Hair Care 101: Begin with tender loving care!
By Stephanie Joseph Walker
Contrary to popular belief, your child’s hair does not have to be straight to be manageable. Many black women choose to chemically relax their daughters’ hair. Before many black girls reach puberty, they have had a chemical relaxer. This is a practice that has been going on for decades. Although chemical relaxers may make the hair more manageable for parents, it is important to know the dangers and long-term damage chemical relaxers can cause to a child’s hair. As parents we teach our children not to smoke, drink, tell them not to talk to strangers, childproof our homes, put monitors in their rooms so that we can respond to their every cry. So, why don’t we protect them from the harsh chemicals in relaxers? And by the way, don’t fool yourself into thinking this excludes texturizers. They are relaxers too!
A relaxer is composed of sodium hydroxide (NaOH), a very harsh chemical treatment; dangerous to adults and even more so to children. Even a no lye relaxer is still made of potassium hydroxide (KOH), a harsh chemical. It must be applied with gloves and often technicians wear masks for the damage that could be done to the skin and over time the fumes can cause damage to the lungs. This is not said to scare you, but to let you know that relaxer is serious business. Some relaxer brands have beautiful pictures of little girls that make you feel that a relaxer is harmless and innocent. But it is still a chemical treatment.
Children also have more sensitive skin than adults. The chemicals in the perms are more likely to damage their skin and hair. Think about the fact that a relaxer has to be applied with gloves; that doesn’t pass the laugh test. As you make the decision about your child’s hair, consider the fact that the ph level of your relaxer is equivalent to the toxic substance Drano.
With any chemical, if applied incorrectly you can have damage. Scabs in the scalp are not normal, although they are accepted as a common result of relaxer application.
Yes, styling black children’s hair can be a dilemma. The key is to use techniques and products that make the hair-care experience easier. It’s a learning process and if you don’t know, learn the techniques. Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Take your time whenever possible. Don’t save hair combing for the last minute, especially if you’re dealing with a child who doesn’t like to get his or her hair styled. Try to estimate how much time a style will take and then make sure you have time to do it so that you don’t have to hurriedly (and painfully) work through tangles. A patient hand when styling goes a long way toward keeping a grooming session pain-free.
- Use natural boar bristle brushes, wood, or quality plastic wide tooth combs to comb through your child’s hair. A wide tooth comb will prevent snagging the hair. When using these tools on young heads, take care not to pull on tangles or brush too vigorously. Always, begin combing at the bottom of the hair and work your way up toward the scalp. Use gentle strokes when brushing the hair. Even the softest bristles will make their way through natural hair to distribute oils.
- Do not shampoo the hair more than once a week unless the child is swimming in salt or chlorine water.
- Always use conditioner following each shampoo.
- After a shampoo, part the hair in large sections and twist or braid it for better manageability before the hair dries.
- Use a light natural oil, such as Olive or Coconut oil to moisturize the hair and scalp
- Tell your child that their hair is naturally beautiful and demonstrate this positive idea to them via your own hair choices. Children internalize much of what they hear. If they only hear that their hair is “bad” and unmanageable, that’s what they’ll believe. Try not to compare one child’s hair to another, especially if their textures are different and one seems “easier” to manage. Instead, find something positive to say about any type of hair, such as “it’s soft like cotton” or simply “it’s pretty.” When children learn to feel good about their hair, they may actually begin to look forward to getting it combed and brushed in a loving, gentle manner.
As parents, the future of your child’s hair is in your hands – literally! Remember: The decisions you make today, could have serious consequences later on. So choose wisely.
(model: Cassidy Wright. Stylist- Stacey “Hot Secret” Johnson. Photo by Jason Carrington)