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Hair Matters
African Hair Care Styling Tips
August 01,2007 / Sherri Gragg
Untitled Document

I was at our community pool with my five children when I ran into an old acquaintance I had not seen in a couple of years. My eldest daughter and her little girl were in first grade together, back before our two adopted daughters had made it home from Haiti . We took a few minutes to catch up and for me to introduce her to my girls and then we said our good-byes and she began to walk away.

Then, she stopped and returned to where I was. The woman, who is African American, said I just want to compliment you about your daughters' hair. It looks really cute. You know, so many times when white people adopt a black child, they don't learn how to care for the child's hair and it just looks crazy!

Her voice was laced with concern as she continued on, I know a family who adopted their daughter as a baby and I promise you, I don't think that child's hair has been combed out in the last 12 years.

I once heard an African American woman state that in her culture when a child is seen with hair that is unkempt it says to the world that the child is not receiving proper care. Over and over as I have read the stories of adult transracially adopted children, I have heard them say that their parent's inability to care for their hair was painful and made it more difficult for them to be at home among their black peers.

Hair Matters.

It is absolutely essential that non-African-Amerian people understand this before they adopt a child of color.

Our family is so blessed to belong to a church that is racially diverse. I understand that there are many white parents rearing black children who struggle to find diversity in their friendships and therefore, have no idea really where to begin when it comes to issues that are unique to the black experience. That is why I am going to begin sharing the wealth.

This article is the first of a series on African hair care. We will begin with the basics and work our way up to more complex styles. So, join me each month as we make our babies shine!

Basic Hair Care Part 1: Braid Removal & Combing

Supplies Needed:

  1. Spray bottle full of water
  2. detangling conditioner
  3. rat tail comb
  4. wide tooth comb
  5. pair of sharp scissors with a fine point
  6. hair clips.

Step One

With your daughter in front of you, take the first braid in your hand and carefully remove the elastic band that secures the braid by clipping it with the scissors. This is much easier on the hair than attempting to pull the elastic free which minimizes hair breakage.

Step Two

Spray the braid thoroughly with the water bottle to wet it (water acts as a lubricant)
Step Three
Apply a small amount of detangling conditioner to the braid to ease removal.
Step Four

Start at the end of the braid and use the pointed end of the rat tail comb to work the braid free a little at a time, stopping as needed to loosen any tangles with your fingers.

Step Five
Once the braid is completely unwound, comb through with the wide tooth comb and then secure at the top of the child's head with the clip so that it does not become tangled again. It is very helpful to always comb through the hair one section at a time and then secure the completed section with a clip before beginning another.





























Basic Hair Care Part 2: Washing

Supplies needed:

  1. Moisturizing shampoo and conditioner
  2. shower cap
  3. wide tooth comb
  4. towel

Step One

Wet your child's hair with warm water. Rub shampoo between your palms and then begin to apply it to your child's hair. Begin to massage and clean your child's scalp with the pads of your fingers, not your fingernails which could scratch and injure the scalp. Once the entire scalp is clean, massage the hair to remove any product build up.

Step Two

Rinse, rinse, rinse! It is very important to remove all shampoo and if the hair is thick, this may be difficult. Keep at it until you are sure it is all gone.
Step Three
Apply a deep moisturizing conditioner and then place a shower cap on the child's head while you finish bathing the child. There have been times when one of my daughter's hair seemed particularly damaged from pool water that I actually allowed her to eat dinner while still wearing the shower cap to allow the conditioner to penetrate her hair.
Step Four

Remove the cap. At this point you may want to comb through the hair while the conditioner is still applied with a wide tooth comb. If so, begin at the end and work on only a 1/2 or so at a time, gradually moving up the hair shaft. As always, work with one small section at a time and then secure it at the top of the head with a clip once it is tangle free.

Rinse the conditioner from the hair but do not over rinse. The hair needs moisture.

Squeeze excess water from the hair with a towel. Do not rub as it will cause the hair to frizz


























Sherri Gragg and her husband Michael live in Franklin, Tennessee with their 5 children. Sherri is part of the Voices of Adoption Community.
Read more of Sherri's articles

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I have a black foster son under 2 years of age. He has some what of an afro going on with his hair, which causes a lot of "fuzzies" to accumulate in his hair. I wash his hair twice a week. Can someone PLEASE tell me the specific products I should be using in his hair and the correct process of combing it?- Penny Millirans
I have an African-American foster son and I could use some advise on hair care. I don't know what specific products, I should be using on his hair? He is not even 2 yet. Can someone please help?- PJM
good hair tips to use on ur african american child.....this could come to good use, and its simple and easy and ur afriican american child is happy and FABULOUS!- Sarday
I am a Caseworker for CPS in Texas and I am also a licensed Beautician for the state of Texas. I agree with your article and in early April 2009 I will be conducting a class on Racial Diversity in Skin and Hair Care at Stephen F. Austin for the Foster/Adoption conference. I found your article very helpful. I am African American and I just hate to see bi-racial or African American children's hair looking a "Hot Mess" as this makes them appear more neglected and abused.- Sonya Holman
cont. Also, a hair lotion such as "Pink" (the name of it) or "Motions" brand lotion (available at Walmart), is a great product to put on the hair before drying it. --These are all things I do with my own (African American) hair and find quite effective.- Kai
I'd like to add, don't rub and "scrub" your child's hair around while washing it. Comb it out first while dry (hair is weaker when wet), then, while washing, gently work the shampoo through the hair, using your fingers like a comb. Use the same procedure to work the conditioner through and while rinsing. This cuts down on the agony of detangling afterwards.- Kai
To angelika- please don't put a hat ot hankerchief on your daughter's head. Cotton causes breakage. Use a silk cap or satin scarf.- Anonymous
Hi Sherri, I was surfing the web for some haircare products and came across your website. I am happy beyond words that some White Americans who adopt Black children get it!!! It angers me to see Black children looking unkempt and ashy. Adopting Black children seems to be the fad but most adoptive parents do not do all of the homework which includes haircare and the necessity of lotion. BRAVO to YOU- Rocc in Seattle
Dear Sherri, I have adopted 2 Haitian daughters. They are 6 weeks at our home in The Netherlands now. I find your site because i was looking for how take care for their hair. Thanks for the good instructions and photo's and your lovely stories! Tomorrow i will do the hair of Roseberline and Estherline! Thanks Love, Gerdien- Gerdien van der Leer
When my granddaughter sleeps, her hair gets al tangled. Do any of you put hats or a kerchief on your child's hair to prevent tangling at night? If so, is there a special cap for this? Thank you. I appreciate any advice.- Angelika
The article was informative. I am the legal guardian of 3 girls and 1 boy. The children did live with a caucasian family that did not know how to care for their hair. I had to treat the childrens' hair weekly. To ease some of the pain for the child after washing the child's hair, the hair must greased with hair grease such as Hemp Oil and brushed. Combing the hair may cause some pain, brushing may be another alternative. Also, deep conditioning is not necessary weekly.- Shanese
What a great tutorial. I am African American and my husband is caucasian, Our eldest son has caucasian like hair and our younger two (boy and girl) have hair like mommy. It took me a while to explain to him why our daughter could not just wear her hair "out" everyday now he gets it. I will definantly relay this site to my mother-in-law and other relatives so they may learn and not be scared to do my daughters hair.- Anonymous
can you write some for just black girls please thank you- Anonymous
thank you so much for this info, i was lost on this- kate
Since those ingredients are more drying to the hair. Using oils such as extra virgin olive oil (yes, the one from the grocery store) and can be useful to seal in moisture while the hair is still wet and for detangling. Using pure shea butter will help moisturize her hair too (you can find it on iherb dot com for a good price) as opposed to products that mostly contain petroleum equivalents, which don't provide any real nourishment for hair, but just make it appear shiny. nappturality dot com- Anonymous
I'm glad that you're taking the time to deal lovingly with your black daughter's hair. As a black woman, it's great to see that you're not jumping to put chemicals or heat into it. I commed you for that. Please help her to appreciate her hair the way it is. It is simply a head of tighter curls. Since curlier hair is more prone to dryness, you can also try to use conditioners to wash your childs hair, as opposed to using shampoos (which mostly have sodium lauryl/laureth sulfate in them- Anonymous
Sherri, I appreciate the time you are taking to share your knowledge with other people. It is a great resource. I do have one comment though. I noticed you used TRESemme conditioner in the photo and I feel it is important for parents to know that shampoos and conditioners that are made for Caucausian hair isn't the best for African hair. People should use Hair Mayyonaise or Cholesterol Cream when deep conditioning.- Anonymous
well I am pretty sure your daughter is mixed and has balck and white hair put together whitch is not nearly as hard as fully african american hair. But for a parent with no experince with blackhair u did do really well- Zhiare
adoptionhair_skincare is a large and active yahoo group started by families that have adopted children of African and/or Carribean Descent, and would like to share about Hair care for African-American, Black, and bi-racial children. - Anonymous
honestly i never knew how to manage my hair and im african american. ive always had it straighten or permed just 2 months ago i was going to shave it off because i didnt know what to do with it . it was a blessing that i realized water and olive oil kept my hair manageable and not tangled and it kept it mositurized. its difficult when people thinks it taboo to have my hair and even in my own race its frowned upon when its not permed. im at ahh a caucasion women knew more than me- marie
I like your article it's very helpful for anonymous with the 3 month old home from Ethiopia you can use pink lotion - Anonymous
Kikilia, While I appreciate your concern for the child mentioned I have difficulty imagining how one would appropriately address the subject with a stranger. If it is someone you see frequently, you may find the opportunity in the course of conversation to direct her to "a wonderful on-line adoption resource: Rainbow Kids!" Then...she will find her way on her own.- Anonymous
Cetaphil cream is great for dry skin. Also- what would you do if you saw a transracially adopted child with "bad" hair? I'm white, living in a mostly white community with my daughter who is from India. I saw a little girl the other day who needed help with her hair- but wasn't sure how to approach the mom. Ideas?- Kikilia
Cont. We want our kids to feel proud of themselves when they are around kids from their own race. If hair care is important in the black community, then it needs to be important in any family that adopts a black or biracial child. Thanks for your great articles. - Kim
Cont. We want our kids to feel proud of themselves when they are around kids from their own race. If hair care is important in the black community, then it needs to be important in any family that adopts a black or biracial child. Thanks for your great articles. - Kim
I thought this article is wonderful. I have a daughter adopted from China, but feel that anyone who chooses to adopt a child from another race or culture needs to make a committment to making sure that child feels a connection to his or her culture. That can be everything from proper hair care to providing role models from your child's race. We try very hard to help our daughter feel great about being Chinese and expose her to Chinese dance, language, and foods. We want our kids to feel - Kim
I thought this article is wonderful. I have a daughter adopted from China, but feel that anyone who chooses to adopt a child from another race or culture needs to make a committment to making sure that child feels a connection to his or her culture. That can be everything from proper hair care to providing role models from your child's race. We try very hard to help our daughter feel great about being Chinese and expose her to Chinese dance, language, and foods. We want our kids to feel - Kim
Aquaphor is just about the best you can get. Apply it immediately after bath. Use a moisturizing soap like Dove and don't let her stay in the water long.- sherri
Aquaphor is just about the best you can get. Apply it immediately after bath. Use a moisturizing soap like Dove and don't let her stay in the water long.- sherri
I really have more of a question than a comment. I just brought my 3 month old home from Ethiopia and she has really dry skin. I was wondering if there was something other than lotion that would work better for her? If you have any information for me I would really appreciate it. Thank you so much!!!- Anonymous
That is exactly what I do with my 7 yr old dtr's hair. JCPenney salon has stylists trained in all hair. I went there for 11/2 hours and was taught the basics of hair care as well as braiding, what to look for in products, what to avoid. It was very helpful and encouraged me to try new do's on my dtr. AND IT IS VERY TRUE THAT HAIR IS VERY IMPORTANT. We are careful to have her hair neat in public. If that is not possible, to cover her head in a triangle hanky or a cute hat. - Esta Schuerholz
I would take the girl from Uganda to an African American stylist and get some advice as to what style might be appropriate. The stylist can also talk to your daughter and guide her as to what to do between hair appointments. 12 is almost a teenager, so the cute little twists and simple braids that you would do for a little girl are not appropriate. You might want to have it relaxed, or you might want to have extensions put back in. Cornrows are also another appropriate teenage style. - Anonymous
so glad a friend forwarded me this article as I have 3 adopted African children,2 girls and a boy.Despite tremendous effort following up any lead I get I still am not on top of African hair.One girl has lovely soft hair which grows readily but the other's is dry,wiry and doesn't seem to grow at all. I haven't cut it now in 2 years though previously I did and we even shaved it once years ago when she was smaller. She is 10 now.Any advice I would welcome.- Inez Treacy
If you are lost, go to a professional. It took us years to find one that was a good fit, but she's the best $$ I spend on my daughter's self esteem. In the AA culture, no expense is spared on hair and clothes. It took me a while to figure that out.- Mary
answers: Time depends on the style. It can take anywhere from an hour or so to wash, comb and style to 3 or more hours with complex cornrows. No, you do not do it every day. Cornrows will last 2 - 4 weeks. I usually wash once every two weeks. Yes, you can get them wet. It will frizz some but there are steps you can take to minimize it. (more later) Your questions are not silly! We will get there together a bit at a time.- Sherri
Thank You for this article. Question... How long does this whole process take? And is it done everyday? week? on average. Can you get the braids wet? or does it frizz up after showers, swimming and such? These may seem like silly questions but I'm somewhat clueless here. And it was one of my main concerns with adopting an African American little girl. Thanks Again for the article. It was very informative.- Anonymous
Very nice instructions, it is exactly what I do, I am referring new adoptive parents of black girls to this site. I learned to do my daughter's hair and she always gets loads of compliments on her pretty hairstyles which makes her feel so proud. I love the versatility of black hair and look forward to doing my daughter's hair.- Linda
Black hair requires serious attention. If you wash it everyday it will dry out & break off. If any of you are considering straitening or braids,please look for a professional, preferable one who is accustome to working with black hair. Note: not every hair stylist knows how to care for black hair. Once you've got it, it's smooth sailing. God bless you all.- Sylvia
Thank you for the article on "black hair care". It is very true that when black hair is not well cared for the 1st impression is negative..and remember to always comb the hair from the scalp all the way out to the ends once you have removed the tangles, and a satin scarf or night cap to sleep in is important too. - Sylvia
wow- Anonymous
Jebbie, Please click the above link for the voices of adoption community and visit my profile. There you will find my website (not my blog) and you can e-mail me from there. I will do what I can to help you. Sherri- Sherri
Thank-you for your article, we adopted a 12 yr.old from Uganda, her hair is like a brillo pad. Where she grew up everyones head was shaved, girls and boys alike. Her hair has been growing since last Sept. We had extensions put in before we left as that was her dream to have long hair. They lasted until Jan.07. What to do now? She doesn't want us to touch it but she has no idea how to care for her own hair. Help, it looks bad and while she does the front the back is all in balls. Help- Jebbie
Thanks for your info! S.L- Anonymous
Great article. The photos were very helpful. Thanks for taking the time to share this.- Danielle
Thank you. This is information that is needed, not just for parents, but so that children do not feel uncomfortable because of “bad hair.” Remember all kids can be cruel. Maybe someone would like to write about hair straightening, both chemical and by heat. Like shades of brown there are so many “types” of Black hair.- Sylvia
DMC- You will need a good AA barber for your boy unless you have someone to teach you how to do it on your own. I will be doing at least one article on boys, maybe more. I have already approached a male AA friend of mine who cuts hair about the project. More to follow! -Sherri- Sherri
What about boys hair? Will boys be able to get their hair shaved at any barber's?- DMC
i'm not a/a, but have very curly hair and i find that if i only rinse the conditioner for about four seconds with as cold water as i can stand it seems about right (no built-up and no squeekyness)- Anonymous
On our way to have my fd's waist length hair put into cornrows by the hairdresser we stopped in the mall for "a minute" ..a very nicely dressed black woman approached me and said "You don't bring her in public without a hat that completely covers her hair, or her hair properly done". That wonderful child went home soon after. We have since adopted and my daughers hair has been very positively commented on when we were out. I took that lady's words to heart. Black hair matters very much.- gbb
Lisa, That is a great quetsion and one I will touch on later but I wash my girl's hair once every two weeks. That is about average for black hair, from what I hear my friends saying. As far as styling, it depends on the style and the texture of the child's hair. Some hair will hold a braid easier, longer. Other hair frizzes easily. If it is something like afro-puffs or parts and braids it might have to be re-done every few days. Cornrows (or flat twists) will stay up between 2 -4 wks.- Sherri Gragg
Sherry, this is wonderful. I'm going to save copies of all your articles. My husband and I are just starting the process to bring two children home from Haiti. I've already learned a lot for how I will need to work with my daughter's hair when she comes home. I do have a question - and I'm sure the answer varies, but can you speak to how often you have to wash out your daughters' hair, and re-style?- Lisa
Thanks for the fantastic how-to photos and instructions. I've never seen anything like this online before either. What a great resource! I'll be checking in every month.- KF
The supermodel in the photos is my beautiful grand daughter. And she has 4 other beautiful siblings. Great article, Sherri. I am proud of you. Mom- Anonymous
glad you are educating about this topic! for more detailed information and tips please join the group adoptionhair_skincare on yahoo!- Anonymous
You need to write a book! Or booklet..or something. This is a great instruction sheet for beginners.- Karen C.
And who is the super model in the photos?- Anonymous
Oh Sherri i always love your articles and am glad you will be doing more.- Anonymous
From Sherri Gragg: You can subscribe to my blog through FeedBlitz. I will be posting a link to this collumn there on the first of every month and you can receive it by mail that way. I will ask Martha to put a link to the blog. You can also find it by clicking the link above, although it will not be a direct link. Louisa, You are most welcome. I started at the beginning too. Sherri- Sherri Gragg
So this is going to be a regular column? Is there an RSS feed to subscribe to for just these articles? - Question
I have never seen anything else like this online. Thank you Ms. Gragg for understanding that many of us must start from the very beginning with A/A hair care.- Louisa K.
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