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How to Braid Cornrows


Cornrows are a popular West African style of braiding the hair along the scalp. They are also known as “underhand track braids”. It’s a traditional art that anyone who has the patience can learn, but it takes some time and skill to master. This article will help you get started with the basics while avoiding some of the mistakes beginners often make.


  1. Plan your style. Having in mind what your end goal looks like will help you to form a path for getting there. You can do this in your head, draw a picture, or make some marks on a Styrofoam wig holder. The easiest amount to begin with will probably be four to six sections from the front to the back of the head.
  2. Spritz some water, or water mixed with detangler, on the hair. Comb or brush it through to remove all major tangles. The hair should be slightly damp, but not too wet. The reason for this is that you don’t want to have to pull the hair a lot to create the tension needed to hold the style together. Hair contracts when it’s wet and expands as it dries. Despite what some people say about a tight braid, this is the best way to achieve it – not by pulling the hair hard away from the scalp.
  3. Part a section of hair that you would like the cornrow to follow along. put the sides of the hair that you aren’t braiding in two pigtails so they don’t get in your way. Move other hair out of the way so that you have a clear path to follow. Then take a small section of hair where you want the cornrow to begin. Don’t take too much, especially near the hairline, or you will have to pull too hard to continue.
  4. Separate that small section into three strands and make a normal braid of about 2 “stitches” to get it started.
  5. Holding the two outer strands aside, reach down under this initial braid to add a little hair to the middle strand. Fully merge this new hair to the middle strand so that it becomes a part of it, and you again have 3 strands. Make a braid stitch out of these strands.
  6. Continue braiding, each time adding a little more hair to the middle strand, and repeat this until you’ve run out of hair to add. If you’ve reach the end and there is still hair left over, then continue with a regular 3 strand braid.
  7. Secure the cornrow with a snap bead, hair clip, end bar, barrette, bolo tie tip, or whatever you like, just so long as you will be able to easily remove it later. Uncovered rubber bands (elastics) are not recommended unless they are the kind made specifically for hair. The ones made for office use will break off the hair.

Watch this video to get a better idea of how the styling process of cornrows is done.


  • People with straighter or slicker hair may need to use what is called “aqua wax” or a protein hair gel to help the style last, and to preclude the need for extra tension during styling.
  • If you do not wish to wet the hair first, you may consider at least using a hair cream or hair mask or leave in conditioner. (However if you wet fragile hair it could cause breakage because hair shrinks as it dries.) Some people don’t like to wet the hair, and this is fine. However, if you don’t, you will need to be extra mindful of tension. Use a featherlight touch.
  • Precise braiding, not pulling hard from the scalp, is what makes a long lasting style. Pulling too hard from the scalp does nothing to help a style to last. It only leads to pain and hair loss.
  • Hair can be washed with cornrows in. Simply wear a stocking cap over it, and use a shower massager or water pick to force water underneath the braids. Use a diluted shampoo and water mixture to wash, clear water to rinse, and spritz the hair with a leave in conditioner or hair oil afterwards.
  • If you tuck the hair under, you are making an “invisible” track braid, and if you reach for hair from beneath outwards, you are making a “visible” track braid.
  • People with fine or sleek, straight hair may want to use some sort of braid spray to help make the hair “stickier” so that the braid does not fall out as it’s being put in the slicker, fine hair.
  • Narrow braids stay in longer than larger ones.


  • This style should not hurt. If you can see the scalp is raised, or the person is complaining that it’s painful, back it up and start over. Too much braid tension can cause traction alopecia (a specific type of hair loss), and it might be permanent. It can also lead to infections and irritations.
  • To keep braids in place, use a moisturizing flexible hair gel or aqua wax during styling.
  • Wear a scarf or durag while sleeping, and braids will stay for up to one week. After that they’ll probably need to be redone, depending on how thick the rows are.
  • For curlier or “kinky” hair, braids can last for up to a month.

Things You’ll Need

  • A rat tailed comb. These can be found at many beauty supply stores, but if you can’t find one, the end of a tint brush may suffice.
  • Coated rubber bands for hair.
  • Plenty of time.
  • Be careful in the sun. It is very easy to get a sunburn on your scalp, because the rows will expose the skin. Rub in sunscreen or wear a hat.
  • You may need hair grease and/or aqua wax.
    • For straight hair you may need to use a hair wax that is based on distilled water, not oil. It looks sort of like a firm gel. Aquarius Wax and Ice Wax are good ones. Butch Wax may do the job, but it is a little oily.
    • Very tightly curly hair should be treated with a moisturizer that does not break down too soon. This excludes most hair creams. The best thing to use is a hair food or hair grease, or a natural oil mixture.
  • Spray bottle to dampen if hair gets too dry.

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