How to Keep Your 4C Hair Thriving, According to Hairstylists

Hairstylists explain how to select products, assess your hair's health, and structure your haircare routine when you have 4C hair.

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Being a curly girl is a trip — through the best and worst of times, it requires a commitment to caring for your curls and keeping them healthy.

I can attest. About four years ago, I made the decision to cut my damaged and chemically-altered hair over my bathroom sink, in hopes of joining the naturalista brigade and embracing my 4C texture — tightly coiled strands that fall into the zig-zag pattern category. Since then, I've fallen in love with my 4C curls and my daily maintenance feels like an act of self-love rather than a chore.

That said, it took me awhile to understand my 4C curls and get to know them. When I first started out on my journey, I had no clue what I was doing. Within weeks of my spontaneous big chop, I realized that everything I thought I knew about maintaining my 4C natural hair was completely wrong. Caring for natural hair can be complicated, and TBH, I'm sometimes tempted to fall back into my not-so-healthy habits — straightening my hair and finding the easiest (not necessarily healthiest) hair-care options possible.

To my curlfriends who are just starting out on their natural hair journey or learning to maintain their curls on their own, I understand firsthand how confusing it can be. Thankfully, we live in an age where hair-care advice, product reviews, and virtual consultations are literally in the palms of our hands, thanks to social media. (

And if you're looking for tips on how to care for 4C hair, as I once was, you've come to the right place. Here's a guide to caring for your 4C curls and tips on how to keep them thriving — regardless of where you are in your curl journey.

Your-Complete-Guide-To-Caring-For-4C-Hair-GettyImages-1265666392
Getty Images

What Is 4C Hair?

Understanding your 4C curls requires going back to the basics of your curl pattern and what distinguishes your curl type from others. 4C is one category in a classification system for curly hair types created by hairstylist Andre Walker. Within the system, curly hair ranges from type 2A (loose waves) to type 4C (tight coils).

"4C hair is a tightly coiled curl type in which the hair strands can be very fine to super coarse," says Latoya Moore, hairstylist at Devachan. "This gives the hair its unique characteristic of tightness, softness, proneness to breakage, and potential dryness." In general, 4C hair needs a lot of moisture and hydration in order to thrive, says Moore. While type 4C natural hair can range and vary in terms of the tightness of the curl, coils are a major indicator that you have 4C hair.

How to Determine If Your 4C Hair Is Healthy

It pays to assess the current state of your hair, so you can care for it best. "Healthy 4C hair has a soft texture and shiny curls," says Moore.Here are a few other indicators of your hair's health.

Hair Porosity

A sign that your hair is healthy is that it's able retain moisture, says Rashuna Durham, stylist and pro educator for hair brand Amika's Pro Team. In healthy strands, the cuticle (the outermost part of the hair shaft) is able to lay flat to lock in moisture, she says. Knowing the porosity of your hair can give you a better idea of whether your hair is retaining moisture or if it isn't, and point you in the right direction for the best products for your hair, says Durham. Your hair's porosity is a reflection of how well products and moisture can pass through the cuticle layer, she says.

You can determine your hair's porosity by simply placing a single strand of hair into a bowl of water. If the hair sinks to the bottom, your hair has a high porosity as it's absorbing all the moisture. If your hair floats on top of the water, your hair has a low porosity and doesn't absorb moisture easily. With this knowledge, you'll be able to choose products that either add more moisture to your hair (if you have lower-porosity hair) or that focus more on defining your curls with a tighter hold (if your hair is on the porous side). (

Hair Elasticity

Your hair's elasticity can also clue you in on how well it retains moisture, says Durham. When hair is wet, hold it at each end and gently stretch the hair, then release the hair, she suggests. If the hair stretches and immediately bounces back to its original length when released, then the elasticity is good. This means your hair is healthy and retaining enough moisture. If your hair takes longer to eventually return to its original length, it has poor elasticity. If your hair has poor elasticity and thus isn't retaining moisture, don't panic. You may just need to amp up your moisture intake (deep conditioning, hot oil treatments, etc.) to ensure your curls are receiving the love they need — but more on that shortly. (

Breakage and Knots

Another sign your hair is healthy is that it maintains its thickness from the root to the ends, explains Durham. This is a sign of minimal breakage and strong cuticles. "Some of the signs to look for are breakage when washing or detangling and single-strand fairy knots," says Durham. That's a nickname for knots that form in a single strand of hair. They tend to occur more frequently on curly or coily hair, which can more easily tangle and loop around itself. Avoiding fairy knots boils down to getting your hair trimmed every four months or so, protecting your hair overnight (more on that later), and providing your curls with adequate moisture (since moisturized hair is more smooth and slippery, and is then less likely to become tangled).

How to Choose 4C-Friendly Hair Products

As you've probably gathered by now, caring for your 4C curls requires a bit of effort and patience. It also requires finding curl care products with the right ingredients for your hair type.

If your curls are of the 4C hair type, there are certain ingredients you should steer clear of, according to Durham. She recommends steering clear of sulfates and isopropyl alcohol. Sulfates can strip your hair of its natural oils, she says, and isopropyl alcohol can likewise be drying. "Over time, your 4C hair will weaken, and end up looking dull, and become very prone to damage, breakage, and split ends," says Durham. (

On the flip side, 4C hair loves oils. "Give me all the natural oils to help moisturize 4C hair," says Durham. "I love argan oil, almond oil, shea butter, coconut oil, and jojoba oil, to name a few," she says. That said, there is such a thing as using too much. "Using oils on your hair can actually dry it out because it blocks the hydration," says Moore. Durham agrees, and suggests applying natural oils directly to your scalp, once or twice a week.

The Best 4C Hair Routine

Ok, now to perfect your daytime and overnight curl routines. Moore and Durham both recommend washing your 4C hair once every two weeks. "When it comes to 4C hair texture, it's all about good old TLC — condition, condition, condition," adds Durham. You should be deep conditioning your hair every time you wash it, if not more by using the co-wash method (washing with conditioner only and no shampoo) between wash days.

For those with 4C hair looking for a deep conditioner to try, Moore suggests Heaven in Hair Deep Conditioner (Buy It, $28, devacurl.com) and Durham recommends Amika Soulfood Nourishing Mask (Buy It, $28, sephora.com). To treat your scalp to a deep cleanse, you can also use a pre-wash such as Amika Reset Pink Charcoal Scalp Cleansing Oil (Buy It, $25, sephora.com) right before washing your hair.

Amika Soulfood Nourishing Hair Mask

Amika Soulfood Nourishing Hair Mask
Sephora

For those in-between days, using a refresh spray, such as DevaCurl DevaFresh (Buy It, $24, devacurl.com) to refresh your hair in the morning and reactivate your curls can make a noticeable difference in your daily routine, says Moore. You can also use cream-based styling products, such as DevaCurl SuperCream Coconut Curl Styler (Buy It, $28, devacurl.com) or DevaCurl Super Stretch Coconut Curl Elongator (Buy It, $28, devacurl.com) to add definition to your coils and curls, says Moore.

DevaCurl Supercream Coconut Curl Styler

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Devacurl

Note: Caring for your hair isn't only about choosing the right products and ingredients for your daytime routine, but also protecting your curls from environmental elements that can cause harm at night as well. "If there is one thing to do for your coils, make sure to tie them up at night," says Durham. "Wrapping your strands in a silk or satin scarf or bonnet at night will not only ensure that your coils stay hydrated, but also help you maintain your luxurious style," she says. "Believe me, your curls will thank you. Silk or satin pillowcases are also a nice alternative." (

Getting to know my curls throughout my natural hair journey has been inspiring and eye opening. 4C hair requires a lot of TLC — as does any natural hair type — but the benefits of embracing your texture are so worth it.

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