How to Get Rid of Post-Braid Buildup

woman with braids
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Question: I had braid extensions in for almost 10 weeks and when I removed them, not only did I have a lot of matting at the roots, I had a lot of yucky buildup. It was pretty greasy and hard to wash out of my hair. Plus, I had a ton of shedding. I want to wear braids again, but I don't want to have this problem when I take them out. How can I prevent the buildup or get rid of it if I get it again?

Answer: First, 10 weeks is really pushing it when it comes to sporting extensions. Eight weeks is usually the max because, as this reader pointed out, she had a lot of matting. Some women can't remove these mats at all; the hair has essentially locked. In those cases, a major haircut is the only solution, unless you want to grow locs anyway. If you can withstand the incredibly time-consuming (and sore scalp-causing) process of removing mats, fine, but it's not a fun way to spend a day (or weekend).

Some buildup is likely to happen, even if you're diligent about shampooing while in braids. However, this greasy, gunky buildup this reader describes is probably due to wearing extensions way past their prime. The longer your hair is covered and not allowed to be combed through and detangled, the more shampoo, conditioner, scalp oils and other products can build up on your hair and scalp, particularly around the roots.

This braid take-down process will require time and patience if you don't want to lose excess hair. Expect a lot of shedding, though; patient removal and care will prevent breakage.

Once the extensions are removed, carefully and gently work your fingers through any mats. Don't use water just yet. Instead of raking your fingers down the length of your tresses, pull matted sections apart.

If you happen upon stubborn areas, use a natural oil or light mists of a conditioning spray to provide some slip -- don't saturate your hair at this point. You'll probably encounter oily flakes in this buildup.

When you've worked through mats and tangles with your fingers, then you can wet your hair. Use a clarifying shampoo for this first cleansing. Make sure your hair is thoroughly saturated before shampooing. Even if you routinely wash your hair in a sink, it's recommended to perform this shampoo in your shower, where your hair can hang and not get tangled atop your head. Focus on your scalp first and take your time working the shampoo across it. Depending on your level of buildup, you may have to lather up anywhere from two to five times. Only work the shampoo through the rest of your hair on the last cleanse; you could also use your regular moisturizing shampoo at this time if your tresses begin feeling very dry.

At this point, rinsing with apple cider vinegar is an option if you feel your scalp needs additional clarifying.

You can use a regular rinse-out conditioner after shampooing, but a deep conditioning treatment is highly recommended. Your tresses haven't had a deep treatment in a long time and truly need it.

When combing any conditioner through your hair, start with clean tools since you don't want to add any dirt or buildup back onto your mane. Use heat to deeply penetrate hair strands for maximum conditioning.

After a deep treatment, your hair should be clean, but still soft. After wearing extensions for such a long time, it's always a good idea to give your hair and scalp a break from the extra weight. And next time, avoid getting all that buildup in the first place by wearing extensions a max of eight weeks, being sure to regularly shampoo your scalp and condition your hair in the meantime.