How to Care for a Black Child’s Hair in Three Easy Steps

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Black hair

A few months ago, I mentioned that my friend Michelle, who’s white, was planning to adopt and, because she’s been open to getting a baby of any race and the system is gorged with black children, particularly in the D.C. area, the chances of her having an interracial adoption were pretty high. Fast forward to the week before last. She was beaming when I saw her.

“Guess what?” she grinned. “We got a baby!” We hugged. We cried. We squealed. We threw together a list of necessities and started a registry for the rest. Even though I used to be completely opposed to interracial adoption, I was thrilled for my pal.

After I gave her a little time to bask in her new mommyhood, we chatted about the transition for her and her hubby. “Dave’s a little disappointed. He was expecting the baby to have an Afro,” she joked, “but his hair is really fine and straight.”

“Oh, that’ll change. Trust me,” I assured her. 

For the first few months, most black babies have this unassuming, wispy stuff on their heads that looks nothing like the tresses they’ll be working with for the rest of their days. That’s not to say that all of us have the same grade of hair. We don’t. I think folks outside of African America think our hair comes in one brand: nappy. In conversations with non-black folks, including my dear Michelle, I’ve seen the surprise at the variety of differences.

The range of hair textures is another one of the beautiful spectrums in our community, just like the assortment of our brown complexions that go from toasted vanilla to coffee bean. But you don’t have to comb color, so that makes one issue a little more — shall we say, interactive? — than the other.

Love may be blind, but hair care is not. I’ve had white folks come up to me with bewildered expressions on their faces and black babies by their side, asking me for suggestions on how to maintain their little one’s mane. Know this: the same tools and products you use on your hair are more than likely not going to be received well by the child’s. In fact, you might make their hair angry if you even try.

Taking your child to an African-American hair salon may be an easy option, but that can get expensive. (Trust me, I know. Two girls in the Harris household means two heads to get done and two stylists to pay, which usually means too much money.) So to all of my other friends out there in Readership Land who have an adopted black, biracial, or Afro-Latino child, or are in the process of opening your home to one, here are a few insider tips:

Black hair doesn’t receive frequent washing very well. Oils weight white hair down and make it greasy-looking but our hair, which is much more susceptible to being dry and therefore prone to damage and breakage, needs that build-up of natural oils. I wash my and my daughter’s hair every two weeks, but depending on the child’s level of activity and sweatiness, you may want to make it weekly. Just not daily. 

Walking into a beauty supply store may overwhelm you. Heck, it overwhelms me sometimes and I am black. Although there are literally thousands of products for our hair, which is big, big business, these are three tried-and-tested fail safes to help you avoid buying a whole bunch of crap you really don’t need: the Mixed Chicks line works wonders, Hair Milk from Carol’s Daughter is a godsend, and Luster’s Pink Oil Moisturizer is a miracle-maker. My mother used it on my hair when I was coming up and I used it on Girl Child until she grew dreadlocks. Rub a quarter-size amount in the palm of your hands, smooth over their hair, and brush through. Magic. 

Braids and twists not only keep little black girls’ hair under control, they protect it from wind and sun, which are also drying. Your straight-haired white or Asian child may be able to rock her hair out but it’s in the best interest to keep your black daughter’s hair tucked away and accented with cute barrettes or bows to snazz it up. On the other hand, black boys’ hair can’t be cut against the growth pattern. A trip to a black barber or one knowledgeable about black hair is almost a must, just to avoid the possibility of the child coming out looking like a spotted leopard.

Black moms, do you have any haircare tips to offer?

Image via stevendepolo/Flickr

boys, girls, racial issues

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Domon... DomoniqueWS

My one tip to women who have girls, African American, black, girls DO NOT, and I repeat, DO NOT put a relaxer in their hair or any type of perm.  The stuff is mande from the same ingredients that chemical hair removers are made of, not safe. In their mid life those chemically disastrous mistakes from child hood will leave that woman bald or balding.  Or her hairline will be jacked.  


Keep it natural, there are so many black products that are natural and free of alcohol, which is drying.


I am black and white, so I don't know what really coarse hair is like because I got a mix of my moms long wavy hair and my dads long creole curly hair, so hair care for me was different.


Washing every 2 weeks is not an option, I get dandruff if I wait that long, braids are painful for me, and my hair can be easily tamed and looking beautiful with some Johnsons Baby oil Gel.  yes BABY OIL GEL, its my secret :) now revealed

Bmat Bmat

I'm not African-American, but I enjoyed reading the blog all the same. I didn't know about the different textures and suggestions.

colin... colins_mom

I'm a white girl with crazy coarse, dry hair. My mom has an amazing friend who also happens to be an african american hair dresser. I love this woman. She told my mom to use pink oil in my hair and to not wash it every day. Even now as an adult I wash my hair only once every 3-4 days because if I wash any more than that it becomes a frizzy, uncontrollable mess lol.

nonmember avatar kay

I'm a black mom with both a son and daughter. For me, caring for and braiding my daughter's hair is almost like a rite of passage, as is cutting my son's hair or taking him to the barber shop is for my husband. There is a white woman at my daughter's dance school with a black daughter (and I don't mean mixed) with a grade of hair that's even kinkier than my own. We sometime chat about things she can do but she looked so terrified that the myself and the other moms just offered help to her. Now, once a week she just hangs out a one of our homes for an hour or so while we braid up her daughter's hair along with our own. Its a nice mommy-bonding moment.

Also, I agree with the other poster. Ask for help, go lookup tips on youtube, take the babies to the hairdresser, let them rock a fro' or even dreadlocks but PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do not relax or perm your children's hair!! It creates a horrible cycle of chemical dependency.

3gift... 3gifts.from.god

This blog has SO much good information, and video tutorials on hair care for children: http://www.keepmecurly.com/ 


I keep my daughter's hair natural, and rarely let it "run free" (as my DD calls it). There have been a couple times for church I have allowed her to show off her incredible afro: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JbN7AV96Opk Little girls need to learn to love their natural hair. I have been told SO many times that I HAVE to relax their hair for it to "look right." I know that way of thinking is wrong, and now my girls know too. Don't fall into that trap. Relaxers are NOT necessary.


Every head of hair is different. I spent a lot of time trying different products to figure out what works best on my dds' and my son's hair. All three of them use different products now.


Pay for the Sally Beauty Supply card. It's worth every penny. It really is!


Learning to braid takes practice. A lot of practice. Put in the time, it will be worth it in the end. 


Take pictures of the different styles. They are a lot of fun to look back on later.


 

Stacey. Stacey.

The pink oil is amazing! My baby is mixed and she has super tight ringlets. I only wash it about once a week but I have to comb it everyday or it gets tangled. Pink oil is really the only thing that helps, watch out too for hair products that are flammable!

nonmember avatar Sara

Thank you as clueless white woman I have twin girls. My husband is puerto rican/cuban. So one of our twins has a giant head of ringletts. Is there a shampoo anyone can suggest for her shes almost two.

Momma... Momma2blessed

My issue is finding something without fragrance for my daughters ringlets (she's mixed as I am half Asian half white and hubs is black). I have skin allergies to anything with synthetic fragrances which severely limits our options! I don't want to break out into a rash everytime I cuddle with my baby girl!



The products listed in the article were suggested by friends but cause me to get rashly. Isn't there anything more natural out there that works? Its a struggle!

Snark... Snarkymom

I have fine, soft hair, so I have to wash more often, especially since I also workout (2-3 times weekly).  Sweat and dirt are super damaging combined with heat.  Make sure they wear something on their heads at night like a satiny cap that fit securely or a pillow case.  Because black hair is more fragile, the friction of hair while sleeping can dry and damage hair.  Wearing hair off the neck occasionally is important because collars of coats can cause breakage too


And please, get your child's hair trimmed regularly. Many black women are scared to cut their hair because it takes so long to gain length.  However, unhealthy hair does not grow and those split ends need to be trimmed off. 

nonmember avatar glassxballerina

"Even though I used to be completely opposed to interracial adoption, I was thrilled for my pal."

People are people, and kids are kids - skin color shouldn't matter.

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