The curly hair movement has taken over these past few years. Everywhere you look, you see men and women wearing their inherited dark brown hair in gorgeous curls. While we love to see people embracing their natural hair texture, one group seems to be getting lost in the excitement: those with a 4C hair type.
Despite the overwhelmingly positive curly hair movement encouraging everyone with all curl types and textures to embrace their hair, there doesn’t seem to be enough information about caring for and styling 4C hair. We reached out to Daryce Tolliver, Mizani artist and brand ambassador, to understand what makes 4C curls so special and how to properly care for them using 4C hair products—she even gave us some style inspiration.
What is 4C hair?
Tolliver says the most defining characteristic of 4C hair is that there is no single curl pattern. Those with a 4C hair type will typically have a mix of waves, coils, curls, and zigzags throughout their strands. However, there is one thing most people with 4C hair have in common: Their strands are typically in desperate need of moisture.
Is 4C hair good?
First things first—all hair is good hair! Whether you pin-straight strands or tightly coiled curls, your hair is beautiful however you choose to style it.
Is 4C hair high maintenance?
“4C hair is usually naturally dry and brittle to the touch because the natural oils from the scalp have a hard time reaching the entire hair strand due to that inconsistent pattern down the strand,” Tolliver explains.
As you might imagine, it typically requires more maintenance than other curl types.
“Because of its natural dryness, it’s actually the weakest [curl type],” Tolliver says. “It naturally tangles, causing single strand knots—therefore requiring more frequent trimming and more treatments such as moisture and strength boosters.”
Even though 4C hair often requires more maintenance, there are several benefits to being born with this hair texture.
“Some advantages are the versatility in styling and the longevity of styles,” the stylist says. “This particular curl pattern can be manipulated to mimic any of the other curl types.”
How do you know if your hair is 4A, 4B, or 4c?
4C hair is very similar to 4A and 4B hair, but there are a few significant differences between the curl types. While 4B hair typically means Z-shaped curls, 4A hair has an S-shaped curl pattern that allows for more defined ringlets. By contrast, 4B and 4C hair can often take on a frizzy appearance. 4C hair will typically have a mix of waves, coils, curls, and zigzags throughout the hair. Check out our guides to 4A hair and 4B hair to learn more about each curl pattern.
How do you care for 4C hair?
We know that 4C hair is among the weakest and driest hair types, so maintaining healthy curls is paramount. Luckily, Tolliver says a healthy hair care routine for 4C hair is relatively simple. When beginning to figure out which 4C hair products work best for your curls, start simple. The stylist says a moisturizing shampoo, conditioner, and leave-in conditioner are essential for anyone with a 4C hair type.
Wash hair with moisture.
If you’re not sure where to start, we recommend Biolage Professional’s Ultra Hydra Source Shampoo and Conditioner. The system is formulated with nourishing ingredients like aloe, apricot kernel oil, and sustainably sourced cupuacu butter, which has a high water absorption property (124% more than shea butter!), to intensely moisturize very dry hair types, leaving it soft and manageable.
When 4C hair is craving more intense moisture, the line’s Ultra Hydra Source Deep Treatment Pack can give your mane the nourishment it so desperately needs. The vegan formula delivers high levels of natural emollients including glycerin, and more cupuaçu butter, making it a super moisturizer that has 72 hours of mega-lasting power.
Plop your hair.
You’ve likely heard of plopping your hair after washing it, but we’re here to remind you just how crucial of a step this drying technique can be if you have delicate 4C hair.
When you wrap wet hair in a bathroom towel, its gritty texture can rough up your hair cuticle and cause major frizz. Not to mention, twisting your 4C hair up in a turban-style wrap can stretch out your coils, making it nearly impossible to achieve definition and potentially leading to excess breakage. On the flip side, plopping has all of the benefits of drying hair with a towel without any of the strand-ruining side effects. Plus, the method couldn’t be easier because you likely have the main tool sitting in your dresser drawer—a cotton T-shirt!
To try plopping, gather all your hair at the top of your head before wrapping it in a T-shirt instead of a towel. Collecting your curls on the top of your head condenses them, encouraging a more defined curl pattern, while a light cotton T-shirt has a much smoother texture than most bath towels. That means there’s less risk of the T-shirt disturbing your precious curls.
While some leave the T-shirt on their heads until their curls dry completely, others wait until their hair is about 50 percent dried and then allow their curls to air dry. There’s no one-size-fits-all way to plop your locks, so we suggest experimenting with the ritual to find out what works for you.
Choose nourishing stylers.
When it comes to post-shower care, Tolliver recommends Mizani’s 25 Miracle Milk as a leave-in detangler. It features a multi-tasking mix of fennel seed and coconut oil to penetrate deep within the hair follicle to help restore moisture and repair past damage while providing a protective shield around the cuticle to help detangle, smooth, calm frizz, and lock in moisture.
Regarding styling, the luxurious Mizani Curl Defining Pudding is one of the stylist’s go-to's. Infused with coconut, olive, and marula oils, this wax-free pudding provides a smooth, lightweight hold—without crunch or flaking—frizz control and shine.
Care for your scalp.
It’s no secret that scalp care is the foundation of any good natural hair care routine, especially if you love wearing super snatched ponytails or mega-cinched micro braids for long periods of time. Despite how chic they may look, the tight hold of these protective hairstyles tends to wreak havoc on the hair and scalp. If that’s the case, we suggest turning to Matrix’s Total Results Instacure Tension Reliever Scalp Ease Serum for instant relief. The formula offers 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, build-up, and flaking for healthier, happier hair and hairlines.
Apply products the right way.
Having the right 4C hair products is important, but Tolliver says how you use those products is just as crucial. The stylist recommends sectioning off your hair before applying a detangler or leave-in to ensure even distribution. (It’s also smart to wash hair in sections to guarantee you’re covering every inch of your hair and scalp since 4C’s density can make it difficult.) Follow the leave-in with a cream-based product that is both hydrating and has hold. Once you’ve applied both products, your hair is ready to be styled. Tolliver recommends twist-outs or braids that can stretch out your locks.
“In my opinion, keeping this hair type stretched is best so that you can make sure that it does not tangle on itself—causing breakage and friction that leads to dryness,” she explains.
Don’t apply oils to wet hair.
While keeping your hair moisturized is of the utmost importance, one thing you should never do to 4C hair is load it up with oils while it’s still wet.
“Oil forms a barrier between your hair and the moisturizing products you would be using and is also really hard to shampoo out, which causes a perpetual state of dryness,” Tolliver reveals.
See your stylist.
Caring for your hair at home is only half the battle. Routine trips to the salon are an absolute must for 4C hair. While you should head to the salon fairly regularly, Tolliver says you shouldn’t feel beholden to a particular hair trimming schedule. You and your stylist can determine how often your hair should be trimmed and whether or not it can benefit from any in-salon treatments.
Tolliver says her favorite thing about 4C hair is that you can style it any way you like. If you’re looking for a little style inspiration, the stylist shared a few of her go-to styles.
The Best Hairstyles for 4C Hair
Begin by parting your hair, forming enough sections for your desired amount of knots. To make sure your look is as uniform as possible, keep the sections relatively the same size (but feel free to get creative with the way you part your hair). You can add a cool visual element to your style by parting your hair, so the base of your knots forms a geometric shape.
Once your hair has been sectioned off, coil each section around itself until it forms a tight twist. Then, wrap that twist around itself to form a “knot” and secure it with bobby pins or a small elastic.
Pro tip: Bantu knots can also be used to create heat-free curls. To ensure you have a flawless knot out, knot your hair while it is damp and apply a light hold styling pomade to each twist. After your hair is completely dried and you’re over your bantu knot look, your heat-free curls will look absolutely perfect once the knots are unraveled.
One of the most popular choices for 4C hair is the twist-out, and it’s easy to see why: It’s a great protective style and also quite low maintenance.
Begin with clean, damp hair, parting enough sections for your desired amount of twists. The smaller the twist, the tighter the curl pattern will be once it’s released. Apply a light hold styling cream throughout each section before creating a basic two-strand twist. Secure each twist with a small, clear elastic. Allow the twists to dry completely (you can sleep in them!). Once dried, unravel each twist and fluff for a voluminous final look.
Begin at the back of your head, working with two-inch sections of clean, damp hair. Spray each section with a heat protectant before blow drying the hair from root to ends on a low heat setting. Bump up the heat and go over the hair again with a paddle brush, drying section by section. If you’re looking for a sleeker style, add a third step and follow up the blow dry with a flat or curling iron.
Wet Lacer Set
The most unique characteristic of 4C hair is that it usually has a mix of waves, coils, curls, and zigzags throughout. While the combination of curls is a delight to look at, sometimes you want your hairstyle to have a little more uniformity. That’s where lacers come in handy. Lacers are a hair tool similar to flexi rods that allow you to wrap your hair around them and set a uniform curl pattern.
Faux ‘Fro Hawk
If you love the look of a mohawk but can’t imagine parting with your long coils, this style is quickly going to become your go-to. This ‘fro hawk allows you to show off your curls and channel the punk rock vibes of a mohawk without touching the clippers.
To create this look, begin by applying a firm hold pomade like Mizani’s Edge Control Taming Gel to your edges all over and brush through until they lay completely flat. Working with one side at a time, brush your hair toward the center of your head and use several bobby pins to hold your hair in place. Repeat the same steps on the opposite side of your head. Once your faux-hawk is secured, use a pick to fluff your hair and create major volume all over.
Faux locs are ideal for anyone who’s always loved the look of the style but isn’t ready to make a long-term commitment to them. The semi-permanent style involves yarn, synthetic or human hair being wrapped around your natural hair to give the appearance of locs. As with most hair installations, they can last anywhere up to 12 weeks with proper care.
A crown braid is one of our favorite protective 4C natural hairstyles. It keeps your ends tucked away while making sure you look more regal than ever.
As much as we love big, curly hair, sometimes we want our strands up and away from our face—but we hate to sacrifice style for function. Cornrows are the perfect compromise. The protective style keeps your hair secure while looking incredibly stylish. You can create a style as simple as two cornrows straight back or an intricate design with countless braids—the options are endless!
For this look, you’ll need a brush, a hair pick, a firm hold pomade, and an elastic. The key to a flawless poof is to make sure your edges are laid, and your poof is as big as possible. Begin by using a hair pick to create volume all over your head, then apply a firm hold pomade like Mizani’s Edge Control Taming Gel to your edges all over and brush through until your hair lays completely flat. Next, gather all of your hair on the top of your head and secure it with an elastic. Once your poof is done, fluff to make sure it’s even on all sides.
Wash-and-go’s are a staple among 4C natural hairstyles. The key to a flawless wash-and-go is to use the right hair products, which is why we recommend Mizani’s Perfect Coil Oil Gel. The oil-gel hybrid is your key to no-fuss style, defining and shaping your curls and coils for your next wash day while helping to keep them moisturized.
One of the best things about 4C hair is that it can be crafted into just about any style. All you need are some bobby pins and a bit of patience, and you’ll have a stunning updo in no time.
Teeny-Weeny Afro (TWA)
It’s not about the size of your afro, it’s how you style it! In the process of growing out a short haircut on your 4C hair type? Don’t be shy to rock your natural hair at whatever length it is—just comb it out evenly and use Matrix’s A Curl Can Dream Light-Hold Gel For Curly And Coily Hair to add moisture, definition, and crunch-free hold.
Looking to switch it up? A silk press may be just what you need. To achieve that glass hair look, your stylist will shampoo, blow out, and then “press” coily hair with a flat iron, resulting in hair that has a smooth and silky finish.
Want a more personalized routine to care for your 4C hair? Shop all of the professional must-have products on Hair.com.