type 4 hair explained

Type 4 hair is the most delicate of all the hair types. To care for it properly it’s important to understand its characteristics and needs. Our guide will help you identify it and also provide you top care tips to enhance its natural pattern.

What is Type 4 Hair?

Also known as coily hair, type 4 hair is the most fragile of all the hair types, because it often has fine strands with fewer cuticle layers. Type 4 hair has many defining features, the most obvious being its curl pattern - this can range from crochet-needle size coils, all the way to a ‘Z’ shaped pattern. Featuring the tightest curls of all the types, it is often densely packed, which makes it extremely voluminous.

Characteristics of Type 4 Hair

Alongside the curl pattern, type 4 hair has many defining features.

  • Dryness - The twists and curls in type 4 hair make it difficult for the natural oils to move down strands, this can lead to brittle and dry hair.
  • Fragile - The dryness of the locks can cause it to be very fragile and prone to hair breakage.
  • Frizz - As it is tougher to hydrate type 4 hair, it can suffer from frizz. Opting for frizz controlling products can help to reduce this, and make your wash day last longer.
  • Fine but dense strands - although your hair’s thickness and density is unrelated to your curl type, we can often observe type 4 hair to have fine strands, but lots of them. Many people mistake this for coarse hair, and assume their strands are strong, but on the contrary they tend to be fragile and need careful care.
  • Shrinkage - The tight coils of type 4 hair means it experiences shrinkage. This is when the hair appears shorter when dry due to the tight curl pattern.

If you have type 4 hair, you may experience all of these characteristics or only a few. Understanding which your hair presents can help guide you in how best to care for it.

What’s the Difference Between Hair Types?

There are 3 main curly hair type categories: type 4, type 3, and type 2. These hair types were created in the 90s by celebrity hair stylist Andre Walker, who worked with Oprah Winfrey.

Type 3 hair, otherwise known as curly hair, has looser curls than type 4, ranging from loose loops, to corkscrew curls about the width of a pencil. Type 2 hair is the loosest of all and is often known as wavy hair. Waves tend to form an ‘S’ shape. Due to this type 2 is the least dry of the types as oils can move more easily down the strands.

Which Type 4 Hair Are You?

Within type 4 hair there are 3 separate subsections to more accurately define what pattern your locks are. They range from the loosest coils through to the tight zig-zag patterns.


4A Hair

4A hair consists of tight coils that are about the width of a crochet needle. These coils are usually visible within the hair due to the strong curl definition. Of all the type 4s, this texture tends to retain moisture the best - however it still benefits from moisturising hair treatments like our Double Cream Deep Quencher.


4B Hair

4B hair is made up of densely packed ‘Z’ shaped coils. Whilst the curl pattern of this type can be difficult to distinguish at the root, it is often visible at the ends. Shrinkage occurs in 4B hair frequently, making the hair appear shorter than it really is. Ensuring you use moisturising hair products on wash day, especially rich creams like our Curl Conditioning Oil-in-Cream, can help to reduce the amount of shrinkage you experience.


4C Hair

4C hair is the most delicate of all the types, and is an extremely tight zig-zag pattern which can be hard to see. Whilst it is similar to 4B hair, 4C does experience more shrinkage and less definition.

Top Care Tips Recommended by Experts

Caring for type 4 hair focuses primarily on moisture and protection. Since it is a fragile type of curls, it’s important to be gentle on the hair. Avoiding heated styling tools and hair bleach will help to keep your locks in the best condition, but there are more considerations that will improve your type 4 hair wash day:

  • Condition before shampoo - hydrating type 4 hair is vital and so incorporating conditioners into your routine is essential. Use a regular conditioner or a deep conditioner before washing your hair, to gently detangle the strands. Massaging shampoo on the scalp may cause more tangles, so it’s best to remove the knots before to make the hair easier to manage.
  • Use a pre-poo treatment - treating your hair before your wash will help soften the strands and let nutrients penetrate. If your hair is damaged, you can use our Bond Curl repairing treatment, and if you’re just looking for a nourishing boost you can try the Serum.
  • Washing - make sure you apply shampoo only on your scalp, not on your lengths, to avoid drying out your coils. Using gentle shampoos and co-washes, especially sulphate-free shampoo, will ensure your locks aren’t stripped and that moisture is retained. Once a month use a clarifying shampoo to get rid of any build-up that has occurred.
  • Styling - using the right techniques and hair styling products can really make your type 4 hair bounce. We recommend applying styling products on wet hair in sections, to ensure you are distributing the product evenly. Even better, you can apply them directly in the shower, to ensure there is enough water. Using strong hold gels - like our In-Shower Style Fixer or Shine Gel - is great to make your wash & go last longer, but you can also use lower hold products for twist-outs or braids.
  • No scrunching or plopping - these techniques are meant to make the pattern tighter, and will only increase shrinkage when used on type 4 hair.
  • Avoid finger detangling - we’ve all heard brushes can be damaging but let’s face it, ain’t nobody got time for finger detangling a whole head of type 4 hair. Use a brush with flexible bristles to make the process faster and less painful. And to avoid the damage, only brush the hair while wet with conditioner on.
  • Colouring - changing the colour of your crowning glory can be fun, but it can lead to hair damage over time. Using temporary hair colour is a great way to avoid the damage whilst still enjoying experimenting with your style!

Understanding Your Protein Moisture Balance

Part of caring for type 4 hair is understanding whether your hair is in a healthy protein moisture balance. When hair is in protein overload it can become brittle and dull. Using a clarifying shampoo followed by an intensely moisturising treatment will help to restore your natural gorgeous coils. Moisture overload on the other hand could make your coils appear limp and lose their shape. Rectifying this is also simple, again start with a clarifying shampoo and follow with a strengthening hair product rich in protein. 


How to Identify Your Hair Type

At Curlsmith we specialise in formulas specifically created for all curly hair types. With recipes for volume, hydration, glossy hair and scalp health, we have something for every need. Your curl pattern is only one of the characteristics you should take into consideration when choosing a hair product. That’s why our in-house experts have put together a curl quiz to help you find out what you need. Get your personalised routine in just 60 seconds!
Gaia Tonanzi
Product Development & Textured Hair Expert

Product development expert on a mission to shine the spotlight on textured hair, bringing awareness of the category to the whole haircare industry. She is passionate about debunking false myths and bringing science-backed facts to the community, creating easy-to-follow guides to simplify curly haircare.

Gaia Tonanzi
Product Development & Textured Hair Expert

Product development expert on a mission to shine the spotlight on textured hair, bringing awareness of the category to the whole haircare industry. She is passionate about debunking false myths and bringing science-backed facts to the community, creating easy-to-follow guides to simplify curly haircare.