I recently got lost in a quagmire of informative sites, forums, and blogs devoted to the topic of curly hair (here’s but one example of the genre). Here and there, I noticed that every now and then in this (surprisingly voluminous) tract of curly discussion, a straight-haired mother would rear her (smooth, shiny, un-frizzy) head asking questions about how to care for her children’s curly hair. These were women who didn’t have a a curly-headed gene to their name but had somehow, poor things, managed to spawn a lil’ moptop.
I have rampantly curly hair. And my daughter’s hair is increasingly a frickin’ clone of my own, in terms of structure, colour, texture, frizziness and pigheaded stubbornness. I thought that, for the benefit of any mama out there bringing up a little Taylor Swift, a little Adrian Grenier, or, god forbid, perhaps even a little Kenny G, I’d share some wisdom based on 31 years of personal experience.
The best guiding principle I’ve heard about caring for curly hair is to think of it as requiring the “delicates” cycle. Straight-haired people, lucky bastards, get to chuck their hair in the ordinary old everyday wash. We curlies need to take more care, and similar principles apply: not too much heat, not too many chemicals, and the less handling, the better.
Here are my eight tips for caring for your kidlet’s curly hair:
- Don’t brush it, ever.
- Don’t use a hair-dryer on it, ever.
- If you MUST brush it (and the only time that’s permitted is when dreadlocks have developed or are imminent) brush it with your fingers while it’s wet. If that ain’t working (ie, you’ve got, like, a baby Captain Jack Sparrow on your hands), brush it with a good sturdy brush, while it’s wet. NEVER brush it dry, unless you think a dandelion is a great model for a human head to aspire to.
- It will look fluffy and dry (read: hideous) after being washed and potentially for days after that; commercial shampoo strips it of its natural oils. Newsflash: you don’t actually need to wash a child’s hair (even if it’s straight) with shampoo; it’s fine to just wet it, to rinse out the sand or the food or whatever else has found its way in there.
- This won’t be appropriate for babies, because it involves a bit of time and patience, but let me tell you about my own routine for washing my hair. I don’t like to use shampoo at all: after years of experimentation I’ve found that the best thing that works for me is a weekly 20-minute mask of egg yolk, olive oil and honey in equal proportions. That’s gonna sound either crazy crunchy (if you’re not very crunchy yourself) or needlessly smug (if you already have crunchy tendencies), but it’s the truth. It doesn’t smell as pleasantly of the salon as Pantene does, but it works. If I’m lacking time I’ll run conditioner through it instead, just to feel like I’m doing something to combat the constant threat of brittle dryness curly hair faces.
- The best way to accentuate curls and to minimise frizz is to wet the hair, preferably in cold water, and leave it. Don’t even towel it dry: let the sun do the job. I give my own hair a blast of cold water just before I get out of the shower and then leave it to dry naturally, with a towel around my shoulders to catch the drips. For Miss Bee, I wet my hands with cold water and pat the water on to her head, picking out stray curls here and there with my fingers: this is enough to define them and somewhat tame them.
- Plaits (normal, French, fishtail, you name it) will look terrible in curly hair. Fringes are also a no-go; ponytails often are. The best thing you can do is always just to keep your hands off it and let it speak for itself (if it could speak it would probably have one of those really loud nasal voices with a wicked New York Jewish accent, like Fran Drescher — “Oh Mr SHEF-field!”).
- Find a hairdresser you absolutely trust to cut it, and never ever let them leave the city, emigrate, change careers, or die.
Good luck, straight-haired comrades!