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Calling all 4A hair types: This expert guide features everything you need to know about caring for your delicate coils, from wash day tips to the best styling products.

5 Rules for Managing and Caring for 4A Hair, Straight from a Stylist

Calling all 4A hair types: This expert guide features everything you need to know about caring for your delicate coils, from wash day tips to the best styling products.
How To Manage and Care for 4A Hair, Straight From a Stylist

Curl types come in so many unique shapes and patterns, yet sitting down to decipher your own may leave you with more questions than answers. Understanding the unique characteristics of your hair is the key to giving it the most targeted care. While that goes for any hair type, it’s especially true for those with more delicate textures, like 4A hair.

We tapped Cynthia Alvarez, a Biolage Professional stylist and hair texture specialist, to give us the low-down on all things 4A hair. She explains that 4A curls (which are actually classified as coils) are naturally drier and more fragile due to their spongy texture and, as such, require some extra attention in your haircare routine. “With a little TLC and a gentle touch, your natural 4A hair will grow longer, stronger, and healthier.” Here’s everything she wants you to know about helping your 4A hair type thrive.

What Is a 4A Hair Type?

First, a little crash course on how hair types are classified. Hair type falls into four categories (1 = straight, 2 = wavy, 3 = curly, and 4 = coily), while hair subtype refers to the width and density of your curls. A is generally finer with a loose curl pattern, C is typically the tightest and most coarse, and B is right in the middle. Combining these components into a numerical value yields a specific hair type, like 4A. ​​If your curls form S-shaped spirals and you find it easy to detangle and style your hair, then you most likely have 4A hair.

“4A curls have a springy S-shape and are about the size of a crochet needle,” says Alvarez. “They have a dense, kinky curl with loads of volume and are 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 than 4B and 4C, “a plus for people who love to show off their hair length,” according to the stylist.

To identify your hair type, wash your hair and let it air dry free of styling products. Once dry, compare your hair to a hair type chart like the one above. The category that most closely resembles your hair is likely your hair type. It's important to note that it might not be a perfect match—the classification system serves as a general guideline and may not consider alterations from chemical services, hair coloring, or heat treatments.

Good hair day by @jadajenkinsco

Is 4A hair curly?

While the terms curly and coily are often used interchangeably, they’re slightly different. Curls can be looser and less tightly defined, while coily hair like 4A tends to have a tighter curl with more of a zig-zag shape than a looped ringlet.

Is my hair 4A or 3C?

It can be tricky to discern a 4A hair type from a 3C hair type, especially since they share many similar characteristics. Here are a few defining features that may help spell it out for you:

  • 3C hair is usually wider than 4A hair, around the diameter of a pencil.
  • 4A hair generally feels slightly coarser than 3C hair.
  • While 3C hair tends to mat, 4A tends to tangle.

Is my hair 4A, 4B, or 4C?

As much as we’d love to put our hair types neatly into one box, the truth is that a single head of hair can display a mixture of curl or coil patterns. While some sections of hair may bend differently than others, you'll usually be able to spot one predominant shape. Check out our Ultimate Guide to Coily Hair for more information on all things coils. And, when in doubt, head to the salon to have your curl pattern examined by a professional stylist.

Good hair day by @momobabes

How Often Should You Wash 4A Hair?

Alvarez says washing 4A hair once a week is usually enough, but there’s no universal rule. The frequency of your shampoo days ultimately boils down to your lifestyle, environment (hotter weather = a sweatier scalp), and personal preference. What works for your cousin with the exact same hair type may not be effective for you, and vice versa.

How Often Should You Cut 4A Hair?

Trims may be the last thing on your mind when you’re in a race against shrinkage, but regular haircuts are important for everyone. Curls and coils are prone to dryness, so snipping off brittle areas can help prevent split ends from traveling up your hair shaft and wreaking even more havoc on your length. Plus, your stylist will likely give your coils a dry cut: This technique helps minimize unexpected length changes that can otherwise occur during a wet-cutting appointment. Dry cuts also allow you to see the shape and movement of your haircut in real time to ensure you’re completely satisfied with the results (and don’t leave the salon with that dreaded triangle shape).

Most stylists advise those with coily hair to come in for a trim every 10-12 weeks, but that can fluctuate based on habits like heat styling and coloring. Work with your stylist to establish a haircut schedule that works best for your routine.

Good hair day by @kccurlgoddess

How Do You Care For 4A Curls?

Customizing a hair care routine specific to your 4A hair type will help your gorgeous coils flourish. We've got you covered if you’re unsure where to start.

Use a moisturizing shampoo

All type 4 hair is susceptible to dryness (and the tighter the curl, the harder it is for conditioning scalp oils to reach the ends of your hair). As such, you’ll want to apply products that aim to nourish and moisturize your hair, starting in the shower.

One of Alvarez’s go-to shampoos for 4A hair is Biolage Professional’s Ultra Hydra Source Shampoo. This intensely moisturizing, anti-frizz shampoo gently cleanses hair, leaving it soft and shiny. It’s also formulated with aloe, cupuaçu butter, and apricot kernel oil for volumizing control. Another excellent option for textured hair is Mizani’s Fusion Moisture Rich Shampoo, a conditioning shampoo that quenches thirsty strands for soft, bouncy curls that are easier to detangle post-wash.

If your hair still feels dry or appears frizzy despite using a moisturizing shampoo, you may need to switch to a sulfate-free formula. Sulfates are foaming detergents that help clean your hair but can sometimes be too harsh on certain hair types. Try Kérastase’s Curl Manifesto Bain Hydratation Douceur Shampoo to help gently cleanse waves, curls, and coils hair without leaving hair feeling stripped.

Don’t forget to clarify

Although those with 4A hair can go longer between shampoos, it’s not a bad idea to keep a clarifying formula on deck to help address occasional buildup. Consider L’Oréal Professionnel’s Serie Expert Curl Expression Anti-Build Up Cleansing Jelly Shampoo. It gently eliminates daily accumulated impurities while providing moisture without stripping hair. Swap it into your routine once or twice a month to reap the purifying benefits.

Deep condition

As you may have guessed, adequately conditioning 4A curly hair is essential to hydrate hair, strengthen fragile coils, fend off breakage, and define your coil pattern. Biolage Professional’s Strength Recovery Deep Treatment Pack is a staple for helping textured hair feel healthier and more manageable. The creamy rinse-off treatment, which contains vegan squalane, deeply conditions hair and helps prevent breakage by 73% after just one use.*

Another deep conditioning treatment we swear by is L’Oréal Professionnel’s Serie Expert Curl Expression Intensive Moisturizer Mask Rich. The velvety mask intensely hydrates and pre-detangles curls and coils for a tamed result and a luxurious feel. After using this mask, hair will be instantly shiny and two times more hydrated.

Pro Tip: Wrap a warm towel around your head after you apply your deep conditioning mask. Alvarez explains that this creates a steaming effect that helps the formula penetrate more deeply into the hair.

*system of Strength Recovery System of Shampoo and Deep Treatment Pack vs. non-conditioning shampoo.

Try a wash-and-go

With its high moisture-retention capacity and naturally defined curls, 4A hair lends itself well to wash-and-go styles, says Alvarez. “A small pump or spray of leave-in conditioner and a few drops of oil can moisturize [and define] 4A hair for days on end.”

As a quick refresher, a wash-and-go hairstyle is a natural hairstyle created without styling tools (with the exception of the occasional diffuser or hooded dryer), stretching, or braids. The technique is nothing new, but it’s taken off in the last few decades as people look to ditch relaxers and embrace their natural hair. The name may be deceiving, though, since the method requires more than just washing your hair and going about your day. You’ll need to have the right shampoo, conditioner, and leave-in products on hand. Check out our explainer, How To Achieve a Wash-and-Go Hairstyle for Natural Hair, for more details on nailing this look.

Nourish your ends

Water is the greatest moisturizer, according to Alvarez. Whenever the ends of your hair need an extra dose of hydration (and they surely will), she recommends this H2O-infused hack: Mix equal parts water and Biolage Professional Strength Recovery Strength Repairing Spray in a small spray bottle, shake well, and spritz onto your ends between wash days for a dose of hydration. Follow it up with Biolage Professional’s Ultra Hydra Source Leave-In Cream mixed with a hair oil to seal in moisture, enhance your curls, and keep frizz at bay.

Choose low-manipulation hairstyles

“Generally, 4A hair types can’t hold protective styles for prolonged periods,” says Alvarez. “You might want to keep restyling your hair, but note that regular restyling…can cause breakage or scalp tension over time.” Low-manipulation hairstyles, by contrast, put minimal stress on your hair and scalp. Think three-strand braids, low ponytails, and loose buns.

If you do need to wear your hair in the occasional tight hairstyle, pick up a soothing scalp serum like Matrix’s Instacure Tension Reliever to ease the stress of restyling. The formula offers a cooling sensation that relieves the feeling of tension in protective and tight hairstyles without buildup or flaking. It also helps moisturize and refresh the scalp for a healthier-looking and feeling hairline.

Switch up your sleep routine

It’s called beauty sleep for a reason! What you do with your 4A hair while you sleep can make or break how your mane looks and feels the next day. Instead of allowing your coils to smush up against your pillow, Alvarez recommends sleeping in a protective style, like twists or a pineapple, to keep your hair safely out of the way. You can also opt for a loose high bun wrapped with a luxurious satin or silk scrunchie.

Speaking of silk, investing in a silk pillowcase is always a good idea. The buttery, smooth material helps keep your coils from snagging while you move, reducing the friction that leads to frizz, breakage, and pattern disruption. What’s more, non-absorbent silk won’t soak up your hair products, keeping moisture in your hair—not on your pillow.

4A Hair: The Bottom Line

Type 4A hair is one of the most delicate hair textures and thus requires special care. Gentle handling, less manipulation, and loads of moisture are all essential in promoting length retention, volume, and growth. While the pro-backed tips above can help steer your 4A haircare routine in the right direction, visit a stylist for a more customized approach. Don’t have one? You can use our salon locator to find a hairdresser in your area.

Header photo credits: @momobabes and @kccurlgoddess

Next Up: Natural Hair Texture and Type Chart: How to Find Yours

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