Your hair is one of the most important aspects of your physical and aesthetic well-being, and everyone (no matter what age or gender) feels better when their hair looks good. Getting and keeping good looking hair is another matter entirely, particularly when it comes to African hair which is usually falls into the hair type classification known as type 4. In this guide, you will learn about simple methods and techniques that can be used to achieve and maintain healthy, good looking hair.
Type 4 hair typically has coils and curls, and individuals with type 4 hair can have different hair densities and porosities (how the strands absorb moisture) both of which influence the way the hair behaves in terms of manageability and appearance.
A few general characteristics of type 4 hair are as follows;
- It often feels dry, and has trouble with holding on to moisture, hence the dense thick quality of the Afro
- Type 4 hair experiences a phenomenon known as shrinkage where it can be reduced by up to 75% of its actual length, until it is stretched, and voila, magic happens!
- It tangles easily and breaks very easily which can make styling a hassle, but this is why this guide has been put together for you!
We will look at a few topics which will be familiar to you if you have African type 4 hair, and how to get the best of your crowning glory in simple, repeatable steps.
Kinky hair has tight curls and is very prone to dryness because coily nature of the strands makes it difficult for the sebum (oil) that is naturally secreted by the scalp to be evenly distributed along the hair shaft. Imagine a car trying to get through traffic in zigzags as opposed to doing so in a straight line; challenging, right? That is exactly how type 4 hair feels with getting moisture, so it needs a little help, in the form of a good moisturizer.
The job of a good moisturizer is to hydrate and nourish the hair from within, and if it can keep the moisture in, then its as good as perfect. I find that the denser the hair the more it benefits from a thicker moisturizer, so Shea Butter and Cocoa Butter work great in this regard. Even better are thick water-based creams which hydrate and seal giving the hair all round moisture infusion which also facilitates hair growth.
If you are reading this, you are most likely familiar with the tangling skills of kinky coily hair. Regular detangling is necessary to keep things in order, especially if your hair isn’t in a protective style, or if you just took down a style. Use your fingers or a wide-toothed comb, a good conditioner to provide slip and prevent snagging, and remember to be gentle. We are trying to get smoother hair, not broken strands. Last tip; don’t do this too often, once every few months or between long term protective styles is fine.
If you are African, you are probably familiar with the term “Cleanliness is next to Godliness”, as far as hair is concerned, cleanliness is next to curly fabulousness, and the only way to get your hair really clean is shampoo. Depending on your lifestyle, you may need to wash your hair daily, or you may be able to get away with quarterly wash days. It is entirely up to you, but a few tings to consider are whether you sweat on your scalp, if you get build up from product use, and the density of your hair.
There are so many shampoo options that can be confusing, but a good rule of thumb is to avoid anything with sulfates, parabens, etc. A quick Google search will tell you more about that, cowashing which is the use of a conditioner instead of a shampoo is a gentler, more moisturizing approach, which is beneficial to thirsty hair. If you use a lot of product, a clarifying shampoo is a good choice every few washes.
Final wash tip; part your hair into 2 or more sections, and wash, condition and rinse in sections. This will prevent tangling and breakage and will make the whole process way less stressful.
A lot of the time when hair is discussed we tend to neglect the scalp because its just lying there gently not disturbing anyone, right? Until we remember that our hair grows out of it, and gets all of its nourishment from it, and is certainly not to be ignored. Besides being gentle while washing your hair (remember the objective is clean hair and not a bruised scalp), hair products should be applied directly to the scalp regularly because it is skin and even though it secretes its own sebum, it benefits from added moisture from time to time.
Scalp massage is another secret that we don’t hear a lot about. It stimulates increased blood flow which helps overall hair health and growth, helps your products work better, and is very, very, very relaxing, think spa day type relaxation. 5 to 15 minutes of scalp message weekly is recommended for everyone from babies upward. How? The same way you would wash your hair, but with gentler and slower motions. A few drops of oil will make it even better.
The final topic regarding the scalp is DANDRUFF, which is basically just flaky skin, but on your head, which makes the scalp dry and itchy, and depending on how heavy the flaking is, could become a serious concern. The main tings to note are hygiene and hair products, and in some cases diet. The first 2 should be remedied if you paid attention to the first 2 points of this guide. If those don’t work, then a hair mask and regular Deep Conditioning will be very helpful.
Popularly known as ‘steaming’ in Nigeria, this is a method of intensely infusing the hair with moisture and is a mighty weapon in the arsenal of anyone with type 4 hair. It is recommended that this is done every 2 weeks or as often as is realistically possible to keep your hair healthy, shiny and snag free.
The basic method is to apply a hydrating emollient like Shea Butter, Cocoa Butter, Palm Kernel Oil, or a mix of them to your (damp) hair and cover it with a plastic cap/bag for about 15 minutes. You could also sit under a dryer for an enhanced effect. A number of water based deep conditioning cream alternatives also provide an easier, nicer smelling experience.
Now would be a good time to discuss the popular LOC method which stands for Liquid, Oil and Cream, a layering method that is meant to help type 4 hair retain moisture for longer, but honestly it is best to find what works for you and stick with it.
Keep it cool…
Basic Secondary School Biology teaches that heat denatures protein, and since hair is mostly protein, it is easy to out 2 and 2 together…. Lol! Hair does not like heat, so as much as possible, allow your hair to air dry, style it when it is damp which makes it much more pliable, and if you must use heat, apply it with a hooded dryer on low heat or cool setting to reduce the heat glare.
Let it be.
Touching and styling your hair excessively can lead to breakage. Heavy manipulation is the reason why a lot of us have scanty hairlines (think Ghana weaving followed by million braids and then an invisible part, hair has finished!) remember to move from complex styles to simple ones that allow the hair and scalp to rest and breathe, when taking out styles like braids, apply some oil on your fingers to make it easier to unravel, and gently separate the strands as if you are handling expensive lace…
Always go to sleep with your hair in a satin or silk scarf or bonnet, or at least use a satin or silk pillow case to reduce friction induced breakage caused by rubbing of the strands.
To trim or not to trim…
As with gardening, your hair will benefit from occasional culling. A gentle trim once or twice a year will tame dead ends and encourage healthy growth and balanced shaft thickness. Split ends go away and your hair just looks way better in terms of volume and overall shape.
Afro texture hair generally has a reputation as being unattractive and difficult to manage among other things. This is untrue. Type 4 hair is beautiful, versatile, and unique. The amount of looks that can be achieved with type 4 hair are literally limitless! Managing it is about knowing what your hair likes and what works for you. Love your hair, care for it, and it will blossom.