If you haven’t washed your hair in a few days, you may well know that ponytails are a great way to hide greasy roots. As far as hairstyles go, a simple ponytail is just about as easy as it gets. But if you’re feeling a little meh on the standard rendition of the look (or are trying to transform your sweaty gym pony into something that’s socially acceptable to wear out in public), it’s time to acquaint yourself with bubble braids.
Think of a bubble braid as your ponytail’s fancier cousin. The look is just as simple to create, but will trick people into thinking you actually spent time doing your hair. The secret is that bubble braids aren’t actually braids at all. “Bubble braids became popular during quarantine and spread on social media because people were looking for quick easy hairstyles for their Zoom calls,” says Ryan Richman, a celebrity hairstylist based in Los Angeles. “Bubble braids are significantly easier to do on yourself than a braid.”
Whether you want to fool people into thinking you washed your hair this week—or are just looking to mix up your look for your daily walk outside—keep reading for exactly what you need to know to try the look out for yourself.
What are bubble braids?
Unlike regular braids, which require you to weave your hair into intricate styles, bubble braids allow you to fake the look using nothing more than a few elastics. “A bubble braid is one or more ponytails that are tied with hair ties continuously down the ponytail, with about an inch or two of space in between them,” says Richman. “As you secure each section with an elastic, you can spread the hair gently with your fingertips between the two elastics causing a bubble effect.”
The great thing about bubble braids is that there’s really no limit to what you can do with them. “They have many variations: They can be sleek or textured and placed high or low on the back of your head, or you can also do multiple bubble braids to look more like pigtails,” says Richman. What’s more, they’re easy to achieve on any hair type. If you’ve got naturally smooth or straight strands, the process should be totally seamless. If you’ve got wavy or curly hair, you can smooth hair out with a blowout before trying out the style, or embrace your texture and let it air dry and work with your natural texture.
How to create bubble braids
1. Prep your strands
“Beginning a bubble braid is all about prepping the hair properly,” says Nick Stenson, the artistic director at Matrix. To prime your hair with a proper grip, he recommends using a finishing spray, like Matrix Total Results Miss Mess Dry Finishing Spray. ($18). If you want a more streamlined-looking bubble braid, Richman suggests starting out by blow drying your hair with a round brush and a styling cream, like Monat Studio One Blow Out Cream ($34). If you’re looking to embrace your natural texture, simply let your hair air dry before moving on to the next step.
2. Tie your hair up into a ponytail
After years of ponytail practice, you’ve likely already got this part down pat. Decide whether you want a high, medium, or low-set bubble braid, and secure your hair with an elastic wherever you want the style to start. If you want to add a little bit of length to your look, you can wrap some extensions in with your natural hair.
3. Space your elastics
“Continue to use elastics spaced down the ponytail until you reach the end,” says Richman. “As you tie each section use your fingertips to gently spread the hair apart creating a soft round bubble.” If you’ve got long hair, he recommends leaving about two inches between each elastic, and if your hair is shorter, he suggests placing them closer together. Really, though, it’s up to you, and you can play around with the spacing until you find the right-sized bubble. For a more elevated look, you can hide the elastics by wrapping them with a few strands of hair and securing it underneath with a bobby pin.
4. Add a little grit
The key to getting your bubble braids to stay put is to add a little grit with a holding product, like Rahua’s Defining Hair Spray ($43). Richman notes that this will help shield against frizz, static, and wind, and will keep your style in place for hours on end. Et voila: You’re red carpet—or at the very least, Zoom screen—ready, no lather and rinse required.
Looking to re-up your haircare routine? Check out the video below for exactly how to do it based on your texture.