Natural Hair DIY: How To Get Gabrielle Union’s Braids At Home

Whether you’re still sheltering in place, trying to cut back on expenses, or simply want to get better at doing your own hair, natural hair DIY’s are an affordable (and fun) way to get the latest look on a budget. Plus, they give you something to do! Having a project to dive into is always a welcome distraction.  

When it comes to protective styling we’ve always loved the beauty and versatility of braids and nobody rocks them better than Gabrille Union. Her signature locks are the perfect natural hair inspo, especially for the hotter summer months. 

Besides her fabulous hair, we love that Gabrielle Union always stands up for what’s right. She’s a powerful woman, wife, and mother and is a huge advocate for mainstream acceptance of black hair in all its unique forms. 

Copping her braided hairstyles might take some work on your own but the most important thing to remember (especially if you’re new to styling your own hair) is that achieving professional-level styles takes time. Don’t get frustrated, getting the perfect braids takes lots of practice and trial and error. 

Fortunately, getting those chic Gabrielle Union braids at home is easier than ever with our handy DIY guide. We’re breaking down her best braided styles plus expert tips and tricks to make at-home styling easier than ever. 

Why Braids Are The Perfect Protective Style

So why braids over other protective styles? We love braided hairstyles because they’re relatively low-maintenance and can last anywhere from two to eight weeks depending on the style type and your hair texture. Similarly, they’re super versatile. 

So many different types of braids mean endless styling possibilities. For example, we love the look of box braids but the best part is being able to put those braids into ponytails, buns, and more to switch up your look.   

Protective styles have their benefits year-round, but they can be especially helpful for your curls and coils during the summer. Why? Well, protective styles do just that, they protect. 

In addition to keeping hair off your neck and out of your face, braids help keep your delicate ends and drier strands safe from excessive dryness. 

They also help keep your hair moisturized and tangle-free while retaining their natural strength and length. For instance, if you’ll be in the pool a lot and exposing your hair to chlorine or harsh UV rays, protective styles can work as a protective barrier.

Before You Braid: Pre-Styling Care

To make at-home DIY braiding a breeze, make sure to spend some time prepping your hair so it’s in the best possible shape for intense styling. 

First, since your hair won’t be properly washed for an extended period of time while in the style, make sure your hair is fully free of any product build-up before installation. Reach for a hydrating yet effective pre-shampoo like our Moisture Miracle Pre-Shampoo to prep your strands and get the most out of your shampooing. Starting with a clean base, especially a clean scalp, helps hair stay healthy through the duration of your protective style.

Moisture Miracle Pre-Shampoo

Next, reach for a Deep Penetrating Conditioner Treatment that will infiltrate the hair strands and strengthen them before they are manipulated into a protective style. Distribute the product evenly from roots to ends, detangle, cover the hair with a plastic cap, and apply moderate heat for up to 30 minutes before thoroughly rinsing thoroughly. 

Next, use a leave-in conditioner or Leave-in Moisture Butter to prep your strands with an extra dose of moisture. Keeping your curls moisturized in the braided style will help encourage growth and prevent frizz. 

No matter the style you’re going for, it’s best to leave out your edges. The hairline holds the most delicate strands of hair and tightly pulling them into a protective style is a recipe for breakage. Leave your edges be and simply style them with an nourishing edge control formula.

Our Favorite Gabrielle Union Braids

We love how often this talented beauty switches up her look. From sengalese twists to cornrows, Gabrielle Union is always rocking the best protective styles. Her braided styles however, are particularly stunning. 

It was hard to narrow our favorite Gabrielle Union braided hairstyles but we’ve chosen our top two favorites that she rocks the most. Not many of us have the same bank account as her, so we’ve broken down some easy DIY tips for getting her iconic looks at home. Let’s get to it.

Box Braids

Gabrielle Union in colorful sparkly blazer
Via IG // @Gabunion

Popularized by Janet Jackson in the early ‘90s, box braids have actually been around since around 3500 B.C. Traced back to Egypt, various regions in Africa developed their own unique box braid techniques and styles. 

The great thing about box braids is they can be done on any length of hair from waist-grazing to a blunt bob. Plus, they are incredibly versatile and can be styled, accessorized, or worn in countless ways. 

You likely have memories yanking at your tresses with your sisters, friends, or aunt but let’s give you a quick refresher course on getting the best box braids at home.  These braids can last up to 10 weeks.  

Step 1: Part your hair horizontally at the back and clip the top half of hair away. This will be the first section for your box braids. To get sharper sections use a rat-tail comb. Then apply a smoothing, strong hold gel like our Extra Hold Braid, Loc, & Twist Gel to coat strands. 

Step 2: Working within your back section, separate into three smaller sections and add clear elastic bands to each (like you would secure a ponytail). Trust us, this will make the next steps so much easier!

Step 3: Start braiding with three strands of hair like you would a french braid. If you’re using extensions to make braids fuller, add 1-2 strands of extensions into your hair (secure it into the clear elastic) and braid together. 

Step 4: Repeat this braiding process across your entire head. Don’t rush it! Take the time to detangle, smooth gel throughout hair and braid all the way down hair strands.

Step 5: This trick may seem a little wild but we promise it will create professional-worthy braids. Dip hair (concentrating on ends) into boiled water for a few seconds to ensure they’re straight. Blot excess water out with a microfiber towel. 
Step 6: Lay those edges. Using your fingers gently apply gel and style as desired.

Fulani Braids

Gabrielle Union in bikini with fulani breads
Via IG // @Gabunion

One of the most popular ways of braiding, Fulani braids were made popular by the Fulani people in West Africa. A traditional fulani style incorporates a unique pattern and is typically accessorized with beads. 

What makes this style different is the distinct braid pattern that features these two key elements: one cornrow braided down the center of your head from front to back and one to two cornrows on each side of your head (braided back to front) with the tails hanging down on each side of your head. These braids can last about five weeks.

Fulani braids are incredibly versatile (you can create millions of different styles with them) but let’s focus on the simplest version to start. 

Step 1: Part your hair from ear to ear so there’s a front section and a back section. 

Step 2: Your protective style should not be so tight that it’s giving you headaches. Opt for an Extra Hold Braid, Loc, & Twist Gel that works hard so that you don’t have to pull as tightly. Lightly apply gel through the back section of hair.

Step 3: This step follows the same process as the box braid above. Divide the back section of hair into several different parts (depending on your hair length and density) and start braiding with three strands of hair like you would a french braid. If you’re using extensions to make braids fuller, add 1-2 strands of extensions into your hair and braid together. 

Step 4: Work through entire back sections, going slowly one area at a time. Don’t rush as that will lead to tangles and knots. 

Step 5: Dip hair (concentrating on ends) into boiling water for a few seconds to ensure they’re straight. Blot excess water out with a microfiber towel. 

Step 6: Time to start on the front section! Take very small strands and begin your cornrows. Start with one going down the middle of your head, front to back. 

Step 7: Along the sides of your head cornrow back to front so that the ends hang on each side of your head. 

Step 8: Time to accessorize! You can add any accents, bands, or beads along the ends of your hair. The easiest way to apply beads is to thread your hair through, knot several times (with the thread NOT your hair) and voila!

Maintaining Your Braids

The fear of frizz, breakage, or ruining your protective style that took forever to get just right is what usually stops us from washing and properly caring for our braids. Also hey, sometimes we just get lazy. 

Washing, conditioning, and moisturizing however, are vital to ensure tighter textures and curls are effectively protected, healthy, and looking fly now and in the future.

Wash Your Scalp & Braids

The fear of frizz, breakage, or ruining your protective style that took forever to get just right is what usually stops us from washing and properly caring for our braids. Also hey, sometimes we just get lazy. But proper braid care is vital to ensure tighter textures and curls are effectively protected, healthy, and looking fly now and in the future. 

Keeping your hair in a braided style without properly cleansing can lead to a multitude of ongoing hair and scalp issues. The biggest problem? The dreaded dry scalp. Not thoroughly cleansing your scalp allows build-up to accumulate. Think: sweat, pollution, dirt, hair products, grease, flakes, and other gross stuff. 

black castor braid and scalp cleansing rinse bottle

Braids are delicate and it’s important to avoid anything that could lead to weakening the hair shaft. Also, you don’t want to get your hair soaking wet. Instead, reach for a gentle scalp cleanser for braids like our Braid & Scalp Cleansing Rinse. The fine nozzle tip will allow you to easily apply the rinse to edges, scalp, and part-lines. Make sure to never rub braids as this will cause frizz. 

Once you’ve successfully shampooed (and given yourself a nice little massage) rinse gently with cool water. Your scalp will immediately feel clean, soothed, and refreshed.

Moisturize Your Braids

Yes, even with braids you still have to use a conditioner. However, the method you’ll use to condition braids will be very different from how you’d normally do it on wash day.

Because we want to be as gentle as possible (and avoid overly-touching or getting braids too wet) there are a few different ways you can approach conditioning your braids. 

You can repeat a similar method to how you cleansed your hair, focusing mainly on the scalp and gently massaging into hair and squeezing into individual braids. Another effective method is diluting a nourishing conditioner with water and putting in a spray bottle to lightly spritz hair before a quick rinse.  

With clean, fresh, and dry braids, it’s easy to accidentally neglect them until the next wash session. Caring for your braided hairstyles in-between washes however, ensures that your strands stay hydrated, healthy, while also helps to eliminate itchy, dry scalps. 

olive miracle braid sheen spray bottle

For hydrated, frizz-free hair, use a daily Hair And Scalp Sealing Oil. The easy-to-use nozzle makes it a breeze to apply. Simply massage into the scalp, around edges, and gently onto braids. Crafted with Black Castor Oil, tea tree oil and more, this formula helps to soothe itchy, dry scalps while conditioning hair and helping to lock in moisture. Similarly, using a daily braid sheen spray will help add luster while helping to relieve itchiness and the stress of tight braid pulling.

No matter how many articles you read or tutorials you watch, braiding your own hair is a personal experience that will take some trial and error. Don’t get discouraged and don’t rush the process, we promise the results (and savings) will be well worth it! Happy braiding!

Want more braid care help? Check out Braid Cleanser Hacks: 6 Frizz-Free Tips For Washing Braids and Braid Spray + More Easy Ways To Make Your Protective Style Last Longer.