Senegalese Twists, Everything You Need to Know

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Photo: @laurenlewiss

Senegalese twists, also known as rope twists, are a gloriously beautiful protective style loved by Black women across the world. They’re a little more modern than box braids and offer something different if you want to move away slightly from braided styles. Senegalese twists differ from other twisted styles as they use Kanekalon hair, which is traditionally used for box braids — X-pression and Sensationnel tend to be the go-to brands for Kanekalon hair. As this hair is a lot smoother (it resembles kinky locks that have been blown out), Senegalese twists tend to be sleeker and tighter in appearance compared to other twisted styles. Havana, Marley and Kinky twists use Marley hair, which is more matched to a natural kinky hair texture.

Jump ahead:

What’s Great About Twists

Senegalese twists are a great choice when it comes to protective styling for a few different reasons.

  • Firstly, they offer the same benefits as most other protective styles: length retention, protection, relatively low maintenance.
  • They’re safe for use on both natural and relaxed hair, although lengths shorter than a bob may be tricky to work with as the twists won’t stay in place.
  • Senegalese twists are also slightly less tense compared to box braids (or other braided styles for that matter) as they’re sitting more loosely on the scalp. Since only two strands are used, there’s also less friction between the hair and they’re less tight, again resulting in less tension on your scalp.
  • The style also tends to age quite well, so many women also think Senegalese twists look better the older they are.
  • The twists are relatively easy to install yourself — see our handy guide below — and aren’t as time-consuming as box braids. The first time you install the twists yourself may take you a lot more time, but this is a skill you’ll learn to perfect.
  • Finally, Senegalese twists tend to be a medium or long length, so the styling possibilities are endless — buns, ponytails, half up and down; the choice is yours!

Box Braids vs Senegalese Twists

The main difference between box braids and Senegalese twists is that two strands (instead of three) are required to create the look. One thing to keep in mind is that Senegalese twists (and twisted styles in general) are quicker to unravel and will begin to look a little fluffier sooner, so slightly more maintenance is needed to keep the style intact. Box braids on the other hand tend to remain smoother for a longer period of time. This style may not be the best option for women who are always on-the-go or who are particularly active as the sweat and movement from physical activity may cause the twists to unravel quicker. This doesn’t mean you can’t rock the twists, though. Just keep them in for less time or make sure you’re taking the time to maintain them using our guide below. Although Kanekelon hair is the go-to choice for Senegalese twists, using kinkier textures such as Marley hair will create more friction and result in less slippage, allowing your twists to last longer. Overall, the kinkier your own hair is as well as the kinkier the added hair, the more longevity you’ll get out of the style.

This style may not be the best option for women who are always on-the-go or who are particularly active as the sweat and movement from physical activity may cause the twists to unravel quicker.

Twist it Your Way: Inspiration

When it comes to styling your Senegalese twists, the world really is your oyster. Choose to add embellishments like jewels or beads, go for a vibrant colour, or even a mix of colours. You could even opt for jumbo twists or slightly smaller ones to mix things up. Check out our gallery of some of the most beautiful Senegalese twist styles to inspire your next look:

Prepping for Senegalese Twists

  • If your scalp is sensitive, rinsing your braiding hair in apple cider vinegar will remove the chemical treatment on the braiding hair and prevent your scalp from becoming itchy over time.
  • Before beginning to braid, feather the ends of your braiding hair. This means pulling gently on the ends to make them look more tapered. Breanna Rutter shows us how in the video below. The ends are quite blunt, straight out the pack so using this method will allow you to twist the hair all the way to the end, minimising unravelling. Note: you can skip this step by buying pre-stretched hair. Also, have your strands separated and ready to go so you can focus on the installation process.
  • Make sure you start this style on freshly washed, moisturized, detangled and dried hair. Moisturizing your own hair prior to installing any protective style is your last opportunity to fully hydrate your hair while you have the style in. Plus, a clean scalp will help your style last much longer and minimize product build-up and itchiness. Read more here on how to protect your hair while in a protective style.
  • Some YouTubers and stylists also recommend stretching your natural hair (Bantu knots or braids will work here, or even blow drying) to make the twisting process easier. This will also help your natural hair blend with the Kanekelon hair’s texture.
  • Most people find starting at the back lower half of your hair  is easiest. Make sure you have plenty of clips to tuck loose hair away as you work on each individual section.

Installing Senegalese Twists

There are two methods of essentially attaching the synthetic hair to your real hair: the rubber band method and the twisted root method. Apart from adding hair, the rest of the steps will remain the same as when you create twists without extensions — you’re essentially wrapping two strands of hair around each other. Youtuber Michelle (Lotus Flower Life), goes into detail in her video below on how to install Senegalese twists using the twisting method. Her tutorial is definitely beginner proof if you’ve never attempted Senegalese Twists before.

The Twisted Root Method

If you’re using the twisted root method, you’ll place the braiding hair in between your separated strands of hair, horizontally. Holding one side of the hair in place, you’ll twist the additional hair with your natural hair in a forward direction. You’ll then hold this section in place and do the same with the leftover strand, twisting backwards. Don’t make this too tight as you don’t want to cause tension on your scalp.

The Rubber Band Method

If the twisted root method is too complicated, check out how Adanna Mdueke installs her twists on 4C hair using the rubber band method.  When using the rubber band method, you’ll lay the braiding hair in-between the two sections of your natural hair. You’ll then use a rubber band to tie the two strands of your hair together, securing the additional hair between your own hair.

For Both Methods…

Both strands of hair should be twisted with the same amount of pressure and tension to prevent the twist from looking lopsided. If you get to the end and one section of the twist is thicker or longer, steal some hair from the thicker strand to allow you to twist all the way to the end.

Securing Your Twists

To prevent your twists from unravelling, when you get to the end of your twists, coil one part of your hair a few times between your index finger and thumb then continue the twisting process — this will create a mish mash of twists so hair is less likely to unravel. Praise ONaturals has a great tutorial on how to seal your ends using this method. You can also dip the ends of the twists in boiling water to seal them, braid them or secure them with rubber bands.

Caring for your Senegalese twists

Senegalese twists can last anywhere from 4-6 weeks. Any longer and you’ll be undoing all of the benefits your hair reaped during this time. Note: Experts generally recommend leaving protective styles in for no longer than 8 weeks. Read more about that here.

Washing Your Twists

It’s possible to wash your hair while in twists but it will result in frizziness and the twists loosening. When washing your hair, opt for a sulphate free shampoo (you can mix this with some water in a spray bottle and spritz your scalp) or a mix of apple cider vinegar and water. The aim is to remove any build-up and give your scalp a cleanse so focus the cleansing product on your scalp and use the pads of your fingers to reduce frizz.

You can also follow up with a silicone-free (you don’t need to encourage anymore product build-up) conditioner and apply it to your natural hair, which will start further up the twists. Finishing off with a cold water rinse will help to reduce frizz and also seal in moisture. You can also apply your favourite leave-in conditioner or a light oil, again concentrating on your natural hair. Make sure your hair is completely dry after washing. Wet synthetic hair can smell and become moldy if it isn’t dried properly. It can be tempting, but avoid using dry shampoos to tide you over when your hair is in twists. The shampoo tends to leave an icky residue on your hair which is difficult to remove. Alternatively you can opt for a brand that doesn’t leave any residue, like Dark and Lovely’s Protective Styles Hair Refresher.

Make sure your hair is completely dry after washing. Wet synthetic hair can smell and become moldy if it isn’t dried properly.

Moisturize Your Scalp & Sleep With a Scarf

Depending on the condition of your scalp, you may also find it useful to apply some oil to it once a week or so, depending on how it might be. Adding a few drops of peppermint oil will help to alleviate itchiness and refresh your scalp. Make sure you don’t over oil your scalp as this will cause build-up and require more cleansing. Sleeping on a silk pillowcase or using a silk bonnet will minimise frizz and keep your twists looking sleek. Check out our protective style guide for more in-depth information.

What if my twists slip out?

Because twists sit relatively further from the scalp and involve less tension, they are more likely to slip out of unravel than box braids. The key is to make sure the hair is properly secured to your natural hair, using either the rubber band or the  twisted root method. If you find that a twist does slip out, remove it completely and re-do the twist.

Taking down your Senegalese twists

When it comes to taking down any protective style, make sure you’re working gently and give yourself time— do not rush the process. You can apply a little oil to your fingertips to minimize some of the friction on your strands. If you used the twisting method, you’ll untwist the strands and roll upwards to remove the coil you added to each strand. When you get to the top, gently roll the added hair out of your strands and you should see that it comes out easily. Jessica Lewis (Mahogany Curls) has a really great tutorial on how she safely removes her twists.

Now it’s time to give your own hair and scalp a good wash. Before cleansing, remove any major tangles in your hair as some strands may be knotted. Using a clarifying shampoo (make sure it’s sulphate-free) will help to remove even the most stubborn build-up. Follow up with a deep conditioning treatment to make sure your strands are moisturised and your favorite styling products. Before embarking on your next protective style, give your hair and scalp some time to acclimate, chill and breathe—we recommend at least 2 weeks, but a 1-1 ratio is a general rule of thumb. For example, if your hair is in twists for four weeks, leave it out for four weeks. But even this rule depends on how much tension was applied to your hair. For a low-tension style like twists, you may not need to give your hair much of a break.

So, ready to rock Senegalese twists? Show us your look by tagging us on Instagram, @hairunruled.

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Kristen Bingle
Kristen Bingle

I've been natural since 2014. Since then I've been obsessed with watching hair tutorials and learning more about how to keep my hair healthy — and sharing that with others. I'm based in London, work in Marketing and love herbal tea.

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