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What Is Type 4 Hair and How Should You Care for It?

BY Felicia Ler

Coily hair and its unique texture is beautifully bouncy and full of life. Those with coily hair can struggle with a few challenges, like frizz, shrinkage, dryness, and breakage. 

Let’s identify the exact type 4 hair you have to determine how to best care for it.

Up Close and Personal With Type 4 Hair

At a glance, type 4 hair appears as a mass of tight coils brimming with vitality. This hair type comes with a spongy hair texture that can feel soft and fine or rough and coarse, depending on individual hair thickness.

According to the universal hair typing system, type 4 hair is further divided into three subcategories: type 4a, type 4b, and type 4c hair. As you may have predicted, each subtype has its own quirks and qualities, which we’ll review below.

Type 4a Hair

For type 4a hair, imagine densely packed, S-pattern coils that are as large as crochet needles. When these spirals are loosened, they can pass for type 3c hair.

Due to the distinctive ringlets of type 4a hair, it’s difficult for the scalp’s natural oils to travel down the length of the hair shaft toward the ends. As with other coily hair types, type 4a mainly struggles with dryness

One solution? Avoid hair products with sulfates and parabens, which can strip away your hair’s natural oils. Instead, step up your hydration game with gentle, moisturizing products like a leave-in conditioner.

Keep in mind that type 4a hair isn’t one for straightening unless you want to risk extreme heat damage, and consequently, more frizz and breakage. The same goes for chemical treatments like hair dyes and bleach. Embrace your natural curl type as much as possible to protect its delicate strands.

Type 4b Hair

Unlike the S-pattern of type 4a hair, there’s more of a zig-zag pattern to type 4b hair. It’s often easier to distinguish type 4b hair from curly hair types (type 3a, type 3b, and type 3c), which typically appear as ringlets.

Given the sharp angles of type 4b hair strands, which makes it hard for sebum to coat the entire fiber, it’s no surprise this kinky hair type also encounters a lack of moisture. As you may have experienced firsthand, this leads to parched coils that can easily become frizzy.

Aside from a leave-in conditioner, type 4b hair also benefits from hydrating hair serums that can help keep moisture in. Not only will your ‘do look glossy and well-cared-for, but these products help to downplay tangles for less breakage and more defined curls.

Type 4c Hair

Type 4c hair features unapologetically bold coils that are sublimely springy. The tightest curl pattern of all hair types, these micro coils are reminiscent of the vintage telephone coils on Grandma’s phone.

Due to the ultra-tight curl pattern, type 4c coils interweave easily to form knots and snarls. As it’s the most fragile among natural hair types, it’s also the most vulnerable to breakage. On top of that, people with type 4c hair also have to grapple with extreme dryness and shrinkage.

That is why type 4c hair should stay far away from heat-styling and chemical treatments as much as possible. Lavish your ultra-tight coils with rich hair moisturizers, like a hair mask, to fill in the “pores” on your cuticle layers. Doing so leads to less frizz and more shine. Heavier moisturizing products can also weigh down the strands to subtly — and temporarily — lengthen type 4c hair.

How to Care for Type 4 Hair

Beautiful woman with type 4 hair

As you would know, the coily hair community isn’t one for frequent shampooing like the straight-haired folks. Instead, your wash day may happen anywhere from once every three days to once a fortnight — go with whatever works best for your coils.

While the frequency of hair washing may differ from person to person, the typical type 4 haircare routine consists of a few best practices. Follow these guidelines for coils that feel soft, healthy, and frizz-free.

Stay Away From Sulfates and Parabens

We can’t stress this enough: stay away from sulfates and parabens. These oil-stripping ingredients will desiccate already moisture-starved strands. On wash days, choose a clarifying, sulfate-free shampoo to clear away natural and product buildup. It’s a great way to address itchy scalps and greasy roots without drying out your locks. 

Or you can try co-washing, aka conditioner-only cleansing. Unlike the average conditioner, a co-wash is specifically formulated with gentle cleansing ingredients to remove buildup without stripping away too much of your hair’s natural oils.

In between wash days, refresh your curls as often as you need by wetting them with a gentle dribble from the showerhead — or water in a spray mist bottle. You can also opt for hydrating hair mists for an extra boost of nourishment. 

Follow up with the rest of your haircare products, all of which should be preferably free of sulfates and parabens. If you’re on the hunt for sulfate– and paraben-free products specifically tailored to your unique hair needs, dive into Function of Beauty’s haircare range with our hair quiz.

Detangle With Precision 

When it comes to detangling, some of us advocate for fingers over combs, while others swear by their beloved wide-tooth comb. Whichever the case, the trick is to go slow and steady to avoid painful snags and more breakage.

If you need extra help, pre-shampoo (aka pre-poo) your hair before detangling. Here’s how:

  • Apply a pre-shampoo treatment to your coils in sections, from the roots to the tips. You can also use a basic conditioner or a hair mask instead.
  • Slowly run through your coils with your fingers or a wide-tooth comb to work out any tangles. Leave the treatment on for at least 30 minutes.

After you’ve washed and dried your hair, continue with the rest of your haircare routine.

Dry It the Right Way

When drying type 4 hair, heat- and friction-less drying is the way to go. To speed up the process, use a microfiber towel to gently squeeze out the excess water. Sandwich your towel and hair in between your palms in a praying motion. Take care not to rub your locks for fear of frizz, knots, and breakage

Once your coils are no longer dripping wet, let them air-dry the rest of the way. Alternatively, try the plopping technique to ward off frizz and enhance curl definition.

If you have to use a blow-dryer, always apply a heat protectant beforehand. Turn it on the lowest heat setting with an attached diffuser to downplay thermal damage.

Moisturize Generously

Moisturizers are type 4 hair’s BFFs. Whether it’s once-a-week deep conditioning or daily leave-in conditioning, moisturizing products are the cornerstones of every coily hair care routine.

But the order in which you apply hair moisturizers makes all the difference between long-lasting hydration and limp coils before the day ends. This is where the LOC method — leave-in, oil, cream — comes in handy, whether it’s wash day or not:

  • Apply a lightweight leave-in conditioner to hair
  • Follow up with a hair oil of your choice
  • Lock in all the layers of moisture with a hair cream

If you’re afraid of flattening your ‘do, look for products with lightweight ingredients like jojoba oil and sweet almond oil. On the other hand, seriously dehydrated coils play well with heavier ingredients like coconut oil and shea butter.

Meanwhile, if your mane is on the greasier side or if you live somewhere hot and humid, you may want to consider lighter hydrating products. Try Function of Beauty’s custom-made hair serum, which you can pair with our leave-in conditioner.

Last but not least, pair your LOC routine with a deep conditioning hair mask at least once a week. It will help nourish your hair shafts to boost strength, shine, and elasticity while soothing frazzled coils to keep your mane looking its best.

Take Care With Night Care

What you do at night with type 4 hair is just as crucial as what you do during the day. After all, you don’t want to wake up with a case of extreme bedhead (the horror!).

Start by putting your hair up in a protective style called pineapple hair — a loose pile of curls that sits high on your head. Then, cover your hairstyle with a silk or satin scarf to protect it from tangles and frizz during slumber, especially if you’re an active sleeper. For extra protection, switch to satin or silk pillowcases because they’re less likely to induce hair-damaging friction.

Type 4 Hair Is More Than Manageable

Type 4 hair may be a bit more high-maintenance than other curl types, but responds beautifully to the right routine.

Start with your exact curl type to pinpoint what it needs. Then, review your current routine to ensure it’s all about the coily hair-friendly practices we’ve just talked about. Eliminate or add products according to how your scalp and strands feel. Do they need extra hydration in the form of a deep conditioner? Or perhaps they prefer something lighter like a fine-spray mist. 

With the right products and techniques in place, your type 4 hair will look fuller and livelier in all the best ways possible.