One thing everyone knows about 4C hair is that it almost always looks short, and it’s because of the hair type’s natural shrinkage. But since you’ve clicked on this article, it’s safe to infer you’re interested in the “why” of it all.
Why does 4C hair shrink? In this article, we’ll tell you exactly why 4C hair shrinks and tell you how to minimize shrinkage and experience more of your natural length. Let’s get right into it!
Why Does 4C Hair Shrink?
4C hair shrinkage occurs due to the hair type’s reaction with water. All hair types stretch when wet and shrink when dry, but 4C hair experiences the most shrinkage. When 4C hair is wet, the kinks stretch out, revealing more of the hair’s length.
However, as the hair dries, it contracts and becomes more compact.
The shrinkage is most pronounced in 4C hair, which has the tightest curls and coils in Andre Walker’s hair typing system. Now that you’ve got a good idea of why 4C hair shrinks, let’s fully define 4C hair according to Andre Walker’s hair typing system.
What Is 4C Hair?
4C hair is the kinkiest hair of all, according to Andre Walker’s hair typing system. The strands are usually composed of really tight curls and coils, but sometimes zig-zags may be involved. Some people with 4C hair have a distinct curl pattern, while others have more of an afro texture with no discernible curl pattern.
4C Hair Shrinks the Most
Wavy hair shrinks a bit when dry, curly hair shrinks more, and kinky 4C hair shrinks the most. When your 4C hair dries after washing it, you may be surprised to see it has shrunk to 10% of its actual length. Not all 4C hair shrinks this much, but it’s not uncommon to see such dramatic shrinkage with this hair type.
Is Shrinkage Bad for Your Hair?
A lot of people think that shrinkage is inherently a bad thing, but that’s not the case. The thing about shrinkage is that it can make it very difficult to style your hair until you get used to how your hair behaves.
If you don’t know how to deal with shrinkage-prone hair, you may end up breaking your strands during detangling and styling. Though it doesn’t automatically mean your hair is 100% healthy, shrinkage is actually a sign of hair health.
Healthy hair has some level of elasticity, where your curls spring back after being stretched out. If your hair is springy and bounces back in the form of shrinkage, this is a positive thing.
How to Minimize 4C Hair Shrinkage
People with 4C hair (and other curly hair types) have been fighting against shrinkage for a very long time. Over time, people have discovered many ways to control shrinkage to make styling easier or reduce breakage.
But before we go further into this topic, we’ll let you know that there’s no way to stop shrinkage short of straightening or relaxing your hair. You’ll have to deal with some degree of shrinkage, but you can reduce it with a little work and determination.
Here’s how to minimize 4C hair shrinkage:
Before trying any of the hair stretching methods below, shampoo, condition, and detangle your hair. Apply your favorite shampoo, scrub your scalp, and then rinse thoroughly.
Focus the shampoo on your roots and use the pads of your fingers for scrubbing. Then, apply your conditioner all over your hair, paying particular attention to your ends.
Next, use a wide-tooth comb to detangle your hair starting at the ends and going upward to the roots. We recommend doing so in sections to ensure you don’t become overwhelmed in the process.
Banding your hair is very straightforward – anyone can do it.
Here’s how to band 4C hair:
- Start with clean, conditioned, and detangled hair.
- Apply your favorite leave-in to your hair. You can also apply aloe vera gel or other styling products.
- Dispense some oil into your hands and then run your fingers through your hair to apply.
- Smooth some styling cream through your hair and then use the shingling method to define your curls.
- Allow your hair to dry.
- Divide your dry hair into small to medium-sized sections and use clips to keep them separate.
- Choose one section and wrap an elastic band around the roots.
- Grab another elastic and keep wrapping it around your hair. You should be getting closer and closer to your ends.
- Continue banding your hair until you get to the ends.
- Wait at least an hour, then remove the bands.
Note: You can also band your wet hair. The only difference to be aware of when you go this route is that you will have to wait for your hair to dry before removing the bands.
If you like to wear your 4C curls in a wash n’ go but would like to showcase a little more of your length, blow-drying your roots is a great way to go.
All you’ll need to do is follow the below instructions:
- Follow steps 1 to 5 from the previous section (wash, condition, detangle, and style).
- Don’t allow your hair to dry completely. Only let it dry 80-85% of the way.
- Spray the roots of your hair with a heat protectant if you want to minimize your risk of heat damage. We advise you not to skip this step.
- Turn on your blow dryer and set it to medium heat.
- Hold your hair taut a few inches from the roots.
- Blast the air from the blow dryer on small sections of hair at the roots for a few seconds at a time. Never hold the blow dryer on a section of hair for over a second.
Note: You don’t have to limit yourself to only blow-drying the roots. You can blow dry all of your hair to stretch it out. Be careful of how often you take a blow dryer to your hair, though. There’s always a risk of heat damage when using heat tools, and you don’t want to damage your hair.
Pineapple Your Hair
Pineappling your hair refers to pulling it into a high ponytail to stretch out your roots. It’s a hair stretching method that many use overnight to reduce shrinkage without heat or a ton of manipulation.
It works best for those currently wearing their hair in a wash n’ go. If this sounds interesting to you, check out the instructions below:
- Use your hands to gather your hair toward the very front of your head.
- Use a scrunchie to secure the hair.
- Wrap a scarf around the back of your head and tie it in the front under the ponytail.
- When you wake up, take the pineapple down and style your hair as desired.
If your hair is short or you don’t like your results, you can do multiple pineapples and wear a bonnet instead of a scarf to get a more uniform stretch.
Go the Chemical Route
For most people, just hearing the word “chemical” can throw them off. But for those who don’t want to do the work to stretch out their 4C curls, there are more permanent options available, including relaxers and texturizers.
If you’re thinking about dabbling in chemicals, we urge you to speak to a professional stylist so they can look at your hair and tell you whether it’s a good idea.
So, there you have it–why 4C curls shrink and what you can do about it. We hope you found all the information you were looking for, and we wish you the best in your natural hair journey!
Kenneth Byrd holds a BS in Accounting and Management Information Systems and an MBA from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. With over 15 years of experience, Kenneth has been dedicated to hair care since 2008, when he co-founded Curl Centric® and Natural Hair Box alongside his wife. As a team, they promote healthy hair care practices through their comprehensive platform, Curl Centric. Curl Centric is a website operated by a husband and wife team that encourages healthy hair care. At Curl Centric, we aim to help our readers take control of their hair care journey and make good decisions about products, hairstyles, and maintenance techniques. We also have strict editorial integrity; here’s an explanation of our editorial guidelines and how we make money.