What Is 4C Hair? Here’s A Full Breakdown of the Coily Hair Type (& Tips for Taking Care of It)

Trying to figure out your hair type can be a tricky process. Especially when you notice curl patterns that fall on the type 4 spectrum. For instance, what are the characteristics to look for when it comes to 4c hair? And how do you differentiate between 4c and 4b curl types? 

To the average person, this might seem a bit complicated and even overwhelming. (Don’t worry, we won’t judge if you’re clueless about the hair type system.) However, knowing your curl pattern could potentially make your hair regimen ten times easier, from the products you buy to the tools you use to detangle. So, if you’re struggling to tame those coils and you’re not quite sure if they’re 4c, we enlisted the help of a few experts to break down exactly what this hair type is—and the best ways to take care of it.

Meet the Experts:

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What Is 4C Hair?

According to Gibson, 4C textured hair is very tightly-coiled in ringlets or springs, which makes it the most fragile of all hair types. It’s also known for shrinking a lot when wet (up to 75 percent, to be exact) and “is more prone to dryness because the scalp’s natural oil (aka sebum) has to work its way around the tighter coils to penetrate and reach the ends.”

Gibson also notes that the coils will “appear as an afro” when dry, so if your hair has an afro-like shape or you have super tight, dense coils that are tough to distinguish, then chances are your hair type is 4c.

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Elena Pimukova

How Is 4C Hair Different From Other Types?

Compared to other hair types, 4c has the tightest curl pattern. And while this gives you plenty of versatility and natural volume, it’s also the most difficult to manage because it’s more prone to dryness and damage. Still, it’s possible to maintain healthy 4c coils. 

As Myers explains, “We curly girls have to be disciplined to see the best results over time. That means everything we do, from hydrating adequately to eating the right foods, has an impact on the health and length of our hair. Eating nutrient-rich plants, working out regularly and having a robust hair care routine all help us grow and keep length.”

Now, if you’ve ever been confused about what differentiates 4b hair from 4c hair—you’re not alone. As it turns out, 4b hair can also be pretty coarse in texture. The difference, however, is that the curl pattern is slightly more defined and isn’t as tight as 4c coils, which are much smaller and denser. Gibson said, "Although 4b hair needs a lot of moisture too, it shrinks a little less than 4c hair, so it has a slightly looser coil, often described as a zig-zag. 4b hair shrinks about 50 percent and 4C shrinks about 75 percent."

How to Care for Type 4C Hair, According to Experts

Now that you know your hair type and its biggest needs, here are some of the best tips to keep those coils thriving and healthy, courtesy of our experts. 

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1. Keep your coils moisturized

As mentioned before, coils are prone to dryness, so when you’re looking for hair products, keep an eye out for moisture-boosting ingredients to keep those kinks hydrated. 

Gibson shares, “This hair type requires a lot of hydration and easily soaks up moisture. I suggest using products with ingredients such as olive oil, shea butter and coconut oil. Also, try products with humectants such as agave or honey.”

FYI, olive oil is great for retaining moisture, shea butter reduces breakage and coconut oil protects the hair against protein loss. Meanwhile, agave and honey can help seal in moisture and boost shine.

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Jamie Grill

2. Don’t skip those trims 

This is a hard one to accept but trust us, your coils will thank you for getting regular trims.

Mason explains, “The biggest cause of breakage is not getting regular trims. We think that if we don’t cut our hair, it will grow longer but it’s the complete opposite. If we don’t cut our hair, it will split at the ends. The split ends will continue to go up the hair strand, which could cause the hair not to grow. Trims keep the hair healthy.”

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Olga Rolenko

3. Detangle in sections

Myers says that the best way to ditch those tangles is to use with a conditioner that provides a lot of slip and a wide-tooth comb with generously spaced bristles. Most importantly, she suggests taking your time to handle your coils with extra care. (So maybe don’t try to detangle when you’re in a rush because you’ve got a million errands to run.)

She also says that, “The gentlest approach is to use your fingers to detangle small sections of conditioner-soaked hair. The smaller the sections, the less hair fall you’ll see.”

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4. Ditch the parabens

These chemicals are typically used as preservatives to extend the shelf-life of certain hair care products. However, research has proven that they can lead to dryness, irritated scalp and hair loss, so it’s best to steer clear.

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5. Limit heat styling

Even better, avoid heat altogether if you can. Constant application of heat won’t do your coils any favors, as it will make your strands weaker and more prone to breakage.

Instead, Myers recommends exploring heat-free options. “For heat-free stretching, foam rollers are the best bet. There are heat-free hair dryers and reverse hair dryers on the market, but they aren’t always the best for moisture retention, which is still important whether your hair is stretched or not,” she says.

nakeisha campbell bio

Associate Editor, News and Entertainment

Nakeisha has been interviewing celebrities and covering all things entertainment for over 8 years, but she has also written on a wide range of topics, like career...