My top six tips for caring for 4b hair and retaining length.
1. Moisturize regularly
Afro textured hair has a tendency to be dry. With all the kinks and curls it is difficult for moisture to penetrate every strand thoroughly. Therefore we constantly have to keep our hair moisturized. Moisturizing in advance is better than waiting for your hair to dry out before adding moisture. This will also minimize the breakage that occurs as a result of dryness. A moisturizing deep conditioner applied after shampooing will give your hair a well needed moisture boost. How often you do this is up to you. I try to do mine once a week but if my hair is in a protective style like mini twist I find it easier to do a hot oil treatment instead.
Washing your hair doesn’t just clean it; it adds moisture that you can seal in for days or even the whole week, depending on how well your hair absorbs and retains moisture. After shampooing and conditioning, use a good sealant to lock in the moisture. A natural oil such as extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil or Shea butter will work well for sealing in moisture. Then check your hair during the week to ensure that it isn’t getting dry. A spray bottle with water can be used to top up the moisture of your hair or you can use a leave in conditioner of your choice. Make sure any leave in conditioner you use is water based. Water should be first on the list of ingredients. Some people prefer to use a leave in conditioner especially if they have their hair in a twist out or braid out style. Spraying your hair with water can cause frizz and not allow your style to last as long. I usually just lightly mist my hair and then rub some oil into my hands and pat my hair lightly. It depends on what style my hair is in. If your hair is in twists, you can spray or moisturized more easily. You have to do what works best for you. I think the main rule is to take action if you notice that your hair is getting dry, don’t simply ignore it.
Plastic caps are also good for locking in moisture after lightly misting your hair. You could wear one around the house during the day or to bed at night. You will notice that the moisture has remained in your hair overnight and your hair should feel soft and moist in the morning. Cover your head with a silk or satin scarf or use a satin pillow case. Cotton pillow cases absorb moisture and dry your hair out. Most importantly be aware that moisture comes from within, so don’t forget to drink plenty of water throughout the day.
2. Handle your hair with care
Once your natural hair gets longer you will find that your level of patience must also increase. Afro-textured hair is usually more delicate than Asian or European hair because the strands are finer in diameter, especially around the bends and twists of the strands. Therefore our hair is more prone to breakage with heavy manipulation and rough handling. 4b hair in particular is tightly coiled and every kink, curl and bend presents a potential breaking point. Growing up, I always believed I had ‘tough’ hair because my hair has a thick density. However, I know now that my individual strands are quite fine. According to The Science of Black Hair by Audrey Davis-Sivasothy; medium-sized strands are the same size as a strand of frayed thread. If your strands are thinner than this they are considered to be fine. If your strands are larger than this, then they are thick. I must be extra careful when handling my hair. It’s just isn’t wise to do my hair when I’m in a rush because there will be little broken hairs on my shoulders or on the floor! Be careful when styling your hair and use your fingers as much as possible to detangle, before using a wide tooth comb. Hair should also be handled when damp as it is more pliable in this state. Finally split your hair into sections before styling. This makes it less daunting and allows you to concentrate on one section at a time. This will minimize the damage and breakage from styling and manipulating.
3. Low manipulation and protective styling
Almost every time we style and manipulate our hair there is always the potential for breakage or damage. The aim is to keep this breakage to a minimum. If you have 4b hair, separating your strands through combing, detangling and styling is always risky business. Therefore the less manipulation your hair goes through the less breakage it will experience. Keeping your hair in protective styles or low manipulation styles like buns, twists, braids or updos, will give it days, weeks or months of little to no manipulation. This will give you a break from managing your hair and protect the ends of the hair from damage. It will also help you to retain length, maintain the volume of your hair and reduce tangles and knots. Be aware that leaving your hair in a protective style for too long may cause the shed hair to tangle with the existing hair strands and create more knotting. Also, failing to moisturize your hair while in a protective style, can counteract the benefits of that protective style.
4. Keep your hair stretched
The first time I tried a wash and go I literally washed my hair, raked some gel through it and went to dinner. My hair was completely shrunken, it looked like a TWA. I was happy to have tried a new style but I suffered the next day. My hair was so tangled I thought I would never get it back to normal. Although I tried to remove the knots and tangles with my fingers as carefully as possible, I couldn’t avoid the breakage and damage that occurred as a result. So I realized the importance of keeping my hair stretched. Other hair types may thrive with wash and goes but it is not always the best choice for us 4b girls, considering how tightly coiled our hair is in its most shrunken state. Others hair types may not shrink as much and thus avoid the tangles that result the next day.
Hair can be stretched without using heat simply by putting it in large twists, braids, bantu knots or through banding. Twist-outs, braid–outs and roller sets are also great styles that allow your hair to remain stretched throughout the week. When your hair starts to shrink in between washes, it may be time to take action. Spray it lightly with water (or use your leave in conditioner) and put it in some twists or braids before going to bed, to refresh your style. Even when I wear my hair in a puff I like to put the ends in twists at night so that it is stretched out in the morning before styling my hair again. Otherwise I find that the puff gets flatter and smaller throughout the week as my hair gradually shrinks. This creates more knots and tangles and makes detangling more difficult.
I have since found a better technique of doing wash and gos (see below) but the experience taught me a valuable lesson.
Naptural85 Winter Wash and go technique
Maintaining a Wash and Go
Banding technique for stretching natural hair
5. Trim when needed
It’s simply a myth that trimming your hair helps it to grow, as hair grows from the roots. However, if your ends are split, they will break off eventually anyway. Therefore it is better to remove them yourself as a preventative measure. If you are looking after your ends by keeping them well moisturized and tucked away through protective styling, you will not have to deal with damaged ends as often. Therefore you do not have to trim religiously, regardless of whether it is needed or not. This will simply result in you cutting off perfectly healthy ends and reducing your length for no reason. However, when your ends are damaged, trying to hold on to them can cause more harm than good. This can result in more tangles and knotting and your ends will look see-through and frayed. Hair in this condition does not look very healthy. So in order to avoid more knotting and tangles, difficulty in styling (as your ends are unlikely to hold well) and breaking hair, trim when needed.
When I first went natural in my naivety I thought the only way to stretch my hair was to blow dry it. I blow dried it once a week after washing but I wasn’t deep conditioning to prepare it for blow-drying and I certainly wasn’t moisturizing it enough to replace the moisture lost in the process. This affected my length retention and I didn’t achieve the length that I could have. Since refraining from heat, I have retained much more length and noticed the benefits. Blow drying and flat ironing strips your hair of moisture and there is always the risk of heat damage, which is irreversible. I’m not against using heat but it should be limited if you have certain goals for growth and length retention. Try not to rely on heat but use it more as a treat or for when you feel like a change. Learn about the alternative methods of stretching your hair and experiment with them.
Feel free to add any more tips for caring for 4b hair and afro-textured hair in general. You may do things differently for your hair. Share below.