We recently removed Boo's All-Around Cornrows with Bangs, a style that was formed with several small braids. These weren't microbraids, but they're definitely small enough to run into the every popular question, "How do you remove really small braids without it sucking up your entire day?" The short answer is, you don't. However, that doesn't mean that there aren't a few tips to help make things go more smoothly. Armed with patience and the right tools, removing braids can be simplified, with minimal breakage and without investing an entire day to their removal (depending, of course, on how many you have).
These are some of the tools used to remove braids. The end of a pick or beading wand have been suggested, as have the metal part of a pintail comb, specialized braid removing combs, and my personal favourite, the metal darning needle.
I'm not a fan of things that are plastic, like the pick below, because often times there are plastic burrs that can break or otherwise damage the hair. The beading wand is also not my favourite as it just doesn't offer the sturdiness we require to slip through each braid stitch.
I know a lot of people who are pleased as punch with the metal pintail combs. And overall, I love them, too. However, I've found that unless I take the time to clip or pin the hair that's already been removed away from the comb, it can get caught in the teeth while trying to remove another braid. Perhaps I'm just lazy, but because it already takes a lot of time to remove braids, I prefer to use something that doesn't require any additional steps to get the job done.
My personal favourite tool is the darning needle. It's got the same dull edge that you find on the tip of a pintail comb, but without the teeth of the comb attached. Further, it's small enough to tuck into my hand so that I can use my fingers to further remove braids, without having to put it down or get it caught in her hair.
We never remove braids on dry hair. I prefer to have the hair loosened up with some slip, usually using a spray bottle mixture of distilled water and our favourite leave-in conditioner.
Before doing anything, I will spray Boo's head all over and let it sit for a while. This is to let the conditioner and water work its way into the hair. How long this takes is dependent upon the porosity of the hair with which you are working. For us, it's really no time at all.
Another tip that I do when removing braids is using a tiny dab of styling cream on the tips of the hair after adding the conditioning water. This keeps my ends from drying out or getting to puffy/fuzzy while I'm removing the whole braid. It's not a necessary step at all, but I've found that it does keep the ends from causing problems when I've worked through most of the braid. It keeps them from getting knotted around each other as the hair is constantly being twisted one way or the other during the braid-removal process.
I remove braids one stitch at a time. Depending on how fine the hair is, as well as the curl pattern, you may find that you can work your needle through two or three stitches without it tangling. Boo's hair is too curly for this and it will immediately tangle. So patience is absolutely key.
Unlike a lot of other people, I (usually) do not pull the needle all the way down the length of the hair when removing a stitch. I will loosen the braid just enough to let my fingers do the rest of the work.
As you can see below, the reason I like to use my fingers is because I will sometimes encounter a tangle or knot at the bottom and I don't want to rip through it with my needle. This is also why I do not use the teeth of the comb to comb out the ends. I can feel for these issues much better with my fingers, and taking the time to do it this way leads to no (or minimal) breakage for us.
You can see in the photo below how easily the darning needle is tucked into my hand while I work.
As with all aspects of hair care, note that these are the tips that work best for us. If you have a system that you use with which you are happy, stick with it. Frequently I get asked how we do this and, although it may be a little different than how others get the job done, we are really happy with our technique.
Overall, the best tip that I can give for removing small braids is to be patient and work as slowly as you need to, taking breaks if necessary. Rushing and frustration can lead to ripping and breaking the hair, something that might not seem like a big deal at the time when you just want to get the job done, but overall will result in damage with which you will likely be unhappy.
For video instructions please see: "Removing Small Braids How-To Video."