We feel you. Decoding your curl type can be confusing. Several different textures can exist on one head alone, which all have to somehow look cohesive when you style it. Plus, there's been some debate as to whether the typing system, originally started by hairstylist Andre Walker and modified by folks in the curly community, is divisive or even too narrow. But controversy aside, many people have found that even if it isn't perfect, it can be super useful in at least being able to identify your curl pattern (or patterns) so you know where to start when you're shopping for hair-care products.
It's a lot to think about, so we asked two industry texture pros to break down some of the finer points of the texture typing categories. Follow our easy tip sheet below (complete with recommendations for your hair-care stash) to help you better I.D. your curl type.
Where to Start
"Your curl type is determined by the shape of the follicle that your hair grows out of from your scalp. The flatter or more oval-shaped the follicle, the curlier your hair; the more circular the cross-section, the straighter your hair. Your curl pattern is also identified by the shape that the strands of hair make, whether they kink, curve, or wind around themselves into spirals," says hairstylist Vernon François.
Most people with textured hair have more than one type of pattern on their head, "so you may have a combination of, say, kinky, coily, wavy, and curly," adds François. Identifying your curl shape and pattern (or patterns) is best determined while your hair is sopping wet.
A simple breakdown: Type 1s are straight, Type 2s are wavy, Type 3s are curly, and Type 4s are coily.
The sub-classifications of A to C are based on the width or diameter of your wave, curl, or coil pattern. Type As have a wider pattern size, Type Bs medium, and Type Cs the smallest of the three. "The real beauty of identifying your hair type is that you’re better at understanding how to care for your texture so you can have more versatility," explains Anthony Dickey, the curl wizard behind the Hair Rules salon and brand.
Type 2 (Wavy)
Type 2 waves are bendable, can be fine to coarse, and have a definitive S pattern that lays closer to the head.
Those with hair type 2A have a fine, barely-there tousled texture that’s very easy to straighten. People with this texture have to be wary of using heavy styling products that can easily weigh their strands down, rendering them limp and lifeless.
2A waves, like Arizona Muse’s, lack volume at the root. Dickey recommends using an airy, water-based mousse, like the Aveda Phomollient Styling Foam, to add a bit of oomph at the base, making hair look fluffier and fuller.
2B hair lies flatter at the crown with defined S-shaped waves starting from the midlength, like Salma Hayek's here. Strands are thicker in diameter than a 2A, and you’ll have to put a bit more elbow grease into getting it straight. To enhance your natural surfer-babe waves, use a sea salt hairspray like the Herbivore Botanicals Sea Mist Coconut + Sea Salt Beach Wave Hair Mist enriched with natural sea salt and aloe for sexy texture that’s never crunchy or stiff.
2C waves are thick and more susceptible to frizzing. The S-bends are well-defined and begin at the roots. Lorde is the perfect example of this hair type. In between shampoos, use a non-lathering, sulfate-free cowash so as not to strip essential moisture from strands, like the Briogeo Be Gentle, Be Kind Avocado + Quinoa Co-Wash.
Dickey also recommends layering a leave-in conditioner under a mousse to lock in your hair's natural wave pattern while adding hydration. We like the Suave Avocado & Olive Oil Leave-In Conditioner and the Design Essentials Natural Almond & Avocado Curl Enhancing Mousse.
Type 3 (Curly)
Type 3 curly hair can range from loose, buoyant loops to tight, springy corkscrews which have some sheen but are prone to frizz.
3A strands, like Zendaya’s pictured here, tend to be shiny with large, loose curls that are about the size of a piece of sidewalk chalk. Scrunch the SGX NYC Curl Power Nourishing Curl Cream (an Allure 2019 Best of Beauty winner) into your dry hair to help emphasize the curl texture. But keep your hands (or brush or comb, for that matter) from touching your curls afterward, or you run the risk of having a halo full of frizz. To maintain those juicy springs, simply spritz your hair with a curl refresher, like the Carol's Daughter Hair Milk Nourishing & Conditioning Refresher Spray, when it needs a boost.
Hair type 3Bs have springy ringlets with a circumference similar to a Sharpie marker. This hair texture can get dry, so look for styling gels that have humectants in them to attract moisture to strands. Try Mielle Organics Honey & Ginger Styling Gel. A word of advice: "Apply when [your hair is] wet, so you’ll get definition without frizz," Dickey shares.
3C curls are tight corkscrews that range in circumference from a straw to a pencil, like you see her on Yara Shahidi. Strands are densely packed together, giving way to lots of natural volume. Frizziness can be an issue with this type, so use a sulfate-free, creamy cleanser, like the Oyin Handmade Ginger Mint Co-Wash, so as not to dry out your hair.
Dickey also favors layering a mousse (such as the Cantu Wave Whip Curling Mousse) over a styling cream (like the Eden BodyWorks Coconut Shea Curl Defining Creme) when the hair is sopping wet to allow curls to clump together and dry faster. "Your co-wash reveals your curl pattern, while your styling product captures [it]," explains Dickey.
Type 4 (Coily)
Coily hair, commonly referred to as Afro-textured or kinky hair, is naturally very dry and spongy in texture and can be soft and fine or coarse and wiry. Strands form very tight, small curls of zig-zags right from the scalp and are prone to major shrinkage.
People with hair type 4A have dense springy, S-patterned coils that are the circumference of a crochet needle. Look to Skai Jackson if you have this texture. If you're a fan of wash-and-gos, styling should be done more frequently to keep this coily texture popping with soft, pliable strands. A curling cream with a leave-in moisturizer is a must for adding more moisture to daily wash-and-go styling. The Hair Rules Kinky Curling Cream with the Hair Rules Nourishment Leave In Moisturizer is Dickey's go-to cocktail combo.
4B strands are densely packed and can bend in sharp angles like the letter Z. "Issa Rae has beautiful coily 4B hair. I love that it can be shaped in many different ways," says François. "One of my favorite products for all kinks, coils, curls, and waves is my Mist Nourishing Water which is fantastic primer before styling in a non-aerosol spray; a little goes a long way and hair looks instantly hydrated."
On the other hand, Dickey prefers styling creams, like the Crème of Nature Coconut Milk Curl Hydrating Curling Cream, for this hair type because they are thicker and are great for palm-rolling or shingling, two type of product distribution methods that stretch out coils and clump them for greater texture definition and elongation.
4C textures are similar to 4B textures, but the tightly coiled strands are more fragile and have a very tight zig-zag pattern that is sometimes indiscernible to the eye. This hair type experiences the greatest amount of shrinkage — about 75 percent or more — than the other textures. If you are a 4C, take your style cues from Lupita Nyong’o. "Her hair is simply stunning. We’ve created so many show-stopping moments together. I love that her texture is so versatile and we always have fun creating and exploring new looks," says François, her stylist.
Since shrinkage and dryness are major concerns for these tightly-coiled folks, use a liberal amount of leave-in moisturizer, such as the Shea Moisture Red Palm Oil & Cocoa Butter Curl Stretch Pudding to max the length of those strands. Castor oil is also a great hydrator and sealant for this very dry texture. Try the SheaMoisture 100% Pure Jamaican Black Castor Oil.
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