Afro hair is an important part of many people’s identities. So taking good care of your hair is vital for keeping it healthy and looking its best.
While there are now more products specifically designed to help you look after your Afro hair, there’s still a lack of support for those who want a professional Afro haircare service. Despite black women spending three times more than white women on hair care products, less than 1% of UK salons cater to those with Afro-textured hair [1-2].
While services catch up with demand, it’s important to know how to care for your Afro hair at home. In this article, you’ll learn all about caring for Afro hair, including:
Afro-textured hair refers to a diverse range of hair types and textures found among people of African descent. Afro hair is typically coiled or curled, though the curl pattern, thickness, and hair density differ between hair types. 94.9% of those with African hair types have curly hair, with the remaining 5.1% having wavy hair .
Afro hair usually falls into the 4A to 4C range of hair types:
Afro hair differs from other hair types due to its versatility, as well as the haircare techniques needed. Many people with textured hair choose to wear it in protective styles that minimise tangling and reduce the need for regular combing and styling.
Let’s take a look at each of the Afro hair types in more detail, so you can define your hair.
4A hair is characterised by a coiled S-curl pattern. Curls are approximately 1cm wide, making them looser than 4B hair, but tighter than 3C hair. That means it shrinks less than the other 4 hair types when drying, leaving you with tons of volume.
4A hair retains more moisture than other Afro hair types, but it can still become dry easily. While your hair is naturally softer than those with curlier hair, you’ll still need to work hard to keep your hair hydrated and your ringlets well-defined.
Celebrities with 4A hair: Nathalie Emmanuel, Raven Symoné, Alicia Keys
4B hair is characterised by a zig-zag curl pattern that’s denser and curlier than 4A hair, especially at the roots. This creates the typical kinky hair effect of 4B hair.
Each strand has a narrow spiral, usually less than 0.5cm in width. These tight spirals mean your hair can shrink by up to 75% of its actual length when drying.
4B hair has a tendency to become dry, brittle, and frizzy, especially at the ends. The coiled nature of the hair makes it harder for your natural scalp oils to travel down the hair shaft, leading to a lack of hydration. This can make your hair more prone to tangling, knotting, and breakage.
Celebrities with 4B hair: Celeste, Viola Davis, Jennifer Hudson
4C hair is the most tightly coiled of all hair types. Those with 4C hair have masses of volume, thanks to the extremely narrow spirals of hair that grow in all directions. But this also makes 4C hair prone to breakage and means your hair is likely to shrink substantially when drying.
4C hair is easily damaged. Even basic combing or brushing can lead to hair snapping and breaking, so be careful when detangling your hair.
In addition, 4C hair requires powerful treatments to change its shape, such as heat and/or chemical processing. These procedures can lead to damaged hair, so use them sparingly.
Celebrities with 4C hair: Solange Knowles, Lupita Nyong’o, Pam Grier
Most Afro hair falls into one of the type 4 categories, but it’s also possible to have a different hair type:
The A, B, and C subcategories refer to the hair texture within the hair type. For example, 1C hair is straight but coarse, while 2A hair is slightly wavier.
Natural Afro hair hasn’t been processed in any way (such as relaxing or straightening). Since Afro hair in its natural state can be difficult to care for, many people choose to use chemicals or heat to straighten their hair and make it easier to manage .
In some cases, washing your hair can return it to its natural state. However many relaxers and treatments are strong enough to withstand washing. In these cases, you’ll need to wait for your hair to grow out to get your natural hair back.
Afro hair is more fragile than other hair types . Even standard haircare practices like combing and brushing can cause breakage, knotting, and damage, as it alters the hair structure:
Here are some of the most common ways Afro-textured hair becomes damaged.
Repeated heat styling is known to damage all types of hair. However because Afro hair is more vulnerable to damage, heat can cause more problems for those with 4A-4C hair types.
Heat damage can lead to acquired trichorrhexis nodosa (ATN) . This happens when hair breaks off at weak points in the shaft (weak points look like small white nodes). This makes hair look shorter and thinner.
Studies have also shown that less than 48 hours of UV exposure can lead to hair surface damage, characterised by hair cortex exposure and loss of the cuticle edge [5-6]:
UVB irradiation is more harmful than UVA, which is why it appears to cause more damage to the hair shaft.
Chemical treatments are often used to relax Afro hair. According to one study, 42% of female African Americans use hair relaxers .
Relaxers make it easier to brush and style Afro hair on a daily basis. However long-term use of chemical treatments is associated with extensive hair damage . Over-processed hair is characterised by:
Chemical relaxers can change the amino acid composition of hair proteins, impacting the strength and health of your hair [7-8]. Like heat treatments, they can also lift the cuticles and create fissures along the hair shaft.
Traction alopecia is a type of hair loss that arises in people who often wear their hair in tight hairstyles. This includes many protective styles for Afro hair, such as braids, tight ponytails, locs, and twists .
Using relaxers can double the chance of developing traction alopecia, while leaving cornrow braids in for one year increases the risk fivefold . So it’s important that you wear your natural hair freely at least some of the time to avoid this type of preventable hair loss.
Other hair loss conditions can also affect people with Afro hair. Here are some of the most common causes of hair loss.
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune condition that causes small round patches of hair loss across the scalp. This can develop into alopecia totalis (total scalp hair loss) and, in severe cases, alopecia universalis (total body hair loss).
As with certain other autoimmune conditions, alopecia areata appears to be more prevalent among black patients than those of other ethnicities .
Stress is a known trigger for telogen effluvium, a type of temporary hair loss that can be triggered by traumatic emotional or physical events. This includes:
Stress, along with other mental health conditions like depression, affects a significant number of black women [11-12]. So while more research is needed to establish a strong link, many black women may be affected by stress-related hair loss.
Certain medical conditions can lead to hair loss. Alopecia is a side effect of the following illnesses:
Hormonal changes can also lead to hair loss, stemming from pregnancy, menopause, and hormone replacement therapy.
Some medications cause hair loss, such as chemotherapy for cancer treatment.
Female pattern hair loss(FPHL) is a genetic hair loss condition that affects women. It’s not currently known how prevalent FPHL is amongst women of African descent, but it generally affects more postmenopausal women .
Female pattern hair loss presents as diffuse thinning across the scalp that gets progressively worse without treatment.
Frontal fibrosing alopecia is a type of scarring alopecia characterised by a receding hairline in women. It tends to affect black women earlier than those of other ethnicities, with one study noting that this type of hair loss is “not uncommon” among those of African descent .
CCCA is particularly common among women of African descent . It’s been linked to damaging styling techniques and hair extensions, as well as genetic causes.
Symptoms of central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia include burning, itching, soreness, scaly skin, and pimples on the scalp.
There are a few ways to tell if your Afro hair is damaged, or if you have Afro hair loss. This table explores the symptoms and possible causes:
If your hair is permanently damaged, it’s not usually possible to fix it. However, there are things you can do to help your hair heal and return to its natural healthy state:
Prevention is better than cure when it comes to looking after your Afro hair. Here’s what you can do to keep your curls healthy.
These treatments won’t fix irreparably damaged hair, but they can help your natural hair become healthier and shinier.
Keep your Afro hair looking its best with these top haircare tips.
No matter which type 4 hair you have, make sure you’re using the right products. Everyone with textured hair should consider using the following on a regular basis:
While protective styling and hair relaxers can make Afro hair more manageable day-to-day, overusing them can do more harm than good in the long run.
Protective styles should be worn for no more than a month at a time to avoid traction alopecia setting in . While all braids can tug on the follicles, the following styles may create less tension than heavy box braids and tight cornrows.
Good scalp health can stave off hair loss problems like traction alopecia. Learn to recognise the signs of a scalp problem so you can prevent hair loss. Look out for:
Your scalp health is linked with your overall health, so it’s essential that you eat a healthy and balanced diet, get plenty of exercise, and get any other symptoms checked out to rule out underlying conditions.
Hair often forms a huge part of our identities. So if you start to lose your hair, it can feel worrying and even upsetting.
These hair loss solutions can help treat Afro hair loss:
Our trichology team finds the right female hair loss treatments and male hair loss treatments for you, restoring your textured hair and your confidence. If you decide to take the surgical hair restoration option, we specialise in providing the highest quality Afro hair transplants:
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