5 Things EVERY 4C Natural Should Know About Breakage — And How to Prevent It

glamfun natural hair youtube


The first thing that pops into my head when I think about youtuber Karen of Glamfun is of course the very catchy tune, ‘Wash and Go’s don’t work on nappy hair.’ Recently, she has been in the spotlight for her hair struggles and decision to relax her natural hair. She spoke in depth to BGLH on that in this interview…this is not the topic of discussion today.  Instead, I want to do an analysis of what I learned from her discussion on the serious level of breakage she experienced. I think her experiences can be a great learning tool for anyone with 4c hair specifically, as well as broadly speaking to anyone trying to retain length and constantly succumbing to setbacks.

1. Doubt is a very good thing

Karen was given a diagnosis of central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia and she doubted it. I am a scientist and not a dermatologist but I’m with Karen in doubting the diagnosis. From my point of view, Karen had breakage after her hair was grown from the scalp. For the alopecia condition, there is some association with trauma to the hair follicles leading to a ‘scalpy’ appearance, not so in Karen’s case. The dermatologist suggestion of relaxing as a remedy is not ideal as relaxers are suspected to be a possible cause for tram, triggering that type of alopecia (J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. pp 37–40, 2012.). Therefore, if you doubt what a medical professional is telling you, do get a second or even third opinion.

2. Breakage happens even to the most seasoned naturals

Chery of chery818 is an example of how a seasoned natural with years of experience and very long hair can experience breakage. Don’t make the mistake of thinking serious breakage is a newbie type of error; and those who are 2-3 years into their natural journey are less likely to experience it. Typically, 4c hair is more susceptible to breakage. When coupled with length, there is more potential to knot within coils and kinks.

3. Why is your hair breaking? Erm………..because you broke it

I wrote an article 4 years ago with this exact title. In short, it’s safe to say that most of the time when you experience hair breakage, it’s because of something that you, as the main handler of that hair are doing. It is a simple answer, almost too simple for some but it underlies an important an inescapable truth which is that ultimately, you as the main handler of that hair,  have to troubleshoot and find out what you are doing wrong. Big emphasis on “you.”

4. Absolute fail safe methods – Leave your hair alone (2+ weeks)

Karen noticed that when she placed her hair in braids for a while and left it alone, it grew. For 4c hair, leaving your hair alone is an absolute fail safe method to retain length. For most 4c naturals, this means protective styling for 2+ weeks at a time by some means – e.g own hair braids/twists, well installed extensions, well installed weaves, cornrows under a wig etc.  I would generally advise against free hair methods for 4c hair e.g bunning, twist outs etc but if you are able to see low to no breakage, then it is a fail safe method for you. New methods such as the maximum hydration method have reports that some users with 4c hair experience less knotting and breakage. I would not label this method as a proven fail safe method but I would say that if you are an experimentalist, try it and observe the level of breakage for yourself.

5. Sticking points / Plateaus

For many 4c naturals, there are specific points when hair is more liable to experience high breakage.  The two most common ones are:

– hair can’t get past neck length

– transitioning hair from APL to BSL

In both cases, trying a fail safe method for a period of 6 months to 1 year could dramatically change your fortunes.


What steps do you take to prevent breakage?

The Natural Haven

The Natural Haven

Scientist on a hairy mission!


* indicates required

33 thoughts on “5 Things EVERY 4C Natural Should Know About Breakage — And How to Prevent It

  1. Hello,
    I am newly natural, I’ve been transitioning for 8 months and after wearing braided extensions for 4 weeks at a time on to different occasions and slicking my hair back in tight buns, I have suffered from traction alopecia, so protective styles are no longer an option for me at least for another 6 months to a year, and tips or suggestion on how to keep my hair healthy and breakage free wearing loose styles, I believe I have type 4 hair……

    • Simple. Keep your hair moisturized and spritz it at night, sleep on a silk scarf. Massage daily.


      Moisturizing: Non-Protein Deep conditioning (2-3 times a week). More fruit (oils) based than egg/mayo (protein) based.

      I prefer natural products, like the edible ones you find in your kitchen pantry. Keep the conditioner in your hair for 30 minutes and rinse in cool to cold water.

      Hot water also strips and dries out your hair, hence I suggest cool to cold water.

      You may wonder about the possible food residue being in your hair etc. especially if you’re only using cool to cold water to remove it.

      Straining before applying to hair helps. If you prefer, there are numerous homemade conditioner recipes online. Choose one that contain ingredients that you won’t mind be stuck to your hair. Like the oil (coconut/avocado/olive/etc) based ones.

      I hope your hair and scalp recovers, and best of luck.

      ~Our true aim is healthy hair, long hair is just an awesome side effect~

  2. I am dealing with this now, I got tired (lazy) and stopped my usual two strand twists..i wanted to play in my hair..I rocked buns and updos and other things…and I broke….not a lot, but enough that I sat this weekend and left it alone. I know it will grow back, so not a huge deal, but my hair is happier when I leave it alone.

  3. I have 4 C hair and this article came right on time as I have been natural for a little over two years. When I comb my hair out, I have seen small little curly cues fall onto the bathroom floor. It does not seem to matter how gentle I am with my hair as this is bound to happen. For the past six months I have been putting braids in my hair because my hair is very difficult for me to work with when it is in its natural state. I too have found that leaving my hair alone is the best way for me to experience hair growth and with less breakage. I tend to keep my hair in a protective style for at least six weeks before I have to take them out.

  4. I see a big flaw with the article that says braids, cornrows, extensions, or long-term “protective styles” are fail-safe options for 4c hair. I watched Karen’s channel from the beginning. She suffered from extremely dry hair. Chery also suffered from dryness, and she almost always wears protective styles. Putting your hair in a long term protective styles just makes it that much harder to moisturize the hair with water. Those styles can actually increase breakage, tangles, and dryness. Of course the only option which encourages daily washing of hair, the max hydration method, is considered as less. Washing your hair on a more regular basis than once a week is really essential for people suffering from dryness, especially if you have 4c hair because it knots up easily.

    I have 4c hair too, and I also used to struggle with breakage. It was precisely because I had dry hair. I wear my hair out daily now, and it is in perfect shape. Cynthiarf on youtube is a great example of someone who incorporates daily washing and “out” afro hairstyles, and she maintains very long, thick healthy hair. My hair is also very thick.

    • I recently started the maximum hydration method and reading JC’s article above made me nervous that my every 3 day wash n go is such a risky move. For a second i contemplated going back to the world I knew of protective styling…but the your comment, was like a douse of cold water. I remembered taking down my protective styles after 1-2 weeks and my gnarly ends, trying finger detangling after twists was not pleasant and i still had lots of little c’s and springs on the bathroom counter. It will be amazing and downright miraculous if this maximum hydration thingy gets me truly healthy hair, but your comment gave me hope that i may be on the right path. Thanks.

    • Look at Kinkistyles1980. She made it to waist length in 4 years. She did protective styling only on her 4C hair. Trust me, you can moisturize hair in protective styling, and it will grow, just like hers!

  5. Great article and well written too.

    I have type 4a hair but I decided to read this article to see if I could learn from it and I did.

    Long term protective styling is great but I also believe in low manipulation styling as well( including twist-outs, buns, braid-outs, etc ).
    I’m strongly against re-twisting and re-braiding natural hair regularly( especially every night or every other night ). On looser textures that may be okay but on tighter textures… you’re asking for breakage.

    How I combat breakage is to start off with a fresh twist out or other hairstyle, then as the week progresses( and the hairstyle gets older and less defined ) I turn it into a puff or bun.
    I don’t detangle my natural hair when restyling. I simply re-moisturize and style in a puff or bun and I’m good to go. My bun stays fresh for days and I only have to brush and spruce up my edges in the morning( soft bristle brush ).

    For me, detangling is reserved for washday only. This has helped me to retain length, decrease manipulation and minimize breakage so far. It also worked when I tried it on my little sisters who have 3c hair and 4b hair.

    I don’t know if the tips I gave will work for 4c hair but I still want to share them. I hope this helps someon

    • *someone.

      and one last thing… Moisturize when necessary.
      I think moisturizing is an important part of any hair care regimen. Hair can be styled in a long term protective style and still experience dryness and breakage if not moisturized properly and when necessary

  6. Completely agree with Carlee. Putting our hair “away”is not helpful because the reason type 4 hair breaks is usually a moisture protein balance or rough handling issue. How will we ever learn to care for our hair if we always leave it alone. And if we grow hair down to the floor, at some point we have to handle our hair routinely. And if you have not learned your hair while its shorter your only going to ruin your progress with longer hair. I say,learn your hair, what it likes and doesn’t like. Always assess it to make sure it isn’t lacking moisture or protein, handle it with care, keep it clean and get a regimen. Don’t say that I must put my hair on punishment in a secret service protective program just because it’s coarse and kinky. My hair does not do well if I cannot treat it regularly and I can’t tell it’s condition and what it needs if it’s under a sew in twists or in braids or under a darn wig all the time . That just leads to more problems.

    • I also agree. I love me some twists but they and other bounded up styles can be murder on my 4c strands if I do them continuously. This is why I always say your 4c hair is not my 4c hair. Just because we share the same texture doesnt mean you lay down the law as to what will work universally. I appreciate the advice on whats tried and true but for me protective styling weeks at a time is both unrealistic as I don’t always have the time nor patience to install twists for 3 to 4 hours. This summer I have done daily wash n gos, bantu knot outs and plethera of fros and my hair is doing just fine. I hacked off quite a few inches back in april to give my hair some shape for wash n go season and it has already grown back nicely with no protective styling. I think gentle handling and moisture is the key. That and the acceptance that kinky, nappy coily hair doesnt need daily ” taming ” to look good. Your only inviting breakage when you keep thinking your two day old twistout is fuzzy. Its suppose to be. Gotta learn to enjoy the evolution of kinky hair on a day to day basis.

  7. I totally disagree with those who say it is difficult to properly moisturise hair in a protective style. Many naturals do long term protective style and manage to still moisturise hair. Routines for this are sometimes daily, every three to four days or once a week. The big variability you find is because every person has different needs and NO (in caps), it is not a rule that you need to moisturise every day.

    I do urge you…..especially those who are struggling to read the 4c case studies here – http://www.thenaturalhavenbloom.com/search/label/4c%20Hair%20Case%20Studies

    There are also plenty of non-4c long term protective stylers e.g Kimmaytube who also manage to moisturise well enough while in protective styles.

  8. I consistently did twists and plaits on my hair for about 2 years before going CG. I made sure to spritz and moisturize regularly, several times a week at least, more if I thought I needed it. What I found is that my mostly fine strands hate, really HATE, HATE WITH A PASSION! to be bound. Keeping it slightly undermoisturized was the most likely way for me to keep it from unraveling; when it was optimally (so I thought) moisturized, it would work itself free from even the tiniest plaits that I dared to do—and I didn’t dare make them too tiny because of the ensuing trauma to the hair when it was time for me to take it a-loose. From the first plait taken down to the last one put back up could literally take me 24 hours, including detangling, deep conditioning, cleansing, trimming when necessary, and finding some time somewhere in all that to eat, shower, and sleep. It began to seem more and more a waste of time to plait my hair, then replait half of it again because it had worked itself loose, and keep doing that for the four weeks the style was intended to last. I decided it was enough with the hairhandling coming from this “protective” style, and I decided to see how well it would thrive if I learned to let it be unbound. Of course, I had to figure out the moisture problem, or there soon wouldn’t be any hair to leave unbound.

    I had tried the Curly Girl method based on other people’s description of it, and I scared myself out of continuing, with the size of the hairballs I ended up with :-(. So, close to the time my guy friend was due to go out west for a then unknown while, I found, and purchased, Lorraine Massey’s manifesto on the subject. I read it through, watched the DVD, and studied, repeatedly, the section that I felt applied to me. Then, on 9/8/2013, I began the method, initially for 3 months, which I determined to stick out, no matter what happened. I figured that the health of whatever hair was left on my head would tell me whether or not this was a good thing. And, of course, this was my version of taking my emotions out on my hair, but in what I hoped was a good way: I needed a be-good-to-myself project to help me cope with my friend’s absence.

    It’s about to be a year now (he came back at Christmas time), and I SO WISH someone had taught me when I was 9 years old, turned loose on my own head in a boarding school, what I have learned this last year!

    It’s all about the moisture, y’all: How to get it into your hair without ripping your hair out, and how to keep it from evaporating from your hair. I don’t clean all my hair loose under a shower head; rather, I section it and pour filtered water over it from a small tub that fits in my kitchen sink (that filtered water in a tub bit is a recent change, another story for another time). And I use almond oil emulsified into glycerine between my hands to seal before gelling. But the basic tenets of the method—finger detangling, sulfate-free cleaning, silicone-free conditioning and styling, alcohol-free gels, and proper curl preservation, all with an eye to maximizing and retaining moisture in the hair—I follow most exactingly. Indeed, the practice of this method is my hair’s “holy grail”. Other than sectioning it for cleaning and pulling it out of danger of getting into something where I don’t want it (my face when I wash it, food when I’m cooking, sweat on my skin when it’s excessively hot and muggy outside, etc), the only real bondage my hair experiences is when I bobby-pin a little section up front to keep it from falling over my eyes and obscuring my vision. At night, I invert my head so the hair hangs down and position a tube scarf over it, sort of like using a loc sock. I’m still working out some things, but generally I’m happier with my hair now than I have ever been, as far as I can remember.

    Not that I’m advocating everybody go CG, but the moisture-building and maintenance inherent in the method, that part is the truth!

  9. I completely agree with Carlee and Ms LiLi. I find long term protective styling boring and I find my hair looks thinner when I take it down. What’s the aim of putting away your hair for weeks at a time? I love my hairstyles looking fresh and my scalp clean at all times.

  10. I am transitioning but I agree with JC. When I BC’ed in 2012 and protective styled continuously for 5 months, I retained every inch of growth I got. And now, during this transition, whenever I find that my hair is starting to break a bit too much, I just braid it up, cover with a wig and forget about it. I read online somewhere that if you are actively growing out your hair, its good to forget about looking cute :D. And I have taken that as my motto, when I really need to retain, I forget about looking cute, and just focus on making my hair happy. BTW, I am a mix of all type 4 coils, curls and kinks :)

    • AINT THAT THE TRUTH! I’m nearing APL but fawking sick of the protective styling. The longest i had my hair in was 7 months saw a lot of growth. Now i’m in another protective style i’m in month 3 and it’s driving me crazy!! idk if i can do 5 months anymore

  11. I’ve been natural for too long (6+ yrs) since the 9th grade Im now a sophomore at Howard University. I’ve experienced the most breakage with braid and twist installments. When it comes to take down time my hair snaps closes to root and mats up. I’ve tried washing and everything else while I have the braids/twists in. Also the braiders/twisters seem to be heavy handed with my hair, which is fine. More breakage. So now I’ve moved on to putting my hair in lose mini twists and I take them down every 4-6 weeks. So far its been working like a dream. Hope this helps someone.

    • Hi Tiffany,

      I’ve had similar experiences when I take down my braids/kinky twists, even when I remember to keep them moisturized. When you say “loose” mini-twists, are you just talking about regular 2-strand twists? How do you keep them fresh-looking for 4-6 weeks?! Mine start looking a mess by the beginning of week 2 LOL. Please pass along your wisdom! :o)

      • Check out mstanish. She has an awesome tutorial for what I mean by loose twists. Also ciprianna from urbanbushbabes she rocks them too.

        So her hair is thicker than mine and densely packed. Basically make your twists based on your hair’s needs. Also instead of braiding at the roots I twist tightly. It looks better to me. Big tip I work with stretched hair using african threading. And after finishing each section re-thread the section of minitwists to keep them stretched until you;re done.

        Keeping them fresh. Hmmm. Well as my twists get older my hair starts to coil naturally and people think Im wearing a wash n go or a twistout.I love it because I’ve never seen my hair coil individually outside of the shower. Not every curl is gong to coil in the same way. As mstanish wears her style for several weeks her hair doesnt end up coiling like mine. Regular two strand twists do not do this with my hair they just shrink and look sparse on my head. I dont like them.

        During the week I stretch them by wearing a pony tail at night or by african threading. I moisturize with a leave in conditioner once a week. I apply coconut oil every night too. Make sure you ends are freshly clipped to prevent unnecessary tangles.

        Hope this helps.

  12. I actually prefer protective styles, but find that my hair mats at the roots if left in place for more than a few days. Does anyone else experience this? If so, are there styles that make it less likely?

    • Yep. I find avoiding micro or small twists helps. Chunkier or medium size twists are preferable to avoid the matting.

  13. Loose twists on my own hair & Jumbo braid extensions work like a charm on me. Just remember to moisturize regularly and deep condition. :)

  14. To avoid breakage I simple braid my hair into braids, morning and at night spray my hair with water massage my scalp then apply castor oil then wrap it up with a silk head wrap. I only wear a wig when going outside. Every two weeks I rinse my hair with acv and condition and then deep condition my hair. With this routine I found at that my hair retains moisture and breakage is less compared to when I braided my hair for a weave my hair was so dry and I suffered breakage. I found out that with the wig routine my hair is healthy and letting it grow at it’s own pace. It’s still a continuous learning journing with my hair.

  15. Anyone know/recommend the softest ‘marley-type’ kinky extension hair for braiding? I find most are so rough and synthetic feeling or prone to tangling. A good one would be really helpful for protective styling.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *