Afro hair

Overview of 3C vs 4A Hair: Differences & Similarities

Published By: Janine Griffiths

Last Updated: November 11, 2022

Understanding the difference between hair types can make it much easier to establish a healthy and effective hair care routine. 

Hair Curl Types

However, it can be a little tricky to recognize the different hair types if they are very similar. In this blog, we analyze the differences between 3C and 4A hair, which are right next to each other on the curl type chart and only have slight differences. 

However, those differences can be very significant when trying to decide what your hair care routine should be, so we are going to look at the distinctive features of both hair types.

Differences Between 3C vs. 4A Hair

Characteristics of 3C Hair

Of all the Type 3 textures, 3C hair is the coarsest and thickest of all. The strands are usually packed together, making for big curly strands. Due to its density and curl pattern, this hair type looks much bigger and thicker than the other Type 3 textures. 

The more that 3C hair is moisturized, the more definition it will have. It has the tendency to fall downward, but can be fluffed up when styled correctly. 

It is composed of defined curls that have the width of a pencil. The strands of 3C hair are very fine but tightly packed together, giving the hair a lot of volume.  

This type of hair has S-shaped curls and is the tightest curl pattern of Type 3. It is prone to dryness and frizziness, so it is important for the hair to stay moisturized.

Examples of celebrities with 3C hair are Tracee Ellis Ross and Yara Shahidi:

Caring for 3C Hair

Like most curly hair, 3C hair needs to be moisturized in order to look its best and maintain its strength. Not only does moisturizing the hair contribute to its health, but it also helps retain the natural oils that make it shiny.

Deep conditioning is a great way to allow for 3C hair to really soak in the moisture and nutrients it needs. Although it needs moisture, it does not need a lot of products added to it every day. A deep condition is good every 2 weeks, just enough to keep the curls defined and soft. 

You should also be aware that 3C curls reflect light, and if the hair is dry, it will look dull. Shampooing strips the hair not only of dirt but also the beneficial oils and nutrients in the hair. Using a conditioner to wash the hair regularly is a good way to keep it from becoming dry and brittle. 

Keeping the hair detangled, especially at night is really important for 3C hair because it has the tendency to mat easily. Before going to bed at night, it is beneficial to braid or twist the hair in order to keep it in one place. Using a silk bonnet will also help keep the hair moisturized and ready to style the next day.

For more information on how to take care of 3C hair, check out our article ‘How to take care of 3C hair.’

Styling 3C Hair 

One of the best styles for 3C hair is a wash-and-go style. Wash-and-go styles are great for hair textures with a very defined curl. As 3C hair is right on the cusp of kinky and curly, the curls really pop on their own and so the hair is less prone to damage while being out.  

To do a wash-and-go style, simply wash or pre-poo the hair and let it air dry in whatever style you choose. Most people simply leave their hair out for a wash-and-go, which is a great option for 3C hair, but it can also be styled in a high ponytail or with a headband. 

Be aware that 3C hair can be weighed down by heavy products. If you want to encourage the curls to fluff up, using curling foam is a light and effective option. A leave-in conditioner will help keep the hair from frizzing throughout the day, but use it in a small amount so that the curls aren’t weighed down. For people with thicker hair, a curl cream or curling gel can be a good option for definition. 

Characteristics of 4A Hair

The 4A hair type can be identified by its distinct spiral curls. It has a soft, cotton-like texture and is prone to frizziness. It has the most defined curl pattern out of the other Type 4 patterns and it also has the least shrinkage. It has very few cuticle layers, so it does not clump together as the other hair types do – and this gives it less protection.

In terms of texture, 4A hair coils have the circumference of crochet needles and are springier than 3C curls. The curls are also coarse but finer than 4B or 4C curls. 

You should also note that 4A hair can be pretty frizzy because it is more separated and tends not to clump up as much as 3C curls. Some of the celebrity examples of those who have 4A hair are Amandla Stenberg and Yaya DaCosta. 

Caring for 4A Hair

Unfortunately, 4A hair is very prone to tangling because it doesn’t clump together and the curls are tight. It is very important to make sure that tangles and knots are not forming in the hair for too long because it can cause breakage. Using a Denman brush is great for creating definition in the hair and detangling. 

Type 4 hair is very delicate, and the shampooing process can strip the natural oils from the hair – causing dryness and damage. To help retain the natural oils in the hair, a great pre-poo is a hot oil treatment. When the hair soaks up the oil from the pre-poo, it will help prevent the shampoo from stripping away all of the moisture. 

Conditioner is a must for 4A hair. After the moisture is stripped from the hair, a good conditioner will revitalize and nourish it again. Good conditioners are free from silicones and parabens because they contribute to drying and damaging the hair. As a matter of fact, the more natural the conditioner is, the better it will be for achieving the best results. 

Conditioner also helps in the detangling process, which can prevent knots that cause breakage. 

While 4A curls are very defined, if they are not moisturized, they can become frizzy and lose their definition. 

The most important part of caring for 4A hair is being gentle because 4A hair is fragile. Tugging and pulling on this type of hair can pull out the delicate new hair follicles, stunting its growth. It is best to avoid manipulating the hair as much as possible.

Styling 4A Hair

Type 4 hair is more prone to damage when left out, so the styles that work best for 4A hair would be styles that tuck in the hair. Buns, double buns, finger coils, and similar styles are all great options for 4A hair. 

When styling 4A hair, there is more effort involved in keeping the curls defined and not frizzy. Using curl creams and gels works really well to bunch the curls together and keep them really defined throughout the day.

Wearing protective styles is crucial for Type 4 hair because these styles will help the hair grow longer and keep the ends protected from the elements. Protective styles also help lock moisture into the hair and keep the hair from being constantly manipulated – which can pull it out. Some protective styles that are best for 4A hair are box braids, cornrows, and twists. 

Styling and Caring

The Final Word

Hopefully, this guideline helps to clarify what your hair type is because it can be confusing!

However, it is worth knowing your hair type so you can figure out the best treatment for it. Remember, if you treat your hair right, it will treat you right!

Janine Griffiths

Janine is a blogger/editor that edits and creates content for Afro Lovely.
She previously studied economics and journalism at college. After working for two major marketing agencies, she now uses her marketing prowess to create helpful advice, tips and blogs for our audience.
She currently lives in Leeds, in northern England.

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