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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Learning to Care for Your Child's (African) Hair

I readily admit that when we first adopted our sons from Ethiopia, I didn't know very much about caring for their hair.  I had read a few things here and there - but since we weren't adopting little girls, I didn't pay too much attention. 

I knew that taking care of african hair was different than taking care of my hair, and that instead of washing it regularly, I should only wash their hair once a week or so.  (Our hair needs to be washed regulary to keep it from looking oily, whereas that same oil is needed in african hair to keep the curls form drying out and breaking.)  Since both of the boys' hair was kept shaved at the orphanage (because of lice), we really didn't yet know what their hair was like once it would grow.  So I expected to learn as we went ... and we did.

Here's what I have learned over the past two years ...

Our sons have very different hair.  Jayden has a tighter curl that dries out very quickly.  I have tried twists in the past, but he prefers his hair cut short (and I agree with him, it looks best that way) - which I do at home whenever it starts to look too long. 

I use a Wahl shaver, set at either 1/8" or 3/16", whichever we prefer at the time.  Before I shave it, I spritz it with water and run a brush or comb through it so that the shaver does not pull his hair.  To get a good clean cut - I run the shaver front-to-back, then ear-to-ear and then diagonally across his head.  Running my hand across his head between cuts to "fluff" up any stray hairs and make sure they all get cut. 

His hair care routine is this:  Wash with shampoo once a week.  Spritz with water each morning and then rub a leave-in conditioner into his hair and head to keep it moisturized.  We use TresEmme Curl Moisturizing Conditioner.  It's light (very inexpensive) and leave's no oily look or feel afterward.  Pillows and chairs don't show any residue when they come into contact with it. 

Just for fun - Jayden likes me to cut designs into his hair.  I don't plan anything - I just start cutting and we end up with a different design each time.  Maybe next time when he's not looking, I'll give him a paisley design! :)

Wesley's hair is completely different, it's a looser curl and holds moisture longer.  I cut his hair for the first time today - and I decided to cut it myself rather than let anyone else tug on those cute curls.  (I have zero experience cutting hair but I was willing to give it a try and I think it turned out great!)  Wesley has been home with us since December 2008 and he got his first ever haircut TODAY (over 2 years later!).

When Wesley's hair was shorter, I used to try to moisturize it and then comb/pick through it every day (in order to keep the curls from getting matted and tangled).  It was only after I went back to Ethiopia for 10 days that I discovered that his hair faired better WITHOUT regular combing.  I was gone for 10 days and when I came back home, Wesley's hair was in all these wonderful, tight coils, and in surprise, I asked Jay what he had done to get his hair to do that.  His answer ... "Nothing."

So after much trial and error, here's Wesley's hair care routine:  Wash with conditioner only, once a week.  I never use shampoo on his hair, it strips it of moisture and dries it out too much.  I use the same Pantene conditioner (in the shower) that I use on my hair, to wash his hair.  (This is often referred to as "co-washing" or washing with conditioner).  When Wesley sleeps, his hair gets flattened and crushed on whatever side he slept.  (The girls affectionately call him "Flounder" in the morning because one side or the other is completely flat.) 

Each morning, I spritz his hair with water, and then rub my hands with leave-in conditioner (TresEmme Curl Moisturizing Conditioner), and then pat it on top of his hair. 

I then gently but quickly pull strands of his hair through my fingers to coat his ringlets with conditioner. This also fluffs his hair and pulls out the flat spots. With him too - our main leave-in conditioner is TresEmme Curl Moisturizing, and we go through A LOT of it. I use about 2 large squirts in the palm of my hand each morning.

Another adoptive mom, Mel Harpold, recently told me about Shea Moisture products in the African American hair section at Walgreens.  Watch the ad circulars because they occassionally offer this as a bogo (buy one get one) which is a great deal.

I used the Deep Treatment Masque to deeply condition Wesley's hair before I cut it.  It enabled me to get a brush though his hair so I could cut it.  The Curl Enhancing Smoothie worked well to scrunch the curls back in after combing through them.

But what I have really come to like is the two products shown on the right - the Curl & Style Milk and the Hold & Shine Moisture Mist.  These 2 products work great for every day - they are not oily and they smell great.  But they are expensive compared to the TresEmme conditioner.

Pictured above is what I use for every-day care.  The spritzer with water, the leave-in conditioner and the paddle brush that gets used only on the ends of his hair on the rare occasion when I need to comb through a tangled or matted curl.

The photos below are from the past 2 years.  I wanted to look back to see the change in his hair and thought you might enjoy these photos too.

 This photo was taken in Ethiopia the first day we ever met Wesley, just over 2 years ago.

A few months later as his hair started to grow longer.

 Wesley's hair last summer, with long, loose ringlet curls after swimming.

 Wesley's curls about a month ago, starting to get heavy and needing a cut.

Wesley's curls after I cut his hair (this morning) for the first time in 28 months! :)


Kim said...

They are both such handsome boys!!

I might have to try out some of those curl products on my BLONDIE, lol! I am always on the look out for new products for her curls :O). I usually just let her hair be a big "fro" at home, and I spray it with conditioner/water so the curls tighten up when we go out.

Jodes and Boz said...

Great job on the cut!! Like you, i haven't really paid too close attention to hair care. Mainly b/c we're adopting a boy and didn't think it'd apply ~ not too much anyway. But I already printed this out and will keep it handy for when we arrive home! Thanks!!

STEVEN said...

Though I have limited application for your tips ;) I just wanted to say that reiterate that your boys are.. very handsome and seem to be the picture of happiness. I also wanted to say that you have a true gift in your photography skills. It's obvious that it is a passion and you put it to great use. Your family will thank you in the future, though I imagine that they may seem less than enthusiastic at times now and then. Take care.

The Davidsons said...

Karen - I'm trying to catch up on my favorite blogs that I've fallen behind on in the past few weeks. Thanks so much for this post!! I love the detailed advice!! Robyn

pmalleca said...

Had to tell you we started using the shea moisture 1 month ago on Milly and her hair has made a complete turn around!!!! Thank you a million for this post!!!!!