How to Soften Coarse African American Hair (15 Tips)

Written by Kassidy Ward

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How to Soften Coarse African American Hair (15 Tips)

The only thing that works like a charm to soften coarse African American hair is Moisture Retention.

Once you figure out how to make your curls hold on to moisture for longer, trust me; you’ll never resort to relaxing treatments ever again to smoothen your locks.

It’s all about getting that balance right and keeping at it consistently.

So let me show you a few techniques that I have personally experimented with over the years to keep my kinky hair soft and manageable.

Your best hair starts in the shower.

This is where you need to put the extra effort using the right products in the right way to make sure you’re not stripping your mane dry.

So start with an effective wash day routine to give your fros a soft start.

1. Embrace the Pre Poo Method

Shampoos contain surfactants, which can strip the hair from its natural lubricating oil (sebum), lifting the cuticles to cause more friction, frizz, and dryness.

To prevent this from happening, adopt a prewash routine to prime your hair.

The most popular prewashing routine that most naturals love is the Pre Poo method.

This routine essentially involves adding oil or a leave in conditioner to your hair before you shampoo. The oil or conditioner coating builds a protective layer to prevent surfactants from washing away natural oils from the hair.

Pre pooing is also beneficial to prevent hair color from fading, which is a common problem with frequent washing.

Pre Poo Products I recommend for coarse hair:

African Pride Moisture Miracle

Biolage RAW Pre-Shampoo Treatment

You can also use olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, or just pure raw shea butter on dry hair before shampooing. It’s all about experimenting to figure out what works best for your hair type.

2. Use the Right Shampoo for Dry and Coarse Hair

Thirsty strands, coarse hair included, need shampoos that are non-stripping, sulfate-free, and choke full of moisturizing goodness.

After trying a gazillion of shampoos in my pursuit for silky smooth hair, I couldn’t find any product that worked better than the Shea Moisture Coconut and Hibiscus range.

This excellent shampoo and conditioner pack ticks all the right boxes for dry and thick curls that struggle to retain moisture.

As an added bonus, you also get a Curl Enhancing Smoothie to rehydrate your curls when they need a moisture boost.

Shea Moisture Coconut & Hibiscus Shampoo

Also Check: The best clarifying shampoos for African American hair.

3. Use a Lightweight Leave In Conditioner

Go light and creamy instead of heavy and buttery.

If you have coarse afro hair, you need light and creamy products that will help soften the texture of the hair shafts without overwhelming them.

In other words: Don’t choose products that are heavy on proteins! Protein does wonders for dry strands and would probably work well on someone else with softer, looser curls (like Kinky Curly), but if you have coarse afro hair, go easy on it.

Best Leave In Conditioner for Coarse African American Hair:

Shea Moisture Palm Oil and Cocoa Butter

This leave-in conditioner is incredibly effective at penetrating and coating every strand to turn coarse hair into smooth and defined locks.

4. Deep Condition With The Baggy Method

Use the power of steam to drive moisture deep into your hair.

The baggy method is an excellent way to melt the goodness of nourishing hair masks deep into the hair by using the greenhousing technique to generate steam that infuses moisture molecules.

All you have to do is apply your favorite deep conditioning hair mask, wrap your hair with a plastic bag, and leave it on for about an hour.

Do this once a week when you have a bit of downtime. It seriously helps to enhance your hair texture too.

And if you want to take it up a notch …

5. Get a Hair Steamer

Take the baggy method to the next level by using a hair steamer instead of a plastic bag.

A steamer generates more vapor, plus you have the option to add essential oils to the steamer for an extra therapeutic boost.

Simply add a few drops of rose flower oil, hydrogenated castor oil, or coconut oil to your steamer and let it work its smoothening magic into your strands.

Hair Steamer

6. Check Your Hair Porosity to Layer Moisture Correctly

One of the main contributing factors to rough and dry hair is porosity.

If your hair is on the high end of the porosity spectrum, the cuticles are raised and overlap unevenly, so your hair feels rough, coarse, and frizzy most of the time.

That type of hair texture cannot hold moisture for long as the gaps and holes in the hair fibers allow moisture to escape.

If your hair is on the low porosity side, the cuticles are flat and smooth.

As opposed to high porosity hair, it will hold moisture for longer, but getting that moisture through the cuticles is the biggest challenge.

Now thick and coarse hair can be either low or high porosity. It all depends on your hair care routine and genetics.

Once you’ve done a porosity test, you’ll know whether your hair struggles to take in moisture or leaks moisture easily.

Now, this is super important because it helps you understand what products to use and how to use them correctly.

Based on your hair condition, you have 2 choices:

Both the LCO and LOC methods define the correct order to layer moisturizing products to work more effectively in the hair.

7. Do a Hot Oil Treatment

An occasional hot oil treatment will help ease coarse hair into smoothness by boosting the hair shafts with intense hydration and antioxidants.

You can easily make an oil treatment for your hair at home using ingredients such as:

  • Avocado oil
  • Almond oil
  • Olive oil
  • Castor oil
  • Grapeseed oil
  • And argan oil

Use any one of them or blend a few together. It doesn’t matter which way you do it.

All you have to do is put the oil in a microwave-safe bowl, heat it up for 30 seconds, and then apply it to your hair evenly.

To amplify benefits, use a grocery bag to incubate the heat by tying it around your head for the duration of the mask. You can also use a shower cap.

The oils act as a natural moisturizer to strengthen your hair, helping to prevent any future damage, and hydrate dry hair. Also, the nutrients the oils hold will fortify your strands.

Do it once every 2 weeks.

8. Try This Caramel Treatment!

Okay, I am totally new to this caramel treatment thingy, but it’s the latest buzz on social media for curlies. Hashtag #naturalhair #etae.

You can either do the DIY treatment at home or buy the ready-made product from the company that created it – E’TAE.

So here’s how this thing works:

The treatment itself is a combination of 20 natural ingredients, including bananas, honey, etc., all mixed together to give the mixture the caramel color (hence the name).

I’ve tried the DIY method from the Curly Nikki blog, which was easy enough.

If you want to give it a whirl, here’s the link to the product below:

E'TAE Carmel Hair Softening Treatment

OR if you want to DIY it at home, here’s how to do it:


  • 2 pots of banana baby food
  • Molasses ¼ cup
  • Honey ⅓ cup
  • Olive oil ⅓ cup
  • Cornstarch – 1 teaspoon (Dissolve in water)
  • Apple cider vinegar – a splash
  • A spray bottle
  • A small pan


  • Use a small pan
  • Throw in the banana baby food and molasses
  • Mix thoroughly until smooth
  • Add the olive oil
  • Add a splash of apple cider vinegar
  • Add the dissolved cornstarch
  • Mix thoroughly to make sure there are no lumps
  • Put the pan on a medium heat
  • Wait until it starts boiling
  • Turn off the heat and take it off
  • Wait to cool down to room temperature
  • Transfer the mixture to your spray bottle

How to use it:

  • Divide your hair into equal sections
  • Starts spraying the liquid near the roots
  • Then move towards the lengths of your hair
  • Once you’ve covered all areas leave on for 1 hour
  • Wash it out with a sulfate-free shampoo

Do it once every 2 weeks, and you’ll notice how smooth and soft your curls will feel.

9. Coconut Milk Treatment

Coconut milk is an excellent natural conditioner for coarse and thick hair.

With its highly potent combination of fatty acids, proteins, vitamin C, and minerals like manganese, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, and zinc, you’ll have to believe it packs a solid punch of hydration and all-around goodness into the hair.

And it’s so cheap, affordable, and easy to use. It’s a no-brainer!

Here’s how to make a cheap and easy coconut milk hair mask at home:


  • ½ cup of coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon of honey
  • Essential oil of your choice (I recommend Rose)


  • Mix all these ingredients in a bowl
  • Apply to damp hair in sections
  • Leave for around 30 minutes
  • Wash out thoroughly

You can also use a shower cap or plastic bag to incubate the mask and amplify the moisture content in the form of steam.

10. Use a Microfiber Towel to Prevent Friction

Don’t use cotton towels to dry your hair after washing.

Cotton materials will rough up your hair, causing more tangles, knots, and frizz.

Use a soft microfiber towel instead.

Microfiber towels are anti-static and don’t create friction in the hair.

The Aquis towel, for example, is an excellent option for girls with curly and afro hair because you can just wrap it around your head and allow the material to soak up excess water without the need to rub it at all.

Aquis Microfiber Towel

11. Do an Apple Cider Vinegar Rinse

Apple cider vinegar is an age-old remedy that’s been used to cure all sorts of hair and scalp problems.

It works so well because of its acidic (low pH), which makes it one of the best tonics to rebalance the hair and scalp when they feel a bit out of whack.

For the hair to feel soft and shiny, it’s vital that the cuticles lay flat.

Unfortunately, as you use a variety of hair products that have different pH levels, your hair pH starts to move into the alkaline range, forcing the cuticles to move and overlap.

Apple cider vinegar rebalances the hair’s pH to seal the cuticles, resulting in smoother and shinier hair.

Besides making your hair smooth, ACV is also highly beneficial for the scalp as it neutralizes alkalinity to prevent the growth of bad bacteria which can cause inflammation and conditions like dandruff.

Here’s a quick ACV rinse recipe you can try at home:

What you need:

  • A plastic spray bottle
  • 4 tablespoons of Apple Cide Vinegar
  • 8 ounces of water


  • Mix it all up in your bottle
  • Shake well

How to use it:

After shampooing, spray the ACV spray into your hair, make sure you massage it all the way to the ends, and let it sit for up to 5 minutes.

Then wash your hair thoroughly.

12. Do A Clarifying Treatment

Dry and coarse hair is prone to product buildup, hard water minerals from your shower, dirt, dust, and everything that gets stuck in there on a daily basis because of its densely packed texture.

It’s essential that you use a clarifying shampoo on coarse hair twice a month to remove stubborn buildup that otherwise makes it hard for moisture to seep into the hair.

Here’s a good clarifying shampoo for coarse natural hair you can try:

Redken Cleansing Cream

13. Try an Amino Acid Treatment

An amino acid treatment is a better alternative to chemical relaxers because:

  • It doesn’t break the cysteine bonds
  • It doesn’t expose your hair to high pH chemicals

Amino acids are natural building blocks of the hair, and the treatment simply reinforces the hair structure to smoothen gaps in the hair fibers, leaving them plump and even on the outside.

The treatment effectively resurfaces the hair to smooth down the cuticles, which is one of the main reasons hair feels coarse and rough.

By strengthening the internal and external structures of the hair, amino acids also enhance African American hair types by providing more stretch and elasticity.

Read more: Amino acid treatment for natural hair.

So no more stiff feeling hair!

14. Change Your Pillowcase. Seriously!

This is one of the best tips for keeping your hair soft and tangle-free.

Get a silk pillowcase.

Try it, and you’ll thank me for that tip.

Cotton and polyester pillowcases have coarser and porous materials that can pull, tug, and strip moisture from your hair while you’re sleeping.

That’s why you always wake up with a bedhead.

Related: How to keep natural hair moisturized while you’re sleeping.

Silk pillowcases, on the other hand, are made with super-refined materials that cut down on friction, leaving your hair softer, smoother, and frizz-free when you wake up.

And the best thing about silk is that due to its non-porous material, it won’t soak up natural oils from your hair, leaving the moisture when it should be. In your curls.

Here’s the silk pillowcase I use:

SLIP silk pillowcase

15. Beware Of Hard Water in Your Shower

If you live in a hard water area, chances are this is what’s making your coarse hair feeling even worse.

Hard water minerals don’t wash out with regular shampoos. They remain in your hair, causing calcium deposits that crystalize and make the hair brittle and hard.

Calcium deposits are also bad for hair because they layer over the hair cuticles blocking the moisture pathways.

That’s why sometimes it feels like no matter how much moisturizer you use, your hair never feels soft.

So check your water hardness with a test strip, get a shower filter, or get a hard water shampoo to prevent minerals buildup from repelling moisture.

Turn Your Coarse Afro Hair Into Smooth Locks

Build your hair care routine with moisture retention as the main focus.

This will help soften dry and coarse afro-textured hair and keep it that way for a long time.

Even if you try just a few out of the 15 tips I have covered, you will definitely see good results.

You just have to be consistent and nurture your coils and kinks to retain moisture for as long as possible.

About the Author

Kassidy WardKassidy Ward

Kassidy Ward is our curly girl expert and has been following the Curly Girl Method for over 3 years. She's tried just about every product and technique out there to get her curls to cooperate and is always on the lookout for new products to try.

She's also a sucker for free products, which is why she's relentlessly reaching out to manufacturers with her unique persuasive skills. 9 out of 10 times, she wins!