Teychenne Whitley from Milk and Cookies Kids Spa & Salon in N.Y.C. talks to PEOPLE about what's considered safe for kids — and alternatives to heat styling
After sharing a photo of her 5-year-old daughter North sporting straight hair last week while posing with dad Kanye West, mom Kim Kardashian West used Twitter to respond to a fan who commented on the little girl’s new sleek style.
“Don’t straighten her hair too much it’ll ruin her curls 😫,” the fan advised. “I did that to my hair and ruined it but I’m finally getting my natural curly hair back.”
Replied Kardashian West, 37, “She is allowed twice a year, on her birthday and birthday party! This pic was taken back in June on her bday.”
But how true is it that straightening a child’s hair will flatten out their curls for good — and is heat styling safe for kids at all? PEOPLE spoke to Teychenne Whitley, co-owner of Milk and Cookies Kids Spa & Salon in N.Y.C., to get the 411.
“We don’t recommend it all the time. We do recommend it for special occasions,” she says, calling Kardashian West’s rule of allowing North to straighten her hair for her birthday completely “okay” and “a perfect example” of what she’d advise.
“If you keep straightening your hair too much, you hair does get trained so your curls may not be the same as your natural state [after]. But if you’re just coming in for special occasions, yes, it’s perfect. Why not?”
It is important, Whitley adds, to use a heat protectant on a child’s hair, like one from Design Essentials. “It’s good for all hair textures and it really protects against the heat,” she says of the brand. “That is one of our top products.”
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Whitley says it’s “very rare” that her salon does permanent treatments (perms, relaxers, dyes, etc.) on kids since “chemicals can be damaging to children’s hair” and that it’s not something they would usually recommend. But for parents who do choose to go through with a perm, she says it’s crucial to keep the child’s hair moisturized.
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“We normally suggest a temporary hair color,” Whitley explains. “We offer several temporary hair colors for children because we understand that children have their own personalities. They come in and they want pink hair, blue, purple. We have colored hair extensions we clip in their hair. We make it fun.”
“We use Funlights hair color, which you can just draw on,” she says, adding that permanent hair processes are something the salon mostly performs on older kids in their teens. “We also use non-toxic hairspray, and do ombres and things like that.”
Whitley points out that aside from actual color or texture changes, children have the options of using items like ribbons, beads, glitter and more at her salon to showcase their style without a permanent process or heat styling.
“Parents shouldn’t treat their hair as if it’s an adult’s,” she says. “Their hair is still growing, their hair is still training, so as long as you care for their hair it just makes it a lot easier.”
It’s true, though, that children as young as North come in for a full day of pampering at Milk & Cookies in the form of hair styling, manicures, pedicures and more.
“We do that all day, every day,” says Whitley. “They come in and they want to be pampered and then they want to get cute braids. They wanna keep up with the trends too!”