Best braiding hair: Extensions, products and gels tried and tested


With the winter months on the way, it’s the perfect time to start thinking about protective hairstyles to keep your hair hydrated and healthy when the temperatures drop.

“A protective style is any style that tucks your natural hair away to preserve and protect it from further damage that could be caused by chemical processing, heat-styling or even environmental aggressors," says award-winning Afro hairdresser, Derek Clement. "It is a concept that came about a time where many Black women were making an effort to transition from chemically straightened hair back to their natural texture”.

For decades, hair braiding has been the go-to protective hairstyle for both Black women and men with textured hair. And thanks to the rise of the natural hair movement in the early 2000s, we’ve seen braids make a major comeback as one of the most versatile and reliable protective hairstyles out there.

What braided styles will be trending this autumn/winter?

From box braids to cornrows, Marley twists and micro plaits, there are so many ways to wear a braided hairstyle - which can vary depending the texture and density of your natural hair, as well as your personal style preferences.

Single plaits and ponytails - installed using various braiding techniques – tend to be on-trend around this time of year because they are so easy to customise and make your own. "Traditionally, many women who braid their hair as a protective style will add-in synthetic or human hair extensions to experiment with different lengths, textures and colours," explains Derek Clement. "In past seasons, we have seen super micro single plaits being worn, but this season it is all about chunky braids - which makes for an even better protective hairstyle because it puts less pressure on the scalp".

What’s the best way to maintain healthy hair underneath braids?

If you are wearing a protective hairstyle, that doesn’t mean that the work stops there. To maintain and grow healthy hair, you must ensure that you still follow a strict haircare routine once your protective hairstyle has been installed.

“The great thing about choosing braids as a protective hairstyle is that your scalp is exposed, which gives you an opportunity to care for it on a daily basis," stresses Derek Clement. "You should use a water-based product with plenty of nutrients to feed your scalp with moisture such the Derek Clement Nourishing Mist. Once this has dried onto the scalp, you should then add nourishment to the scalp in the form of a hair butter or natural oils.”

From installation to daily maintenance, shop the best braiding hair, products and gels below.

X-Pression Ultra Braid

If you are looking for bulk braiding hair that is flexible enough to create a multitude of styles, then X-Pression’s iconic Ultra Braid is one to add to your shopping basket now. Made with super-soft, tangle-free fibres, you can use these synthetic hair extensions to create anything from box braids to cornrows, micro plaits, ponytails and even faux locs. Whether you would like to add length or extra volume to your braided style, X-Pression’s Ultra Braid is pre-stretched for styling ease. Plus, it’s available in over 30 colours that can be mixed and matched.

Price is for a pack of three.

Buy now £12.79, Amazon

Lullabellz Grande 26” Braid

When it comes to quick and easy protective hairstyles, a simple, sleek ponytail never fails to make you look effortlessly put together. To take the classic ponytail to the next level, Lullabellz have created the 26" Grande Braid - an attachable pony made with synthetic hair extensions - for instant length, volume and glam.

Unlike the average clip-on ponytail, the Lullabellz 26" Grande Braid is already sectioned into three parts for seamless braiding and comes complete with a wraparound piece for a flawless finish. You can also find your perfect colour match with shades in this beautiful braiding hair including blacks, browns, blondes and reds.

Buy now £28.00, Lullabellz

Saga Crochet Human Hair Crotchet Braids

Amongst the natural hair community, crochet braids are a popular protective style that uses a special technique to weave wavy or curly hair extensions into a braided base. The result is what resembles a full-head of soft waves or loose curls with the braids slightly showing at the roots.

Saga Crochet’s Crochet Braids is made with 100 per cent human hair extensions with a natural loose deep curl pattern that lasts up to four weeks when installed. Plus, this hair is available lengths up to 18 inches and can be safely heat-styled.

Buy now £74.00, Ninth Avenue

Pattern, Curl Gel 88.7ml

Created by Tracee Ellis Ross, Pattern is a trendy and new hyped about curl care range that features 11 products covering every single part of the textured haircare routine. Perfect for box braids, cornrows or twist-outs, Pattern’s clever Curl Gel has been made with blend of aloe vera, coconut oil and cacay oil to hydrate your hair2, while maintaining a medium hold. What’s more, this super creamy formula can also be used to slick and style your baby hairs for a immaculate finish.

Buy now £9.00, Cult Beauty

Wakati Oil Infused Cream

Deep conditioning your natural tresses is key part to achieving a beautiful braided look and avoiding any damage or breakage in the process. When prepping your hair for braids, it’s essential that your hair has been cleansed, conditioned and hydrated with a hard-working moisturiser.

Wakati’s Oil-Infused Cream is enriched with nourishing natural ingredients - such as jojoba oils and shea butter - and can be used post-wash to leave your hair super smooth, shiny, frizz-free and ready to be braided up. For best results, take a generous amount of this cream and gently massage it into your hair from root-to-tip.

Buy now £10.99, Superdrug

Crème of Nature Argan Oil Style & Shine Foaming Mousse

Within in the natural hair community, hydrating hair mousses are often used to set, seal and refresh braided hairstyles in place for a longer-lasting finish. Made with natural argan oil from Morocco, Crème of Nature’s Argan Oil Style & Shine Foaming Mousse is a must-have product for finishing and maintaining braided hairstyles. From keeping your braid pattern in place to eliminating frizz and adding shine, this multi-purpose mousse makes daily maintenance a cinch.

Buy now £2.66, Boots

Gisou Honey Infused Scalp Treatment

Since the scalp is exposed in most braided styles, it’s essential to hydrate and replenish the skin barrier to avoid any irritation or dry skin that can cause hair flakes. Designed with a unique nozzle for easy application, Gisou’s Honey Infused Scalp Treatment is a vitamin-rich formulation that can be used on a regular basis to rejuvenate and soothe the scalp. Mirsalehi honey is the star ingredient - which is packed with antioxidants and omegas that help nourish the scalp – while the organic rice protein prevents inflammation.

Buy now £37.00, Cult Beauty

Ruka Hair Perfume

If you are a fan of long-wearing braids - such as single plaits or twists - then you’ll love Ruka’s Hair Perfume which has been specifically designed to give an instant refresh to natural hairstyles. Made with Zambian Mongongo oil, Ruka’s Hair Perfume is rich in nourishing natural ingredients such as Vitamin E  and Omega 6 which prevents hair breakage. Meanwhile the fragrance features a blend of coconut, warm musk and vanilla. Finish up your daily braid maintenance routine with a few spritzes of Ruka’s Hair Perfume for a long lasting yet subtle, sweet scent.

Buy now £25.00, Selfridges

ORS Olive Oil Nourishing Sheen Spray

ORS Olive Oil Nourishing Sheen Spray is a lightweight, non-greasy formula that restores moisture and adds a beautiful shine to all natural hairstyles - including braids - in just a few seconds. To add the ultimate glossy finish to your braided style of choice, carefully spritz this nutrient-rich formula directly onto your hair after styling or in-between washes.

Buy now £4.49, Superdrug

Eco Styler Olive Oil Styling Gel

Much-loved by naturalistas everywhere, the Eco Styler Olive Oil Hair Gel is made from 100 per cent organic Olive Oil which helps naturally moisturise your scalp and strands with every use, while maintaining a maximum hold. Unlike other strong hold hair gels, this miracle worker by Eco Styler will leave your tresses feeling super weightless with plenty of free-flowing movement. When hair braiding, you may use this hair gel on both your natural hair and extensions for a long-lasting finish that won’t unravel unless you want it to.

Buy now £3.99, Boots