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Everything You Need to Take Care of 4C Hair

Photo: John Rasimus/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Of all the hair types, 4C has the tightest curl pattern — it grows in a tight coil that resembles a Z. When it comes to taking care of 4C hair, according to Michelle Dixon, a hairstylist at the Chicago-based Maxine Salon, there are two important things to remember: keeping it moisturized and making sure the ends are trimmed. It’s also vital to remember, she says, that curl pattern isn’t the only determining factor when it comes to assessing what products your hair will respond best to: It’s also important to consider thickness, density, and porosity, and to keep in mind that one head of hair can often include a wide range of textures. All of this basically just means that it might take trying a few different products and methods before you figure out what works best. One way to hasten that process is to find someone who has a similar texture to yours, and see what works best for them.

We spoke with eight stylists and hair influencers who have 4C hair about the very best products and tools for taking care of 4C hair — from the brush almost every single person recommends to the macadamia-infused gelée that one hairstylist says manages to hold curls without making them crunchy.

Best shampoos for 4C hair

All of the stylists we spoke to agreed that sulfate-free shampoo is a must, as sulfates can be stripping and drying on the hair. While this is relevant for all hair textures, it’s even more important with 4C hair, which is particularly prone to dryness and tangling. Hairstylist and owner of Magic Fingers Studio Stasha M. Harris likes this one from Design Essentials, which she says makes caring for 4C hair “a breeze.” “It cleanses all buildup as well as softens the texture,” she says, which, paired with the accompanying conditioner, makes it easy to detangle and prevents breakage when combing through your hair.

For 4C hair, Dixon recommends shampooing every other week, to help offset the dryness that can come with shampooing more frequently. When wash day comes, she recommends this shampoo from Oribe, which she uses on herself and her clients. Infused with amino acids and panthenol (this helps to hydrate and condition), it’s formulated to help combat damaged hair, but works well to impart an extra dose of moisture into 4C strands.

If you want to wash your hair more frequently, Dixon recommends using a cleansing cream like this one during the weeks you aren’t using shampoo to help maintain moisture. “It has lemon and orange (natural astringents), and caffeine to help stimulate the scalp and balance the natural oils,” she says, noting that ingredients like coconut oil and artichoke-leaf extract (rich in vitamin A, B, and C) help to replenish moisture and soften the hair.

For a more affordable option, Dixon likes this shampoo from TGIN, which she says is “high quality, but affordable.” Another sulfate-free shampoo, it contains aloe vera, which cleanses hair without stripping its natural oils. It also has vitamin B5, a go-to ingredient for reducing breakage and adding even more moisture to hair.

Another gentle option is this one from BREAD Beauty Supply, which takes its inspiration from milky sensitive skin cleansers and has an almost melted-marshmallow texture. “It’s super gentle on my hair and scalp but still gives me a nice, soft cleansing lather,” says founder Maeva Heim. It also uses aloe to cleanse, along with lemon to soothe the scalp and argan oil, which is rich in vitamin E, to deeply moisturize the hair.

Content creator LaVondra Shinholster swears by this sulfate-free shampoo from Black-owned, D.C.-based MICHE Beauty. “It just gives my hair so much life,” she says of the formula, which contains botanical extracts like ginseng, white willow bark, and hibiscus, which work together to stimulate the scalp and gently exfoliate. “Even though Miche is for every hair type, I can’t help but think that it benefits type 4 hair the most.”

Best clarifying cleanser for 4C hair

“My clients with thick hair really struggle with cleansing all the way down to the root and rinsing their products all the way out,” says celebrity stylist Monae Everett, who says this can cause product to go rancid in your hair and clog your pores. To get a superclean scalp, Everett recommends using this cleansing and stabilizing treatment in lieu of shampoo post–protective styling or whenever you feel like your hair needs a really deep clean — it cleanses the hair of product buildup and dirt without stripping it.

[Editor’s note: The Clean Slate shampoo is currently out of stock, but Chloe & Co.’s other hair products are still available, including their Hair Growth System package, which comes with two shampoos, for $50.]

Best conditioners for 4C hair

Almost everyone we spoke to recommended skipping typical conditioners in favor of deep conditioners and hair masks, which are more intense and moisturizing. “I would prefer to just skip the conditioner and go for the mask every time,” says Dixon, “because our hair needs the maximum hydration.” Dixon is a fan of this one from TGIN Naturals, which conditions using raw honey, along with jojoba and olive oil, and does everything from lock in moisture to reducing shedding and breakage.

Content creator Claire Ateku has a wash day every three to four weeks and deep conditions every time. She swears by this mask from Aunt Jackie’s, a restorative treatment that uses ingredients like shea butter, extra-virgin olive oil, and keratin to strengthen hair. The mask uses a mix of humectants and emollients to moisturize and keep moisture locked in the hair.

Best deep conditioner for strengthening 4C hair

Everett prefers thinner conditioners for 4C hair that still offer lots of moisture. “They are uniquely capable of getting inside the open shaft when your hair is wet,” she says of the thinner consistency, which is able to penetrate the hair shaft better than formulas with thicker consistency. She’s a fan of this one in particular from Essations, which she says is “a very deep mask that really goes in and penetrates the hair.” A blend of honey, almond, and keratin, it deeply nourishes hair and strengthens it too.

Best deep conditioner for reducing split ends

If you’re dealing with split ends, this mask from TGIN is a must-try, says Aboyowa Wood, a content creator who specializes in 4C hair. “This mask contains humectants, emollients, and plant extracts that help keep natural hair strong, healthy, and conditioned,” she says. The mask also contains black honey, which heals the hair, and coconut to moisturize, and also makes detangling an easier feat.

Best deep conditioner for dry, 4C hair

Formulated for particularly dry hair, Nicole Newland, a celebrity hairstylist, likes this mask for people with 4C textures who are looking for an intense hit of moisture. It contains deeply moisturizing ingredients like coconut oil, coconut milk, mango, and murumuru butters, which make hair softer and more manageable. For the best results, work it thoroughly into drenched hair, and then let it sit for three to five minutes before rinsing it all out. If you want the mask to penetrate even deeper, cover your hair with a shower cap to activate its ingredients further.

Best leave-in conditioners for 4C hair

Once your hair is washed and conditioned, it’s important to pick a good leave-in conditioner. Layering in moisture is essential for 4C hair and can be done in a few different ways, the most popular being the LOC and LCO method. The LOC method calls for applying leave-in first, followed by oil and a styling cream to finish it off, while the LCO method advocates for using a cream, then an oil to seal the moisture in. What works best varies from person to person, and requires experimentation. Wood uses the LCO method. “I start with a leave-in first because it’s usually a lighter product, much lighter in consistency than a cream or butter,” she says. Wood particularly likes this leave-in from Uncle Funky’s, which comes in a lightweight mist and hydrates and conditions. This can be applied to hydrate freshly washed hair and to revive dry curls, helping to moisturize and define.

If you tend to detangle post-shower and need a leave-in with a little slip, then this conditioner, which uses oils and honey to seal in moisture and give hair a definition, is a good option. “4C hair requires a product that can easily move through the strands for easy application,” says Leigh Hardges of the Maxine Salon. Even though this leave-in has a slightly lighter consistency, it’s her go-to for laying that base foundation of moisture. “This works wonders for detangling,” says Hardges, adding that it has a light consistency that won’t weigh down the hair. To make it even more intensely detangling, you can also add a few drops of jojoba oil into the conditioner.

Ateku likes this leave-in conditioner from Eden Bodyworks, which adds hydration, seals in moisture, and helps to define curls using these ingredients: avocado, coconut, and jojoba oil, along with aloe vera and shea butter. Even if you wash your hair biweekly or less, you can use this conditioner daily, wetting hair and reapplying as needed to moisturize your hair.

Best moisturizing creams for 4C hair

Two of the stylists we spoke to recommended Oribe’s Styling Butter as a moisturizer-styler hybrid. “It is rich in oils and emollients that help you move through the hair well while wet styling, and it does not dry with a white cast or film on the hair,” says Hardges. Dixon is also a fan. “It really absorbs in the hair,” she says, “and helps with both dryness and hair elasticity.” It also does lots of other things, including helping hair with oxidative stress and moisture retention.

“Moisturizers also contain emollients like butters and fatty alcohols that soften the hair, and humectants such as glycerin, sodium hyaluronate, and honey that help draw moisture to the hair,” says Wood. “I usually apply a thick cream or butter to seal in all the moisture from the water and leave it in,” she says. She’s a fan of this one in particular from Qhemet Biologics, an ultradense formula that contains olive and castor oils, along with Ayurvedic herbs and traditional African ingredients like African aloe, which helps to nourish and strengthen hair. If your hair needs something a little lighter, Wood recommends the Burdock Root Buttercream, which is formulated for medium- to low-porosity hair and uses ingredients like olive oil, Burdock root, and nettle extracts.

Shinholster likes this hydrating butter to moisturize her hair, which doubles as a light hold styler and uses ingredients like cupuacu butter, which seals in moisture and helps hair to feel moisturized for a longer period of time. “It’s thick enough to coat my strands and creates beautiful definition when used for twist-outs,” she says.

Ateku likes this butter-cream combo, which contains B5 to help with split ends and to strengthen dry, dull hair. Even though it has a thicker consistency, you can scale it up or down as needed, using more for drier hair, or less for finer hair. It can also be used to set twist-outs and as a touch-up in between washes.

Best hair oils for 4C hair

“This is a great oil because it works great for the scalp to stimulate growth and can be used on the hair to seal in moisture,” says Hardges, who likes to use this as the second step when layering in moisture for 4C hair. It contains more than 30 oils — including jojoba, rosemary, safflower, tea tree, and biotin — and doubles as both a scalp treatment, split-end treatment, and daily oil.

Practically a lip gloss for your hair, this vegan, silicone-free hair oil is good for both moisturizing hair and making it look extra shiny. It contains Kakadu plum oil, which has vitamin C (good for scalp health) and safflower oil, which is packed with fatty acids. “I use this as the final step on my wet hair, which helps to lock in the moisture and gives me really supple locks,” says Heim, adding that she also likes to reapply throughout the week to keep hair moisturized.

Best styling products for 4C hair

Once you layer in all the products, you can move onto styling, which varies based on what your hair needs. For setting curls, a curl jelly like this one is a good option — it holds curls without making them crunchy. “It’s highly conditioning,” says Dixon, who likes that it moisturizes as it holds, using ingredients like omega fatty acids (for moisture), and macadamia, neem, and apricot oils to moisturize and keep hair detangled.

Another soft hold option is this one from Afro Sheen, which Newland recommends. It uses flaxseed oil, an alcohol-free alternative to traditional gels that still offers lots of hold. It also has coconut oil and shea butter for moisture, offering hair a nice balance between stiff, crunchy hold and touchable, soft curls.

Ateku swears by Moco de Gorila gel for puffs, which offers ultrastrong hold and is used for punky Mohawks and baby hairs alike. “No other gel will actually slick my hair down,” she says, noting that other popular gels like Eco Styler don’t offer the same level of hold. It’s easily reactivated with a little water, so a little goes a long way, and won’t flake and create a white cast on hair.

For protective styles like braids and twists, Harris recommends the Magic Fingers Shine N’ Jam, which can be used to do everything from feed-in braids to knotless and everything in between. “The moisture, shine, and control are unmatched,” she says. It was designed specifically with professional braiders in mind, and makes hair easier to manipulate. It also holds without flaking, making it a good option for more longer-term protective styles.

An all-in-one pomade, you can use this hair honey on everything from locs to twist-outs. It smooths edges, moisturizes hair, and controls frizz without weighing it down. It contains nettles and sage-leaf extract for softening, and can be used daily to style and reinvigorate hair. It can be used on both damp and dry hair, and acts like an oil with a bit more hold. It also works well prior to blow-drying, offering extra moisture without weighing your hair down.

Best tools for 4C hair

Almost every stylist we spoke to name-checked the Felicia Leatherwood brush, which is basically the Mason Pearson of natural hairbrushes. It makes detangling easy, which is the most crucial step in your wash routine, and duly important for 4C hair, which is prone to tangling and single-strand knots. Detangling incorrectly can lead to ripping or unnecessary breakage. The answer to this is combing and brushing hair carefully from bottom to top, and parting hair into small, manageable sections. “The average hairstyle is done with four parting sections,” says Everett, “with 4C you’re going to want to work with at least eight.” This brush is designed specifically for natural hair, using widely spaced, flexible bristles that glide through without ripping or tearing your hair.

Another good option is Tangle Teezer’s Ultimate Detangler, my personal favorite and a favorite of Dixon. “It’s my favorite thing to use on my hair and my daughter’s hair,” she says. It uses two sets of flexible, multitiered teeth to detangle, and is designed to be used in the shower on soaking-wet or very damp hair.

Another popular option is a wide-tooth comb, which works by using spaced-out teeth to comb through and separate curls without ripping them apart. Harris likes Annie’s Shower Comb in particular, which she says cuts detangling time in half. That one is currently in very limited supply, but this one is almost identical and offers similar results. If she needs to prep hair for a style, she’ll also use a rat-tail comb for sectioning, which makes clean, even parts.

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Everything You Need to Take Care of 4C Hair