The Ultimate Guide to Caring for Natural 4c Hair

4c hair guide
Photo by Suad Kamardeen on Unsplash

Transitioning to, and maintaining your natural hair can be a challenge if you’re not sure how to keep your hair healthy and strong. In this article, we’re going to look at everything you need to know about 4C hair and how to take good care of it to ensure maximum health and growth.

So, without further ado, let’s jump right into this mega guide to 4C hair!

What is 4c Hair and what are its Characteristics?

4C refers to the type of hair that has fluffy strands that don’t have a well-defined curl pattern. 4C hair texture can vary from extremely fine to very coarse, which means that the way 4C hair looks varies widely from one head to another.

Because of the tightness of the coils, it’s difficult for the scalp’s natural oils to make it to the very end of the strand. The length of hair that isn’t coated with the oils is prone to dryness and ultimately becomes fragile.

The tight texture of 4C hair means that when it’s wet, it can shrink up to 75% of its true length – a phenomenon that most people who are unfamiliar with natural hair find surprising, as they see a short afro one minute transformed into a huge bun the next.

This ability for such massive transformations is one of the major benefits of having 4C hair!

How do you Know if you Have 4c Hair?

There’s a vast selection of hair-typing systems to choose from, but one of the best ways to identify if you have 4C hair is by washing your hair, and then letting it air dry so you can easily see the size and shape of the actual strands.

It’s important to ensure that your hair is free from products when identifying your hair type. Take a look at the pattern of your hair and match it as best you can to the textures in the image below. Just keep in mind that it’s very common to have a combination of two different mixtures.

If you don’t see a visible pattern – that is, if your strands are tightly packed when your hair is product-free and in its natural state, then it’s like that you have 4C-type hair.

4A, 4B, and 4C hair textures are similar in many ways, but they all require different care regimes, which is why it’s important to know which class your hair belongs to so you can have a hair-care routine that is best for that type of hair.

What are the Differences Between 4a, 4b and 4c Hair?

4A Hair

This type of hair has the tightest curls out of all the options. 4A hair looks very similar to 3C hair, and often, people with this type of hair are thought, by many, to be of mixed culture. The curls are very tight and somewhat bouncy.

A good option for most people with this hair type is to simply wash and go as it doesn’t have much shrinkage after washing. This means they don’t really have to do a lot with the hair other than moisturizing it to maintain a visible curl pattern.

4B Hair

This type of hair is between 4A and 4C and is described as being ‘z-shaped’. Its appearance is fluffy but it has curls that are a lot tighter than 4A hair. Wash and go can still work with this type of hair, but it needs significantly more attention than 4A hair in order to create and keep a defined curl pattern.

To help you maintain a visible curl consistently, moisturize your hair properly and then do protective styles like braids and twist outs.

4C Hair

This type of hair has a curl that has the tightest coil of the three options. This hair is what most people refer to as nappy or kinky hair. It looks ‘packed together’, as opposed to the fluffy appearance of 4B hair, and it doesn’t show a defined curl pattern.

4C hair is the most fragile type of hair there is as its shape makes it more susceptible to dryness. To maintain your 4C hair in a healthy state, it’s necessary to sometimes wear protective styles like extensions or braids.

The Importance of Moisture for 4c Hair

While every type of hair is different and requires varying care routines, one thing that is common to all types of hair is the necessity to keep your hair moisturized if you want to grow a full, healthy head of hair.

This is even more important if you have 4C hair, as this type has the least moisture retaining capabilities. This makes it a lot more prone to dryness and breakage. So whether you have high or low-porosity 4C hair, make sure that you do whatever you can to help your hairs retain moisture.

As previously mentioned, the tight curls in 4C hair prevent the natural oils from making it all the way to the end of the strand. Without that natural coating of oil, your hair dries out faster, and that’s why this type of hair needs more attention and help when it comes to retaining moisture.

What is Hair Porosity?

Your hair’s porosity is simply its ability to absorb moisture. This can be broken down into high, normal, and low porosity. If you want to find out what type of porosity your hair has, simply drop one strand of clean hair into a glass filled with water.

Does it sink to the bottom immediately? That means your hair is high porosity. If the strand of hair lingers halfway in the glass, it means that it has normal porosity, and if it floats near the top, and takes a long time to sink, it means your strands have low porosity.

Another option is to take my hair porosity quiz. Click here to take that quiz now.

Low Porosity Hair

If your hair is of low porosity, it means that your cuticles are tight and very resistant to absorbing moisture. The reason the strand floats at the top in your porosity test is that the water could not get inside it to weigh it down.

Low porous hair can’t absorb products well, either. If you want to get moisture to effectively penetrate the hair strands, you’ll need to use products which contain alkaline ingredients to help lift your hair cuticles and let more moisture in.

Stay away from low-pH products as the high acidity levels in these keeps the hair cuticle closed. A great way to life your cuticles and get more moisture into your hair is by using steamers. Whenever you set styles on low porosity hair, try to start from damp hair in order to avoid overusing butter and oils.

Normal Porosity Hair

For those of you with this type of hair, you can rest easy! Your hair holds moisture and shine for extended periods of time, and while this is obviously the type of hair that the majority of natural women would absolutely love to have, it’s important to note that normal porosity hair can actually change over time, depending on your use of heat, relaxer, or other chemical processes.

So, just because you aren’t in the red now, doesn’t mean that’s how it’s going to stay. Make sure that you stick to a regular hair-care routine to keep your normal porosity hair healthy.

High Porosity Hair

For anyone whose hair strand sank to the bottom of the glass, your hair is probably riddled with tears and gaps that allow moisture to easily flow in, which is why the hair sank quickly to the bottom. However, those openings in the hair strand also allow the moisture to flow out just as easily. This means that even though your hair absorbs product quickly, it will lose moisture and shine before long.

To help retain moisture and manage high porosity hair, use oils and kinds of butter to help lock in the moisture in your strands so it’s not so easily lost. You can also try rinsing your hair on a regular basis with a mix of apple cider vinegar, and then applying protein treatments and aloe vera gel to help fill the gaps in the strands.

You can’t completely repair hair of high porosity, but using the tips outlined above will help you improve its condition.

Tips to Grow 4C Hair

By now you’ve (hopefully) already determined that your hair is type 4C, which mean that it’s time to discuss the best tips ‘n tricks for taking care of your natural crown. This type of hair is unfairly perceived as being hard to take care of and hard to grow, but if you know what you’re doing, you’ll have a pretty easy time keeping your mane looking its best and growing it to the length that you want.

All it takes to get the best results is using the right method. And keep in mind that your hair texture doesn’t tell the entire story. You need to also consider its thickness and porosity. These are things that are important to consider when choosing styles and products to use on your hair.

Before cleansing your natural mane, distribute essential moisture throughout your scalp and hair by pre-pooing. You can use any of a variety of methods for this, but the best thing is to keep the process simple and use hydrating oils such as coconut oil. Alternatively, you could make your own mask using banana, honey, and oil.

These three products work to effectively boost moisture in your hair, and add to its natural shine – two things that are essential for 4C hair.

A popular moisturizing method that is commonly used by women with type 4 hair is the ‘leave-in, oil, cream technique (or, LOC). After you wash or dampen your hair, apply a generous amount of leave-in conditioner and then use your favorite hydrating oil to coat your scalp and strands.

Keep in mind that the more moisture your hair can retain, the healthier it’s going to be. The final step is to seal in the moisture using butter or cream. This will help keep the just-added moisture inside your hair for as long as possible.

The Hair Growth Cycle

4c hair

All kinds of hair go through three growth phases which are as follows:

1. The Anagen Phase – Hair Growth

This phase can last one to 10 years, but on average it lasts about 4 to 7 years. According to research conducted by The Science of Black Hair, almost 90% of the hair on your head is in the growth phase at any given time.

2. The Catagen Phase – Hair Resting

This phase lasts from 4 weeks to 4 months, and at least 1% of the hair on your head is in the resting phase at any given moment.  

3. The Telogen Phase – Hair Shedding

These are the hairs that either fall out on their own or get pulled out while you’re styling your hair. 11% of your hair is in the shedding phase. If you’ve got dreadlocks or braids on your head, you won’t notice this much, since the shed hairs are restricted and have nowhere to go, but for hair in its natural state, it’s normal for you to lose between 50 and 100 hairs each and every single day.

I know that sounds like a lot, but it isn’t actually. Especially if you consider that the average head has over 100,000 hairs on it. So, don’t start counting the hairs that fall out every day, thinking that you’re going bald! However, if you notice some excessive shedding or thinning of hair, you may need to take a look at factors such as

  • Your stress levels at home, at work, or socially
  • Are you a new mom? This sometimes happens to women immediately post-partum
  • Hormonal changes (birth control, pregnancy, menopause, etc)
  • Nutritional deficiencies

Common 4c Hair Issues

In this section of this monster guide to beautiful natural hair, we’re going to take a look at some of the 4C hair issues you might come across during your transition and your natural journey. Listed below are some of the biggest 4C hair challenges you may face, and how you can deal with them.

1. Shedding

This is a normal part of your hair’s growth process, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take steps to keep the hair loss to a minimum. Some of the things you can try to stem the rate of shedding include not using substandard products, detangling your hair using your fingers, and sticking to a healthy diet that is rich in protein.

The absolute best thing you can do to help stymie the shedding of your hair is to keep it in protective styles like braids or weaves as much as you can. Just remember that a lot of factors play a role in how much your hair sheds, including your age, stress levels, overall health condition, hydration, and nutrition.

2. Breakage

To combat this, it’s important to first determine what exactly is causing it. Is your hair breaking because you’re manipulating it too much? Or maybe it has incurred extreme chemical damage that has resulted in breakage.

Whatever the reason is, it’s important to take steps immediately you notice it in order to stop further damage to your hair. Of course, as a natural, the chemical aspect of it shouldn’t be an issue anymore. But keep in mind that even adding color to your hair can weaken it over time and cause breakage.

Find out everything you need to know about breakage and shedding in this post here

3. Heat damage

Heat is yet another major cause of hair breakage. Every time you use a blow dryer, flat iron, pressing comb, or other heat styling tool, you risk damaging your hair. If you absolutely must use heat on your natural hair, don’t let the temperature go above 450 F. In fact, if you can keep it under 400, that would be even better.

It’s also important to note that different types of hair respond to heat in different ways. And since 4C is the most fragile type of hair, this is something you should take into consideration before applying heat to your hair.

Remember, heat takes a lot of that much-needed moisture out of your hair, and since moisture is a natural’s best friend, stripping your hair of it by using heat can shock the hair and cause it to become brittle and dry, which ultimately leads to breaking.

4. Shrinkage

Afro hair can shrink up to 80% of its length when it’s wet, and while this is just something that is an unavoidable part of your natural hair journey, but there are some tried and trusted techniques that you can use to reduce shrinkage and reclaim your glorious crown including banding, blow-drying your roots, putting your hair into a high bun, Bantu knots, and even setting your hair.

5. Knots

Just make sure that whatever method you use, you’re as gentle as you can be when handling your hair.

This is yet another unavoidable challenge you face when trying to manage and grow natural hair. The more effectively you can avoid knots in your hair, the less shedding and breakage you’ll experience due to your attempts at detangling.

Once your hair reaches a length of about six inches or so, refrain from wash and go’s. Wear protective styles frequently and always wash your hair in braids. During your detangling sessions, try to use a thick, heavy conditioner or one that is cholesterol-based to help ease the process.

Accessories for Natural Hair

Satin bonnets: Sleeping in a satin bonnet comes with many advantages for women with 4C hair, not least of which is the fact that it keeps your hair hydrated by preventing moisture from being lost to absorbent pillowcases. That way you wake up with healthier, better looking, no-headache hair.

Satin scarfs: Similar to the satin bonnet, sleeping with a satin scarf helps to keep your hair away from cotton pillowcases that absorb moisture and dry your hair out. That way, you’ll have frizz-free hair come the morning. An added benefit is that you get to style the scarf the way you want to, and you can vary the styles, unlike a bonnet which looks the same every time you put it on.

Satin sleep caps: With satin sleep caps, you get all the same benefits as the scarves and bonnets. No split-ends due to excessive dryness, no brittle hair caused by pillowcases that slurp up every last drop of moisture in your strands, and no more unnecessary hair breakage. Click here to read my review of my favorite satin sleep caps and accessories.

Satin pillowcases: If you want the ultimate help in maintaining your natural hair, it makes sense to invest in a satin pillowcase. You’ll be able to sleep easy knowing that your hair will easily glide over the surface, thus reducing friction. Less friction equates to reduced frizz, breakage, and ‘bedhead’.

Accessories for 4c hair
click image to see more on Amazon

Combs: When dealing with 4C hair, stay AWAY from small toothed combs as these will undoubtedly damage your hair. Finger detangling works best if you have long hair, but if you must comb your natural hair, opt for a wide-toothed comb and be very gentle when using it.

Hair Dryers/Blowers: As I stated before, heat should be used sparingly; only when absolutely necessary. And even then, use the lowest heat setting that will get the job done. When considering a blow dryer for 4C hair, it’s important to note that some hair dryers are made more equal than others. When choosing the best hair dryer or blower for your hair, go for one with heat settings.

Ideally, it would be even better if you get a ceramic or ionic dryer since it gives off heat that is ‘softer’.

4c Hair Clip-ins and Extensions

4C clip-in hair and extensions are designed to perfectly blend with your own natural hair, giving you a full, afro style in just minutes. No matter what type of hair you have, this is a great way of adding length or volume and creating new styles while working to maintain your natural hair in its healthy state.

Some styles you can do using clip-ins and extensions include:

4C Natural Styles

  • Faux Bun
  • Faux Locs
  • Feed-in Cornrows
  • Box Braids
  • Huge Afro

Once you get your natural hair-care routine down, you can start having fun with your hair. There are tons of different styles that you can do ranging from braids and buns to ponytails and updos. If you feel like giving your hair a break from protective hairstyles, here are some of the (no-heat) styles you can now enjoy thanks to your 4C hair:

Bantu Knot

This is an easy style to create. Simply divide your hair into small sections and apply a tiny amount of styling gel to the hair. Twist each section into a bun and hold it into place by pinning it at the bottom. For a more defined end result, make the hair sections smaller.

Crown Braids

This style is great for preventing your hair from drying out. Just like the Bantu knots, it’s very simple to do. All you have to do is split the hair into two sections, then French-braid each one. Wrap the French braids one over the other, and secure the ends under the braids with bobby pins.

Afro Puff

This is a style that will never go out of style. You can even glam it up depending on what the occasion is. Use a ribbon tied around your head to form the ponytail and gently slide it backward, adjusting it until your puff is the size and shape you want. This will give you maximum volume while putting your hair under less stress.

High Bun

This is yet another style that protects the ends of your hair while still giving you a lot of volume. After forming a puff, split your hair into two and then pin each of the sides to your ponytail base.

Low Bun

This is a great style that is quick and easy to do. It offers you sleek, timeless elegance and can be worn either at the office or even for a night out. Just don’t form your bun too tightly as this can put your edges under unnecessary stress.

Braid-Out

Braiding is great for creating some sort of curl pattern for anyone with 4C hair. Start by separating your hair into sections. If you want loose curls, make the sections big. For more defined curls, make the sections smaller. It’s often a good idea to find a comfortable balance between the two so that you get curls that are not only defined, but voluminous, too.

To achieve this style, simply moisturize your hair, and then apply gel and braid. Once it is completely dry, use a bit of oil to lubricate your hands and then remove the braids before fluffing the hair. This helps to prevent frizz.

Twisted Updo

This is an arresting style for a ball or gala, and it’s guaranteed to turn heads wherever you go. There are a lot of variations to this hairstyle, but the basic premise is the same. Make sure that you get as much volume as you can at the crown while you smooth down the sides of your hair.

Cornrows

This is a traditional style for afro hair, and the variations are absolutely endless. This is also one of the best ways to protect your hair and give it a break from constantly being managed and maintained.  

Roller Set

To do this effectively, you need to start by moisturizing your hair properly. That is the only way to get smooth results. By roller-setting your 4C hair, you’ll be able to get a stretched appearance without applying any heat to your hair.

Make sure you apply setting lotion, before adding the rollers to small sections of your hair. Leave the hair to dry completely in the rollers, and then remove them and fluff your hair.

Afro

This is the style that is most closely associated with 4C hair. An afro makes a statement, and to achieve the look flawlessly, you’re going to need a wide-toothed comb. It’s a good idea to start with dry hair that’s been previously styled in braids, Bantu knots, or other similar styles. Comb out your hair gently and use your hands to manipulate it into your ideal shape.

Products to Maintain Your Natural Hair

When it comes to products to help you maintain and grow your 4C hair, there is a sea of available options on the market today. Trying to pick the best one for your hair can sometimes prove to be an overwhelming process. This section is all about helping you determine the best products you should consider using on your 4C hair out of the countless options out there.

In all your searches for the right product for your hair, just keep one thing in mind. The most important thing for your natural hair is (and always will be) moisture. 4C hair dries out pretty easily, so when looking at products, always ensure that they either give your hair moisture, or they help your mane lock in and retain moisture.

By moisturizing your hair, you not only add sheen, but you also help to prevent breakage – and this is the simple secret to full, healthy, thriving long natural hair.

4C Hair Product Toolbox

Shampoos

Since shampoos are among the top culprits when it comes to sapping your hair of moisture, it’s important to choose one that is free from drying ingredients that harm your hair. Choose sulfate-free clarifying shampoo to help keep your scalp and hair free from debris and build-up. A moisturizing shampoo or clarifying shampoo will keep your 4C hair moisturized and it won’t strip your hair of its natural oils.

Conditioners

Conditioning your hair is the key to getting moisture into it. There are different conditioners you can use for each phase of your hair-care process. These include detangling, deep conditioning, moisturizing, and so on. Natural hair has the look of being strong. However, it’s actually the most fragile hair type there is. Choosing the right conditioner is important to help you avoid breakage during your hair-care routine.

Some 4C women make a choice to avoid the use of shampoo altogether and rather opt to use conditioner to cleanse their hair in a process known as conditioner-only washing, or ‘co-washing’. This is particularly great for women with hair that is extremely dry.

Leave-In Conditioners

Once you’ve cleansed and detangled your hair, you can add the leave-in conditioner to add that extra layer of moisture to your 4C hair. Aloe vera juice is particularly great for 4C hair, and it will moisturize your mane without creating too much build-up. I wrote a review of my favorite leave-in conditioners for 4c hair. Read it here.

Edge Control

Having smooth edges is key when you’re doing protective styles on your natural hair. If you want those baby hairs, then opt for great edge control products to give you those sleek edges. Whether you’re doing a stylish ponytail, topknot, or one of the various braided styles, make sure you use a good product to help you keep your edges in check.

Hair Masque

You already know that if you don’t maintain your natural hair properly, you’re not going to be able to grow it into the thick long mane that you want. One of the best ways of ensuring your hair stays healthy and strong is by applying a hair masque. Choosing the right product for the job can have phenomenal results in your hair growth.

Detanglers

Detangling natural 4C hair is a process that should be done as effectively as possible without damaging or over-manipulating your hair as that can cause irreparable damage. Make sure you choose a good detangler that gets rid of your knots without pulling out your hair or breaking it.

Oils

These are essential for helping you maintain 4C hair. You can apply oils to both your hair and scalp. However, it’s important to ensure that you don’t overdo this as it can lead to a build-up of product that can block your hair follicles, making it impossible for them to thrive. Depending on your hair type, you can use sealing oils to help lock in existing moisture in your hair.

There are also other types of oils that hydrate your hair. These hydrating oils include avocado oil, coconut oil, and olive oil. When applied after your leave-in conditioner, they penetrate the hair shaft, adding the necessary moisture. It’s best to apply these before using a heavy cream.

Additional Thoughts on 4c Hair

Reasons I love My 4c Hair:

  • Natural hairstyles are versatile
  • 4C type hair allows me to grow a thicker crown
  • My hair is low-maintenance (once I got the routine down)
  • It gives me a stronger connection to my culture
  • With natural hair, I’ll be able to achieve longer lengths then I would otherwise
  • It’s a part of who I am.

Natural Hair is as diverse as the women that wear it. When I first went natural the more I started digging up information about natural hair, the more I noticed the different textures.

I started to covet the looser curl types. I wanted to be natural, but I wanted “her” type of natural hair instead of my own. It even got to a point where I couldn’t stand my OWN hair that grew out of my OWN head!!!

One day in . particular, my view point changed. I was at Walmart and a woman with looser curls than mine told me how much she liked my hair and how she wished her hair was more like mine.

Still, I wasn’t sure if she was being honest, but it got me thinking about why I felt how I felt about my hair. I decided that would stop comparing my hair to other textures and love it because it was a living breathing part of me.

In our lives it is so easy to see what others have and begin to covet those things, but it is necessary to love your hair exactly the way it is. Whether you are a new natural with a mini fro or and experienced  one with flowing tresses. Loving your hair through it’s journey is self love, and is necessary for a happy and thriving life.

4c hair guide

One Reply to “The Ultimate Guide to Caring for Natural 4c Hair”

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, as I experienced the same feeling you had about your hair. When I first went natural my colleagues at work called me a golliwog. This only hurt for the weekend. Now more than ever I show off the versatility of my 4c hair.

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