SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center
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Changing Your Hair

Lots of kids go through times when they'd like to change their hair. Often, it's girls who are most concerned, but boys may be interested in how their hair looks, too. Sometimes hair will change as you get older — all by itself — when you go through puberty.

Maybe it used to be lighter and now it's darker. Or maybe it's more oily than it used to be and now you need to wash it more. It's also normal, as you're getting older, to notice your appearance more. You might suddenly decide you want a hairstyle like other kids at school have.

But some styles and looks require chemical treatments and long hours in the chair at the hair salon. Some people dye their hair a different color, get a bunch of braids, or make their hair straight when it's curly.

Treatments That Can Damage Hair

Are these treatments OK for kids? That's something you should discuss with your parents. At any age, any chemical or heat applied to the hair can damage the hair or cause it to break off.

Any styling that pulls hard on the hair also can hurt the scalp or cause hair loss. Styling tools, such as curling irons and straightening irons, get very hot and can cause burns. And chemicals used to color, curl, or straighten hair can be very harmful if they get in your eyes or on your skin — another reason not to try this without an adult's help.

If your parents say it's OK for you to try one of these treatments, it's important to know how they work. Let's find out more so you protect all those hairs on your head. You have more than 100,000 of them to take care of!

If You're Thinking of Making a Change

If you don't like your hair, here are some suggestions:

Take basic steps first. Step 1 is having clean hair. Are you washing your hair enough? Some hair needs to be washed less often than other kinds of hair. Maybe your hair looks great when it's washed once a week or maybe you need to do it every day because it's oily.

Likewise, you might want to think about the conditioners or styling products you're using. Are they making matters worse? Or would trying something, like gel, be just what you need?

Step 2 is to have a good haircut. With a good haircut and a clean head of hair, kids usually look great just as they are, so no extreme measures are needed. Headbands or barrettes are another easy way for girls to change their hairstyle.

Get a parent's permission. If you do decide to get a chemical treatment or have some serious styling done, it's important that your mom and dad know what you are up to. It is not a good idea to color or straighten your hair on your own — even though you can buy these treatments at the drugstore. It's easy to make a mistake that could damage your hair or lead to a bad result — like orange hair, when you wanted blonde!

See a professional. After talking with your mom or dad, it's a good idea to see a professional stylist. Go to someone you know does good work or who has been recommended to you. A professional will know how to use chemical treatments so they don't damage your hair or lead to bad results. He or she also can show you how to style your hair on your own.

From Curly to Straight

Different chemical treatments and styling techniques are used to change the way hair looks. Here are some of them:

If you have curly hair and want it to be straight:

Relaxers, sometimes called straighteners, make curly hair straight. These products break the chemical bonds (attachments) that make hair curly. Once broken, the relaxers prevent the bonds from reforming so your hair will stay straight but at the roots your hair will grow back as it is naturally.

Relaxers can make your scalp itchy and red, make your hair break more easily, or burn your scalp if they aren't used the right way. That's why a parent or a professional should help you do it.

What else can you do to make sure it goes well? Don't scratch, brush, or comb your hair right before you get your hair relaxed. This can increase the chances that your scalp will be irritated. When your hair starts to grow in curly again, don't use the relaxer again for at least 6 weeks. The more you use these chemicals, the more damaged your hair can get.

Flattening irons, straightening combs, and blow-dryers use heat to break the bonds in your hair. These techniques don't last as long as chemical treatments. The next time you wash your hair — or even before you do — the curls can come back. These tools also can damage your hair, so ask for help so that you don't burn yourself.

From Straight to Curly

If you have straight hair and want it to be curly:

Perms are sort of like relaxers, except they do the opposite. They make straight hair curly by chemically increasing the number of bonds. The hair is usually set in rollers and then chemical solution is squirted over your hair. Like relaxers, when the treatment's done, the curls stay in your hair — even after washing it. But at the roots, your hair will grow back as it is naturally.

Like relaxers, perm solution can make your scalp itchy or cause it to burn. Hair also may break off near the root. For those reasons, it's best to have a professional give you a perm. Never try to do this yourself. If your parent, or another adult, gives you a perm, he or she needs to follow the instructions exactly. Never leave perm solution in your hair longer than the instructions say. Your hair could fall out or be hopelessly frizzy!

Curling irons or hot or cold rollers also make straight hair curly. Cold rollers are the old-fashioned rollers your mom or grandma might already have or that you can buy at the store. You roll your hair around them and it gives your hair some curl.

In the old days, a lot of women slept in curlers so their hair would be beautiful in the morning. How uncomfortable! These rollers are good choices for kids to try themselves because they can't burn you like curling irons or electric curlers, which are both hot.

New Color

If your hair is one color and you want it to be another:

Color can only be changed with chemicals (or a wig!). A pigment called melanin controls your hair (and skin) color. People with black or brown hair have eumelanin in their hair, and people with blond or red hair have pheomelanin. A kid's hair color is nice just the way it is naturally, so we don't recommend this treatment for kids.

Some people complain about hair loss or a burning scalp after getting their hair dyed. Others have allergic reactions, like redness, itching, or even trouble breathing.

Also be careful if you decide to dye your hair a crazy color, like blue. Some dyes are meant to be temporary — like for Halloween — but it may take time before you are back to your usual color.

Braids or Extensions

If you want braids or longer hair:

Braids and hair extensions are two other popular ways to style hair. To make braids, someone takes small sections of hair and weaves them together. You can get your hair braided on its own or with more hair (real or fake) braided in. Either way, it needs to be done right. Braids (and hair bands) that are in too tight can cause your real hair to break off.

Hair extensions extend the length of someone's natural hair. To do this, hair pieces are sewed, woven, glued, or clipped into the hair.

Damaged Hair?

If you have used these or any other treatments, you may notice that your hair has broken off in places or looks thin. Sometimes, problems with hair are a sign of a health problem. Your parents may want to take you to see your doctor if you're having hair trouble that isn't related to chemical treatments or harsh styling techniques.

If the problems are due to chemicals and styling, take a break from these. Let your hair grow a while. Your hair grows about ¼ inch (10 millimeters) to ½ inch (12.7 millimeters) every month. In the meantime, you might want to think about gentler ways of styling your hair. It just might keep you out of some hairy situations!

Simple Styling Changes

Looking for some simpler ways to change your look without harsh chemical treatments? Try visiting a stylist at a hair salon and ask for some ideas. Bring magazine pictures of styles you like to get the conversation started.

Maybe you're thinking about growing your hair longer, or you want to go for a shorter do. Maybe you're tired of your straight cut, and you want to try something layered for a change. You might be growing out your bangs or thinking of getting some. A simple approach without chemical treatments might provide just the change you're looking for.

Having a stylist wash and style your hair in a new way (maybe curl it, braid it, put it in a twist, or blow-dry it smooth) lets you try out a new look with the cut you already have. If you're ready for a new haircut, your stylist can give you one that captures the look you want.

Ask your stylist to show you how to use a gentle styling product, like hair gel or spritz, how to dry your hair with a blow-dryer, or how to use hair accessories, such as clips, scrunchies, wraps, and headbands, to create different looks. You might even try a glitter gel or spray to give you that extra sparkle. Remember, you'll get your best looks when you start with fresh clean hair with a good cut.

It's fun to try new looks and styles. Caring for your appearance is a way of celebrating your amazing body and expressing the inner you. Of course, feeling fabulous and beautiful starts on the inside — so let your inner beauty shine through no matter what style you wear. Everyone will notice that you're a beautiful you — and, wow, your hair looks great, too!

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: October 2011