In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a growing interest in using human hair for box braids. It may be a result of those dreamy Zoe Kravitz boho box braids that are a staple on tons of Pinterest boards or perhaps it’s the increased attention on sustainability and eco-friendly hair options. Either way, no matter your motivation, we’re laying out everything you need to know about human braiding hair, if it’s right for you and how best to use it for box braids or other braided styles you may be considering.
Human vs. Synthetic Hair
For the uninitiated or the curious, human hair is just that—hair that’s sourced from humans (mostly women in East India and other parts of Asia) as opposed to being made in a lab using synthetic (Kanekalon) fibers.
1. Human hair is lighter and more natural looking
The most popular reason some may opt for human hair when getting braids is to achieve a more natural look without the added weight that may come with traditional plastic fibers.
2. No chemicals
Chemicals are used in manufacturing the fibers in synthetic hair and some people are allergic to said chemicals. Human hair on the other hand contains no chemicals, which is another reason why some prefer it over synthetic hair.
3. Human hair lasts longer
Human hair, as you’d imagine, looks and feels like real hair and lasts a lot longer than Kanekalon fibers.
4. More styling options
It can also be bleached and dyed into various colors and styled with heat. In fact, the Burn Test is one way to find out if the hair you purchased is in fact human (trust us there are a lot of knock-offs out there). If you burn a strand of hair and it burns slowly, smells like rubber and creates a black smoke, hate to break it to you, but it’s not the real deal. Human hair will burn almost instantly.
Although there are plenty of great reasons why you’d want to use human hair there are some disadvantages as well. Check out the pros & cons of using human hair below.
The Pros & Cons of Braiding with Human Hair
- Looks more natural, has a silkier texture.
- Can be reused and can last between 6 months to two years depending on how well it’s cared for.
- Doesn’t strip your hair of moisture.
- Can be dyed and bleached into various colors.
- Can be curled or straightened with heat styling tools.
- Can be pricey, with some brands costing up to $100 per bundle.
- Can be harder to braid with due to silkier texture.
- Ends may unravel if not secured properly.
- May not be ethically sourced from third world countries.
- May not blend with your own texture.
- Not all stylists braid with human hair because it tends to unravel. Check with your stylist before booking.
Types of Human Hair
There are two types of human hair—Indian Remy and Yaki (or Yaky). Remy hair is considered the best in class as far as quality. It’s sourced from a single donor (human) with all strands going in the same direction with the cuticle intact. The result is a natural look, soft to the touch without tangling, matting, or snags. Because it’s human hair, Remy hair can be colored, cut and styled with heat and it can last up to two years if you take care of it.
Yaki on the other hand is sourced from different donors and has a less sleek appearance. It kinda looks like relaxed or natural hair blown out; but not smoothed or bone straight.
Side Note: If you want the best of both worlds, some brands sell human hair blends, which is 100% human braiding hair, and premium synthetic fibers blended together.
Where to Buy Human Braiding Hair
Human braiding hair can be found at just about any local beauty supply store as well as online. When shopping for hair, make sure you’re looking for bulk hair which just means, you’re buying human hair that’s not sewn onto a weft (a.k.a tracks), which is what’s used for weave installations.
You can choose between straight bulk hair, wavy bulk hair or curly bulk hair. Just depends on what look you’re going for. Some human hair brands we love include:
- Shake-N-Go 100% Virgin Human Bulk—The newest series from Shake-N-Go is great to use for goddess braids and faux locs. Two bundles should be enough for a full head as it comes with a lot of hair in each pack. Available Styles include:
- Afro Kinky Bulk 12″
- Deep Wave Bulk 18″
- Super Wave Bulk 18″
- Janet Collection Indian Remy Bulk Wet & Wavy— Wet and wavy bulk hair; starts off straight and becomes wavy when dipped in water.
- Milky Way Super Bulk Human Hair – Great for micro freestyle box braids and really holds up well in between washes and the curls stay in tact.
Alternatively, if you happen to have 100% human hair weave tracks laying around, you can simply cut off the weft and create your own bulk bundle instead.
How To Braid with Human Hair
Before you begin to braid, be sure to first wash and condition both your own natural hair as well as your extensions. You want your hair to be in the most optimal condition before going into a style, that you’ll most likely keep in for several weeks. (Check out our official guidelines for prepping for, installing and maintaining protective styles).
When doing a style like box braids, many people aren’t using human hair only. They start off with synthetic and then add human hair for silkier ends. Whether you’d like to try it on your own or discuss the various braiding techniques with your natural hair stylist, the videos below are a great starting point, because they show the popular practice of starting off the braid with regular Kanekalon braiding hair first. This is done for better grip if the person’s natural texture is coarser than the silky human hair. The human hair is then fed in after several passes until the entire braid is done.
Unlike synthetic braiding hair, which can be dipped in hot water to set the ends, human hair is again much more silkier, so a popular method of sealing off the ends, is to use nail glue (yes nail glue) to keep the ends from unraveling.
Another option is to simply knot the ends as shown in this video (skip to 4:03 mark)
Once the ends are sealed, if you’ve purchased deep or loose wave hair, you can wet the ends to activate the curls and follow that with hair mousse. If you have straight hair, you can leave as is or style with heat tools.
If you’d prefer to use human hair from start to finish, you’re going to want to make small parts and use some sort of custard or edge control i.e. Shine Jam to help the hair hold as you braid as shown in this video:
Lastly, if you’d like to add fly aways, see how it’s done here:
Care & Maintenance
Before installing any protective style, make sure you’ve given your hair some time to rest from your last style and that you don’t have any signs of thinning. Box braids typically last for about 4-6 weeks, and with the added bonus of using human hair they can last even longer. Proper care and maintenance however; (specifically keeping your scalp clean and your hair moisturized) has to be your top priority in order to avoid developing scalp disorders. Here’s a full breakdown on how to wash your box braids. And don’t forget the golden Black girl hair rule: sleep with a silk scarf at night and your hair will be alright!