With so many unique shapes and patterns seeing the light of day, sitting down to decipher your curl type may leave you with more questions than answers—especially regarding 4A hair. If you suspect you have a 4A hair type but aren’t sure, we’re glad you stopped by. We tapped Biolage curl specialist and celebrity stylist Cynthia Alvarez to break down all the nuances of this coily subtype.
“If your curls form S-shaped spirals and you find it easy to detangle and style your hair, then you most likely have 4A curls,” says Alvarez.
She explains that all type 4 curls are naturally drier and more fragile due to their spongy texture, so they’ll require extra attention no matter what. “With a little TLC and a delicate touch, your natural 4A hair will grow longer, stronger, and healthier.” Here’s everything she wants you to know to help your enviable ringlets thrive.
What is a 4A curl?
“Type 4A hair has medium-sized, loosely packed curls,” says Alvarez. “The curls have a springy S-shape and are about the size of a crochet needle. It has a dense, kinky curl with loads of volume and is super easy to moisturize.”
While 4A curly hair can appear coarse and wiry, it’s usually softer and more delicate to the touch than other type 4 hair. The S-shape of 4A hair also means that it grows closer to the scalp and experiences less shrinkage when transitioning from wet to dry, “a plus for people who love to show off their hair length,” according to the stylist.
“With its high moisture-retention capacity and naturally defined curls, it creates the perfect wash-and-go look,” says the Biolage ambassador.
Is my hair 4A or 3C?
It can be a bit tricky to discern a 4A hair type from 3C hair, but Alvarez points out a few defining characteristics between the two:
- 3C hair is denser than 4A curls
- 4A hair is coarser than 3C hair
- 3C hair tends to mat while 4A tends to tangle
In addition, 3C curls are usually slightly bigger and wider than 4A curls and less tightly packed. Still unsure which hair type your mane falls under? Head to the salon and have your curl pattern checked out by a pro.
Is 4A hair curly?
Technically speaking, all type 4 hair is actually classified as coily. Coily hair is a subtype of curly hair that is just tighter and more voluminous than its curly counterpart.
How do you care for 4A curls?
Customizing a hair care routine specific to your 4a hair type will help your gorgeous coils flourish. Not to worry; we've got you covered if you’re feeling overwhelmed and uncertain about where to start.
Use a moisturizing shampoo.
As mentioned earlier, all type 4 hair has a common characteristic of dryness. This is because the tighter the curl, the harder it is for oils from the scalp to reach the entire mane and keep it conditioned. You’ll want to ensure all hair products touching your strands will help moisturize them.
A shampoo we especially love is Biolage Professional’s Ultra Hydra Source Shampoo. Formulated with the moisture-retaining aloe plant that never seems to dry, this ultra-nourishing shampoo gently cleanses and helps optimize moisture balance in parched strands.
Another excellent option for all textured hair and curl types is Mizani’s Fusion Moisture Rich Shampoo. Made with cupuaçu butter, argan oil, and honey, this shampoo leaves hair moisturized, soft, easier to manage, and, as a result, easier to detangle.
You may have guessed it, but adequately conditioning 4A curly hair is essential to strengthen fragile coils, fend off breakage, and define your pattern.
“A small pump or spray of leave-in conditioner and a few drops of oil can moisturize 4A hair for days on end,” says Alvarez. She recommends Biolage Professional’s new Strength Recovery line, which includes a Shampoo, Conditioning Cream, Deep Treatment Mask, and Repairing Spray. The rich, creamy range is made with vegan squalane and, when used with the shampoo, helps prevent breakage by 73% after just one use. Alvarez explains that limiting breakage “is really important for this type of curl.”
The curl expert says you also can’t go wrong with Biolage Professional’s Ultra Hydra Source Daily Leave-in Balm for Very Dry or Curly Hair to enhance your curls and keep frizz at bay.
For a weekly in-shower deep conditioning treatment, we suggest giving L’Oréal Professionnel’s Serie Expert Curl Expression Intensive Moisturizer Mask Rich a spin. The creamy mask envelops every strand in intense hydration, high shine, and a velvety feel that begs to be touched. Plus, it pre-detangles snags for breakage-free styling.
Pro tip: ”Try to steam when you can as this opens the cuticle allowing the conditioner to deeply penetrate,” Alvarez advises. “Lock in the moisture with a cold rinse afterward.”
Don’t forget to clarify.
When it comes to kinky, curly hair, you likely already know that you can go longer than most between shampoos; Alvarez says once a week is usually enough, but there is no one hard and fast rule that works for everyone. In any case, swapping a deep cleansing shampoo into your routine once or twice a month can help wash away the build-up that accumulates on the surface of hair between wash days. Consider L’Oréal Professionnel’s Serie Expert Curl Expression Anti-Build Up Cleansing Shampoo. The formula provides necessary moisture as it gently eliminates product build-up and impurities, leaving hair purified, strong, and hydrated.
Switch up your sleep routine.
It’s called beauty sleep for a reason, and getting your shut-eye can really make or break the way your 4A curly hair looks and feels. Try to keep your coils fastened at the very top of your head, so they don’t have as much friction-causing interaction with your pillow as you toss and turn.
“Sleep in a protective style, like twists or a pineapple, and wear a bonnet or scarf to prevent breakage,” says Alvarez. You can also opt for a loose high bun secured with a satin or silk scrunchie.
Choose low-manipulation hairstyles.
“Generally, 4A hair types can’t hold protective styles for prolonged periods—more than two to five days,” says Alvarez. “You might want to keep restyling your hair, but note that regular restyling results in high manipulation and can cause breakage or scalp tension over time.” Check out our guide to low-manipulation hairstyles for some tips and inspiration on how to style your hair with minimal tension.
To lessen the burden from constant restyling, pick up a soothing scalp serum like Matrix’s Total Results Instacure Tension Reliever Scalp Ease Serum. It acts as an instant source of relief, offering a cooling, calming feeling to scalps stressed by constant tension. But, it doesn’t stop there: The nourishing formula helps soothe and moisturize dry roots, reducing breakage, buildup, and flaking for healthier, happier hair and hairlines.
We hope you’re feeling more equipped on the topic of caring for your gorgeous 4A hair type. Here’s to hoping your ringlets are forever bouncy and beautiful.
Find more salon-grade products to care for your 4A hair at Hair.com.