest between installations for any soreness to heal before braiding again. This prevents progressive damage.
Switch between tight braids and periods of wearing loose styles or your natural hair out.
Plan out a routine that allows your scalp to breathe for a while in between braiding sessions.
Maintaining scalp and hair follicle health over time requires periodic breaks from tension.