Caring for African Hair

Caring for African Hair

In part 2 of this regular series on African Hair Care, adoptive mom Sherri Gragg teams up with friend Stephanie Fitzgerald to share a variety of tips on hair products. Visit Sherri's Voices of Adoption Profile to read this full series and other articles by Sherri Gragg.

It was a Friday night not long after we had submitted our application to adopt from Haiti and I was on a mission. My quest? Investigate African American hair products. My destination? Wal-Mart.

Nervously, I steered my cart toward the section of the health and beauty department that previously I had always passed by without a second thought. I came to a stop in front of an array of bottles, tubes, and jars. I scanned the labels looking for something which would give me a hint as to what I would need to take care of a black child's hair. Sadly, there were no products entitled:

Hair Products for the Black Children of White Mothers Who Don't Have a Clue What They are Doing.

I stood there awhile longer waiting for inspiration to strike but it was like attempting to read a foreign language. I turned my empty cart around and went home.

After that, I began to approach black friends and ask what they used on their daughters' hair. Time after time, they would respond in vague terms about things that were as familiar to them as breath. They would say things like pink lotion.

Pink lotion?

But.I kept asking questions and I kept researching. Once my daughters came home two long years later, I began the process of trying different products. Some were recommended by friends and some I discovered on my own. What I found is that although some needs of black hair are universal, there are many different textures of hair and something that works for one person might not necessarily work for another. My girls have been home for over a year and a half now and I have finally found a system that works for us.

Aren't you glad you don't have to go through all of that? You are saved because I have invited my friend Stephanie Fitzgerald to bring along her expertise to this article on hair products. Stephanie is the hair authority in my church. She is an African American woman with five children among whom are represented just about every hair texture possible.

Below, I will share the products and tools that have worked for both of us. I will also tell you where Stephanie and I buy our products and the good news is, I get some of mine on-line and most of the rest are readily available at your local pharmacy or Wal-Mart. So, settle in and get ready to shop like an expert for the tools you need to make your little one gorgeous, but as you do, please remember that Stephanie and I are simply letting you in on what works for us to point you in the right direction. We can not guarantee every product for every person.  


Shampoos and Conditioners

Perhaps the greatest difference between black and white hair is the need for moisture. While many of us who are white are looking for products to remove the excess oil from our hair, the needs of black hair are just the opposite. I once heard a white friend commenting to a group of women that her twin daughters who are transracially adopted from Africa loved to play in the tub and dump water over their heads. A black friend of ours said, You better stop them from dumping that soapy water over their heads! One of these days you are going to get them out of the tub and their hair will be so dry it will just break off and fall out!

Black hair only needs to be washed once every couple of weeks and then it must be done with a moisturizing shampoo. Michele N-K Collison has written a wonderful book to teach African American Women what for many is the lost art of hair care entitled, It's All Good Hair . She recommends a shampoo with a Ph balance between 5 and 6.5.

Sherri's Pick:

For my girls, I love Neutrogena Triple Moisture Cream Lather Shampoo . It is a thick, rich product that cleans well without stripping the hair. I began using it on both of my girls as soon as they were home from Haiti and although my youngest daughter was two years old at the time with many skin issues, she had no adverse reactions to this product .

After I finish shampooing, I apply on Neutrogena Triple Moisture Deep Recovery Hair Mask . It is a wonderful moisturizing hair treatment. Both products list their key ingredients as Olive, Meadowfoam Seed, and Sweet Almond extracts.

I also keep on hand Motions for Kids Detangling & Moisturizing Conditioner for especially tough tangles. A more common use for this product in my home is to ease braid removal.

Stephanie's Pick:

Stephanie uses Infusium 23 (moistur)ologie shampoo and conditioner for all hair textures in her family.

She also sometimes uses Motions Moisture Plus After Shampoo Conditioner.

Stephanie feels this product offers enough flexibility to be used on several different textures of African Hair and is a great choice for larger families. Families with just one or two children may want to experiment to find the exact product that works best for their child.

Moisturizing Products

As you have learned, African hair will typically require additional moisture. This is the purpose of the pink lotion so many of my friends recommended. Pink lotion is simply hair oil. One product I used for awhile was the BB's brand but I noticed that although it seemed to moisturize my girl's hair initially, it was not long before it seemed dry again. My beautician confirmed my suspicions: Although BB's or other pink lotions can aid in combing through the hair, water is a predominant ingredient so it does not provide lasting moisture which is why I now use a detangling conditioner for that purpose.

Sherri's Picks:

Cornrow Magic Cornrow Crème : I love this product so much that I order it on line. I originally used the kid's version but I recently purchased the adult version when my on-line source discontinued the one for kids. The new one is just as good. It not only does a great job but smells terrific.

Kid's Organics Soft Hold Styling Pomade & Hairdress : This product has lanolin in it which is wonderful for the scalp. I use it to tame the frizzies and for simpler styles. My girls both detest the smell though and although I do not find the odor offensive, I have to admit it does not smell great either . One more caution, this is not a good product for someone with an allergy to wool.

Vitamin E Oil : Sometimes I use this on particularly dry spots on the scalp.

Silk Elements Revive & Restore Hair and Scalp Sheen Enhancing Spray : This product is oil spray with olive oil and clove extract. I use it to add moisture to my girl's hair when they have cornrows, Zulu knots or flat twists. I have found that if I attempt to add moisture by rubbing a lotion or pomade into the style, the friction makes their hair frizz. This product is a good solution.

Stephanie's Picks:

BB's Super Grow with vitamin E for Scalp . A common use for a product like this is to apply a small amount right down the part in the hair .

Africa 's Best Herbal Oil (Stephanie says this is good when the hair needs moisture and the stylist wants to be able to easily comb thorough it.) The product makers claim this oil may be used in the bath, on the body and that it will relieve a dry, itch scalp.



*Styling Products*

Sherri's Picks:

Cornrow Magic Cornrow Crème

Kid's Organics Soft Hold Styling Pomade and Hairdress

Stephanie's Picks:

Soft Sheen Carson 's Let's Jam Shining and Conditioning Gel Extra Hold : This product does just what it says. It helps set the style as well as provide moisture. It also aids in the taming of the frizzies.

Ampro Pro Style Gel : To be used with a boar-bristle brush along the hair line to smooth the frizzies. This is also a good product to use at night under a sleep cap or wrap to maintain a style.


Stephanie's Salon Product Picks:

If you are willing to spend a little extra, Stephanie loves Kera products. The two she had with her when I interviewed her for this article were : Kera Care High Sheen Glossifier and Kera DeMinerlizing Treatment.

Kera Care High Sheen Glossifier was also recommended to me by my girls' hair stylist. I have seen her use this as a pomade and also to provide moisture to the scalp along the part.

Kera DeMineralizing Treatment is in a wipe form and removes calcium, magnesium and other minerals from the hair. Stephanie suggests using after swimming.

*Tools of the Trade*

Wide tooth comb (tangles)

Rat tail comb ( parts )

Boar-bristle brush (smooth the hair)

Clips (section hair for styling and combing)

Goody Ouchless Elastics (Do not break hair)

Satin sleep cap, head wrap or do rag (Note: This is important to keep a new style from frizzing. Little girls will commonly pull them off at night in the beginning but be patient and keep explaining to them that the night cap will help keep their hair beautiful.)

I hope you have found this product list informative. I learned some things from meeting with Stephanie as well and look forward to trying out some of her top choices. With the exception of the salon products, everything listed above can be found at Wal-Mart and many pharmacies. Sally Beauty Supply is often a good resource as well .

Check out my blog where I frequently post pictures of my own girl's hairstyles: I have also recently begun offering a variety of resources for adoptive families and families of color as an Amazon affiliate on my website

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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