The 4C Hair Type: Everything You Need to Know (With Video Illustration) (2023)

What is 4C hair? What does 4C hair type even mean?

I had these exact questions when I transitioned to natural and had the desire to grow long 4C hair.

In this article we will cover everything you need to know about 4C hair to help you understand how to take good care of this hair type.

You will also get to watch a video of an installation of a protective hairstyle on natural 4C hair to give you an idea idea of the 4C hair pattern looks like.

Whilst we are focusing on the 4C hair type in this article, it’s important to note that all hair types are uniquely beautiful and require specialized hair care regimen.

What is 4C Hair?

The 4C Hair Type: Everything You Need to Know (With Video Illustration) (1)

The 4C hair type has densely packed and a tightly coiled Z-shaped curl pattern. It’s popularly recognized as one of the hair types within the type 4 hair range.

This hair type is very similar to 4B hair but the main difference is that it has a less clear curl definition and experiences significantly more shrinkage: up-to 80% shrinkage.

It’s one of the hair types on the popular Texture Typing System chart developed by NaturallyCurly. This hair type is uniquely delicate and beautiful.

Interestingly, the 4C hair type does not feature on the popular Andre Walker hair typing system. Together with 3C, it is one of the hair types that the natural hair community unanimously agreed to include on the ‘charts’.

In addition to the Texture Typing and Andre Walker hair typing systems, there are other common hair typing systems such as: LOIS & FIA’s hair typing systems.

How do I know if I have 4C hair?

You can identify 4C hair by looking at the following characteristics:

  1. Your hair strands are very tightly coiled
  2. If you pull one hair strand and observe the shape it forms, you will notice it mostly has a tight Z shape
  3. Your hair experiences significant shrinkage. If you notice that your hair shrinks down to more than 75%, then it is likely that you have 4C hair.

I have added a video of 4C hair in this article so you can see what 4C hair looks likes. By no means is this indicative of the ‘ideal’ curl pattern. Even within 4C there is variation in curl patterns.

It’s important to note that a person may have more than one hair type in different parts of the head.

The front section of your hair for instance, may have tighter curls compared to the back or vice versa.

I noticed my daughter’s curl pattern at the front is completely different from the back and therefore I suspect she has a combination of 4C & 4B hair.

What is the curl pattern of 4C Hair ?

The 4C Hair Type: Everything You Need to Know (With Video Illustration) (2)

4C hair is similar to that of 4B in that it is tightly coiled. In its raw state, freshly washed and no products added, it does not have a clearly defined curl pattern.

Coils and curls in this type of hair can be defined by either twisting, braiding or shingling.

As mentioned above, 4C hair tends to shrink much more than 4B and 4A and without stretching it, it can look significantly shorter than it is.

Like all other hair types, 4C hair is beautiful and easy to care for as long as you know how to properly cleanse, moisturize, and style it. To minimize breakage from tools like combs, little manipulation is encouraged.

We have been comparing 4C hair to 4B and 4A without actually defining these two hair types. Here is a quick overview of type 4B and type 4A hair.

4A hair has a defined curl pattern that looks like an ‘S’ shape. It retains moisture fairly well but can still be prone to dryness due to its curly nature.

4B hair has a defined ‘Z’ shape pattern and has a fluffier, cottony appearance. It is susceptible to dryness and breakage due to the bends and curves in the hair strand.

This hair type also shrinks a lot. Moisture penetration and deep conditioning of 4B hair is essential to protect the hair from breakage and damage.

Can 4C hair grow long?

4C hair can grow long provided it’s well-maintained in order to minimize breakage and retain the acquired length. The biggest challenge with 4C hair is poor length retention resulting from breakage caused by dryness, tension or improper handling.

4C hair can appear shorter than it actually is because of the high shrinkage that this type of hair experiences. So, whilst you may not come across many women with ‘ waist length’ stretched 4C hair, the length is often hidden in the curls and coils.

The results of a study done in 2005 shows that the rate of hair growth varies from race to race.

On average the rate of hair growth in African women is 4 inches (10cm) per year, in Asian women, the hair growth rate is about 6 inches(15cm) per year and in Caucasian women, about 5 inches (13 cm) per year.

Since most women from the African race have type 4 hair, then the assumption is that rate of 4C hair growth is 4 inches (10cm) per year.

Therefore, this means that 4C hair can grow long, provided you maintain a good hair regimen which will minimize breakage.

So, why is there a popular belief that 4C hair does not grow?

4C hair follicles are believed to have a twisted structure and thinner diameter compared to other hair types hence the coily nature of the hair strands.

Due to the tight curls and coils of 4C hair, it becomes difficult for the oils from the root of the hair to travel up to the ends of the hair thus the reason why it’s prone to dryness and breakage.

If not well maintained, the breakage can be massive leading to an overall effect of ‘stagnated’ growth. In principle, the hair is growing but if breakage is not contained, the growth is negated by breakage.

How to grow 4C hair

In order to maintain 4C hair growth, proper care is needed much like any other hair type. Poor maintenance and treatment of the hair will result in loss of the gained inches.

To grow 4C hair you need to treat your 4C hair with a lot of care by following a consistent hair care routine. You will need to cleanse, moisturize, protect the hair, de-tangle it gently and avoid using harsh products on your scalp and hair.

Here is a comprehensive guide on how to grow 4C hair.

Below are some of the tips I have personally used to retain length, volume and overall health of my hair.

1. Proper care of yourself from the inside out

Proper hair care should begin from the inside out. It is important to observe what you eat and drink as this plays a key role in healthy hair.

For hair to grow properly, it requires essential nutrients, minerals, and water. Below are some of the vitamins and minerals that are essential for hair growth.

  • Vitamin A provides vital nutrients to the hair roots which stimulates hair growth.
  • Iron, deficiency in iron may cause or worsen hair loss.
  • Niacin improves circulation to the scalp making a positive effect on hair growth.
  • Zinc contributes to cell regeneration, sebum production and protein synthesis.
  • Vitamin B12 is important in hair growth and deficiency can result to hair loss.
  • Biotin supports the growth of healthy hair by playing a key role of keratin, a protein that is always present in our hair and hails of our bodies.
  • Calcium stimulates the hair follicle and is recommended to make the hair grow faster.
  • Vitamin E helps to prevent and hair loss and has the ability to grow new blood vessels and increase circulation to the scalp.
  • Iodine supports thyroid function which supports hair growth

To learn more about hair nutrition, here are the top articles on nutrition you should read:

  • 15 common foods that promote natural hair growth
  • The best vitamins for natural hair growth
  • Top 12 fruits that promote hair growth

Staying hydrated is also one of the most important ways of taking care of yourself from the inside out. It doesn’t matter how much time and products you use to moisturize your hair, if you are dehydrated, your hair will be negatively impacted. So, ensure you drink the recommended amount of water on a daily basis.

2. Cleanse 4C hair gently and in sections

Develop a hair cleansing routine. Use a shampoo that does not dry your hair. What works for one person may not work for you.

Most shampoos have been created with oily hair in mind and so don’t reach to what your favorite”‘Youtuber” has advised without doing your own research by reading the ingredients and testing the shampoo before committing to it.

  • Learn about the best shampoos to use on 4C hair
  • Do you know how often you should wash 4C hair? If not read this article

It’s recommended that you get small quantities of any product when you are testing so that in the event that it doesn’t work well for your hair, you will not incur huge losses when you discontinue the use of the product.

Washing your hair in sections will minimize tangling and breakage. This is because you will be handling a small section at a time, working your way with your fingers through the tangles and then setting the de-tangled section aside by either twisting, braiding, and using a band or a clip.

This method also helps you keep your hair stretched by the time you are done with the washing.

3. Moisturize and Deep Condition

4C hair is prone to dryness and hence keeping it moisturized is essential to prevent breakage.

To retain the moisture longer, you can use the Liquid-Oil-Cream (LOC) method. With this method, start by spritzing your hair with water, followed by applying an oil such as Coconut or Olive oil. Finish off by applying a leave-in conditioner.

4. Wear 4C hair in protective styles

There has been a lot of debate on what styles are protective or not. A protective style is not protective unless you have first taken good care of the hair by cleansing, moisturizing and locking in the moisture before putting it in a protective style.

Protective styles are styles with minimal manipulation when installing and do not exert a lot pressure on the hair leading to breakage. The technique of installing and the amount of manipulation is what makes the style protective. Examples of protective styles include the two strand twists, Bantu knots and wearing your hair in a bun.

5. De-tangling and styling the hair with fingers

Too much combing and brushing of the hair will cause mid-shaft splitting and breakage. It is advisable to use your fingers to de-tangle the hair. When styling, try to minimize the use of the comb, you can master the art of parting with your fingers, but even if you have not, be gentle when using the combs and brushes.

These are just but a few tips on taking care of 4C hair. Here is a detailed guide on how to grow 4C hair

6. Protect your hair when sleeping

One simple but often overlooked hair care routine is protecting 4C hair when sleeping.

When we toss and turn in bed, there is a high likelihood that 4C hair will get physically damaged from the friction between the hair and the beddings. If you are using a cotton pillow case for instance, the hair will easily lose moisture leading to dryness which is a common cause of hair breakage.

It’s recommended that when you are sleeping, you either protect your hair by wearing a satin bonnet/scarf or use a satin pillow case. Satin is a protective fabric because it minimizes friction and is excellent at preserving moisture in the hair.

Why is 4C hair fragile and more prone to damage?

The hair shaft (the outer layer) on 4C hair is not always complete and tends to have more open area than those with straight or wavy hair causing it to coil making certain parts of the hair cortex be exposed to damage.

Mechanically, 4c hair type is more fragile and prone to breakage because every bend in the strand is a point of weakness. The curlier the hair, the more the bends. Sebum has a harder time coating the strands hence leaving the 4C strands less protected.

Why do you need to know your hair type?

Regardless of your hair type, there are things such as moisturizing, cleansing, protecting the hair among others that every individual must do in order to take good care of their hair.

Understanding your hair type however, is important because each hair type is unique and may require products and hair care routines that are best suited for the hair type.

If you have 4C hair, for instance, applying products that are designed for straight hair will destroy the hair. This is because most shampoos for straight hair are designed to address oiliness and therefore using such a product on 4C hair will only lead to further drying of this type of hair.

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