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Hair Rules!

by Joanna Yeung

Whether your child’s hair is like yours or not, African, Asian, and Hispanic hair each have particular qualities. In learning to care for and style your child’s hair, you are committing an act of love. And hair care presents a wonderful opportunity to bond with your child. As one AF reader says, “Embrace your child’s hair and enjoy the process.”

Jump to: Asian hair | Hispanic hair


African hair: the mane event
Without daily moisturizing, African hair can become brittle and break easily. It ranges from tiny, tight curls to thick waves, and should be styled accordingly. Experts recommend low-stress, natural styles that require infrequent handling (braids or cornrows), gentle shampooing, and frequent moisturizing with hair oils.

Most experts recommend washing once a week, or every other week. After shampooing, comb the hair in sections, using a large, wide-tooth comb, and a leave-in treatment, if needed, to work through tangles. The process usually takes an hour or longer. Some parents use a combination of products—curl relaxer, detangler, conditioner—to comb through the hair. Others opt for products containing plant-based ingredients, like jojoba oil and shea butter (go to and Every child’s hair will vary, so you’ll probably need to try several different products to see what works best.

“My daughter, Amelia, is biracial, and has hair in red ringlets that go down to her mid-back. To care for her curls, I switched from a regular baby wash to products meant for African-American hair, but those were too heavy,” says Carly Kidd, of Richfield, Minnesota.

Kidd eventually found the answer in Curly Q’s ( ), a product for biracial/multi-ethnic hair. “It provides the moisture my daughter’s curls need, yet it isn’t so heavy that it weighs her hair down. We now have regular ‘hair appointments’ each week.”

Sound styling
Learning to style African hair is a process of trial and error. It can evolve over months or years, and will require—of nearly every parent—patience, practice, and a willingness to ask questions. “The first time I put bows in my daughter’s hair, I was so excited I nearly cried. Now I love doing her hair, and I can’t wait to braid it when it gets long enough,” says Debbie, of Euless, Texas, mom to 15-month-old Isabel. She suggests searching YouTube for how-to videos, and tells parents, “Do your own research, ask for advice, and add that to what you learned on your own.”

For many families, the introduction to caring for African hair comes at a class taught by their agency or by fellow parents. “My son, Micah, was born with a lot of hair, so I had to figure it out pretty quickly. A local salon held a Curly Hair Workshop and taught us the basics, as well as braiding and twists,” says Karen Byron, of Marblehead, Massachusetts.

For boys who decide not to grow their hair out, an AF reader had this rule of thumb: “Keep it short and simple—ask the barber for a short cut fade.” Remember: Boys with short “wash and go” locks still need daily brushing and conditioning. Sherri Gragg, mom of five, suggests purchasing a set of electric clippers to keep the edges of your son’s hair neat in between trips to the barber.

If your child can’t keep from wiggling, choose a style that’s a cinch to maintain, for now. Angela King, of Garland, Texas, went no-frills when her girls were young: “Until their hair took some form, I slicked it down with baby oil and stuck a bow or headband on.”

Take advantage of opportunities to ask for tips, product names, and styling directions when you see a great African-American hairstyle. Jo Dawson, of Juneau, Alaska, the parent to four-year-old Hannah, credits a girlfriend with suggesting a weekly routine that’s stuck. “I do my daughter’s hair once a week. At first Hannah’s twists were thick and weak, but, each week, I’d start over until, finally, things meshed. It’s been two years since I started this routine, and I’m proud of my daughter’s hair!”

PLUS: AF Reader Stories

My Hot Rollers, My Daughter, Myself by Patti Ghezzi
"Since seventh grade, I have indulged in the great Southern women's ritual of forcing my hair to do things it doesn't want to do. In Jackson, Mississippi,...."

Black, White, and the Cornrow in Between by Sherri Gragg
"Come on baby," I call. "It's time to do your hair." My daughter scurries off to find toys while I gather the tools of the trade: wide-tooth comb,...."


Asian hair: the mane event
Asian hair ranges from thick and coarse to fine and silky, and is often dry. If your child has baby-fine hair, a light conditioner (VO5 or Suave Naturals) can keep it moisturized without making it limp. Dry hair needs more conditioning, to prevent dullness, tangling, and breakage (broken strands are common in longer hair). While some deep conditioners leave a residue, they’re a must for any child whose hair is brittle and dry. “My five-year-old daughter, Maya, has very dry hair,” says AF reader Samantha Teter, of Huntertown, Indiana, who adopted from China. “Lately, I’ve been using a silk protein lotion. It sometimes make her hair look more greasy than shiny, but it controls flyaways.” Try Pantene Always Smooth or Kerastase protein conditioner.


(From top) Isabel (1),
Amelia (4), and Maya (5)

Less is more when it comes to your child’s hair care routine, says Maryellen, mom to an eight-year-old adopted from India. “My daughter has thick, curly hair. We wash it once a week and use conditioner to comb through it. On a daily basis, we try to keep the style simple, with no fuss. A manageable length helps, as well.”

Because your child’s hair is very porous, it absorbs moisture easily and needs shampooing no more often than every other day. Think twice if your older child wants to perm or color. Lightening the hair color is always harsher to the hair than darkening the color, and harsh chemical processing, like bleaching, can roughen the cuticle, causing a hay-like texture, particularly in hair that was already dry or damaged.

Sound styling
It takes work to find styles that look good—and stay put. That’s because Asian hair is almost always smooth and pin-straight, so a lot of hairstyles literally fall flat. Small pins or barrettes, for instance, can slide off sleek strands, while a thick mane tucked into a bun with hair sticks may unravel before breakfast. Experiment with styles, gels, hairsprays, and accessories. What works for one child may not work for another.

Whatever your child’s hair type, it’s always a good idea to stick to an everyday look that requires minimal upkeep and won’t cause damage by stretching the hair or pulling at the roots. One AF reader, whose daughter, Eve, was adopted from Vietnam, says, “We make little pigtails using small, black rubber bands. They stay in.”

Many kids like to wear their hair down or pulled back with a headband (choose one with flexible teeth or interior lining, for grip). To hold hair back, try large jaw clips and elastic ponytail holders that are metal-free, to minimize breakage.

For occasions (or gymnastics meets) that call for a neat hairdo, choose anti-frizz products, like Kiehl’s Silk-Straightening Cream. “My three-year-old, Xiu Mei, has hair that is so fine and silky, strands fall out of the barrettes and onto her face,” explains Kathy, of Idaho. Her solution is to start with mousse (she likes Aveda) as she creates a hairstyle, and finish with hairspray. Kathy reports, “Now that I have found a method to keep any style in place, I love doing different styles on her hair.”


Hispanic hair: the mane event
Hispanic hair varies from fine, straight, and silky to coarser, bushy hair that can go untamed with even a little humidity. While your child’s hair is probably thick and rich in color, hair that is curly or kinky needs constant care to prevent dryness and frizz. “Our daughter, Grace, is from Guatemala. She has a very full head of hair,” says Terrill, of Ohio. “I have tried every hair care product to keep her hair in place. Without anything in it, it looks pretty wild!”

While there aren’t many hair care products made specifically for Latinos, many parents use products available at beauty supply stores, and those designed for African-American and multiracial children (check out Lyn, a parent from Virginia, whose nine-year-old daughter is Mexican, African American, and Caucasian, says she’s found good products in the ethnic hair care aisle, but cautions, “Avoid products that contain alcohol, since that can make a dry scalp drier.”

Try Biosilk or Paul Mitchell for moisturizing coarse hair, especially during humid summer months. Lyn says her daughter’s extremely curly, long hair has specific needs throughout the year. “In the winter, I wash her hair weekly, using a leave-in detangler, and follow up with a light leave-in conditioner. In the summer, I shampoo twice weekly.” Leave-in treatments are generally a good idea—unless your child’s hair is very fine (too much moisture will weigh it down). “The key to hair success for my daughter is conditioner, conditioner, conditioner!” says Melanie, of Missouri.

Sound styling
For many Latino children, hair styling options are virtually limitless—as long as you can figure out ways to keep the strands in place. To maintain her daughter’s natural curl, says Terrill, “I have come to rely on a spray bottle filled with water—a few spritzes each morning help to brush it out. Then I run gel through her hair. I put a ribbon in, and it stays together almost all day!”

Take the time to work with, rather than change, your child’s natural texture. Rough handling—straightening curls with a chemical treatment or curling a straight/wavy mane with a blow dryer—can lead to dullness and breakage, even if the hair is styled infrequently. (Many AF readers recommend as a resource for girls with curls.)

If you have an older child who wants to wear her hair in one particular style every day, go to a multicultural salon and ask for a consultation. A professional can show you how to achieve the look, while minimizing heat damage.

JOANNA YEUNG is the assistant editor of Adoptive Families.

Ask questions and trade hair care tips in the Transracial Families group on AdoptiveFamiliesCircle

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