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Knotless Box Braids vs. Traditional Box Braids: Everything You Need to Know, From the Experts

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Beyoncé. Keke Palmer. Tessa Thompson. Zoë Kravitz. Knotless box braids are endlessly popular for a good reason. The braided hairstyle can be styled in a variety of different ways, catering to your personal style. No matter the knotless braids hairstyle, it looks good for any occasions, whether hanging at home, out to brunch with friends, or getting photos taken by the paparazzi on the red carpet.

Although knotless box braids are generally installed the same way, that doesn’t mean all looks are similar. The beloved protective style can be worn in hundreds of different ways, including a high ponytail, half-up, half-down, an updo, or just down. If you’re thinking knotless box braids might be perfect for your next protective style, we broke down everything you need to know from three professionals in the field of natural hair and braided hairstyles.

About the Experts:

Courtney Foster is a licensed cosmetologist, certified hair loss practitioner, and educator with more than 10 years of styling experience. 
Whitney White is a hairstylist and co-founder of Melanin Haircare.
Pearl Ransome is a master braider, content creator, and ambassador for Red by Kiss.

What Are Knotless Braids?

First, let’s get to the bottom of this celebrity-favorite braiding style. “Knotless braids are single extension braids where the client’s hair is braided first and [extension hair] is added to the braid,” Foster says. “It gives the appearance of a natural braid coming out of the scalp.” She notes that they generally lay flat to the scalp and aren’t big and bulky. Knotless braids are a variation of box braids

The Difference Between Knotless Braids and Traditional Box Braids

The difference between knotless box braids and traditional box braids, well, is the knot. But that’s not all. 

1. Knotless Braids Have Less Tension

“With traditional box braids, the braiding hair is wrapped around the client's hair, forming a knot that sits on top of the scalp,” Foster explains. “This can sometimes be irritating to the scalp. It is usually very tight and can cause breakage.” Master hairstylist and content creator Pearl Ransome agrees. “Traditional braids create more tension on the hair, while knotless braids are weightless,” she says. 

2. Knotless Braids Help Keep Your Natural Hair Healthy 

“Knotless braids are considered a protective style and work to protect the hair from damaging situations such as drying weather climates and high-manipulation styling,” says Whitney White, hairstylist and co-founder of Melanin Haircare. “Knotless braids help to reinforce the hair texture and protect the hair’s fragile ends.”Foster adds that this braid style can actually help with hair growth. 

3. The Installation Is Different 

“Knotless braid got its name from not having a knot at the start of the braid,” Ransome says. “Traditional box braids feed the hair extension into the natural hair starting from the very start, right at the root,” White adds. “A knotless braid on the other hand, starts by braiding the natural hair at the root down without the added hair extension, causing the look of a smooth, flat root without a knot; hence ‘knotless’ braid.”

4. Knotless Braids Use Fewer Hair Extensions 

Foster notes that traditional box braids require using a lot of braiding hair, which can become heavy on the head, causing even more damage. The braids are very stiff, requiring days to loosen. “Knotless braids are usually lighter since they require less braiding hair,” she says. “Clients are able to pull their hair up into a bun almost immediately after the service is complete.”

How Long Do Knotless Braids Take to Install? 

“A knotless braids install can take anywhere from three to 12 hours depending on the size of the braids you create, the density of your hair, or the amount of hair on your head, and the skillset of the braider,” White says. To be more specific, here are the general times you can expect, according to Ransome.

  • Small knotless braids: 6-7 hours

  • Medium knotless braids: 4-5 hours

  • Large knotless braids: 3 hours

  • Jumbo knotless braids: 2-3 hours

How Long Do Knotless Braids Last?

With proper maintenance, knotless box braids can last as long as traditional box braids. This can include sleeping on a silk pillowcase and using a silk scarf, as well as applying leave-in conditioner or scalp oil. The upkeep is basically the same as any other box braid. “The general rule I advise my clients is to go no longer than eight to 10 weeks with the braids in,” Foster says. “Any longer than that you’re looking at potential breakage and matting.”

How Do You Sleep in Knotless Braids?

Sleeping in any type of ‌braided hairstyles takes thought and care, but it isn’t difficult. “I would like to recommend tying your braids up with a silk scarf, then applying a bonnet to protect the ends of the braids,” Ransome says. “Hair sleeves are great too! It keeps the hair flat so you can sleep comfortably.”

White notes that you might need to look for a specific, larger silk bonnet, especially for long knotless braids. “Finding a smooth satin head wrap or hair bonnet that will cover the length of your braids entirely, such as the extra-long Melanin Haircare Stretch Satin Head Wraps, will help you preserve the look of your knotless braids for the duration that you wear them,” she adds. 

How to Keep Knotless Braids Fresh

Since knotless box braids can last up to 10 weeks, it’s important to keep them fresh and free from frizz. That means using the right hair care for your hair type. 

1. Use Leave-In Conditioner 

“A leave-in conditioner spray can be used to maintain moisture,” says Foster. “If you feel like the braids are getting frizzy, you can freshen them up by using an alcohol-free mousse to smooth.” 

2. Apply a Little Shampoo on the Scalp 

She also recommends rubbing a damp cloth with a little bit of shampoo on the scalp in between the parts, and then patting the scalp dry. You can also use dry shampoo, just be careful not to spray too close to the scalp or you’ll be left with white residue. 

3. Use a Hydrating Braid Refresher 

Ransome gives us a step-by-step tutorial on how to keep braids fresh. First, tie them up in a silk scarf every night. Then, apply Red by Kiss Styler Fixer Foam Mousse and Styler Fixer Braid Sheen Refresher 2-3 times a week. These provide nourishment and increase shine. Finally, be sure to style them after the first week of installation. 

4. Apply a Clarifying Shampoo or Detoxifying Spray

White likes to use a clarifying shampoo to remove buildup, especially around the hairline. DIY a clarifying spray using apple cider vinegar and water mixed together, or a natural clarifying shampoo, like The Melanin Haircare African Black Soap Reviving Shampoo with tea tree, mixed with water, she says. 

“Pour the mixture over your scalp, massage the liquid in gently, then rinse it away under the shower head,” she explains. “Follow it up with mousse at your hair roots, and apply a satin head wrap or head scarf until the roots dry flat.” 

What Do They Cost? 

The cost of knotless box braids really depends on the area you live in and the skill level of the braider. But they will generally cost you somewhere between $150 and $600. “This depends on the size, the length, if hair is included or not,” Foster says. “It’s always best to ask about pricing beforehand, so you are not surprised.”

What Are the Pros and Cons of Knotless Braids?

There are numerous pros to rocking knotless box braids, and you can see the biggest one just by looking at them: they’re beautiful. As explained above, they’re also a bit easier to manage since they don’t pull on the scalp as tightly. Knotless braids are more lightweight, so if you have a sensitive scalp or are new to box braids, they’re a great choice. 

Foster doesn’t see many downsides to these plaits. “Because of all the braiding hair added, it might make removal hard for someone who is a novice,” she notes, but admits they “are really very easy to install, maintain, and remove.” How can you possibly go wrong with that?

Knotless Braid Hairstyles:

1. Blonde Knotless Braids 

With blonde hair braided into her cornrows, this creator’s knotless box braids fit in with her personal style. 

2. Long Knotless Braids 

This hairstylist revealed her client asked for “knee-length” knotless braids and she sure delivered with this cool red hairstyle. 

3. Spanish Curl Braids 

The curly ends on these knotless braids give them a glam update. 

4. Boho Knotless Braids 

This talented braider mixed pre-stretched braiding hair and crochet curly hair for a boho knotless hairstyle on medium knotless braids.

5. Jumbo Knotless Braids

These jumbo knotless braids were created by using large sections and feed-in braids. The hairstyle requires a fewer amount of braids which can reduce tension on the scalp.

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About the author
Elizabeth Denton
Elizabeth is a freelance beauty writer. Previously, she was a beauty & fashion editor at Time Out New York, Seventeen, & Allure. She has more than a decade of experience in the beauty and fashion world, writing for Nylon, StyleCaster, Cosmopolitan & more.
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Article Last Updated June 7, 2023 12:00 AM