Listen to your hair... The first step in 4C haircare

Listen to your hair...

Listen to your hair. This would be the one great piece of advice I would give to anyone who is seeking to properly maintain their natural 4C hair. Over the last 3 years I've learnt loads about what my hair responds well to and what it reacts against. It's been a long process but I think my hair and I are starting to understand each other! 

Are you struggling with dealing with your 4C hair at the moment? Does it seem like you've tried all the suggestions and pieces of advice given in the natural hair community. I know I have, and the wealth of information can over whelm you. But I would definitely say... start by listening to YOUR hair.

There are of course general principles of maintaining 4C hair which are very useful. These should be your starting point.

In short the basic principles are:

  1. Moisture (WATER, WATER, leave-in conditioner and more WATER)
  2. Seal (butters and oils)
  3. Low manipulation (reduce frequency of styling hair, limited heat and usage of dyes),
  4. Protective styling (to help retain moisture, reduce ssk knots and protect fragile ends)

OK so the second aspect to look at is your hair.

I would definitely describe my hair as 4C BUT I have 3 different textures within that '4C' range. Each texture needs its own particular care. Check out my latest video on managing different hair textures.

Hair texture lowdown

Hair at the side front-

  • Very fine
  • Very fragile 
  • Forms tiny coils 
  • Breaks if I look at it 
  • Needs gentle handling 
  • A no comb zone!

I find this hair the hardest to grow because of its features. It dries out really easily so I've responded by ensuring I spritz this area everyday and seal with a heavy shea butter. Flat twisting this area also helps retain moisture. I find I retain the most length when this hair is regularly in a protective style.

Hair at the crown

  • Coarse
  • Wavy, kinky curl pattern
  • Looses moisture rapidly 
  • Breaks easily 
  • Grows slowly

This hair is very coarse and seems to eat moisture up like anything. I also try and spritz this area everyday and not handle it too much during the week. If it's given what it likes then it grows well and has lots of body even though the hair here has a similar density to the hair at the front.

Hair at the side - The best hair of all!,

  • Fine 
  • Clumps well 
  • Defined coils
  • Retains length no matter what I do 
  • Retains moisture well 
  • Grows the fastest

Hair at the back - a mixture of the hair on my crown and sides.

This hair is probably the most predictable and if you give it moisture and seal it well, and leave it alone it usually just grows well by itself.

What is your hair like? Do you have problem areas? Or perhaps your hair is mostly one texture. If so, watch it carefully when you apply water, leave-in conditioner and a butter/oil to it. How long does it retain moisture? Does it dry out quickly? What does it do when it's wet? Shrink up or hang loose? Asking these questions will allow you to move forward in the development of a regime that will really allow your hair to flourish.

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Why is my hair so dry?

Why is my hair so dry?

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 I think dryness is the top complaint of those who have type 4c hair. When I made the decision to go natural I didn't realise how thirsty my natural hair really was. I had never learnt about what it likes or how it needs to be treated. One of the things it loves is water. Type 4 hair loves to drink, drink, drink!. My relaxed hair did not like water at all and I would do everything in my power to make sure moisture did not touch it before my fortnightly wash day.

If your natural hair is dry it is probably saying "Please give me a drink!". Here are some suggestions on how to satisfy its need:

1. Spritz your hair daily and watch how it reacts. (See here for how to mix up your own spritz bottle). Is it soft for a short while and then dry again? If so then...

2. Try sealing with shea butter. This wonderful butter is thick and creamy and the best sealant for my 4c hair. Whip some up and use it sparingly straight after you have spritzed your hair. Remember to put your hair into sections (6 sections should be fine), rub some shea butter into your hands and then smooth it out on your hair, concentrating on your ends which tend to be the driest area. (If shea butter doesn't agree with you try olive oil, coconut oil, castor oil or jojoba oil)

3. You could also use a leave-in conditioner after you have spritzed your hair and then seal with the shea butter.

4. Another suggestion would be to try aloe vera gel before you seal your hair. Aloe vera gel is an excellent moisturiser. It has a ph reading which is very close to our hair (around 4.0-5.5) and because of this it helps close the cuticles of our hair thus reducing the amount of moisture allowed to escape. Kimaytube expands on ph balancing the hair here.

Other factors to consider...

5. What do your shampoos and conditioners contain? Do they contain lots of silicones and sulfates? These substances are found in many commercial haircare products and are extremely drying to the hair. See here for more details. Also note how often you wash your hair. I would suggest washing type 4 hair only once a week with shampoo, however if you need to wash your hair more frequently you could try conditioner washing your hair (co-washing) or an apple cider vinegar rinse on other occasions during the week.

6. What styles do you wear during the week? If your hair is always out it may be more prone to drying out due to continued exposure to the environment. Try to wear more protective styles or moisturise and seal your hair more often if you wear your hair out regularly.

7. How often do you deep condition? Try to deep condition your hair at least once a week. It's a good way of adding moisture back into your hair which is lost during the week. I make my own deep conditioner using ingredients from my fridge. It's cheap and it only contains natural ingredients.

8. How often do you use heat or dyes on your hair? Frequently using heat styling equipment or dyes will cause it to dry out as these styling methods causes the outer cuticle layer of your hair strands to be lifted or damaged. In turn, this allows moisture to easily escape from your strands. I only use heat on my hair once a year as I have fine strands and I don't want to risk heat damage. Some hair textures can withstand more frequent exposure to heat. I would suggest perhaps aiming for irregular use of heat styling tools, maybe just on special occasions or significant events.

9. Have you just big chopped after years of using relaxers? It may be that your new growth, directly under the scalp has been affected by the harsh chemicals. This is called 'scab hair'. This new growth is said to have produced extra protective layers in reaction to the relaxers/texturisers this therefore results in dry hair as moisture finds it difficult to penetrate the over protected hair shaft. If you're experiencing scab hair then don't worry, it's said to only last for the first 6-12 months, so keep regularly moisturising and deep conditioning your hair.

10. Do you know how porous your hair is? "Porosity is the term used in the science of hair care to describe how easily water and other matter can diffuse back and forth through the cuticle layer and into or out of the cortex" (Naturallycurly.com) . Cipriana from Urban bushbabes helpfully explains how having hair with high porosity can mean that moisture is not easily absorbed into the hair shaft. Check your hair's porosity levels.

You may need to change a couple of practices in your regime (or many) in order to see a real change in the condition of your hair. I would suggest changing a couple and then testing these changes over a period of a week or fortnight to see how your hair reacts. If you notice a big difference then you know that those factors were the culprits most likely causing the problem. However, if not, then try changing a few other factors named in the list above. I hope the suggestions above might help you on the road to discovering what might be causing your dry hair.