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As a Black mom of an Afro-Latina daughter, I’d be lying if I said my child’s hair was a breeze. There are definitely times when I cry inside before steeling my spine and kicking off a good detangling session.
See, my little Tay-Tay has a head full of gorgeous, inky-black corkscrew curls. On the hair typing scale, she’s a 3B, which puts her literally in the middle between my husband (2B), who’s Puerto Rican, and me (4A/B). So in theory, her hair should be easy to manage since I’m well versed in working with my kinky, curly hair, right?
But it’s not. Tay-Tay loves to use her head like a mop and roll around on the ground — ah the joys of toddlerhood — and she does this multiple times a day. Every time I detangle said mop, I turn around to find dust balls, food, or even snot in her hair (that last one is always fun to discover).
So, most of the time, my girl rocks a top knot. Because as much as I love her curly hair, I dislike having to spend 30 to 45 minutes detangling it while she whines and fights.
For parents who aren’t used to working with curly hair (say, a white parent with a mixed-race child), it can be intimidating — especially if you’re someone with straight hair who has never had to wonder about things like porosity or moisture retention.
Let’s start by saying there’s no one “biracial” hair type. There’s also no guarantee that just because one of a child’s parents has Black ancestry that their hair will be wavy or curly.
Likewise, the hair your child has as an infant can change as they grow older. My daughter was born with a head full of stick-straight hair and by the time she was 6 to 8 months old, the curls started to form.
Regardless of what it looks or feels like, as a parent or caregiver it’s going to be your responsibility to learn how to properly care for your child’s hair — not only so that it looks good, but so that you can teach them how to care for (and love) their tresses as well.
Breaking down hair types
Understanding your child’s curl pattern can give you a better idea of what types of styling tools or products you should prioritize when you walk down a hair care aisle. To start, you’ll need to figure out your child’s hair type.
Thanks to a typing system designed by Andre Walker (Oprah’s longtime stylist!), we can break hair textures down into four main categories.
- type 1 = exclusively straight hair
- type 2 = wavy hair
- type 3 = curly hair
- type 4 = coily hair
Within types 2, 3, and 4, each general category is further broken down into subcategories labeled from A to C (i.e. 2A, 2B, 2C).
With curly hair, you’ll always want to focus on moisture-loving ingredients and avoid anything that’s going to dry out or weigh the hair down.
A good starting point is to ask people you know with a similar hair type, like a relative or friend, for recommendations.
In general, look for products that include:
- natural butters, like shea butter, cocoa butter, and mango butter
- oils like coconut oil, jojoba oil, sunflower oil, and even argan (or Moroccan) oil
- water or even aloe vera juice for moisture retention
- proteins such as silk or wheat protein for damage repair
Avoid alcohol-based products as these will dry out your child’s hair and may even encourage frizz.
If you fall down the digital rabbit hole and decide to employ the Curly Girl Method, then you’ll also want to stay away from shampoos and avoid conditioners that contain sulfates, phthalates, silicone, harsh chemicals, or fragrances.
With all of the above in mind, I’ve rounded up a list of great hair care products that are perfect for curly heads. These products are gentle, great for use with children — especially wriggly babies and toddlers — and rely on moisture-loving ingredients.
More importantly, they’re road-tested and parent-approved — including by me!
- $ = under $15
- $$ = $15–$30
- $$$ = over $30
Best for detangling
While dry brushing is never recommended, curlies everywhere agree that during a damp or wet detangling session, the right brush can cut your time in half. This detangling brush is a flexible bristle, open-slot brush that has plenty of give. And the non-slip grip handle is perfect when working with hair that’s thoroughly saturated in detangler or conditioner.
The bonus is that it won’t snag in your little’s (or your own) hair since it gently works through even the most determined knots. Whether you’re working with a type 2 or type 4 head of hair, this brush should be in your arsenal.
This detangler from Kinky-Curly is a must-have because it also doubles as a leave-in conditioner. It contains natural ingredients like organic mango fruit extract and organic slippery elm.
While it’s great at infusing moisture, you’ll appreciate that it can be applied to damp hair and give you extra slip — which is exactly what you need when you’re tackling a head full of tangles. You’ll like that this pick can also help with curl definition, which is often a big complaint for people who are type 3 or type 4.
Best for moisture retention
Yes, it’s a bit of a splurge. But this pick from NUELE is a great clean beauty option that’s made from a blend of five oils to detangle, restore, and enrich hair all day long. This serum works hard to moisturize hair — preferably while it’s damp — so that it doesn’t get frizzy or too dry.
Best for wash days
For those who want to try the Curly Girl Method on their toddler, this shampoo-free cleanser is gentle on your child’s hair and scalp. It removes dirt and excess oils without stripping the hair as traditional shampoos can do, and uses grapeseed oil to add moisture.
This non-lather wash is free of sulfates, SLS, SLES, and parabens. It can definitely be pricey for a cleanser, but if you have other curlies in the house, this pick can become more economical.
Especially when your baby is younger, you’ll want to use a gentle wash that won’t sting or irritate their eyes. This wash from Babo Botanicals is a gentle formula that contains cocoa butter, shea butter, and aloe leaf juice for added moisture. It also can pull double duty as a detangler.
You’ll appreciate that this can also double as a body wash, making it ideal for those early days when you’re a little overwhelmed and just want to get the bathing and hair washing process done in one shot.
This gentle cleanser is made with a blend of vitamin C, vitamin B complex, and peptides to effectively remove dirt from the scalp while also adding bounce to curls. Reviewers like that it’s a natural, plant-sourced cleanser that’s safe for all hair types and textures.
It’s also free from silicone, parabens, and sulfates — making it perfect for followers of the Curly Girl Method.
If you’re not familiar with Mixed Chicks, they’re a popular hair care brand that sought to create products specifically for biracial people. While “biracial hair” is a misnomer, they focus primarily on type 3 and type 4 hair.
You’ll like that this conditioner can double as a co-wash for Curly Girl Method followers and a detangler. Meanwhile, it’s free from perfumes or dyes, which is essential if you’re concerned about your baby’s sensitive skin.
Best for styling
The Kinky-Curly brand is a fan favorite within the curly-hair community because their products feature naturally derived ingredients that work. This lightweight formula is alcohol-free and made with botanically infused water, aloe vera juice, vitamin E, as well as chamomile, nettle, and marshmallow extracts — all items that love moisture.
This styling cream can define curls (a big plus for type 3 and type 4s) and won’t weigh down hair. It also banishes frizz while adding a nice shine, making this perfect as a go-to styling product for picture days.
Best for day 2 (or 3!) hair
If you’re not washing your child’s hair every day you’re not alone. But if you want to keep those curls looking fabulous, you’ll need something to help put a little bounce back into them.
This Hydrating Curl Refresher Spray is infused with moringa oil, coconut oil, and Brazilian bacuri butter to add hydration and shine. It’s ideal for type 3 and type 4 hair and can help to extend the time between wash days.
Best for multitasking
If you don’t want a bathroom cabinet full of products, then SheaMoisture’s styling milk is a multitasker that can be used for detangling, moisturizing, and styling your little one’s hair. It’s best paired with thick, curly hair, but is excellent for providing curl control.
Key ingredients include coconut oil, shea butter for moisture infusion, and silk protein to strengthen hair and minimize breakage. Best of all, it won’t weigh down curls.
Imagine being able to use one product to fully moisturize every inch of your child. Well, that’s the aim of Native Atlas’ Sanaa Universal Oil — skin, hair, you name it.
The oil is specifically designed for sensitive skin and blends natural plant-based oils such as jojoba, sunflower seed, and calendula. You’ll appreciate that it’s unscented and can be applied whenever dry and thirsty skin or damp hair needs a bit of moisture.
No matter what your ethnic background, if you have curly hair there are some fundamental rules to be followed:
- Moisture is your friend. Curly hair can be notoriously dry, so focusing on moisture retention can do wonders toward helping those curls to pop.
- Avoid alcohol-based products. Alcohol saps strands of essential moisture. Avoid it at all costs unless you want your child’s hair to be dry, frizzy, and even more unmanageable.
- Minimize brush usage. Unless your child is a type 2A or 2B, you’ll want to stick to wide-tooth combs or fingers for detangling and styling. The only exception is a detangling brush, and speaking of which…
- Never detangle curly hair when it’s dry. This is a recipe for disaster and a great way to damage curls by encouraging split ends and breakage.
- Brush from tip to root. Especially when detangling, always start from the bottom of your child’s hair and work up toward the roots. Doing so in reverse will reinforce tangles and lead to a really miserable (and noisy) experience for you and your child.
- Reconsider frequent washing. While some curly heads can benefit from daily washing, many people who are type 3A and higher often opt for every other day or even less frequent hair washing schedule. You may need to experiment to find the right frequency for your child’s head of curls.
- Keep heat styling to a minimum. You probably shouldn’t be using heat styling tools anyway on a baby or toddler. But heat-damaged curly hair can permanently lose its curl pattern.