Taking Care of African-American Hair: Seven Lessons This White Mama Has Learned Over the Years

I'm a work in progress, but here are a few tips to help get you started.

Jeanette Green July 17, 2015
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When our daughter was born and placed in our arms, she was the epitome of love, and I was smitten. While others became addicted to her newborn, angelic beauty, they were also very quick to remind me that I would need to learn how to take care of her African American hair that was very different from my own blond, fine, straight hair. Ooooobviously right? But the thing was, while I was busy just loving and holding and cuddling and oozing over her cuteness, I wish I had learned more about her gorgeous hair. Wouldn’t I figure it out slowly, like her sleeping and eating patterns? I actually thought I was ahead of the game because I looked up a website. AND I even talked to a few wiser black women in the store to get their suggestions. It was a good start…

Seven years later, I have slowly gained my own knowledge, though I’m eternally a work in progress. If you’re a white mom and have just fallen in love with your black child, do her a favor and read on. Kindly allow me to share what I’ve learned with my own patient daughter. (And also please note that some of these tips don’t just apply to “black hair,” but to curly hair in general.)

1. Hair is important. For many people, it’s the source of their self-esteem. This is very real and we need to understand that especially in African-American culture, hair is more than a topping on your head. It expresses style and personality, social status, and even political points of view. Don’t stress about it; just realize that hair has its value and needs to be taken care of. If you don’t worry too much about your own hair, that’s OK. Just channel that dormant hair energy into your daughter’s.

2. Start early. This is not one of those things that you should wait to figure out. When your baby is tiny and the hair is probably still soft, keep it moisturized with some simple coconut oil. It’s a great natural, nourishing oil for the hair. Now is also the appropriate time to research and ask questions.

3. Hair texture will change. Callie, who is 100% African-American, was born with soft, straight, jet-black hair. People were shocked when they found I hadn’t flown across the world to India to bring her home! Over the course of a year, that soft, straight hair changed. Curl entered the scene and things became different. Again, nothing to stress about, just good to know.

4. Figure out your own child’s hair type. Getting input is fantastic! I’m a believer in that whole “it takes a village” approach. I’m so grateful for friends and strangers who offered their help when I asked. These are women who KNOW because they’ve been there, done it, and are still doing it. So don’t underestimate their wisdom. However. Hoooowever. Please take their knowledge and assess if it’s right for YOUR child before you begin their hair care routine. I can’t tell you how much money I’ve spent on products people have recommended and then ended up tossing out because it didn’t work or made Callie’s hair feel like straw. Know your child’s hair type and find products for that hair type. (And remember what I said up there in number three: hair changes. So products may change as your baby grows older.) Black hair, just like blond hair, isn’t all the same, and so while other moms and grandmothers are well-intentioned and well-informed and may have some incredible advice, do your research before you just do what they suggest. It will save time, money, and that precious hair from unnecessary exposure to something that may hurt instead of help it. To learn more about hair texture, check here or here or here. Still can’t figure it out, or would like someone to just tell you? Go to a good hair salon that is known for cutting, styling, and treating ethnic hair. Go in, own your lack of knowledge, and humbly ask what hair type your child has. These hairdressers understand hair more than most and can give you some great tips.

5. Moisturize! Why? Natural oils on the head easily move down a straight strand of hair. But those same natural oils on a curly strand have a lot more surface area to cover. It’s too easy to allow my daughter’s hair to get dry and brittle. And yes, hair will break off if not adequately moisturized. Once you know your daughter’s hair type, you can find the right products that will trap moisture into the hair. Moisturizing morning and night is a part of our daily routine, and some days I wonder if even that is enough!

6. Protect! There are plenty of styles that protect the hair and trap in the moisture. This is particularly important during the dry winter months. Just Google “protective hair styles for African American children” and you’ll see many options. We prefer twists. But there are so many beautiful options. For styles and other great hair care tips, my favorite websites are Chocolate Hair/Vanilla Care, and Beads, Braids, and Beyond.

7.  Smile! Her hair may be different than yours, but it’s beautiful and has a story of its own. Smile and love that hair.

Let’s help each other out! What are great hair tips you’ve learned along the way?

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Jeanette Green

Jeanette Green is a mother to three beautiful children--two through the blessing of adoption. She is a firm believer that we never walk alone, the sun continues to shine even when we can’t feel its rays, and you can’t get sick from raw cookie dough. Various life experiences have taught her that life never turns out like we expect. But if we’re patient, we learn that it’s better that way. To learn more about Jeanette and her crew, visit The Green Piece


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