It’s been almost 10 years since Chris Rock’s documentary, Good Hair, debuted to mixed reviews. Some thought it uncovered unspoken truths about the complexities of Black hair, while others thought it missed the mark completely.
Regardless of where you land on the subject, in the age of social media, mommy-shaming is at an all-time high. From the internet slamming Amber Rose for bleaching her 5-year-old’s hair to the recent outrage of a daycare employee waxing a 2-year-old’s brows, when it comes to kids and “beauty treatments,” you better believe people have an opinion!
Which is strange that the topic of “kiddie perms” has been relatively mum to non-existent despite thousands of YouTube videos showcasing moms straightening their children’s hair. Marketed as “silkeners” or “softeners,” these chemical straighteners are assumed to be less dangerous than the adult versions, but turns out they are equally as dangerous. Surprise, surprise!
“Just like adult no-lye relaxers, kiddie perms are made of the same ingredients used to permanently straighten the hair,” explains cosmetologist/trichologist Sophia Emmanuel of Crown Worthy NYC. “Kiddie perms are relaxers that are less irritating on the scalp because of their chemical compounds. Some kiddie perms are done in two steps, which consist of mixing a cream (calcium hydroxide), with the liquid (guanidine). 'No mix' kiddie perms will consist of lithium, and potassium hydroxide, which can be used without mixing.”
According to Harold’s Place, the ingredients found in relaxers such as the sodium hydroxide are the very same found in drain cleaners, bleach, oven cleaners, toilet cleaners, and other household cleaning supplies. Yikes!
“Although kiddie perms irritate the scalp less than lye relaxers, they can leave calcium buildup on the hair,” Sophia continues. “Calcium buildup can cause the hair to feel dry, and brittle—the hair will look dull, and feel dry. Kiddie perms under process the hair, so the hair will tangle, and never look straight. This can cause some people to put relaxer on the hair every four weeks, which is to soon for a relaxer touch up.”
Beyond suffering from central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia (CCCA), dry scalp, and inflamed hair follicles, the question of self-esteem comes into play. What exactly are we telling our children about their “natural” hair when we’ve taken away their choice to experience it? That it’s not good enough? That it’s OK to have options?
“Most parents relax their child’s hair because it makes it easier to manage,” shares Sophia. “With the natural hair movement on the rise, there are so many products that can be used instead of a kiddie perm to make any hair texture more manageable. Relaxers are not the only solution.”
“I think relaxing your child’s hair at an early age can cause a stigma if the child is told they have 'bad hair' or if the child is being compared to another child who the child is told has 'good hair.' These terms make some children grow up with complexes about their image. The language we use around our children has to change so there are no stigmas. There is no such thing as good or bad hair.”
We definitely hear Sophia's POV, but we're dying to know how real moms felt about the subject. See what they had to say below—and of course, drop your two cents in the comments section!
“Once she [my daughter] asked, ‘Mommy, do you brush my hair so it can be pretty?’ and I thought for a minute and responded, ‘It's already pretty - whether I brush it or not, it's beautiful. I brush it to make sure it doesn't tangle!’ I don't want her thinking that the way her hair naturally grows out of her head needs to be altered.
“I choose not to chemically straighten my daughter Cadence's hair because I think her hair is beautiful and healthy as is. I want her to grow up appreciating her curls, and I also want her hair to reach its fullest potential without damage. There are so many more products and tools available for the care of natural hair than when I was a child, so it’s much easier now to make that decision.
“I think additions like ponytails and braids are fine. I wouldn't give my daughter a weave though. That's a lot for a child—that's just my opinion. I allowed Cadence to have braid extensions once last October so she could dress up as Rapunzel for Halloween. Rapunzel is known for having long hair, so instead of giving her a blonde wig, I had her stylist install some braid extensions to go with her costume and she loved them. I don't want her to get used to wearing fake hair because I want her to appreciate her own. Even with my own hairstyles, I try to alternate between wearing extensions and wearing my ‘fro, so she understands that her hair is beautiful.
“Up until Cadence is about 14 or so, I plan to keep her hair natural. Once she gets into high school, she has full creative control of her hair. I hope that by that time, naturally curly hair is so mainstream, she won't find it necessary to get a relaxer.”— Christina Brown, @LoveBrownSugar, mom of 4-year-old daughter Cadence.
“My daughter is too young for a perm, but I would never perm her hair. My daughter's hair is very soft, curly and thick and she would never need one. If someone were to give her a perm, I believe it would ruin her beautiful curl pattern. Her hair is perfect to me and she can achieve any style with her texture.
“My mother permed my hair when I was in middle school. My hair grew very long and it was great. I would get my hair done once every two weeks. I wrapped it every night and never put heat on it in between washes. I let my perm grow out when I was in college. I noticed how much thicker my hair felt without a perm.
“I don’t mind any extensions. I like to add some extensions [in my hair] from time to time to switch up my look. However, I would not allow my daughter to currently have any added pieces. My daughter is 1. I am a firm believer in letting little girls look/dress like little girls. I’m not a fan of little girls appearing older due to hairstyles and/or outfits.
“I started making real decisions for my own hair when I went to college. I would say that is a mature age (18) to begin letting children make their own decisions.” — Melanie White, @MelRwhite, mom of a 1-year-old daughter.
“One of the main reasons that I decided against chemicals for Madeleine is because there are far too many natural hair stylists and products in our city for me to go that route. We moved to Houston when Maddie was one, and since then I’ve let a few other people manage her hair naturally for me. We started with twist outs and we’ve worked our way up to other protective styles. She loves twists and cornrows. I love her natural texture and don’t want to alter it this early. I wish Cantu, Carol's Daughter, Deva Curl products and YouTube tutorials were around when I was young and struggling with my natural hair.
“I LOVE enhancements! I wear them, so I’m pretty sure Madeleine will wear a sew-in one day. She already wears some hair extensions in her cornrows. I started adding some hair to her braids to give her length and they last longer this way. She’s asking for colored hair. It’s a trend. I told her we’ll try it out during spring break. I think it’s perfectly fine for my daughter’s hairstyles to change as her personality changes.
“I suffered from friction alopecia as a child, so I’m not into lots of tight barrettes or balls. That’s another reason why I’m very mindful of hairstyles for myself and Madeleine. But we are big on accessories in our home. I would tell any mother that’s afraid of ever-changing hairstyles on their child to consider hair accessories and turbans. I let Madeleine pick out a headband, bow, or clip every morning. My favorites are Cat & Jack accessories from Target. And she rocks turbans on some weekends and on vacation.
"She also gets to make the decision for her hairstyle every time she sits in her stylist's chair. She’s picked out her own hairstyles since she was 2 years old. I will admit, a couple of times the styles ended up being 'too grown' for me, and I’ll take her back a few days later to have it restyled. Most of the time I just go with it. If she’s happy, I’m happy. And if it looks too too grown, I usually just add a bow.” — Marlena Wood, @mamamarlena mom of 4-year-old daughter Madeleine.
“I hope to have my daughter educated enough to know that there is so much more versatility with natural hair than hair that is relaxed. [I hope] that she would never want to relax her hair.
“I don't recall how old I was when I received my first relaxer. I know I wasn't very young... maybe an adolescent? The experience was good for me because I didn't understand what damages were taking place—all I saw was how straight my hair was!
“I think that ponytails, braids and/or weaves are OK if the stylist installing is familiar with doing so. In my opinion, these styles can be considered ‘protective styles,’ so when installed correctly there is a benefit to them. However, as with anything, these should be done in moderation to allow the scalp to breathe and the natural hair to be properly cleaned.
"My daughter has input now on how she likes to wear her hair! By her teenage years, she will gain the maturity level it takes to make such decisions [like getting a relaxer], but of course, still with parental input.” — Vincentia Lawrence, @littleladi_law, mom of a 10-year-old daughter.