Got a head full of bouncy coils? Then there shouldn’t be a doubt in your mind as to whether your hair is curly or not. Would you be able to specify exactly what curl type you have to a hairdresser as you call in for an appointment, though?
This is where a lot of curly girls and men end up getting confused. Not only would you be surprised at how many people wouldn’t consider their hair to be wavy or curly when they clearly are (if you don’t have straight hair, you have curly hair!) but they’re also completely unaware of their curl type.
Each curl type – from a slight, beachy wave to those beautifully textured kinky curls, and all those in between – fit into a specific category within the curl type system, namely curl types 2, 3 and 4.
These are broken up into subcategories of a, b, c, because, as we all know, not all waves are the same, nor are all spiral curls or afros. Therefore, the main type (2, 3, 4) is split into a, b or c depending on their own set of characteristics, such as curl pattern, shape, density, etc.
So let’s break down the different types of curly hair and the best hair care and styling methods for each. This should make it much easier for you to figure out your curl type and will allow you to base your choice of products on an informed decision rather than a wild guess.
Wavy Hair – Curl Type 2
Ever look at celebrities like Rashida Jones or Penelope Cruz and wonder what type of styling product or method they use to achieve those light and whimsical or strong waves?
While we’re sure that there is definitely some styling magic involved to achieve that perfect look, the simple answer is that they’ve both been blessed with natural waves.
They could probably roll out of bed without doing a single thing to their hair and their waves would still look perfectly pronounced, just maybe not as staged. That’s because wavy hair – type 2 curls – have a subtly or fully defined S pattern and are light to wildly tousled.
If you’re looking for a good example of type 2a curls, think Scarlett Johansson or Drew Barrymore. Type 2a waves are typically fine – which doesn’t mean to say that the hair is thin – and can be easily straightened when the mood arises.
These waves are usually more defined closer to the scalp and less visible towards the ends, and benefit from light haircare and styling products.
Go ahead and add a bit of volume to really bring out those waves using a curl defining cream or mousse, just be careful not to use anything too heavy as it will only weigh them down leaving them looking sad, droopy and lifeless.
Have you spent most of your life trying to work with the fact that, your hair has gorgeous waves starting at around mid-length, only to lay frustratingly flat on the crown? Welcome to the type 2b club, baby!
Your hair may be thicker and those S shaped waves much more prominent than the 2a type, but try as you might, you can’t get seem to get those waves to look uniform from crown to ends.
For this curl type, experts recommend using sea salt based sprays or mists to bring out that natural texture – yes, even atop your head – without adding much else. This will enhance your waves’ natural look without adding an artificial, crunchy feel.
Ever marvelled at Penny Tovar’s beautiful mane? Our favourite lifestyle, beauty and hair vlogger has given us serious curl goals, and if yours liken hers, you are a type 2c and can definitely achieve them following all her helpful tips and product reviews.
These S-bend waves cover the entire head – from roots to tips – and are thick and perhaps even quite coarse. And, as most of us know, the denser our curls, the more susceptible our hair is to frizz, which is definitely the case for type 2c hair.
This is why it’s important to incorporate a no-poo co-wash treatment into your regular hair care routine, to protect your strands from being stripped off essential oils and moisture. Complement this approach with leave-in conditioners and curl enhancing creams or mousse.
Curly Hair – Curl Type 3
Moving on from the wavy S-shaped curls, to those bouncy, lose or tight spirals so many of us try to imitate by going in for perms or spending a girl’s night fitting rollers or sponges in each other’s hair. Here are the three different curl types for Type 3 curly hair:
Are you just as smitten with Antonia Thomas’s curls as we are? The actress who first made a name for herself as Alisha on Misfits, has thick type 3a curls which are characterized by the fact that they are quite loose and have a gorgeous natural shine to them.
This curl type is at high risk of frizzing when futzed around with too much, so add your choice of nourishing curl cream to enhance their texture and then keep your hands out of your hair unless absolutely necessary.
To keep your type 3a curls refreshed and hydrated all day long, always carry a moisturizing spray or leave-in conditioner with you for a quick touch-up.
We first started falling in love with Tracee Ellis Ross in the early 2000s, when she starred on the TV show Girlfriends as Joan Clayton. But it wasn’t just her acting skills we envied, but those bouncy type 3b ringlets she typically rocked throughout the span of the series.
Prone to dryness, type 3b curls benefit from gels and other styling products that offer extra moisture, as well as leave-in conditioners and hair masks that will lock said moisture in for long-lasting hydration.
If you’re a fan of the DiscoCurls channel on YouTube, you already know what a head of type 3c curls looks like because Rochelle Masella sure has one. She offers the simplest and most effective tips and tricks on how to care for and maintain your tight, corkscrew curls.
Full of eye-catching, natural volume, these dense curls do like to get their frizz on, so keep that in check by using sulphate-free shampoos or a co-wash to stop them from drying out further and highlight your natural curl pattern.
Choose a moisturizing styling product such as a gel, cream or mousse based on natural ingredients to complement your usual haircare methods.
Coily Hair – Curl Type 4
Soft and spongy or coarse and wiry – either way, coily – also known as kinky or afro-textured hair – is a thing of true beauty. Curl type 4 coily hair needs extra attention and all the more TLC thanks you natural dryness and a tendency to shrink – and a lot at that.
This is probably why it has taken many afro-textured curly girls so long to embrace the all-natural look. It’s time consuming and demanding but oh-so worth it!
When it comes to the renowned Knowles family, our Queen Bey might be the household name, but Solange is the one that brings all the spunk and a bewitching natural look to the table.
These S-patterned tightly coiled curls love a good ol’ wash-and-go and frequent styling sessions with quality curling creams and moisturizing leave-in conditioners to keep them soft and popping. Don’t skip out on your daily haircare go-tos or you’ll risk drying out your type 4a coils.
Her most famous TV character, Annalise Keating on ABC’s hit series, How to Get Away with Murder, may have favoured relaxing and straightening her hair.
The actress behind the infamous character, Viola Davis, is all about keeping her type 4b, tightly wound Z-shaped curl pattern all natural, however. She keeps them looking healthy, defined and stretched by palm-rolling hydrating curling creams into them.
This coily curl type also benefits greatly from leave-in conditioners or hair masks which work most effectively when kept in at night wearing a silk scarf of sleeping bonnet to lock in the moisture.
We got to know her as Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Watson on Orange is the New Black, but thanks to the character’s preferred bantu knots, we never actually got to know actress Uzo Aduba’s wonderful mane of 4c hair – and trust us when we say, there’s a lot of it.
Though 4c textures have that zig-zag pattern too, it is easily overlooked seeing as it is just that tight. Like all kinky curls, 4c hair is prone to dryness, hence it is important to work with a heavier moisturizing curl cream, butter or pudding for a long-lasting hold and effect.
Shrinkage is one of the biggest nuisances those with 4c hair have to deal with – often loosing up to 75% of length following your regular washing routine – so, a product designed to stretch those curls out somewhat is also welcome.