How I care for my daughters’ curly hair

Hi friends! I apologize for my quiet spell on the blog here. It’s been a busy fall here, but I tend to create content as the spirit moves me, anyway. 😉 I’m glad to be sharing with you today how I wash and style my two very different daughters’ very different curly hair. This is a question I get all the time, and one I see many confused mamas asking about frequently on Facebook and Instagram. I hope this post is helpful to each of you, and your own little curly ones.

My first recommendation: Even if you’re not a curly girl yourself, if you have curly kids I can’t recommend reading this book highly enough: The Curly Girl Method, by Lorraine Massey. It will really give you the right foundation for caring for your kids’ hair (and/or your own, b/c remember frizz = curls). It’s a quick read with tons of actionable information.

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Washing and conditioning

My 4-year-old is my curly-curly girl—by comparison, at least, to myself and my younger daughter. Her waist-length hair grows in an almost-straight pattern from her roots, but quickly turns to long corkscrew spirals. What Lorraine Massey calls ‘Botticelli curls’ in The Curly Girl Method. Her hair is naturally dry and incredibly prone to tangles, including the kind I’ve heard called ‘fairy knots’—where one strand has tied itself into a knot, as opposed to several strands knotted together. Combine those tangles with a sensitive scalp and disposition, and you’ve got a recipe for crying at every bath time. So, we’ve tried a few things! What works best for us is this:

  • We condition first, clipping her hair up for a bit while we wash her body. I prefer to use a less expensive, but still silicone- and paraben-free conditioner for detangling because we use a good half-dollar size amount to really saturate her hair. Our favorite is Yes To Coconuts or Yes to Tea Tree and Sage. These conditioners have great slip without being too heavy. The tea tree and sage formula is definitely lighter, though.
  • Then we un-clip and add just a tablespoon or so of water to her hair to melt the tangles out, and brush gently with our vented brush that I literally got in a Clinique Bonus set circa 1996 and just found at my parents’ house. Hah! But this Denman Flexible Hyflex Vent brush would be a great substitute. I always start brushing from the ends of her hair and work my way up.
  • We then rinse completely, and shampoo with whatever sulfate-free Yes To shampoo we have on hand. The tea tree formula is my favorite. Feels awesome on the scalp and I love that the tea tree naturally repels lice (for just in cases, right??). When shampooing, I really focus on scrubbing her scalp and don’t scrub the lengths of her hair.
  • After we thoroughly rinse out the shampoo, I condition again, this time with our favorite conditioner, from MopTop’s children’s line, Fuzzy Duck. It has THE best slip of any conditioner I’ve found, and it’s just so moisturizing. Plus, it just smells terrific, fresh and clean and citrusy. We use about two teaspoons’ worth, distribute through with the Denman, and clip it up for a bit to allow it to soften her strands. It’s a little more expensive, which is why we don’t use it to both detangle and condition. When we’re out of it, I’ll probably use the Yes To Coconuts conditioner just to see what a difference the lack of Fuzzy Duck really makes. So don’t feel like you can’t use the same conditioner twice–that’s totally fine!

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  • I then rinse her roots and just do a quick conditioner-water scrunch (often called squish to condish) at her ends. 

Now, my 2-year-old is a different story.

Her cornsilk hair is just like mine when I was a tot. Straight until it hits her ears, and then big loopy curls and waves that are easily weighed down. No tangles to speak of, and it doesn’t need much moisture at all.

  • We then rinse completely, almost immediately, or her hair looks greasy and unwashed until the next wash day. Such a difference between the two!

And if you’re curious how I get these two little ones to look up so I can rinse their hair, the secret in our house is in hanging a toy over the showerhead. “Look at the doggy!” works every time.

Styling and refreshing

My older daughter’s hair needs a ton of lasting moisture. Since we generally wash hair every 3 days, I try to make sure she gets a good moisture foundation on wash day:

  • Once she’s out of the tub, I squeeze as much water out of her hair as possible with a microfiber towel (but I’m dying to get her one of these hot pink microfiber hair towels – maybe for Christmas!). **Edited to add, I just purchased these and used them for the first time tonight, and they are not only AWESOME, but my girls also absolutely loved them! They definitely work as advertised, and then some.**
  • Then, once I can catch her and get her dressed, I rake about a half-teaspoons’ worth of Kinky Curly Knot Today leave-in conditioner through her hair, comb with the Denman again, and scrunch.
  • I then rake through and scrunch in a teaspoon of Shea Moisture gel-cream before she can run away again. That’s it! The image below shows her hair pre-leave-in, post-leave-in and product application, and then the finished ‘look’ after playing outside for a few hours.

Refreshing on subsequent days is a breeze. I apply the same smooth-and-scrunch technique to her hair that I do to mine. I have a refresh demo video you can check out on my YouTube channel if interested. But here’s how we do it and what we use:

  • Spritz a few pumps of our Fuzzy Duck refresher spray into my hand, and then smooth over and scrunch into her hair focusing on the ends. I may do this several times, depending on how dry her hair looks and feels. The humidity (or lack thereof) outside makes a big difference.
  • Then, using the same application technique, use my Jessicurl Gelebration Spray to give her curls more definition and hold.

Again, she’s four. So I do my best to remember that being a kid and having fun trumps vanity every time. 🙂

For the littlest one—whose hair grows straight toward her face always, poor thing—her routine is a lot simpler. As it should be for a toddler, am I right??

  • Out of the tub, I use the same microfiber towel I used on my older kiddo to squeeze excess water out of her hair.
  • I then use the Denman to brush her hair back from her face, squish the ends a couple times, and then let her run and play. No leave-in, no gel. Easy peasy.
  • Her hair really doesn’t need any refreshing at this point, other than a quick brush here and there or a ‘whale spout’—her style of choice!—for keeping her hair out of her face.

Obviously, the curlier the hair, the greater the need for moisture and ingredients that soften the hair. I’m not a fan of products heavy with ingredients like shea butter, coconut oil, mango seed butter; I really feel these coat the hair and lead to buildup over time. And yes, I do ‘clarify’ my oldest one’s hair every 6-8 weeks or so, since we’re using so much conditioner. Even valuable softening ingredients like behentrimonium methosulfate/chloride and conditioning alcohols like stearyl, cetearyl, and cetyl, cling tightly to hair and can build up over time. And of course, we follow the clarify up by using a deep conditioner. Jessicurl deep treatment is our favorite. But there’s not a chance she’ll let me leave it on longer than 5 minutes because….kids. 😉

I know you know exactly what I mean! So I do the best I can by using quality ingredients and making sure my kids’ hair is getting enough moisture. Of course, it’s important to remove tangles as gently as possible. I know I personally don’t want my daughter to hate her hair as she grows up because of any inconvenience or pain it’s caused her. As always, I keep my expectations low, so I’ll never be disappointed!

What successes and/or challenges are you experiencing when it comes to caring for your little one’s curls? And, what fantastic products have you discovered in your curly little one’s journey?

PS – The hyperlinks above are Amazon affiliate links, so if you are interested in any of the products I’ve recommended, please feel free to click them. They won’t affect you in any way, but they do allow me to be able to (one day!) make a few incremental dollars for creating this content. Thank you for supporting my product habit. 😉

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8 thoughts on “How I care for my daughters’ curly hair

  1. Sorry this is unrelated….does the zerran mousse have a smell? I bought it after I saw you mentioning it somewhere…but mine has a weird after smell

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    1. Mine is almost completely fragrance free, but I do feel like if you’re someone who is sensitive to fragrances, you may notice that fragrance free products do have a very light scent that can sometimes be a little strange. If you think it smells like it’s rancid at all, I would encourage you to not use it and reach out to them to let them know. Otherwise, you may just be smelling the fragrance of the ingredients themselves. Trust your nose!

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  2. Any suggestions for wavy kids? I love how simple your methods for your girls are and want to find something simple, affordable, & yet effective. I am trying to find some (esp. drugstore) products for my 8 year old that help enhance & hold the wave in her fine, low density hair. We are just starting the curly girl method and I’m struggling to find what works. Do you recommend a leave in, enhancer, and gel, or some other combination? Any suggestions?

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    1. Hi there! Good questions. With kids, of course, I really try to keep it simple and inexpensive. Leave in conditioner is super important. I love the as I am brand because it’s light enough for all textures and densities. A cream gel would probably be the easiest way to go, and Shea moisture makes a number of those that really work well. Hope that helps!

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  3. Hi. I literally just started to learn all about the Curly Girl Method yesterday…for my 3.5yo son who has fine springy curls. Knotty and dry (I used to blow dry his hair daily) and horizontal in the mornings! We live in Asia (high humidity) and since he sweats alot, I don’t think we can not clense his hair for several days (or can I?). So my question is…
    Is co-washing a thing for kids?
    Your wisdom would be greatly appreciated!
    Getting products from US isn’t always easy so want to gather more info before I splurge!

    Thank you!

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  4. Do you have an alternative recommendation for the Fuzzy Duck Curl Refreshing Spray since it looks like MopTop no longer sells it? (I absolutely love this post, btw. It’s been so helpful for me in looking after my toddler’s curly hair.)

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