Caring for Your Child’s Skin and Hair

One of the most common questions for transracial adoptive families is regarding proper hair and skin care.  It’s a topic of many forums, support groups, and websites.  There is plenty we could discuss, but this article will give you some basics.


Let’s start from the inside out.  Healthy skin and hair does not happen on a dehydrated body.  Our kids need lots of water and healthy fats in their diets.  Fat?!  That’s right.  We’ve been conditioned to think it’s terrible for us, but there are some fats that we actually need.  A solid and growing body of research shows that healthy fats:

  • nourish the brain
  • keep the joints well lubricated
  • along with enough water each day, lays a foundation for healthy skin, hair, and nails.

A couple of excellent sources of fat for children are avocadoes and coconut oil, as well as raw nuts (no salt).  If your kids aren’t accustomed to healthy fats, there are creative ways to get these into your child’s diet:

  • Avocado can be blended with maple syrup, bananas, and a bit of cocoa to make a rich and tasty mousse
  • Add a half of an avocado OR a tablespoon of coconut oil to a fruit smoothie.
  • Make a homemade trail mix with dried fruit and raw nuts. This can be a fun activity.

A little bit of good fat and plenty of water each day is a good start toward healthy skin and hair.  For water, make sure your kids are getting about half their weight in ounces each day.  For a 50lb child, that’s 25oz, or just a little more than three cups.

Now, let’s move on to the outside.  Winter can be especially tough and drying on skin.  Moisturize skin without chemicals.  Simple things are best.  Coconut oil is very close in molecular structure to the skin’s own oils so it’s easily absorbed.  If you children are little, a coconut oil massage on the legs and arms before bedtime can moisturize the skin and help the little ones to wind down and prepare to go to sleep.  Some older kids may love this even more!  Not only are you getting moisturizing done, but you’re getting a bit of skin to skin contact as you massage those little knees and elbows, which can be a helpful bonding activity as well.


First, get to know your child’s hair.  Not all African textured hair is curly to point of coiling.  There are many texture types (level and type of curl) of African hair and your child’s hair type will help determine how you care for it.

Second, be encouraged!  You CAN care properly for your child’s fabulous, God-given coif!  You don’t have to clip your little boy’s hair to a buzz cut; with a bit of education and a lot of practice, you can learn to care and style well!


Moisture is also critical for very curly hair.  One note as we discuss hair: don’t over-shampoo!  Very curly hair tends to be less oily than straight hair, meaning that it’s drier and doesn’t attract dirt as quickly.  It is perfectly normal to condition a few times each week, but to only shampoo once.  Of course, you may do the shampooing more when the weather is nice and the kids are outside a lot…dirt may find its way into the hair more often then.  Just be sure to be generous with conditioning every time you shampoo.

As a bath-time routine, wet the hair thoroughly.  If your child has long hair, or tightly coiled hair, you’ll need to make sure you’ve wet it all the way to the scalp.  It will help to gently massage as you pour the water over.  If it’s a shampoo day, shampoo and rinse thoroughly.  Again, with long or very tightly curled hair, rinsing will take time; ensure you’ve rinsed all the shampoo out.  When you condition, do it generously.  It can be helpful to leave the conditioner in while your child has his ‘tub time’ and then rinse just before he gets out.  Take your time; be sure it’s all rinsed out.

This is the time to seal in moisture.  While your child’s hair is damp, work in a moisturizer, leave-in conditioner, or oil.  Coconut oil is great.  It’s solid at room temp, but as you massage it into warm, damp hair, it’ll melt.  Work it in from ends to roots, getting your fingers into all those fantastic curls.  When it’s bedtime, a sleep cap or durag and a satin pillowcase  help stave off tangles because they allow the hair to slide as your child moves in the night.

Daily Routine

On days when your kids don’t get tub-time, or simply as a morning routine, use a spray bottle to moisturize.  This applies to hair that is free for the day, as well as hair that is styled in a specific way.  Braids, twists, and other styles need moisture to stay healthy and to help the style keep for a few days.  For something like twists, you can pick up each twist, lay it into the palm of your hand, spray, and squeeze so the water goes through the twist.  Then, apply a bit of coconut oil or leave-in conditioner where the hair is parted.  Apply right onto the scalp, and up the base of each twist.  The same principle applies to braids, bantu knots, and other styles.  If your child is wearing his or her hair free for the day, massage the moisturizer into the whole head of hair, use a wide tooth comb to take care of any tangles, finger-shape it and you’re done.

A Word About Products

Beware of products from big-box stores.  Most of them, even those marketed for ethnic hair, contain chemicals and alcohol, both of which are drying to the hair; steer clear.  There are good products out there.  Komaza Hair Care makes excellent natural products, and there are several others that have a good reputation as well.


There are a couple of things to note about styling.  When you’re combing, moisturized hair is much easier to detangle.  Keep the spray bottle handy.  There are many good products that will act as a ‘slip’, and coconut oil works well also.  It makes the hair slippery, and a lot of detangling can be done with your fingers.  Parting the hair helps, too.  This helps you to work a section of hair at a time.  Also, even with a tender-headed child, there shouldn’t be pain beyond the occasional accidental tug.  Detangle gently from ends to roots, and detangle often.  This will keep hair care sessions pleasant and may even help them turn into great times of bonding for you and your child.

Proper tools are important.  A wide-toothed comb keeps from breaking the hair as you detangle.  A rat-tailed comb is helpful for parting and removing twists and braids.  A brush like the Tangle Teezer is good as well, but remember to use only on moisturized or damp hair.

As you begin, start with some simple styles.  For girls Afro-puffs can be a cute and easy starting point.  For girls or boys, two-strand twists make a good style to start with.  There are a lot of YouTube tutorials, website tutorials, and in some communities trans-racial adoption support groups have resources for teaching parents how to create corn row braids and other styles.  Be proactive in seeking education and other resources.


What about pool time? You don’t need to keep your kids away from the pool, but there are some things you’ll want to do to help keep those super-curly tresses healthy. Here is a simple process that can help:

Coconut Oil: If you know the night before that the kids will have pool time, moisturize with coconut oil. The more coconut oil the hair absorbs, the fewer chemicals it will take in.

Water and Shea Butter: Wet the hair thoroughly with water before getting into the pool, then coat with shea butter. Conditioner will rinse right out in the pool. Shea butter is thicker and more solid and will protect the hair much more thoroughly.

Style: Loose twists or a similar protective style helps avoid tangles and protect the hair.

Swim cap: If possible, get a swim cap for your child to keep the hair from moving around too much in the chlorine. Lycra is good; rubber tugs too much.

Afterward: Loosen the twists and rinse with cool water; cool water rinses while hot water activates the chlorine molecules. An apple cider vinegar rinse will then help to remove the chlorine. Then shampoo with a high-quality, chemical-free shampoo and deep condition with high-quality conditioner that’s made for your child’s hair texture. Follow with your normal moisturizing routine.

Some Final Encouragement

Here are a couple of less pragmatic parting thoughts.  Involve both parents in the skin and hair care of your kids.  If Dad, for example, is at a loss when it comes to even combing and detangling, it can send a message that hair care isn’t important, or worse, that one parent views the child’s hair in a negative light.  Lastly, while you work on your child’s hair, talk about it in a positive way.  Comments like, “Wow…God gave you fantastic curls,” and, “It’s so fun to do different things with your hair,” or, as you extend those curls out to their full length, “Look how healthy and wonderful your hair is!” will help give your child a positive view of his or her hair.  God made each of us the way He did because it glorifies Him.  Making sure our kids know that and know that we love them just the way He made them is important.


This post was originally published in Bethany Christian Services’ quarterly LifeLines publication.  You can read the full article entitled Skin & Hair 101 here:


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