Your Guide to Caring for 4A Hair

While not new, the infamous-yet-useful “curl pattern type” chart isn’t without controversy. Coined by Oprah’s personal hairstylist in the ’90s, Andre Walker, his chart is encompassed by four categories (1 to 4) each with subcategories (A to C).

Understanding your hair texture and needs isn’t a problem, but grading hair creates a hierarchy, making one type more desirable then the other. It also leaves out other important factors ranging from porosity, length, heat/chemical damage, and having a mix of hair types.

Despite its roots, figuring out where your hair lies on the spectrum is a useful consumer tool. As the industry has evolved, countless products and techniques have emerged, specifically for the type 4A-C hair category—a plus for natural hair. Below, we explore the 4A hair category and all of its unique attributes.

What Is 4A hair?

According to Aveda’s global artistic director of texture, Renée Gadar, 4A hair differs from 4B and 4C hair because it usually has a smoother cuticle layer, reflects more shine, and has more consistency yielding defined coils. “For example, 4C hair is in the coil category, as opposed to the curl category that 3C exists in,” she explains. “The difference in the pattern is its tightness or the reduced diameter of the curl or bend of the hair aka the coils being tighter.”

Which leads us to the importance of nomenclature: Terms like curly, coily, and kinky are not interchangeable. “Generally, when we are using the term coily it refers to a tight curl, while the term curly usually reflects anything from a larger curl to a medium curl,” explains Matrix global artistic director, Michelle O’Connor. “Curly can be anything from the 3A–C categories. Lastly, I don’t love using the word kinky to describe hair, but overall, these adjectives are usually referring to how small or large a curl is.”

How to know if you have 4A hair texture

Like other hair types, 4A hair comes in a variety of different textures. “A strand of 4A hair can be as thin as a spider web, or as thick as dental floss. You can easily decipher how fine or coarse hair is by how big individual strands are,” explains O’Connor.

But, a caveat. it’s definitely possible (and very common) to have a mix of 4A–C curls. Hairstory network stylist and curl expert April Kayganich has even seen clients with type 4 hair with with type 2 and 3 curls blended in. “I am not the biggest fan of the curl typing system because of this reason; curly haired people can have multiple curl patterns and multiple textures on their head. This makes it hard for people to figure out exactly where they fall on the chart,” she explains.

How to take care of 4A hair

According to Gadar, 4A types should think about cleansing in two ways, shampooing and co-washing. “Over-shampooing can be too stripping. On this texture, sebum takes longer to travel down the hair strand, so putting distance between shampoo’s help and a good way to buy yourself some time is with a co-wash,” she explains.

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