Can you treat 4C hair the same way you treat 3B hair? If you listen to most curl tips, it would be easy to think Type 3 curly hair advice is universal. But it isn't.
Following certain 3-centric curl tips on 4C hair could be what's making your hair seems unmanageable or difficult right now.
We just need to jettison some of the "rules" that don't work for this hair type at all. Rules like:
Tip 1: "Curly hair should be washed in cool water."
If you wash your hair with cool water, you're missing out on softer, shinier, more hydrated, cleaner, healthier 4C hair. In other words, everything.
Hot water has more energy, it penetrates the strand better, which means you get more moisture and more flexibility. Micelles, the surfactant molecules that cleanse in shampoo and condition in conditioner, tend to perform better in warmer water, too. Hotter water is also better at melting oils, and removing product residue and other similar buildup from your hair and scalp.
There's no need to go overboard, though; excessively hot water is damaging to your scalp and drying to your hair. But you can safely turn up the temperature to the hotter side of warm, and skip the chance of that mystical ice cold water rinse-induced shine, that never worked on your 4C hair, anyway.
Tip 2: "Leave in some of your conditioner."
4c has very little free space, which means leaving in conditioner is usually a no-no. Picture strands that are full to the brim internally, plus a clogged surface, and you'll see why conditioner left in tends to mean stiffer, less cooperative hair.
Never leave in conditioner on 4C hair. If your conditioner is strong enough, you won't need to.
Being full of left in conditioner also makes it harder to take in other leave ins or stylers once your hair is dry. Add a thick coat of dullness and embarassing buildup, and aesthetically, there are few reasons to continue this practice on most 4C tresses.
More worryingly, a lot of conditioners are formulated with ingredient levels that are safe to use as rinse out formulas, but can be irritants when left in. For Black women in particular, who tend to use higher amounts of product than estimated by manufacturers, this can sometimes mean serious health concerns.
If you use a strong conditioner, there's no need to leave in conditioner.
If you're using a good conditioner for 4c hair - one that is strong enough to soften, hydrate and smooth this hair type - then you won't need to leave any of it in, especially if you work in your conditioner, and give it time to penetrate. In fact, good conditioners tend to work better when you rinse them out thoroughly with warm water.
There are some formulas which are actually both leave in and rinse out conditioner in one. In this case, leaving it in shouldn't pose any health concerns. Still, to avoid the strand problems mentioned above, it's usually best to rinse them all the way out, then reapply on damp to dry hair.
Tip 3: "Do twistouts, braidouts and rodsets on wet hair."
Twistouts work better done from dry hair if you have 4C hair.
4C hair deforms a lot less easily when wet than other hair types. So there's usually very little to gain from trying to set the hair into a new curl when it's wet. In fact, as tightly-curled 4C hair dries, it's also resetting its own, strong patterns. It's definitely not a good idea to try to impose some new ones while this intense shrinkage is underway.
Plus, if you're using products to add hold, there's a risk that your wet 4C hair will refuse to let the product into the strand or even adhere to its surface, which can mean the product doesn't work at all. Wet styling 4C hair all too often means so-so results, buildup, formless curls, and awkward shrinkage. Instead, wait until your hair is damp to dry, when it's a lot more absorbent and cooperative. Then start your braidout or twistout and avoid it going wrong.
4C hair needs its own curly girl rules
Suffice it to say, on 4C hair, the best advice is often opposite to what works on Type 3 hair. Except of course, when it's not - some fine 4C textures are more absorbent and tractable, and thus don't strictly play by typical 4c rules. And some 4C hair will break some of these patterns and follow others. Sigh. Such are the complexities of curly hair.