As someone with the 4C hair type, I know firsthand how difficult it can be to grow long, healthy curls. I’ve hunted for tips and tricks, but keeping breakage at bay takes work. For years, I was terrified of trimming my hair, because it was drilled into my head that my tightly coiled hair would take forever to grow back.
“It is a long-held myth that people with coarser hair textures can’t grow long hair and it’s just that — a myth,” says Shelley Davis, founder of Kinky-Curly. It’s myths like those that have left me and others with 4C hair stumped. Why does it seem like my hair just refuses to grow past a certain length?
Keeping your hair clean and moisturized obviously plays a huge role in helping your hair grow, but there’s a reason why 4C hair tends to be harder to hydrate. “That’s because of the tight curl pattern,” cosmetic chemist Tonya Lane explains to Bustle. “It’s difficult for the sebum to travel down the cuticle, which naturally leads to water loss which will result in breakage. Once those who have 4C hair master moisture retention, they will see more length retention.”
Ready to get growing? To find out more tips and tricks for maintaining healthy natural hair, Bustle spoke to Davis, Lane, Matrix brand ambassador Greg Gilmore, and curl expert and Rëzo Salon owner Nubia Suarez.
1. Start Pre-Pooing
Pre-pooing — applying a treatment (usually an oil) to your hair before you shampoo — will help make detangling easier and give your hair the extra moisture it’ll need throughout your wash routine. Lane explains that hair is “lipophilic,” meaning it “prefers oils to the water.” Translation: Dousing your curls with water can be pretty traumatic. “I suggest incorporating pre-pooing with a penetrating oil like coconut or babassu into your regimen,” Lane says. “This can be applied to dry hair for an hour or 30 minutes prior to shampooing.”
If you have high porosity hair or you struggle with moisture retention, pre-pooing is extremely important. Make sure you don’t skip it.
Porosity is also a factor to consider when moisturizing your hair. Most 4C hair has low porosity, which means the hair cuticles are tightly packed and flat, creating a barrier that makes it tough for moisture to get through. For low porosity 4C folks, pre-poo your hair and then wash it with a clarifying shampoo to give your curls and scalp a refresh. It’s a good idea to use styling products with water-based formulas, then an oil to seal in hydration.
High porosity 4C hair can absorb moisture more easily but that doesn’t mean you won’t also benefit from a pre-poo treatment. The cuticle structure of high porosity hair is open and rough, so retaining moisture is tricky. After the pre-poo, use a gentle and moisturizing shampoo to avoid drying out your strands. Again, follow with styling products that are water-based and seal them with an oil.
2. Avoid Heat
Curl experts agree that avoiding “tension techniques” (such as blow-drying and straightening) is to keeping your hair healthy and helping it grow. “Using heated styling tools can damage the new growth and make your curl pattern inconsistent,” Shelley explains.
Slicked back buns, Bantu knots, twist-outs, and wigs are all great heat-free styles that give your hair a much-needed break. If you want to wear your hair down but avoid shrinkage, try an anti-frizz serum like the Mizani Thermastrength Heat Protecting Serum or an elongating gel like Aunt Jackie's Curls & Coils Don't Shrink Flaxseed Elongating Curling Gel.
If you must use heat, I get it. Just make sure that you use a heat protectant to create a barrier between your coils and a hot tool.
3. Wear Protective Styles (With Caution)
Protective styles will help you fight the temptation to use heat (and can help lock moisture into your hair). Shelley says that two-strand twist outs and braid-outs are great choices, especially for those transitioning from relaxed to natural. “Crochet braids, twists, box braids, or just simple beautiful braids are all great options,” Nubia also says.
Just make sure that you don’t keep your braids or twists in for too long. “I suggest keeping them in for two months or less,” says Gilmore. “Never exceed two months.” He agrees that wigs can be helpful for protecting your natural hair, and points to Better Length textured clip-ins as a great alternative for when you want to show off your coils in all their glory.
4. Minimize Breakage
Everyone can agree that breakage is the greatest enemy in the quest for hair growth — and there’s a reason why coils more prone to it. Each individual strand of curly hair has many bends, and each one is a weak point in the hair shaft. 4C curls are often so tight that each coil bends and twists onto other strands, causing more friction and fragility.
Protein treatments (Mielle Organics Babassu Oil Mint Deep Conditioner and the Tropic Isle Living Jamaican Black Castor Oil Protein Conditioner are standouts), satin or silk hair accessories, and regular trims are few ways to avoid breakage and keep natural hair strong. Nubia suggests getting a trim or cut every 6 months to keep ends healthy and prevent fairy knots.
5. Be Patient
Remember that all hair grows. “The difference is the growth may ‘appear’ slower on hair that is more textured,” Shelley says. “But rest assured, your hair is growing.”
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