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How should I care for my baby's hair?
Most African American babies are born with thick, coarse, curly or wavy hair that requires special care. Because of its texture and curl pattern, the hair tends to be dry and prone to breakage – so treat it gently!
Here's how to keep your baby's hair clean, moisturized, and tangle-free:
Many Asians and Caucasians wash their hair as frequently as once a day to remove excess oil. But African Americans don't produce as much oil. Overwashing can strip away the natural oils of the scalp and leave hair dry, brittle, and frizzy.
Instead, wash your baby's hair only once a week using a mild baby shampoo. Biracial babies' hair is usually less curly and they produce more oil, so if necessary, you can wash the hair twice a week.
Combing and detangling
Since African-American hair tends to be kinky, it can tangle easily. Comb out the tangles carefully to prevent breakage. Some tips:
- Use a wide-tooth comb or soft-bristle brush.
- Never try to comb out kinky hair when it's dry.
- Apply a small amount of oil or cream moisturizer to help detangle the hair.
It's important to moisturize the hair weekly to keep it soft and manageable. Finding the right regimen will depend on your baby's hair texture and structure, so you may need to experiment with different products. Here are a couple of options:
- Look for a natural product such as jojoba oil, emu oil, avocado oil, virgin coconut oil, or almond oil at natural food stores.
- Create your own moisturizer by mixing a light oil (sweet almond oil or light virgin olive oil) with natural ingredients (rosemary or lavender).
- Distribute a small amount of the moisturizer onto your fingertips and gently sweep it through the hair and onto the scalp.
Your baby may be sensitive or allergic to some ingredients, like essential oils, so watch closely for unusual reactions or breakouts. Avoid products with mineral oil or petroleum jelly because they tend to clog the pores.
My baby's scalp is flaky. Is it dandruff?
Most likely it's cradle cap (also called seborrheic dermatitis) or eczema (also called atopic dermatitis). Both conditions are common in African American infants.
Cradle cap shows up in the first few months of life as crusty, white or yellowish patches on the scalp. It's not pretty, but it's harmless.
Cradle cap will typically go away on its own within a few months, but if it bothers you, try shampooing more often and gently brushing your baby's scalp with a soft brush or massaging it with a terry cloth towel.
For stubborn cases, apply a small amount of coconut or olive oil and let sit for 20 to 30 minutes, then gently use a soft bristle brush to remove the scales before shampooing. It's important not to scratch, comb, or vigorously brush the scalp to remove flakes, as this can cause further irritation.
If the cradle cap doesn't improve or spreads to other areas, talk to your baby's doctor, who may recommend a medicated shampoo.
See our complete article on cradle cap.
Eczema appears as a red, dry, itchy rash on the scalp. A baby with eczema has extremely sensitive skin. Most studies indicate that the tendency to have eczema is inherited.
Eczema typically develops in babies between 2 and 6 months of age. In severe cases it can be very irritating and cause hair dryness and breakage.
If your baby has eczema, use mild, fragrance-free soaps and shampoos, such as those made for sensitive skin. To treat the condition, apply a natural oil, such as jojoba or coconut, or an emollient cream, like shea butter.
If the eczema worsens or spreads, your baby's doctor may recommend a medicated shampoo and a cortisone cream or analgesic lotion.
See our complete article on eczema.
How can I style my baby girl's hair?
Leaving a newborn's hair loose and natural allows the hair follicles to grow stronger. But as your baby girl gets older, you can try different styles, like ponytails, plaits, and braids, depending on the length of her hair.
To avoid breakage, start by using a wide-tooth comb or soft bristle brush to detangle the ends out. Then you can comb or brush from the roots down to the ends.
After parting the hair, tie off the section you're not working on so you can concentrate on one area at a time. You can use a small amount of oil or cream moisturizer to detangle the hair if necessary.
When styling your baby's hair in braids or ponytails, use smooth bands or covered elastic bands. Rubber bands cause too much friction on the hair and can lead to breakage.
It's best to avoid styles that pull the hair too tightly. Pulling on the hair can cause it to fall out, a condition known as traction alopecia. It the pulling goes on long enough, it can lead to scalp damage and even permanent hair loss.
You'll know if your baby is developing traction alopecia because her hair will start to fall out and small bumps will show up around her hairline or elsewhere on her scalp. A change in hairstyle will usually reverse the condition and the hair will grow back.
(Don't confuse traction alopecia with alopecia areata, an autoimmune disorder that causes patches of hair to fall out. It seems to be an inherited syndrome and has nothing to do with pulling the hair tightly.)