4B Hair: The How-To Guide For Fab Hair
Are you a coily, kinky, curly babe? Are you keen on wearing your hair naturally, and bringing out the best in your texture?
If you have 4B hair and haven’t been given any 4B haircare wisdom, you’re probably no stranger to unmanageable, frizzy, tangled hair that leaves you tempted to book in for a chemical straightening.
But don’t reach for that permanent just yet!
Healthy, glowing, defined coils are within reach – all you have to do is learn about your hair type, what it needs, what it loves, and what it absolutely hates.
There is plenty of information to go through when you have 4B hair, mainly because type 4 hair has been largely left out of the mainstream beauty conversation for such a long time. Check out the haircare aisles at most drugstores and you’ll find plenty of products stocked for ‘normal hair’ (whatever that means) that will do plenty of damage to your delicate coils and kinks.
We want to make deciphering the needs of your type 4B hair easier, so here’s our ultimate guide to 4B hair.
- what 4B hair actually is
- how to tell if that’s your hair type
- how to diagnose other aspects of your hair’s unique profile in order to deliver it the best possible care.
We’ll also delve into the do’s and don’ts of 4B hair care, which products will work for you, and how to build a routine that works.
What is 4B hair?
How do I know if I have it?
4B is a coily hair type. It’s pretty much as curly as it gets (except for the even tighter-curled 4C types out there).
4B hair is extremely kinky. If you grab your hair and weigh it down a bit, it should form tight ‘Z’ shapes vertically.
4B hair has less of a defined curl shape and looks more angular. It is generally wiry and the coils are incredibly tight, bent, and fragile. 4B hair also tends to shrink to about 75% of your actual hair length, so if you experience a lot of shrinkage, you’re probably rocking 4B type hair.
If your coils more so form a loose ‘S’, then you more likely have type 4A hair.
If your coils are so tight they don’t form a distinguishable zig-zag at all, you’ve got deliciously kinky 4C hair.
So, does your hair form Zs? Then you’re a 4B babe in need of 4B tender lovin’ care.
What else should I know about my hair?
Your curl type is just one aspect of your total hair profile. There’s a lot more going on with your hair than you think, and the more you know about your hair, the more you’ll understand how to take care of it, and the more you’ll experience good – or excellent – hair days.
There are 4 qualities of your hair that you should be familiar with:
What is my hair’s porosity?
All hair is porous. That is, it takes in moisture (and other stuff) from the external environment, and also has the potential to lose internal moisture.
Some hair is more porous than others, and knowing your hair’s porosity is imperative to understanding what hair care products will bring out the best in your curls, coils, and kinks.
What’s affecting your hair’s porosity is your hair cuticle. That’s the outer layer of your hair, which forms over each strand sort of like scales. These scales can be flat, and sealed, or they might flare upwards.
Hair that has high porosity has a more lifted-up cuticle – meaning moisture is not easily retained. Whilst low porosity hair has a more sealed cuticle, meaning moisture is retained – but also not easily absorbed.
The porosity of your hair can affect how frizzy and dry your 4b hair ends up on any given day. If your hair is super porous, then you’re going to need to introduce more moisture externally to make up for the loss of internal moisture.
Low porosity hair is vulnerable to protein build-up.
Plenty of conditioning products include rich proteins in their formulas, which are great for strengthening hair. Unfortunately, if you’ve got low porosity hair, your hair will just collect all that protein outside of its cuticle; leaving your hair crunchy, stiff, and straw-like (these are the signs of too much protein in hair). Stick to conditioners and products free of proteins, and instead opt for ingredients that are humectants (such as glycerin).
Because low porosity hair is no good at absorbing external moisture, it’s important to use rich moisturizing ingredients to keep your hair conditioned, and tamed. Try conditioning and styling products full of emollient ingredients, such as coconut oil, or shea butter. However, when it comes to leave-in stylers and conditioners, opt for lighter, liquid-based options that won’t cause a build-up of greasiness in your low porosity hair.
High porosity hair has an annoying knack of staying dry and fragile all the damned time, even after using conditioner.
This is because, as aforementioned, the cuticle isn’t sealed, and moisture – whilst readily absorbed – also manages to easily find its way out.
If you have high porosity hair that’s always super frizzy and dry, try introducing a regular deep conditioning treatment into your hair care routine. Use a deep treatment that is specially made for natural hair, and includes proteins to strengthen your fragile hair, and help your cuticle seal up a bit.
You can also try moisturizing oils, such as coconut oil, as a pre-poo treatment. That is, as a before-you-wash-your-hair step. This will help seal your cuticle so that not too much vital moisture is lost during your shampoo routine.
You’re probably wondering: how do I find out how porous my hair is? Good question!
You can try the float test. Pluck a strand of your hair and wet it. Then, using a cup, or bowl of water, place your strand in. Does it float, or sink?
If it floats, then your hair has low porosity. That sealed-up cuticle isn’t letting any of that water in!
If it sinks, then your hair has high porosity. Your cuticle is lifted up, so it’s absorbing all that water.
What is my hair’s density?
Hair density describes how many hair follicles you have on your head. It’s common for people to get density mixed up with hair thickness (which describes the individual thickness of each strand of hair), but density is more about hair volume.
It’s easy to figure out how dense your hair is.
Can you see your scalp easily at any angle? Then you have low-density hair. Can’t see your scalp easily at all without parting and pulling at your hair? You have high-density hair.
Anyone with high-density hair probably already knows it, as hairdressers usually make some sort of comment about sore arms, or “wow, you have a lot of hair” during a cut and style.
If you have low-density hair, you’re going to want to pump up the volume with volumizing products. But as you have less hair, you certainly don’t want to weigh it down and make it look greasy. Stick to airy, lightweight volumizing stylers – such as mousse, and dry shampoos.
If you have high-density hair, you’re going to want to define those coils and kinks in a more controlled method. Use strong hold styling products such as gels, and thick creams and butters – these will help to tone down your hair’s volume, by grouping your hair into defined coils.
If you have medium density hair, you can play around with the products and styling methods you use. If you’re looking to pump up the volume, follow the recommendations for low-density hair, or if you’re looking to control your volume, then follow the recommendations for high-density hair. You’ve got access to the best of both worlds!
What is my hair’s thickness?
Your hair’s thickness describes the circumference size of each individual strand on your head.
Knowing your hair’s thickness matters, because it indicates what kind of hair care products and styling methods you should be using, and avoiding.
This is because the thickness of your hair also correlates with your hair’s fragility.
Coarse hair (hair on the thicker side) is strong, and therefore easily resists styling, and is difficult to break when manipulating. Fine hair on the other hand (hair that’s thin) has the opposite issue: it’s more fragile, and also more easily weighed down by product build-up.
How to figure out your hair’s thickness
If you’re not sure where on the scale between fine and coarse your hair stands, then try this easy test:
Pluck a single strand of hair from your head, and hold it up against a light source.
Can you still see the strand clearly, with the light source in the background?
Or does the strand seemingly ‘disappear’ where the light source is brightest?
If you can easily see your strand of hair despite being against a bright background, then you have coarse hair. If you can’t see it, your hair is fine. But remember, hair thickness is a spectrum – so you might fall somewhere in the middle, too.
What is my hair’s length?
Lastly, you need to know your hair’s length. This might be fairly easy for most, as they’re familiar with the length of their hair just by living with it on a day-to-day basis.
With type 4b hair, it might be a bit trickier. That’s because type 4 hair experiences plenty of shrinkage, disguising your actual hair length from you. Simply elongate your hair coils to see how far they actually reach when pulled straight. That’s your hair length.
Hair length matters when it comes to finding the right styles, and products to get the most out of your unique ‘do.
Super short hair, such as a buzz cut, requires next to no maintenance. This is awesome for people trying to go natural after previously manipulating their hair. Just chop it all off and start anew!
Short hair, such as pixie cuts, requires easy, low-maintenance TLC. You can detangle with your fingers instead of a wide-toothed comb for example and can use styling products to help define texture. If your hair is long enough, try twisting your hair with your figures to create defined coils.
Medium to long hair requires a bit more prep, maintenance, and energy in your general hair care routine.
Hair will have to be detangled with both fingers, and a wide-toothed comb. Styling products should be applied to hair only after it’s segmented using clips (in order to give every part of your hair some love). Long hair needs some help with drying but because normal blow drying techniques create dry frizziness in type 4 hair, it’s important to use a diffuser.
Lastly, medium-to-long curls need to be protected overnight, lest you want to wash and style every day. You can protect your coils from overnight damage by tying it up with a scrunchie using the ‘pineapple’ method. This brings all of your hair to the front of your head, keeping the curls away from your pillow.
What are the basics of 4B haircare?
When you have type 4B hair, you need to ignore all the mainstream haircare messages, routines, and products out there – they simply won’t work for your texture.
Your hair texture is fragile; it’s easy to lose definition and experience dryness and frizziness, and it’s easy to mistakenly use products that exacerbate your problems.
Here are some 4B hair care basics that should form the foundation of your routine:
Moisture is your friend. Try pre-pooing with oils, and using leave-in conditioners as stylers. Your kinks and coils will love moisturizing products, and it’ll help to define your texture and leave your curls looking healthy and glowing.
Use a satin pillowcase. As mentioned, your hair (and curl definition) is super fragile, so sleeping on an ordinary pillowcase is a no-no. Satin pillowcases allow your hair to slip and slide without tangling (which results in breakage and loss of definition). Ordinary pillowcases can also be drying, as they absorb the natural oils in your hair.
Stay away from the hairbrush. Using a hairbrush on your dry hair will only wreck your curl definition, and create a huge volume of frizz. If you need to detangle, then do so with fingers, or a wide-toothed comb – and preferably in the shower with the help of plenty of conditioner and water.
Don’t use shampoos with sulfates, or conditioners and stylers with silicone. The former ingredient will dry the heck out of your hair, making it more fragile and frizzy. The latter ingredient will build on your hair, making it limp and weighed down. Most mainstream shampoos and conditioners include these ingredients – so make sure to thoroughly read labels.
See the best sulfate-free shampoos!
Wash your hair way less. Type 4 hair benefits from a vast reduction in washes. You should only ever wash your hair when absolutely necessary. On in-between days, either use a dry shampoo or dampen your hair and spruce up a product of your choice. As we keep saying: your 4B type hair loves moisture, and washing rids it of that. So keep washes to a minimum.
What are the best products for 4B hair?
Before we delve into building hair care routines for you, and your textured hair – let’s look at some of the best products to use in those routines.
There are 6 types of products you’ll need in the routines we’ve listed below. Those are:
- Pre-poo oil
- Conditioning Treatment
If you’re not sure what these kinds of products are, where to find them, or which brands to trust – we have you covered. Below we’ve made our number one recommendations for each of these product types. Each of the products below has been reviewed highly by other naturally haired, curly people – and their ingredient lists are perfect for 4B type hair.
No need to buy any fancy products as your pre-poo. You can use pretty much any oil, with coconut oil, and almond oil being popular favorites. You can even make your own blend by mixing different oils, and essential oils, together. Really ‘listen’ to your hair, and find an oil that works best for you.
This healing, detoxifying hair masque is designed specifically for natural hair; making it a Holy Grail treatment for your 4B kinky coils. Made with Moroccan red clay, which cleanses your hair of product and toxic build-up, and shea butter, which will moisturize and tame damaged frizz, African Pride’s Moisture Miracle hair masque is a must-have for any 4B types who are struggling with damaged, dry hair.
This masque will leave your textured hair both cleansed and soothed – making it manageable throughout every step of your wash, and styling routine. There are absolutely no harsh chemical ingredients in this masque’s formula; it uses only the best herbal, natural ingredients including flaxseed oil (to increase curl definition), and aloe vera (which will nourish hair, and help to seal in moisture).
This sulfate-free co-wash cleanser is the perfect no-poo swap to make in your wash routine. Avoid chemical-laden, stripping shampoos, and try Aunt Jackie’s Flaxseed Co-wash. Chock full of flaxseed, this co-wash will cleanse your hair whilst preventing hair shedding and breakage. Other nourishing ingredients include avocado and coconut oils.
This co-wash is rich in Omega fatty acids, making it perfect for all hair types – but especially textured hair that requires protection from the elements.
Swap your shampoo from a co-wash and see the difference!
Gel With Your 4B Hair
This naturally derived gel is not too heavy, and not too light. It gives natural haired babes the hold they need, without the greasy build-up. This gel is specially formulated for textured hair and can be scrunched in to give definition, shine, and hold to coils and curls.
Apply this gel to wet hair for the best results!
Treat your hair to some luxury with Soultanicals Can’t Believe It’s Knot Butta. Formulated with Jamaican black castor oil, and sweet honey, these ingredients will encourage hair growth and strength, as well as seal in moisture; making your hair more manageable, glowing, and defined.
This butter melts in your hand and is a pleasure to apply. Made for naturally textured hair, your 4B coils will lap this butter up.
Batiste’s original dry shampoo has been a classic dry shampoo favorite across hair types for what seems like ages. And with good reason; it works.
This dry shampoo is super easy to apply, simply spray onto your roots and give your hair a bit of zhush. Batiste’s dry shampoo will leave your hair feeling clean, voluminous, and deliciously coily. There’s no need to grab for the showerhead on bad hair days, this dry shampoo will sort you out. Avoid washing too often and instead invest in a great dry shampoo – your 4B hair will thank you in the long run.
What is the best routine for 4B hair?
So, we’ve covered the basics of what your 4B hair needs – and doesn’t need. We’ve also helped you figure out other unique aspects of your hair profile; to help you better understand your hair’s individual requirements.
But how we do put all that information together into an easily followed process?
Here’s the best routine for type 4B hair – including options and alternatives based on other aspects of your hair’s texture.
We’re going to cover 3 different routines which altogether make up your long term routine:
- Wash routine
- Everyday routine between washes
- Therapeutic routine (for when your hair needs damage repair)
4B Hair Wash Routine
Once a week.
Wash days are big days for natural-haired guys, gals, and pals. There’s quite a bit to do; preparation, detangling, and after-care… but when wash day is done right, the results are buoyant, glowing, defined healthy-looking hair.
Remember those basics of 4B hair care we mentioned above, and make sure not to use any sulfate or silicone laden products in your wash routine, and opt-out of heat styling and straight-up blow-drying.
Without further ado, let’s check out our recommended sample wash day routine:
- Half an hour to an hour before you plan to shower, pre-poo with an oil, or conditioner. Use a shower cap, or a heat cap, to warm up your head and help along the absorption process.
- Get into the shower rinse out the pre-poo oil.
- Time for your first detangle (that’s right, you’ll be detangling more than once). Apply as much conditioner as you need to make your hair slick and easy to detangle (avoid applying conditioner to your scalp and roots). Detangle with your fingers and rinse out the conditioner.
- Use a co-wash to wash your hair. Lather up the co-wash on your fingers and palms, and try to directly massage it into your scalp (try not to lather up all of your hair, just the scalp will do). Massage for a good 5 minutes before rinsing out.
- Apply conditioner again, and detangle once more. You can skip this step if you find your hair is detangled at this point.
- When doing your final rinse, if you have longer hair, consider bending over and flipping your hair so that it hangs upside down from your scalp. Try rinsing with cold water if you find your hair is frizzy after a hot shower.
- Turn off the shower. Scrunch and squeeze at your wet hair to remove excess moisture. You should still be bent over with your hair hanging.
- Rub some leave-in conditioner between your palms, and scrunch it into your wet hair.
- Rub some sealant product – such as a butter – or other styler – such as a gel, between your palms, and again scrunch it into your wet hair.
- Dry your hair by using the towel in the same scrunching motion. Try using a t-shirt for this step if you want to be extra gentle.
- Allow your hair to air dry, or use the blow dryer with a diffuser. When diffusing, continue to dry and style your hair hanging when bent over.
4B Hair Everyday Routine
A big part of keeping your 4B hair healthy and cute is avoiding frequent washes.
Your hair will look its best if left (largely) to its own devices.
Keep that moisture locked in and try this everyday routine that doesn’t involve exposing your hair to hot water, and moisture-stripping shampoos and products.
There’s a couple of habits that you should have down as part of your everyday routine:
- You should be sleeping with your hair up in a pineapple, tucked into a satin cap, or put into some sort of overnight protective style.
- You should be sleeping on a satin pillowcase.
As long as you’re protecting your hair overnight, zhushing your hair in the morning will be a breeze. Follow these steps:
- Take your hair out of its protective style after waking up. Flip your hair over, and place your fingers close to the scalp to shake your hair out at the roots to gain volume. Flip back over.
- If your hair is looking greasy or limp, use a dry shampoo.
- If your hair has lost its curl shape, put a small amount of leave-in conditioner into a spray bottle with plenty of water. Shake the mixture together then spritz onto your hair. Remember to part it in order to evenly distribute the spray. You won’t need much – just enough to make your curls slightly damp to the touch. Your hair should air dry into tighter coil formations.
- Depending on other aspects of your hair type (such as hair width, and hair volume) you may need to use other styling products in your everyday routine. Whether you’re using gels, butters, or oils – make sure to apply to your hair after spritzing it with water. Textured hair prefers being styled when at least damp.
- Allow to air dry completely!
4B Hair Therapeutic Routine
Once a week.
Your hair requires intensive care every now and then, to strengthen it, moisturize it, and repair any damage in general.
Hair is vulnerable to the elements no matter what lifestyle you lead. And when you have textured hair, especially type 4B hair, your hair’s even more vulnerable to damage from external forces.
If you love to spend time outdoors, then UV from the sun can cause your hair’s cuticle to lift, resulting in unsightly frizz. Are you a swimmer? Chlorine can do a total number on your fragile locks. Trying to stay warm under a hat or hoodie? The friction may cause tangles and breakage.
No matter what you’re doing on a day-to-day basis, you’re going to want to have a weekly therapeutic routine in place, where you give your hair the love and attention it needs to repair inevitable damage.
- Grab a deep, intensive conditioning treatment specific to natural hair.
- Follow the instructions on the container. Usually, you’ll be prompted to apply the intensive treatment to your dry hair by sections (in order to give all parts of your head equal loving)
- Leave it on for the recommended amount of time – and definitely no less than an hour. To speed up the process, or help it along, try putting on a shower cap and using the blow dryer to apply heat from the outside. Gentle heat (that’s not applied directly to your hair – so make sure there’s a barrier) will help your hair absorb the treatment more readily.
- Follow this routine with your wash routine, and rinse out your treatment in the shower.
All 4B hair needs to look its best is the right products and care.
A lot of curly, coily, and kinky-haired people out there have struggled with their hair and blamed their texture for it. That’s because much of the mainstream wisdom around haircare simply doesn’t work for type 4 texture – in fact, a lot of mainstream products and routines to outright damage to type 4 hair.
Your 4B hair will look absolutely stunning on a day in, day out basis, as long as you follow our recommended basics, routines, and make sure to stick to sulfate- and silicone-free products that are curl and coil friendly.
Rock that 4B hair naturally, and give your gorgeous coils and kinks the love they deserve.