The Best 4A Hair Type Tips and Tricks, According to a Hairstylist

Determine whether you have type 4A hair, then find out how to cater to your strands' specific needs.

Hair Health Hotline: 4a Hair
Stocksy.

Hair Health Hotline is your direct access to dermatologists, trichologists, hairstylists, and other beauty pros. Each story in this series tackles a common hair or scalp concern and offers science-backed solutions to care for your strands.

Hair-care routines are not one size fits all, a reality that can be frustrating if you have coily type 4 hair. Many people with coily hair find that educational content is typically directed at people with loose curls compared to their tighter texture.

Type 4A hair, in particular, falls right between curly and tightly coiled, which can make finding the perfect products to care for your hair all the more difficult if you're unsure whether to choose products marketed for people with curly or coily hair. Looking for detailed, specific advice? Here, Tamika Gibson, hairstylist, expert, and owner of The Hair Diagram and Bold Hold, explains everything you need to know to help 4A hair thrive.

Q: I have loosely coiled hair...I think it falls under the 4A hair type. I need help figuring out the best routine for my texture. What should I be using?

A. If you have 4A hair, ideally you'll wash your hair weekly, avoid over-conditioning your strands, and keep heat styling to a minimum, says Gibson. But before diving into more details on how to care for 4A hair, you might want to confirm that your hair falls under that type to begin with.

What Is 4A hair?

4A hair is part of a hair typing system that hairstylist Andre Walker introduced in the '90s when promoting his line of hair products on the Oprah Winfrey Show. This classification system divides hair into four types: Type 1 (straight), Type 2 (wavy), Type 3 (curly), and Type 4 (coily). Each number is further broken down into subtypes A, B, and C, to distinguish looser waves, curls, and coils from tighter patterns.

If you have type 4A hair, you have "S"-patterned coils that are looser than types 4B and 4C, says Gibson. Type 4B hair has wider-shaped coils that appear in a "Z" pattern, and 4C hair has the tightest coils.

How to Care for 4A Coily Hair

Type 4A hair is prone to breakage or loss of elasticity when it isn't cared for properly. "Type 4A hair that is damaged becomes dry and brittle, develops split ends, and begins to break and snap," explains Gibson. "When your hair is unhappy with your current routine, it won't snap back into curls, it's limp, and doesn't hold moisture as well as it would if it were in its healthy state."

Here are the best ways to avoid damage and keep type 4A hair happy, healthy, and thriving.

Nail down your wash routine.

If you have type 4A coils, you should wash your hair at least once a week with shampoo, says Gibson. If you want to refresh your hair between washes, spray (rather than rinse) your hair with water, then apply a styler, recommends Gibson. It's also worth investing in a clarifying shampoo to use (at least once a month) to eliminate any product build-up that could prevent hair from absorbing the moisture it needs, says Gibson. When washing and conditioning your hair, consider using cold water, which prompts the cuticle (aka the outermost layer) of hair to lie flat, locking in moisture, adds Gibson.

4A hair tends to be prone to dryness because the natural oils produced by your scalp can't as easily make their way down the twists and turns of the coils compared to straight hair. Consider adding an oil, e.g. argan oil, to your routine to lock in moisture, recommends Gibson. (Here are more details on how to use argan oil as a leave-in conditioner, deep-conditioning treatment, or for styling.)

People with type 4A coils should limit their use of products containing sulfates and alcohols, which can lead to dry strands and breakage, says Gibson. While protein treatments can strengthen hair, they can lead to breakage when used excessively, she notes. If you rarely use heat you should use a protein treatment every other month, but if you use heat often, you should use a protein once a month, advises Gibson.

Hair Health Hotline: 4a Hair
Courtesy of Tamika Gibson.

Don't over-condition your hair.

When you have coily hair that longs for moisture, it is a natural response to overcompensate when conditioning your hair in hopes of hydrating your strands. Though techniques such as co-washing and conditioning overnight have been popularized in the natural hair community for drier, coily hair types, it's best to avoid these practices, according to Gibson.

Leaving a conditioner on for longer than 30 minutes puts you at greater risk for hygral fatigue, says Gibson. Hygral fatigue is a term used to describe when strands repeatedly absorb too much moisture and swell up, then dry out. This issue may lead to brittle, dry hair that's prone to breakage and frizz.

Detangle your strands properly.

Many type 4 naturalistas understand the importance of detangling their hair: It is a necessary task to loosen any knots/tangles and — you guessed it — avoid breakage. The key to a stress-free detangling session is to wet your hair and apply a conditioner then work a wide tooth comb or brush through your hair, starting at the ends, says Gibson. Additionally, sleeping with a silk scarf or bonnet will help keep your coils from tangling while you sleep, while also preventing moisture loss throughout the night, according to Gibson.

Keep heat styling to a minimum.

Although embracing your natural texture may be your ultimate goal, you may want to heat style your hair from time to time — which is fine, according to Gibson. Whether blow drying or straightening, it's essential to use a heat protectant, says Gibson. "If you use [hot tools] too much — more than twice a week — it will result in heat damage," she explains. "Heat damage will change your curl pattern, cause split ends, and make your hair brittle. I recommend applying a heat protectant before using any heat-styling tools." If you can avoid heat entirely, your coils will thank you, but if you choose to use heat, take proper precautions and pay close attention to how your hair responds, she advises.

There's a lot of information to wade through if you're seeking 4A-specific hair-care tips. But helping your hair type thrive can be as simple as keeping it moisturized and striking a balance between with how frequently you cleanse, limiting the use of heat, and taking proper precautions when detangling.

Have a hair health question you want answered? Send your Q to hairhotline@shape.com for a chance to have it featured in a future installment of Hair Health Hotline.

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