Hold Your Head High: Hair Issues

You may find yourself dealing with a few niggling hair issues as your child grows up.

We advise on a number of hair issues from your child’s first visit to the hairdresser to treating lice and various scalp conditions.

From the cradle

“You can identify cradle cap as flaky, dry scalp or thick and oily yellow/brown crusty patches on a baby’s head and sometimes their eyebrows,” says Sister Mary-Ann Alves. Alves runs a childbirth education and baby clinic in Joburg. “Cradle cap usually appears a few weeks to a few months after birth. It can range from mild to severe. The good news it that it’s harmless. The cause, while unknown, is not related to poor hygiene or allergies. The condition usually clears up on its own in a few months, but there are ways to treat and soothe the area.”

For mild cradle cap, Alves recommends gently brushing your baby’s hair with a soft bristle brush or comb after washing or lightly rubbing their head with a towel. More stubborn cradle cap may require a gentle rub of olive oil. Leave it in for about 15 minutes, then lightly brush it out with a soft bristle baby brush or comb. Afterwards, wash the hair with a mild baby shampoo and rinse well. Do not vigorously brush, comb or scratch the baby’s scalp. This could irritate the skin. If the cradle cap does not improve or starts spreading to other areas, take your baby to a doctor.

Unwanted guests

This is one of the most frustrating of all hair issues. Lice are common among schoolgoing children and spread like wildfire. Incessant scratching could be a sign that you’re dealing with these bugs. Look closely at your child’s head, paying particular attention to the hair above the ears and above the neck behind the head. You may also see tiny white nits on the hair shaft. You’ll know that these white specks are lice as they’re difficult to remove and aren’t flaky.

Treatment

Use a head lice preparation, essentially an insecticide. Follow the directions precisely. Increasing the dosage out of desperation doesn’t make it more effective. A less invasive, more natural form of treatment is the fail-safe recipe of Cape Town paediatrician Dr Harold Pribut. You need 50ml tea tree shampoo, 50ml tea tree conditioner and as many eucalyptus drops as your child’s eyes can handle. Mix thoroughly and place on the head with a packet covering the area for about 20 minutes. Afterwards, comb out the preparation with a lice comb. For the best results, spare no expense and buy a good fine-toothed comb designed specifically for lice. Then, machine-wash bedding, clothing, stuffed toys and other items used by the infected child. Head lice don’t survive long once off a person, so there is no need to go to any drastic measures to remove them from the house.

Grown-up issues

As your child enters puberty, rampant hormones may affect their hair. This adds hair issues to the long list of things causing their teenage stress.

Oily hair occurs when the sebaceous glands in the skin become overactive, producing more oil than needed. Teens can manage the condition by washing their hair once a day with a solvent-type shampoo, which has a higher pH balance. Take care to rinse the hair well, avoid using conditioner or use only a small amount on the ends of the hair if they appear dry, and don’t brush too often.

Embarrassing dandruff or flakes of dead skin, which can be visible in your child’s hair and on their clothing, can be treated with over-the-counter shampoos containing salicylic acid, zinc, tars or selenium sulphide. If you don’t see an improvement you may need a medicated shampoo, lotion or liquid to rub into their scalp.

Noticeable hair loss of more than 100 strands a day must be taken seriously as it points to poor overall health, possibly caused by stress, anxiety, new medication, vaccination, dietary changes, illness, exposure to allergens and toxins or surgery. These factors wreak havoc on a system that is undergoing rapid growth, hormonal shifts and changes in brain chemistry. While hair-growth products and supplements of vitamin B6, or spirulina and chlorella may help, a more holistic approach is advisable. This includes reducing stress levels, improving nutrition and getting adequate rest, fresh air and exercise. Your child should also wear loose hairstyles and keep them as untreated and natural as possible.

Turn heads

Your older child’s positive self-image depends, in huge part, on how good they feel about their hair. Equip yourself with information, either by doing online research or chatting to hairdressers, about ways to best manage their tresses. Hair types that cause particular distress include wavy, blonde, curly, fine and kinky hair. If you live in a humid climate, know that your curly-haired daughter doesn’t have to live with the frizz and there is a product for your blondie whose hair turns green after a weekend in the pool.

Conquer the fear

Part of the joy of seeing your child grow up is being able to chronicle all of their firsts, and this includes their first haircut. Unfortunately, a child’s first encounter with a hairdresser can be a daunting experience, and understandably so. Imagine being taken to a busy and unfamiliar place, seated in a large chair, sprayed with a “water gun” while restrained in a cape and having a stranger come at you with sharp scissors? There are things you should do to prevent a failed trip to the hairdresser. If not managed correctly, the fear can create lasting trauma and become a phobia called tonsurephobia (fear of hair cuts) that, according to US therapist Kendra Cherry, can be related to a person’s first haircut as a small child. Because of this, parents should do everything they can to ensure that their child’s haircuts are pleasant by simply making the experience less scary.

How to deal with the first cut

When you feel it is time to take your child for their first trim, which can be when she is between eight months and two years old, make sure you’ve given them a “head start” by letting them watch you or an older sibling get a haircut and talking them through what they are seeing. Scissors are the scariest part for most children, so use words that are less scary: “snip” or “trim” instead of the not so child-friendly “cut”.

Latasha Scholtz, owner of KidStation, a children’s hair salon, recommends choosing a salon geared to deal with edgy young clients. Take their favourite toy or a surprise treat and don’t give them time to fixate on their own scared expression, or the scissors, in the mirror. Keep them occupied. Be actively involved, even if they’re not willing to participate. If they don’t want to put on the cape, demonstrate to them how it’s done. Get excited – even if you’re not – because otherwise they’ll pick up on your apprehension. Plan the hair appointment at a time when you know your child won’t be tired or hungry. Lastly, as the salon can be a big deal, maybe try giving a few hair cuts at home, if you feel confident to do so.

Other hair issues

Other, less common, hair issues include folliculitis, alopecia areata and loose anagen syndrome. These are all need professional treatment from a medical doctor, dermatologist or  trichologist.

We asked you on Facebook what interesting cultural practice or tradition you followed for your child’s first haircut:

“As a Muslim, we have to shave our baby’s hair when they are seven days old. Then we pay any silver coins we have to the person who cuts the baby’s hair.” – Amina Bhikhoo-Khan 

“When an African baby takes their first step, the mother can cut her baby’s hair for the first time. My daughter had an IV line on her head at five months, so I had to shave her head before she could walk, much to the dismay of her father’s family.” – Bontle Kgake 

“I was told to shave off her baby hair after the first week, but my husband and I decided we weren’t going to do that. So, my daughter hasn’t had a haircut yet and she is now five.” – Carol Lengolo 

Lucille Kemp and Lisa Lazarus