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Cornrows

Isn't it interesting that a hairstyle that's been around since 3000 BC is also one of the most talked about? Cornrows are an ancient African hair technique that belongs to the braid family, and they are as popular as ever.

Cornrows can be worn by men and women and are very low maintenance. Sometimes referred to as cane rows, cornrows can be found throughout the world. They get their name from the fact they are tightly woven close to the head, usually in straight lines.

The secret to getting them to look good is to use an underhand upward braiding technique. This forms a continuous raised line. Decorating them with beads and shells adds glamour to the look.

As with all braids, cornrows can say a lot about your origins, religion, social and marital status, and kinship. Originating in Africa and the Caribbean, cornrows only really became popular in the US and Europe after actress Bo Derek wore them in the 70s movie, 10.

Called Bo Braids at the time, women went crazy for them and salons frantically started recruiting and training stylists who could do them. Whilst that movie may be out of fashion now, the braids are not.

Whether you are wearing them as a style or a statement, cornrows are a personal choice and don't suit everyone. It's really a case of giving it a go. It's also a good idea to understand the origins.

Many African slaves wore cornrows and not just because it was a tidy style for working. It was also a way of maintaining connections to their heritage and asserting their independence. After slavery was abolished, many African women started straightening their hair and, for a while, cornrows went out of fashion.

They were back in vogue by the 1950s and very much in the spotlight by the late 60s and 70s. By the 1990s, they were well and truly back, thanks to the hip-hop culture.

Some people believe cornrows can be damaging to your hair. This isn't really true although, if you wear them too tight for too long, there could be some breakage. As with most braids, cornrows can actually protect your hair, because it reduces the amount of brushing.

The best approach is to have the cornrows put in professionally, and listen to the advice given by the stylist. It is usually recommended that you moisturise the cornrows and your scalp regularly, using a natural oil-based cream or grease formulation.

Moisturisers containing olive oil or jojoba are particularly good at preventing dryness and scalp conditions like dandruff. Apply the moisturiser and use your fingertips to gently massage it in.

A great way of protecting your cornrows - or, in fact, hair generally - is to use a satin pillowcase. Materials such as cotton or polyester can cause friction, which may weaken and break your hair. It's also recommended that you protect your braids against wind and rain, and apply a sunscreen in summer.

There are different schools of thought on how long you should keep braids in and your stylist will advise. Generally speaking, four to six weeks is the norm. After that, the braids can get a bit messy and dry.

Traditionally, cornrows were a great way of managing course, curly hair. If your hair is very fine or thin, it's worth checking first with your stylist whether braiding is a wise choice. You could always use synthetic hair extensions to create the look.

The most common and cheapest synthetic hair type to use is Kanekalon. Alternatively, ask about Toyokalon - it's a little more expensive but said to be more comfortable.

If you'd like to give cornrows a go, have a browse through Bookwell and find a salon in your area.