Fact: When it comes to styling 4a hair—or, really, any type of hair—you already know that throwing together a random assortment of styling products and treatments isn’t going to cut it. The easiest way to define your curl pattern is by making sure you’re loading up on the right ingredients (hydrating oils) and avoiding the wrong ones (stripping sulfates). But that’s easier said than done obvs, which is why we tapped hairstylist and natural hair expert Jasmine “Jazzee” Santiago to find out the very best products for 4a hair—and, more importantly, the smartest ways to apply ’em.
What is 4a hair?
First things first: 4a hair is typically defined by its tight, small coils that form an S-shaped pattern when stretched. “4a hair can look pretty coarse, but it’s actually quite soft when it’s moisturized and taken care of,” says Santiago. And even though 4a hair does retain moisture better than types 4b/4c, it still needs a consistent routine of hydrating products (think: creams, oils, and gels)—especially if you’re looking to keep your hair stretched and/or trying to mitigate breakage. “The objective of any curly hair routine is to prevent your hair from drying out, otherwise you risk damage, tangling, and shrinking,” says Santiago.
Btw, in addition to understanding your curl type, it’s also important to know your hair’s porosity (aka your hair’s ability to absorb and maintain moisture). Here’s the gist:
- High-porosity hair soaks up moisture like a sponge, but it also loses that moisture pretty fast, meaning it does best with thicker, richer hair products that’ll seal moisture in.
- Low-porosity hair, on the other hand, repels moisture, so products tend to sit on the surface and never really absorb into your hair. It’s best to treat low-porosity hair with products that are super lightweight yet deeply hydrating.
The easiest way to figure out your hair’s porosity? Take a porosity quiz and start cocktailing products until you find your match. There’s definitely a bit of trial and error that goes into this, but it’s important to remember that there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to haircare routines. Don’t worry though—we’ve got some recommendations for you below.
What are the best products for 4a hair?
In general, 4a hair types should look toward creams, gels, and oils—all of which are great for both hydrating and defining hair. But according to Santiago, what’s even more important than the type of products you use on 4a hair is the way you apply them and how frequently you do it. Here’s a couple pointers you should keep in mind:
- Always apply your products to soaking wet hair. “This is the easiest way to get super-defined curls,” says Santiago, who suggests styling your hair directly in the shower—no blotting with microfiber towels or t-shirts, pls—to avoid pulling out your curl pattern or creating tangles.
- Pay attention to what your hair needs. Remember: 4a hair can probably go a little bit longer between washes than types 4b/4c, since it doesn’t get dried out quite as easily, but you still need to tune into what your specific hair needs (i.e., don’t stick to any hard and fast rules, like always waiting three days between each wash). Basically, just listen to your hair, says Santiago. “When it feels or looks dry, that’s when it’s time to rinse and condition.”
- Dry with care. Your drying routine is totally personal preference—some people like to air-dry, others like to sit under a hooded dryer or diffuse. If diffusing, Santiago says you’ll want to remain super still and avoid any scrunching during the process. “You want to hover the diffuser around your head, instead of scrunching it up and into your hair,” she says. “Scrunching is going to leave you with shrinkage and potential knots.”
Are these products Curly Girl Method-approved?
Real quick: The Curly Girl Method (CGM) is a styling guide that swaps harsh, damaging ingredients for super gentle and hydrating ones. Some of the below products are CGM-friendly—but just make sure you check the ingredients list (this scanner makes it v easy) before you use anything. Better safe than sorry.
K, now what you really came here for. Keep scrolling for the nine best products for 4a hair, including cleansing conditioners, leave-ins, gels, and so much more.
Best Curl Cream for 4a Hair
Eden BodyWorks Coconut Shea Curl Defining Creme
A hydrating curl cream is a nonnegotiable for 4a hair, and this one from Eden BodyWorks is formulated with coconut oil, shea butter, aloe, and avocado oil—all of which help moisturize and define your coils without weighing them down. After cleansing and conditioning, finger-rake a quarter-sized dollop through wet hair until your head is completely saturated (psst—that includes your hairline, ends, and nape of your neck).
Best Leave-In Conditioner for 4a Hair
Tgin Green Tea Super Moist Leave In Conditioner
For 4a hair types that are on the dryer side, opt for this leave-in conditioner before you layer on your curl cream (again: you want to apply your products to soaking wet hair). Even though it’s nice and lightweight, the formula is still suuuper hydrating, thanks to hair-smoothing ingredients like green tea, argan oil, and shea butter.
Best Oil for 4a Hair
Pattern Jojoba Oil Hair Serum
Once your hair is coated with your leave-in and/or curl cream, lock in all that hydration with a generous layer of oil (this one from Pattern is jojoba-based, but coconut, mongongo, and avocado are also excellent options). Distribute a couple pumps of the serum on your hands and gently scrunch into your hair to make sure you’re coating each strand.
Best Gel for 4a Hair
Kinky Curly Original Curling Custard
Hot tip: Curl-defining gel is the secret to getting that perfect corkscrew shape. Working in quadrants, rub a dollop of this cult-favorite formula between your hands and rake it through your hair, finger-coiling small sections until your hair is fully saturated and defined. “Gels are great for holding the curl for a longer period of time, especially in humidity,” says Santiago.
Best Mousse for 4a Hair
Design Essentials Natural Almond & Avocado Curl Enhancing Mousse
Santiago says mousse is also great for defining 4a hair—so long as you layer it on top of your leave-in conditioner to prevent any dryness. This one from Design Essentials has a hydrating blend of sweet almond oil, avocado, and vitamin B for moisture and shine that actually lasts.
Best Cleansing Conditioner for 4a Hair
Curlsmith Curl Quenching Conditioning Wash
Unlike traditional shampoos (which can strip your hair of its natural moisture), this cleansing conditioner from Curlsmith works to break down product buildup and oil while also hydrating your 4a hair (shout out to the formula’s avocado, shea butter, and coconut).
Best Conditioner for 4a Hair
SheaMoisture 100% Virgin Coconut Oil Daily Hydrating Conditioner
JSYK, using a cleansing conditioner doesn’t mean you can skip out on actual conditioner. After cleansing or rinsing, work this coconut oil formula through your hair from roots to ends, gently detangling with a wide-tooth comb. This bb is super lightweight—so no need to worry about any greasy residues.
Best Deep Conditioner for 4a Hair
Camille Rose Algae Renew Deep Conditioner
Every couple weeks, finish off your cleansing and conditioning routine with this deep treatment from Camille Rose, which is formulated with rich mango butter and coconut oil for extra hydration. For super-dry 4a hair, throw a plastic cap on your head and sit under a steamer or hooded dryer for 30 minutes while the formula does its thing.
Best Bonnet Dryer for 4a Hair
Conair 1875 Watt Pro Style Bonnet Ionic Hair Dryer
Bonnet hair dryers are arguably one of the easiest ways to dry 4a hair, and this one from Conair is loved for its compact size and affordable price point. Depending on your hair’s length and density, Santiago says you’ll only need 20-ish minutes, during which your hair can dry completely uninterrupted. Or, if you’ve got the time, air-drying is also a great option.
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