Welcome to Crowned, our new series about the history of Black hair. Hosted by senior social media editor Star Donaldson, Crowned explores the history and traditions that have shaped the Black experience and the hairstyles born out of them. In our newest episode, we deep-dive into the silk press, a common straightening technique with rich cultural significance. Join us in learning more. This series is researched and fact-checked by Christine Forbes and Oluwatobi Odugunwa.
You may notice your friends, co-workers, or favorite celebrities using gel or edge control to style baby hairs—but have you ever wondered about its origins? In the newest episode of Crowned, Byrdie’s senior social media editor, Star Donaldson, took a deeper look at the history of baby hairs and edge styling, its polarizing popularity, and cultural significance. Read more ahead.
What Are Baby Hairs?
When discussing the origins of baby hairs, it’s important to note that it’s not a hairstyle. By definition, baby hairs or peach fuzz are the thin hairs that typically grow around your hairline (or edges). Generally, baby hairs have a different, wispier texture than the rest of your hair. Some baby hair may “fall out” as early as six months of age. While some people remain with baby hairs throughout adulthood, others style their edges into different swirl-like patterns for a similar effect (more on that later). Ultimately, your baby hairs are a biological feature, and styling options and techniques look different for everyone.
What Is Edge Styling?
Styling the hair along your edges is popular today, but it’s—by no means—new. Black women popularized edge styling in the early 1900s. According to Crowned researchers, Josephine Baker sparked the popularity of styled edges with hairstyles that featured gelled-down edges in swoop-like patterns. Baker even made 3D edge styling with decals and accessories popular in the 1900s.
Today edge styling is still a regular part of many beauty routines. Commonly done with a styling product like a styling gel or pomade and a dense brush, most people lay the hairs along their edges along the sides of their face or brush them into the rest of their hair to blend with a style. Styling your edges can add a polished-finished to any hairstyle, especially slicked-back ones and it can also help blend wigs and weaves to help make them look more lived-in or natural.
Some people take an inventive (or throwback) approach to style their edges and opt for wavy or curly patterns (think: Josephine Baker or Chilli from TLC). Today, you’ll see more people using the 3D technique by adding decals like pearls or gems along their baby hairs for a bolder look. Alicia Keys is a great example of this and often adds gem details along her edges.
There’s no denying the popularity of edge styling in Black and some Latinx communities, but non-Black and non-Latinx people have heavily appropriated it. According to Crowned researchers, laying edges was a way for Black people to present their afro-textured hair, which was otherwise considered unruly, as neat. At the same time, laid edges grew popular in Mexican and Afro-Latinx communities during the rise of the Chola subculture that grew popular in the 90s.
Like many traditional Black hairstyles and techniques, baby hairs and laid edges are often criticized by non-Black people and considered ghetto or unprofessional. Still, many non-Black and Latinx people and celebrities have worn the style and deemed it fashionable on runways and red carpets.
Texturism plays another role in the baby hairs conversation, as styling edges in a particular way becomes more difficult as your hair goes up on the texture scale. For example, coily type 4C hair, which typically has a tightly-curled or Z-shape pattern, may look or feel different when manipulated around the edges. According to Crowned researchers, “people with type 4 hair are more likely to feel pressure to lay their edges—despite it being more difficult for them—because afro hair is seen as unkempt.”
Is Laying Your Edges Damaging?
Despite the popularity of styling edges, there’s something to be said about whether the technique is actually safe when done regularly. Some experts believe pulling, brushing, and creating tension on the strands along your hairline can cause breakage and damage (in extreme cases, traction alopecia).1The gel products often used to style edges also may contain alcohol and drying ingredients that can damage hair when used consistently over time.
While styling edges can be done regularly, it’s important to reduce tension after long periods of time to not pull on your follicles. You can also reduce damage from product buildup by thoroughly cleansing your scalp and using nourishing scalp treatments and silk scarves to keep your hair soft and hydrated.
The Final Takeaway
Today, laying baby hairs and edges is still a commonly used technique, deeply rooted in Black history and culture. More than ever, styling your edges can be an additional form of self-expression or experimenting with your look. Still, the beauty of Black hair is being able to style and treat your hair however you please—whether that means inventively laying your edges or, simply, leaving them be.