Have you ever been at the hair salon only to realize that every other client in the room is getting the same hairstyle… except for you? This was me during my recent trip back home to Ghana. As I sat in my favorite salon in Accra, I noticed I was the only person not getting French curl braids. Also known as Nollywood braids, this regal style of box braids starts with neatly parted thin braids and cascades into voluminous curls at the end. “The appeal [of this style] is the silky, bouncy look of the braids, not to mention they are lightweight,” says Nigerian content creator, hairstylist, and owner of Chi’s Luxe Braiding hair Chinyere “Chi-Chi” Adogu. And the style’s popularity extends well beyond Accra and Lagos: The braids are dominating TikTok with millions of fans (278.7 million views on the #frenchcurl braids and 4.6 million views on the #nollywoodbraids, to be exact).
I should note that the look isn’t brand new but rather in its comeback era after its prime in the ‘90s and early aughts. Brooklyn-based braider Helena Koudou remembers the style as “Yaki Pony Braids” back when stars like Brandy frequently wore the look in the early 2000s. Around that time, it was also a go-to style for Nigerian actresses in Nollywood movies, which is how it got the name Nollywood braids.
The Nollywood style started slowly making its way back to the spotlight stateside in 2022, after already resurfacing on crowns in West Africa. Adogu recalls being in Nigeria two years ago and “seeing all the women in silky curly braids.” Koudou noticed this too and anticipated the trend would make its way abroad. “I bought French curl hair in the Ivory Coast in December of 2022 to bring back to New York and a couple of months later people started requesting the style,” says Koudou. The trend died down in the middle of 2023 but now that African diasporas have made their way back to the states after the holidays, French curl braids are back in demand at the top of 2024.
What type of hair is used for French Curl Braids
This style is all about the voluminous curly ends, so using synthetic hair ensures that the bouncy curls will hold their shape no matter the weather or wear time. Specialized boutiques like Chi’s Luxe Braiding Hair (which exclusively sells French curl braiding hair) have mastered a synthetic blend that looks and feels like human hair. Koudou likes to use extensions from another Nigerian-owned brand Darling Hair which is available on Amazon.
The number of packs needed for a style always depends on the size and length of the braids and the amount of hair that’s in a pack, Koudou explains. If you’re getting your French curl braids in a small size (1-inch wide braids) down to the middle of your back, five to eight packs are enough for the whole head. Koudou suggests checking if your salon offers French curl braiding hair (especially if you’re opting for a blended color like honey blonde). Amazon offers a variety of options like Lmzim French Curl Braiding Hair in 27, a copper blonde and Luoyudu Curly Braiding Hair Extensions in 27/33, a warm honey blonde blend.
What to expect during an appointment for French curl braids
Like most protective styles, French curl braids stay in for a few weeks so it’s important that your scalp is clean and your hair is moisturized before being tucked away. Some stylists offer a pre-styling service, but if that’s not an option for you, be sure to arrive at your appointment with freshly-washed, blow-dried hair.
The style can take anywhere from four to seven hours to complete. The session will start with the stylist parting and braiding your hair, feeding in pieces of braiding hair until you reach your desired length. If you’re attempting this style at home, It’s important to tie a knot where you decide to stop braiding and let the curl loose to ensure the braid doesn’t unravel. Other box braid styles — like boho braids — require dipping the hair in hot water to loosen the hair or activate the curl pattern but you can skip that step with French curl braids since the hair already comes in the final curl pattern. Dipping it in hot water could ruin the hair.
How long do French curl braids last?
Expect your French curl braids to last up to six weeks with proper maintenance. The age of your braids will start to show first in the loose curls. To avoid tangling and matting, Koudou recommends spraying the ends with water and brushing the hair out lightly.