Straightening a child's hair requires some thought, experts say.

Can You Straighten Children's Hair?

The answer is less if, and more when and how.

Curls on kids are adorable. Add dimples — just slay me. But curly hair is hard — and sometimes painful — work. When your child screams each time you put a brush to their head, or for an occasion when being especially buttoned up is called for, you may wonder whether it’s safe to straighten your child’s hair.

Straightening has its perks: it calms down a lot of frizz and can leave hair looking silky, shiny, and neat. And once your kid gets to a certain age, they actually might ask you to straighten their hair for them. So, is it OK to warm up the flat iron, or is messy, curly hair a rite of passage that kids need to endure?

Can you straighten children’s hair?

There’s no age when you can’t straighten hair. As long as you — not your child — are handling the flat iron, it’s perfectly safe. “There are no age restrictions regarding hair straightening, similar to how there are no age restrictions regarding when to first cut the hair,” says Julien Farel, celebrity hairstylist and owner of Julien Farel Restore Salon & Spa in New York City.

There are a few things to keep in mind, though. For one thing, the flat iron itself can be dangerous, especially when toddlers are involved. Flat irons are, obviously, extremely hot. Touching the hot plates can lead to serious burns. So while a 3-year-old’s hair is fine to straighten, consider waiting until your child is able to sit still throughout the long process. Too much movement can cause an accidental burn. When straightening any child’s hair, make sure the flat iron is not within reach, and always turn it off, unplug it, and place out of harm’s way immediately when you’re done. Even unplugged, it can cause injury until it cools down.

Aside from the danger to your child’s body, using a flat iron improperly or too often may lead to hair damage. High heat can damage the hair cuticle, the outermost layer of each strand of hair, and pulling hair with a flat iron can even cause permanent damage. Straightening your child’s hair once in a while is OK if done safely, but even if you had the time and energy for it, straightening every day could have a long-term negative impact.


How To Safely Straighten A Child’s Hair

Since straightening a child’s hair involves some pretty intense heat, you need to be careful while doing it. Follow the below steps to keep everyone (and their hair) safe.

  • Start with a blow-out. Farel recommends starting with a hair dryer so hair is already a little straight. “At 5 years of age or older, it’s OK to do a straight blow-out with a board bristle brush,” he says.
  • Keep them distracted. Again, you really want your child to sit still while straightening their hair. Keep them distracted with a pile of books, someone helping out by entertaining them, or even giving them a tablet to watch a movie.
  • Always use a heat protectant spray. A heat protectant spray or serum helps protect the hair cuticle from the heat by creating a barrier between the hair and the flat iron. It seals in moisture and helps prevent frizz, and is always good to use before doing any heat styling.
  • Keep the temperature low. Heat over 350 degrees Fahrenheit can really damage the hair quickly. You’re better off using a lower heat setting to lessen heat styling damage. It will take a bit longer, but may be worth it in the end.
  • Avoid pulling the hair too much. Part of the technique for using a flat iron is pulling the hair while it is in the iron. To lessen breakage and protect your child, avoid pulling the hair out too quickly or with the flat iron closed too tightly.
  • Only use the flat iron for finishing touches. Farel also recommends keeping flat iron use short and sweet. “Only use the flat iron for a few short minutes, just to smooth the curl, and only on a very special occasion,” he says. Using it quickly lessens potential hair damage and works better with a little one’s short attention span.

Hair Care Tips For Little Kids

To keep damage minimal, avoid using a flat iron and any other hot tools too often. As Farel notes, it should be something you only do on special occasions, especially for toddlers.

If you want to keep curly hair as healthy as possible, pay attention to the shampoo and conditioner you use. “Only use a co-wash shampoo, 100% sulfate free, detergent free, silicone free, paraben free,” Farel recommends. “If the shampoo doesn’t have foam, there will not be damage.”


Julien Farel, celebrity hairstylist and owner of Julien Farel Restore Salon & Spa in New York City