It would seem that my corner of the internet is awash in curly-haired kids with mamas who don’t quite know what to DO with all that. I wrote my buddy Temerity Jane a long email telling her how I handle my own curly hair, and I think it’s being forwarded around enough to merit a more public blog post. So, here you have it- Noemi’s Guide to Children With Curly Hair.
But first: Here is a picture of me, and my hair, so you can see that I have SOME idea what I am talking about.
(Ignore the deer in headlights look, I am not skilled in self-portraiture).
Disclaimer: this is loosely based on what I do for my own hair, and it’s what works for me. It might not work for you, but I’d be willing to bet it’ll set your kid’s hair on the right path, and that is the path away from dreadlocks and frizzy rat’s nests.
Disclaimer the Second: I do not do this for my own daughter’s hair. I probably should, but eh. Her hair looks OK as is:
First things first: Product. Look, do not be ashamed or concerned that your kid needs special product. If your kid had crazy dry skin (mine does), you’d go out and buy Cetaphil cream or whatever your pediatrician recommended, even if a tub costs $13, and you think that’s kind of expensive for lotion. For a baby. I mean, no one has ever DIED of dry skin, right? But I buy that stuff for her, and slather her with it after every bath, and I don’t feel any guilt at all. So why should hair products be any different? Your kid has gorgeous, awesome hair. You are going to get compliments on it everywhere you go. You will most likely reduce the amount of time you spend pulling tangles out of it, and when your kid gets old enough to know, he or she will be really happy with his or her gorgeous and healthy hair.
The products I’m going to talk about here run right around $12 for 8 ounces, but as short and as fine as your toddler’s hair is, that 8 ounces is going to last you a good long time. That said, there are all sorts of budgets out there, and maybe that’s out of reach for you. That’s ok- go to NaturallyCurly.com, and check out the forums. There are people there MAKING their own product for much cheaper, and if that sounds like a giant pain in the ass, click the CurlMart tab, and read reviews ALL DAY for all sorts of products at all sorts of price points.
Just do me and your kid’s hair a giant favor, and stay away (generally speaking) from drugstore brand hair products marked for curly hair. These may seem like they work at first, but they usually contain alcohols or silicones. While these might make hair look good and even curly in the short term, they’re not helping AT ALL in terms of the health of the hair or encouraging the hair’s own natural ability to curl. You know how, after a night of drinking, you’re really fucking thirsty? Alcohol dehydrates- and if 5 drinks can dehydrate a GROWN HUMAN, imagine what spraying it directly onto your baby’s fine hair is going to do to it. Check the label of whatever product you’re currently using to tame your kid’s hair- if it’s got alcohol in the first… I don’t know, let’s say 5 ingredients, toss it. Really. I’ll send you the $4.
Silicones are another popular ingredient in drugstore products- at first glance, they do, in fact, tame frizz. But silicones also coat the hair shaft, and your regular shampoo isn’t gonna get rid of it. Over time, this buildup weighs the hair down so much the curl is completely inhibited. This is why even women with straight hair need to do clarifying shampoos on occasion- all that buildup isn’t that great for their hair either. Toss those products too.
Ok, so what I think should work pretty well for short, fine, thin toddler hair are these two products:
Kinky Curly Come Clean Shampoo and Kinky Curly Knot Today Conditioner. Those links are to the Target website, only because these products are available there (I know for sure here in CA, in NC, AZ, and VA, so my guess is everywhere), but you can get the same ones from Kinky-Curly directly, or from Beauty.com.
I picked these products because they are easily available, I use them, they are truly curly hair specific, and they don’t contain a whole bunch of chemical shit you don’t want near your kid. They’re not “tear free” specifically, but there isn’t going to be giant chemical burn on your baby’s cornea if this does, perchance, get in her eye.
Ok, FINALLY, JESUS, GET TO THE POINT ALREADY:
Step 1: wash. Just like you already shampoo your kid’s hair. There’s no special way to shampoo. Unless your kid cakes dirt and worms in his hair on the regular, there’s no need to do this every day, or even every other day. Start with twice a week. Rinse it all out.
Step 2: condition. You’re gonna want to be kind of generous with the Knot Today. It rinses clean, so there’s not actually such a thing as “too much,” but it’s not the cheapest stuff on earth, either, so shoot for enough to get the hair nice and coated. The hair should feel slippery and silky in your hands. Once the hair is nice and coated, now is the time to detangle. A wide tooth comb works really well, but some kids with very tight curls need something more heavy duty- I say whatever works. The key is that the hair is well coated in conditioner and sopping wet.
Step 3: rinse. When you’re ready to rinse (lots of people, myself included, put the conditioner in right after shampooing, and leave it in until all done with every thing else involved in the shower), rinse 95% of the conditioner out. Obviously, there’s no Condition-o-meter, but the idea is you want the hair to still be soft and slightly slippery, not squeaky or rough.
Step 4: dry. So, you know how in the movies, the woman always exits the bathroom, wearing a fluffy white robe, and scrubbing the side of her head with a towel? DON’T DO THAT. Ideally, you should use a microfiber towel (you can spend $12 on one specifically designed for hair, or you can get twelve for the same price by shopping in automotive), but if you don’t have one, a terrycloth towel will do as well- it’s the technique that matters. Drape the towel over your kid’s head, and use a scrunching motion to get some water out. Same with a terrycloth towel- the thing you’re trying to avoid is scrubbing at the hair- this ruffles the cuticle and causes frizz. Seriously- be gentle. Better to leave more water than be too forceful with the drying.
Step 5: product. Use the same Knot Today. Rub a small amount in your palms and using the same scrunching motion, apply to the hair, concentrating on the ends. If your kid’s hair is long, it might be easier to have him flip his head forward and apply from the bottom, but if your kid wiggles like mine, this will be impossible. Do the best you can.
Step 6: dry. You have reached the easy part. Don’t dry. Seriously. I know, I know, your grandmother told you you’d catch cold if you walked outside with your hair wet. Newsflash: grandma; colds are caused by viruses, not wet hair. If you absolutely have to speed up the drying process, a diffuser set on the lowest “blow” setting and the highest heat your kid will tolerate. Place the diffuser near the scalp, hold it there as long as possible (I’m typing this knowing it’s virtually impossible with small children, so… just let it air dry).
If this is a whole new routine for you, stop there. Keep this routine up for a good two weeks, and see what’s going on with your kid’s hair. A curl pattern should start to emerge- the curls should last longer and there should be less frizz. It sounds like a lot, when it’s all written out like this, but once you get the hang of it, it’s a 5 minute out of the shower routine.
After two weeks, you should have a really good idea what your kid’s hair can do. Now you can fuss with the details to develop a routine that’s perfect for your kid’s individual hair and your particular lifestyle/routine.
Some final thoughts:
You notice the curls drooping or “falling out” by the end of the day: consider adding a hold element to your routine. I use Kinky-Curly Curling Custard (Jesus, hair product manufacturers, why can’t it just be called “gel”?)- it’s more liquid than typical gel, and slip slides without getting sticky. A tiny amount applied to the lower parts of the hair using that same scrunching motion should help (you might have to “scrunch out the crunch” as the hair dries- but it won’t look weird if you don’t).
Your kid bathes at night and looks a mess in the morning: I have heard, but have not seen in action, that satin pillowcases can be helpful- my kid doesn’t even HAVE a pillow, so I don’t know how practical this is. A better way to approach this problem is to “refresh” the curls. Now, everyone will sell you a spray that purports to do this, including Kinky-Curly (Spiral Spritz), but you don’t need that. You need a spray bottle, preferably one with a mist option, and you need some water. Spritz this all over that bedhead, and let it air dry. See what happens. If you think you need more “oomph,” add a little bit of Knot Today in with your water, just enough to make the mixture slippery. Spritz that on, and air dry. See what happens. You’re OF COURSE welcome to buy the branded product, but try something simpler first.
Weather: if you live somewhere where it is currently cold and dry, there’s only so much these products can do. Curly hair is gonna react just like skin does in winter; it’s gonna get dry, and this can make keeping the curl in harder. If you’re seeing improvement using this routine, keep it up until the weather changes- it certainly isn’t going to hurt.
Some other product lines, off the top of my head:
Once you get the idea, you can explore other products, but the technique is pretty much going to stay the same.
Resources: this all started with a book called the Curly Girl Handbook. I ran across an earlier version at the library twelve years ago, and I changed all my products and my hair care routine.
YouTube: since I can’t come to your house and show you, harness the power of the internet. Type “kinky curly knot today” into the YouTube search bar and take your pick of approximately one billion videos showing you how to use it.
NaturallyCurly.com: it’s not the best website I’ve ever seen, and the forums can be clunky, but there’s good information there- parents with curly kids, making your own products, every curly hair product under the sun reviewed, etc.
MY LORD, if you made it this far, I offer you a medal. I’d love to hear about what works for your kid in the comments or by email, and ask me whatever. Clearly, I love to talk.