Caring for Afro-Textured Hair: A Personal Guide to Healthy, Beautiful Curls.

I’m sure I’ll tweak our routine as her hair grows and I continue learning new things.
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I will start this post with a disclaimer because I don’t want readers to get the wrong impression. I am not a hair expert at all.

I don’t do Arsema’s hair (or my own) perfectly.

This post is a response to your fantastic response to my article on the Today Show Parents site.

I received numerous emails and comments asking for specifics about our routine and the products I use on Arsema’s hair.

Before I get into that, I want to clarify that the article’s primary point was cultivating my relationship with my daughter.

It was about connecting with her, spending time together, and showing her how beautiful she is.

The secondary point was hair care, which I did on purpose… because I am not an expert, don’t have all the answers, and am still learning a lot.

How We Do Our Daughter’s Hair

This is what I’ve learned so far and what has worked for my curly girl:

First, all afro-textured hair is different, so knowing your child’s hair type is crucial. Arsema’s seems to mix 3c, 4a, and 4b. I found the chart below on Pinterest…

The biggest misconception about afro-textured hair is that it’s thick when the individual strands are very fine and prone to breaking.

It’s also prone to dryness because the natural oils our body produces to lock in moisture and protect our hair can’t travel from the root down the hair strands because of the bends and twists in the curls. So, keeping the hair moisturized and protected is crucial to having healthy hair.

Instead of shampooing Arsema’s hair every time she bathes, I do something called co-wash. I cleanse her hair with conditioner.

I had been doing this every 2-3 days, but now (after reading and researching and asking more questions)

I will back up to co-washing once a week, and during her other baths, I will let it get wet and then seal in that moisture with pure coconut oil.

For the weekly cleansing routine (we do this on Saturdays): 

  • Wet her hair with our daily moisturizing spray and separate it into four sections.
  • Next, I detangle each section with my fingers, slowly and gently working from the ends up to the scalp or a wide tooth-plastic comb with rounded teeth.
  • Then I apply a small amount of coconut oil to my palms and fingers and work it through her hair from the scalp down to the ends, working slowly and gently. Then I wait 10-15 minutes while I fill up the tub and get all the toys out for bath time. This is called a pre-cleanse.
  • The kids get into the tub and have a wonderful time for about 20 minutes. Toward the end of bath time, I cleansed Arsema’s hair with her conditioner by fully wetting it with warm water and then completely coating it with conditioner – starting from the scalp and moving down to the ends. Then, I thoroughly rinsed her hair with clean water from the faucet. As I do the final rinse, I gently run my fingers through her hair to ensure it doesn’t tangle.
  • To dry her hair, I gently squeeze it to remove excess water while she’s still standing in the tub. When she gets out, I wrap her body in a towel and use a soft T-shirt to pat her hair.

* I used to shampoo Arsema’s hair once a week and co-wash it during her other baths in the week, but not anymore. It was drying her hair out too much.

Our new routine is the weekly co-wash mentioned above and a monthly apple cider vinegar rinse or shampoo. I’ll add the latter at the beginning of the bath after the pre-cleanse and then finish with deep conditioning. Once I try it, I’ll return and add details for that step here.

Next up is protective styling, which I do right after the Saturday bath while her hair is still wet: 

  • I set Arsema up with a movie of her choice and then got all our products down from the bathroom with a towel for my hands if they got too slippery.
  • I work curl cream through Arsema’s hair and detangle one last time with my fingers or a wide-tooth comb (there shouldn’t be many tangles at this point).
  • I’m adding a new step — working coconut oil through her hair to lock in the moisture! Adding a small amount of oil to my hands, I massage her scalp and then gently run it through the rest of her hair to the ends.
  • We pick a hairstyle off the Pinterest board together. It usually involves twists or cornrows.
  • I use a comb with a parting stick on the end to section off each part I’m braiding while loosely clipping the rest of her hair back with plastic clips.
  • Then I braid or twist her hair, spritzing it with water if it starts to dry and being careful not to make the style too tight while she watches her movie and we chat.
  • I fasten the ends of the braids or twist them with cloth ponytail holders because elastic or rubber ties will damage her hair.
  • When the style is done, I give her hair one last light mist, put a tiny dot of coconut oil on my palm, rub my hands together, and gently pat her hair.

A protective style will last Arsema the whole week, so this is our Saturday routine unless something unusual happens. To maintain it daily, I mist her hair with moisturizer or water each morning and then pat it with my hands after I rub a small amount of coconut oil into it to keep her hair healthy.

*I do her style while her hair is wet and don’t blow dry to decrease the risk of damage to Arsema’s hair. The heat from blow drying could weaken and cause damage and break her hair. And I’m not yet confident enough with my styling skills to do it after air drying.

It is more forgiving when wet, so it’s less likely to break if I pull a little too hard. If you use a blow dryer, it seems a defuser attachment is a must, and doing it in a low-heat setting is just what I’ve read because I’ve never used one on her.

Our evening routine is straightforward: 

  • If her protective style includes puffs (ponytails with loose ends), I braid the hair left loose in the puff or rope and twist the ends to protect it at night.
  • If it looks dry, I will spray a small moisturizer on her hair and pat on the oil.
  • I cover her hair with a sleep cap to protect it from breaking or tangling.

This whole routine takes 5 minutes or less, so it’s easy to incorporate it into the lineup of brushing teeth and putting on pajamas.

I do love Arsema’s curls worn free with just a bow clipped in. I used to fear letting it fly free because I didn’t know how to keep it moisturized and tangle-free.

But I’m constantly learning new things, and this week is a “free hair” week as I try out my new information. Here’s the daily maintenance for free hair (I’m going to start with bedtime):

Evening: 

  • I lightly misted her hair with moisturizer and then rubbed some coconut oil in my hands.
  • With my slippery hands, I divide her hair into four sections while gently detangling each section. Then, I do one big braid or two-strand rope twist with each section and secure it with a cloth hair tie.
  • When secured in braids or twists, I cover her hair with a sleep cap.

(this takes less than 10 minutes)

Morning: 

  • I remove her cap and all the hair ties.
  • Working one section at a time, I undo the twists or braids.
  • Next, I lightly spray her hair with moisturizer or water and gently run my fingers through her hair.
  • I put a tiny amount of coconut oil on my hands and fluff up her hair.
  • Add a bow or clip to the side!

(this takes less than ten minutes)

Happy, beautiful girl!! The fun thing is that because of shrinkage, her hair appears much shorter than it is. If I pull one of her curls straight, it reaches her shoulders! I can do lots of fun styles because her hair is long enough, but it’s an adorable little bob when worn free!

These are some of the products, tools, and books we love and have found to work well for us — pictures included!!

 Shea Moisture Mango and Carrot Kids Extra-Nourishing Conditioner with Orange Blossom Extract (I use this for the weekly co-wash and will likely use it for the monthly deep conditioning.)

Shea Moisture Coconut and Hibiscus Curl Enhancing Smoothie with Silk Protein and Neem Oil (we use this once a week on Saturdays before styling, but I think I’m going to cut back to just once a month after the apple cider vinegar rinse or shampoo to avoid product build-up.)

Shea Moisture Coconut and Hibiscus Kids Extra-Moisturizing Detangler with Slippery Elm and Marshmallow Extracts (We use this daily as a detangler and moisturizer.)

Pure Unrefined Extra Virgin Coconut Oil (We use this daily as an emollient. Oil is not a moisturizer – water is. Oil seals in the moisture and locks it into the hair. Think about oil and water in a glass – the oil sits on top.) I also really want to try jojoba oil!

These are our “tools” – a plastic wide-tooth comb used sparingly. The parting comb is only used for styling to make straight parts. I only use the metal stick end – never the comb side. The plastic clips and hair ties were found at Walmart.

This book is a wealth of knowledge about caring for natural hair!!

Arsema loves the children’s book by Dr. Phoenyx, which encourages little girls to love their natural hair! (This is Arsema fresh out of the bath after a co-wash!)

Dove sent us this beautiful book after reading my article on the Today Show. It’s filled with poems dedicated to curly girls, and I’ve read one or two to Arsema at bedtime. She loves it.

I love the Shea Moisture products for a few reasons: 

  • They’re fairly affordable and easy to find.
  • Even though they’re a commercial product, they are free of sulfates, parabens, phthalates, paraffin, synthetic fragrance and color, propylene glycol, and DEA.
  • No animal testing.

I love my daughter’s natural hair and want her to love it, too! The above works for us right now – for our budget, schedule, and, most importantly, for Arsema’s hair type and texture.

I’m sure I’ll tweak our routine as her hair grows and I continue learning new things.

Avatar of Lauren Casper

Lauren Casper

Lauren’s essays, known for their vulnerability and personal story-telling style, have appeared on The Huffington Post, the TODAY show, Dailymail, Yahoo! News, and several other publications

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