There's no shortage of inspiration out there when it comes to protective hairstyles. Cornrows and knotless box braids have long been fan favorites for people looking for an easy-to-maintain, low-manipulation style that'll last them a few weeks, though butterfly locs have also been trending pretty heavily recently for the same reasons.
For the uninitiated, butterfly locs are similar to faux locs, except they have small loops that are typically on opposite sides of the foundation loc, giving you a more beautifully undone look. They've risen in popularity because they can be styled in different colors and lengths, and they keep your hair safe from damage and over-manipulation if properly maintained.
"Butterfly locs protect your natural hair from environmental factors that lead to breakage and damage," says Allyson Carter, hairstylist and editor-in-chief at Hair Spies. "Your natural hair strands will be bound and protected by synthetic hair that’s wrapped around them." Carter adds that they're also a great option if you don't want to think about how to style your hair every day.
If you're thinking about getting butterfly locs for the first time—or just looking to brush up on your knowledge—read on for everything you need to know before making your appointment.
How are butterfly locs installed?
This might depend on the stylist you go to, as there are a few different ways to get the job done. Some stylists use the braid and wrap method, which consists of sectioning the hair into brick-layered or free-parted foundation braids or plaits. The amount of braids you get installed depends on your hair density and the size you want, says Joseph.
After that, your stylist will crochet synthetic kinky textured hair to the braids before wrapping a small piece of synthetic textured hair from the bottom of the braid to the root before being wrapped back down again. The small spaces left on opposite sides of the locs create butterfly-like "wings." Because kinky hair has a natural hold to it, simply seal the loc by wrapping until there's no more hair to cover.
"It is imperative to use small pieces of hair to avoid making your locs bulky. You can always add more if necessary, and leave those little spaces while wrapping so that the loc isn’t stiff and has movement," says Joseph. "It ensures that the client isn’t left with tightly wrapped, stiff, or painful locs."
The braid and wrap method, while popular, can be a little time consuming if you're doing it on your own. "Depending on the size and the length of loc desired, as well as the length, density, and even head size of the client, it can take anywhere from four to eight hours," Joseph says.
A quicker alternative is the crochet method, which involves cornrowing the hair before attaching pre-made non-distressed faux locs to the braids using a crochet hook.
What kind of hair is used for butterfly locs?
According to Joseph, synthetic kinky textured hair that is soft and hypo-allergenic works best. One of her go-to tricks is to rinse the hair in apple cider vinegar, followed by a co-wash to remove the alkaline base that gives synthetic hair sheen, but she points out that the lack of shine from the rinse makes the hair look more natural.
Taking this approach is also a great option for those with sensitive skin, since the alkaline coating is also known to cause scalp irritation and itchiness. "Itching is the most common complaint with synthetic hair," she says.
What's the best way to prep for your butterfly locs appointment?
If you were thinking of rolling out of bed and straight into the salon chair, you might want to reconsider your game plan. Carter notes that arriving at your appointment with your hair washed, deep conditioned, and detangled makes the process a lot easier on the stylist. "Since it's going to be in this style for quite some time, it’s better to start off with clean, detangled hair anyway," she says.
Some stylists also recommend blow-drying your hair beforehand. However, for those that deal with heat damage or simply don't use heating tools on their hair, Carter stresses that as long as your hair is detangled, it isn't a requirement.
What's the best way to maintain butterfly locs?
If you want your locs looking their best for all four to eight weeks, you should massage a light serum or oil into the scalp every few days to keep it hydrated. Carter also notes that if you choose to do a wash day, you won't be getting a full wash because there are sections of your hair that will be tucked away.
"If you must wash your hair, be careful to not leave any moisture behind and blow dry very well. Moisture can get trapped in the locs and lead to bacteria growth," she explains.
If not properly maintained, you may start to see unwrapping or stray away hairs. This can be easily retouched by rewrapping them at home.
When is the best time to remove them?
While this style can last up to several weeks, leaving locs in longer than what's suggested can lead to oil buildup, resulting in damage to your hair and scalp, so it's best not to keep them in longer than eight weeks.
"When the natural roots grow out longer than an inch or so, the locs should be removed to avoid tension on the scalp," says Stephanie Crisler a faux loc specialist at So Extra Locs.
If it looks like it's time to take them out, Crisler suggests going back to your stylist to take them out. But if you'd rather do them yourself, a quick search on YouTube can help you find videos that show proper techniques for removal.
Even so, there are a few things to keep in mind before getting started. "Never remove locs late at night after a rigorous workday or any time that you’re extremely tired or exhausted, as it takes a little time to remove the locs," says Joseph. Setting time aside to really work on removing the locs will also avoid any possibility of accidentally cutting your own hair.
Generally speaking, the process is simple:
Take a loc, and look for your foundation braid.
Pull it out of the loc at the highest point possible.
Next, cut the loc off and unravel whatever hair is left.
Unbraid your hair and carefully detangle it.
Who should not get butterfly locs?
As stunning as these locs are, there are some cases where they should be avoided. "If your hair is highly damaged and weak, butterfly locs can be too much for the scalp. With synthetic hair, these can get quite heavy, and if your scalp is already under pressure, it may lead to breakage, and your hair [can become] more fragile," explains Carter.
Crisler adds that anyone with scalp alopecia or extremely dry scalp should also stay clear of this style. Luckily, these locs are not limiting in terms of anything fitness related. So feel free to carry on with your fitness regimen as you normally would.
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