Caring for 4C Hair can seem daunting. There are so many myths out there about tightly-coiled Afro-textured hair and its supposed unmanageability. Even within the natural hair movement, 4C hair is often neglected. There is so much information about defining curls that one sometimes forgets that not everyone has visible curls—and that is completely fine.
The beauty of 4C Hair is in its coils and puffs, its afros and sheen. It is a hair type that is special and precious and thus needs unique treatment. With the right regimen, it can achieve beautiful styles and lengths like every other hair type. To keep your natural crown thriving, read on for a guide to taking care of 4C Hair.
What is 4C Hair?
4C Hair is made up of fluffy strands that lack a defined curl pattern. The texture can vary from fine to coarse, meaning that the appearance of 4C hair will vary widely between different heads of hair. Due to the tightness of the coils, the scalp’s natural oils have difficulty coating the length of the hair, making it fragile and prone to dryness. Its tight texture causes it to shrink up to 70% of its true length while wet. This can be a particularly surprising phenomenon for those unfamiliar with natural hair, as what may seem like a short afro one day can be stretched into a huge bun the next. That is the beauty of 4C Hair, its ability to transform.
How to Identify 4C Hair
There are many hair typing systems out there, but the most popular is that of Andre Walker, a celebrity hairstylist known for working with prominent African-Americans like Oprah Winfrey and Halle Berry.
According to Walker’s system, the most common textures for Black hair are Types 3 and 4. Interesting, his original system did not include 4C. There was only 4A and 4B within the type 4 category, two hair types that state that the hair in its natural, product free state has a visible curl pattern, whether the curls are S or Z-shaped. It was only after many women remarked that their hair did not fit in his original designations—that it appeared to have no pattern at all—that type 4C was added. While Type 4 textures have their similarities, they all require slightly different care regimens, so it was important to know what worked best for this hair type.
To determine your hair type, wash your hair and let it air dry free of products. The pattern that you see should mostly match one of the textures below, but keep in mind that it is common to have a mixture of different textures within one head of hair. If you do not see a definite pattern in your strands and they appear tightly packed, it is likely that you have majority 4C Hair. It will appear closest to the traditional Afro style when unmanipulated. Again, this is not about the feel or length of your hair, but the size and shape of the strands themselves.
4C Hair Care Guide
Now that you have determined that you have 4C hair, it is time to talk about the best tips and tricks for caring for your mane. Although this hair texture unfairly has the perception that it is difficult to manage and hard to grow, it simply needs the right method for best results. While your hair texture does not tell the whole story—thickness and porosity are also important—it is very helpful to know when choosing products and styles.
Prior to cleansing your hair, distribute essential moisture into your hair and scalp by pre-pooing. There are many different techniques for pre-pooing, but it is best to keep it simple and use a hydrating oil (e.g. coconut oil) or a DIY mask made of banana, oil, and honey; these products are known to boost moisture and shine, essential additions for 4C hair.
One of the most popular moisturizing techniques for type 4 hair is the LOC (Leave-In, Oil, Cream) method. After washing or dampening hair, generously apply a leave-in conditioner. Then, grab your favorite hydrating oil and use it to coat your strands and scalp. Remember, the more moisturized your hair is, the healthier it will be. Finally, seal the moisture in with a cream or butter. This product will ensure that all the moisture you added to your hair remains.
Best Products for 4C Hair
When searching for products for 4C hair, the most important thing to remember is moisture. Because your hair is naturally prone to dryness, every part of your regimen should include products that give or help your locks retain moisture. Moisturizing your hair will add sheen and prevent breakage—keys for healthy, thriving hair. Read on to find out the best product recommendations for 4C hair.
One of the most potentially moisturizing-sapping hair care areas for 4C Hair is during the cleansing process. Shampoos, particularly those that contain sulfates, can strip the hair of natural oils, leaving it rough and dull. This is exactly what you do not want. To avoid this, there are a few steps you can take.
Sulfate-free, clarifying shampoos
Keeping your hair and scalp clean and free from buildup and debris is essential. Using a clarifying shampoo that is free of harmful, drying ingredients can be a great choice for maintaining moisturized, clean 4C Hair.
- Shea Moisture Jamaican Black Castor Oil Strength & Restore Shampoo
- Kinky Curly Come Clean
- Alaffia Authentic Black Soap
Some people with Type 4C Hair choose to avoid shampoo altogether, using conditioner to cleanse their hair in a practice known as co-washing (conditioner-only washing). This method is particularly helpful for those who have extremely dry hair. To co-wash, begin by washing your hair and scalp with water and/or diluted apple cider vinegar to remove debris and other buildup. Then apply conditioner along the length of the strands before rinsing the hair.
- Alikay Naturals Cowash Me Cleansing Conditioner
- As I Am Coconut Cowash
- Pantene Co-Wash Cleansing Conditioner
Conditioning is key to putting moisture into 4C Hair. There are different conditioners that you should use at each phase of the hair care process: detangling, deep conditioning, and moisturizing.
While natural hair looks and feels strong, it is actually the most fragile of all hair types. This is especially true during the detangling process. To avoid breakage and nurture healthy hair, you should always dampen hair prior to detangling it. Applying a generous amount of detangling conditioner with lots of slip will help your fingers and/or comb glide through your tight coils.
- Aussie Moist Conditioner
- Shea Moisture Raw Shea Butter Restorative Conditioner
- VO5 Strawberries & Cream Conditioner
At least once a week, you should deep conditioner your hair to infuse it with extra moisture. After washing your hair, apply a hydrating conditioner to your strands and cover your head with a shower cap or plastic bag. Allow the conditioner to sit for at least 30 minutes before rinsing. For even better results, add heat by way of a hooded dryer or scarf tied tightly around your head. This will allow the product to really penetrate your hair shaft.
- Shea Moisture Deep Treatment Masque
- Silk Elements Luxury Moisturizing Conditioner
- Aussie 3 Minute Miracle
Once your hair has been cleansed and detangled, it is time to add the leave-in conditioner. Distribute the conditioner along the length of damp hair. This product is important because it adds an additional source of moisture to your hair. For 4C hair, aloe vera juice is greatly beneficial as it moisturizes your main without too much product build up.
- Lily of the Desert Aloe Vera Juice
- Camille Rose Naturals Algae Renew Deep Conditioner
- Giovanni Direct Leave-in Weightless Moisture Conditioner
Oils are essential for maintaining 4C hair. They can be applied to both hair and scalp, but make sure you do not overdo it; this can lead to product buildup and blocked hair follicles—the enemy of healthy, thriving hair. Depending on your hair needs, you can use oils to moisturize and/or seal in existing moisture in hair.
Oils that hydrate the hair include coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, and tea tree oil. These oils penetrate the hair shaft and are best applied after leave-in conditioner and prior to a heavy cream. They are especially good for 4C hair as they add necessary moisture.
- Doo Gro Stimulating Hair Oil
- Organic Coconut Oil by Spectrum
- The Body Shop Tea Tree Oil (for scalp)
Oils that seal existing moisture into the hair include Jamaican black castor oil, grapeseed oil, and jojoba oil. These oils coat he hair shaft and are best applied after leave-in conditioner and prior to a heavy cream. They lock in moisture, ensuring that hair stays hydrated for a longer period. This is important for 4C hair, as moisture tends to evaporate quickly if not properly sealed in.
- Jamaican Black Castor Oil
- NOW Grapeseed Oil
- NOW Jojoba Oil
Sealing butters and creams
For 4C hair, butters and creams are a critical step for sealing in moisture. They add the heavy barrier between the strands and the air that your hair needs, protecting it from drying winter precipitation and harsh sun rays.
- Tailored Beauty Everything Butter
- L’Oreal Curl Reviving Butter Balm
While 4C hair is known to lack a defined curl pattern, there are methods to create an illusion of one. One popular way is known as shingling. After cleansing and conditioning your hair, separate it into four sections. Begin with the first section, dividing it into several smaller parts. Apply styling gel to your finger and distribute it through each small section. Then allow the hair to dry completely before manipulating it.
- Kinky Curly Original Curling Custard
- Shea Moisture Curling Souffle
Tips to Help Your 4C Natural Hair Thrive
When caring for your natural 4C Hair, it can be easy to become overwhelmed and frustrated. It does not have to be this way. Think of your natural hair journey as fun and exciting. Sure, there will be hiccups and missteps along the way, but that is all part of the learning process. After a while, you will be a pro at maintaining your hair, and you will wonder why you were so stressed. For help with the process, keep the following tips in mind:
- Learn Your Hair. Yes, 4C hair can be a lot to handle. However, this does not mean that it is impossible or any more difficult than any other hair type. It simply requires different products and methods to keep it happy. The more you experiment, the more you will learn. Watch Youtubers that have a similar texture, read blogs, and try different things out on your hair. Soon you will find out what works best for YOU—even if it goes against all the popular wisdom. The more you learn to love the hair on your head, the more exciting caring for it will become.
- Be Gentle. Remember that even though your hair looks tough, it is extremely fragile. Choosing the right styling tools and methods is critical to proper care. Never detangle dry hair, and always comb strands from bottom to top. Make sure to cover your hair with a satin/silk scarf and sleep on a satin pillowcase. This will protect your strands from rubbing against your bed’s cotton fabric—a practice that can lead to breakage.
- Keep it Moisturized. If there is one thing to remember when caring for 4C hair, it is moisture. While this is important for all Afro-textured hair, 4C hair is the driest and most in need of hydration. Make sure that all of your products are filled with moisture and suited to keeping your strands quenched throughout the day. Avoid sulfates and other drying ingredients and remember that water is your hair’s best friend.
- Get Regular Trims.While it may seem counterintuitive, regular trims are critical to growing and maintaining healthy hair. Because 4C is prone to extreme shrinkage, it is best to trim hair while stretched. This will reduce breakage and improve the overall appearance of your hair.
- Have Fun! One great thing about 4C hair is that there are so many styling options. Play with your mane and figure out what you like best.
How to Style 4C Hair
The styling possibilities for 4C hair are endless. From bantu knots to box braids, there are always new options to keep your hair fresh and interesting. When styling your hair, do not become too concerned with making it look like someone else’s hair. The most important thing to remember when working with natural hair is that it often has a life of its own. Listen to your hair and figure out which styles work best for you.
4C Natural Hairstyles
- Bantu Knot Out
To create this style, begin by placing the hair in bantu knots. Divide the hair into small sections—the more defined you want the end result, the smaller the sections. Apply a styling gel to hair and twist each section into small buns, pinning the bottom to hold it in place. Once your hair has dried, lubricate your hands with oil (this prevents frizz!), gently unravel each bun, and fluff.
- Crown Braids
This is a great protective style. it protects your ends from harsh weather conditions and prevents them from drying out. It is also a very simple style: split your hair into two sections and french braid each section. Wrap the the french braids around each other, tucking the ends under the braids and securing the style with bobby pins.
- Afro Puff
Ah, the timeless afro puff. This style never gets old and can be glammed up or down depending on the occasion. For 4C hair, a great trick is to use ribbon or old pantyhose to form the ponytail. Tie the material around the front of your head and slowly slide it back, adjusting it until the puff is the size and shape of your choice. This places less stress on your hair—particularly your edges—and allows for maximum volume.
- High Bun
This is another great protective style that protects your ends while giving lots of volume. Once you have formed a puff with your hair, split it into two and pin each side to the base of your ponytail.
- Low Bun
Great for the office or a night out, this sleek style is the epitome of timeless grace. Be sure not to form the bun too tightly, or you may put unnecessary stress on your edges. To achieve the look, tie your hair down with a scarf prior to leaving the house. This will smooth the hair without excess use of brushes or gel.
This style is perfect for creating a curl pattern on 4c hair. Begin by separating the hair into sections. The smaller the sections, the more defined the curls will be. However, smaller sections often lead to less voluminous results, so find a good balance between the two. Apply styling gel to moisturized hair and braid. Once the hair is completely dry, lubricate your hands with oil, remove the braids, and fluff.
- Twisted Updo
Perfect for a gala or ball, this style is sure to turn heads. Although there are many variations, the basic premise is to ensure as much volume at the crown as possible while smoothing down the sides.
A traditional style on Afro-textured hair, the variations of cornrows are endless. They are a great way to protect your hair while giving yourself a break from maintenance.
- Roller Set
Roller setting 4C hair is a great way to obtain a stretched appearance without applying heat to your strands. Begin on moisturized hair, as this is key to getting smooth results. Detangle your hair thoroughly, apply setting lotion, and add rollers to small sections. Once hair is completely dry, remove the rollers and fluff.
The most iconic and unique Afro-textured hairstyle, the Afro makes a statement. To achieve this look, you will need a pick or wide-toothed comb. It is best to start on dry natural hair that has previously been styled in bantu knots or a braid-out. Comb the hair out gently, adjusting the hair with your hands to create your ideal shape,
Use 4C Hair Extensions
While we all enjoy styling our natural hair, sometimes we want a new look, more volume, or a little more length. Here are some simple styles that allow you to switch it up a bit while still maintaining and protecting your 4C texture.
1. Faux Bun
- Faux Locs
- Feed-in Cornrows
- Box Braids
Now you know which methods, products, and styles work best for 4C hair. Hopefully some of the recommendations work for you. Keep in mind that there is no one-size-fits-all regimen when it comes to natural hair. It is all about trial and error, experimentation, and exciting successes. Best of luck in growing long and strong 4C hair. No matter how you choose to wear your kinky-coils, always remember that they are beautiful and unique. Indeed, they are your natural crown.