What's Your Curly Hair Type?

by GAIA TONANZI 3 MINUTE READ
identify your curly hair type to know how best to care for your curls

Discovering your curly hair type is an essential step in figuring out the best routine for your locks. Caring for your tresses begins with identifying your type of curly hair, and what it needs. Our expert guide walks you through each type, so you’re armed with the knowledge to make the most of your curls. 

Table of Contents:

The Different Types of Curly Hair

There are several ways to categorize curly hair, but the most popular classification divides the curl textures into 3 types:

These three curly hair types can also be referred to numerically as type 2, type 3 and type 4 (the higher the number, the curlier the pattern). Key patterns of each hair type are:

  • Wavy hair, also known as type 2 hair, has the loosest curls of all.
  • Curly hair, also known as type 3 hair, has tighter curls than wavy.
  • Coily hair, also known as type 4 hair, has the tightest curl pattern of them all.

These curly hair types can then be broken down further into subcategories of A, B, and C. The letter depends on how tight the pattern diameter is.

How to Identify Your Curly Hair Type

Knowing which type of curly hair you have is an important step in achieving the curls of your dreams. This does not largely influence the type of product you pick, but it may have a strong impact on your routine and how you apply them. There are three types of curls, plus another hair type: straight hair. Straight hair has no curl pattern and so is very easy to identify. 

For those with curly hair types, it might not be as easy to identify which you have. To recognize your curly hair type, you must first take a closer look at your own curl pattern. The shapes to look out for are:

  • S shaped curls - If your locks bend in a loose S shape, then you’re likely to have a wavy hair type.
  • Corkscrew shaped curls - For those with tighter curls which resemble a corkscrew shape, you may have a curly hair type.
  • Z shaped curls - Curls which form a Z or very tight corkscrew shape have what is known as a coily hair type.

Most people tend to have multiple hair types on their head, so identifying the most prevalent isn't as easy as it seems. Using the shapes outlined, you can help to identify curly hair types, and align which you have. If you’re finding it difficult to tell which is your curly hair type, check out our curl quiz for some help.

the shape of your curls can help you find which curly hair type you have

Knowing which type of curly hair you have is an important step in achieving the curls of your dreams. It doesn't necessarily influence which type of product you'll pick, but it will have a strong influence on your routine and how you apply them.

Gaia Tonanzi, Product Development & Textured Hair Expert

What is Curly Hair?

Curly hair is a curly hair type characterized by a springy, corkscrew-type texture. Those with curly hair type may notice they have dry hair, more so than those with wavy hair. This is because the scalp’s natural oils struggle to travel down the curls, due to their twists and turns. Depending on how tight the curl pattern is, it can be further divided in 3a, 3b and 3c.

    curly hair is determined by a corkscrew shape

    As curly locks tend to encounter dryness as a problem, we recommend only washing it two to three times a week. This will give your natural hair oils time to coat the hair and keep it nourished. An essential for this curly hair type is styling products, as your hair can be particularly prone to frizz. Use it on wet hair at the end of your routine to define your pattern, hold it for longer and keep frizz under control.

    What is Wavy Hair?

    Wavy hair sits in between curly and straight hair. This curly hair type has an ‘S’ shape to it. Wavy hair normally sits flatter on the head and has less volume at the root than some of the other curly hair types. Depending on how tight the wave pattern is, it can be further divided in 2a, 2b and 2c.

    wavy hair is determined by a loose s shape curly hair type

    Wavy hair is the least dry of the curly hair types, therefore the scalp’s natural oils can move down the hair shaft more easily. This could leave you feeling like you have oily hair. Wavy hair can be more prone to build-up, so it may need to use a clarifying shampoo more often. When it comes to the best styling products for wavy hair, opt for lightweight or volumizing formulas that define the waves weighing them down!

    What is Coily Hair?

    Coily hair is often referred to as afro or kinky hair, as well as type 4. Coily hair can consist of very tight corkscrews or a ‘Z’ shaped pattern that starts right from the root. Coily hair can be further split out into 4a, 4b, and 4c hair. Due to its tight curls, this curly hair type often appears shorter than it actually is - this is referred to as shrinkage. The tightly wound coils in this curl type make it more difficult for natural oils to move down the hair length, which means that coils are the driest and most fragile hair type. The best products for coily hair focus on hydration.

    coily hair has a tight z shape or corkscrew pattern

    We recommend using a deep conditioner with every wash and using leave-in conditioners throughout the week to give this curly hair type an extra boost! Learn how to deep condition your hair to make the most of your tresses. Being the driest of the hair types, coily hair should only be washed once or twice a week, to avoid the signs of damaged hair.

    How Many Curl Types Can You Have?

    In most cases, people will have a combination of curly hair types in different areas of their head. This is because the hair tends to be curlier on the top layers and looser in layers underneath. Curl types are not a perfect science, they are just an indication to help you compare yourself to other people and understand what routine might work best for you.

    Curly Hair Types & Porosity

    Whether curls, waves, or coils, curly hair types have their own porosity. Hair porosity is the hair's ability to absorb and retain water. Porosity can be split into three different categories:

    • High Porosity: With cuticles that have a very open structure, moisture can easily enter high porosity hair, but it can also leave just as easily. This makes this hair type particularly prone to dryness.
    • Medium Porosity: The cuticles in medium porosity hair are less open, allowing moisture to enter the hair quite easily but not losing it too quickly. This makes it an easy curly hair type to manage.
    • Low Porosity: The cuticles in low porosity hair are tightly closed. This makes it difficult for moisture to enter, but also difficult to leave. This hair is mostly healthy, and once moisture is in the hair shaft it finds it easy to retain this hydration.

    Each of these porosity types has its own special needs, which will influence your protein moisture balance and how many protein-rich products you should add to your routine (the higher the porosity, the more proteins you need).

    make the most of your curly hair type with curly hair products

    The Benefits of Knowing Your Curly Hair Type

    Common knowledge preaches that you should change your hair products depending on your curl type. However, curly hair types have a very small influence on which products you should use on your hair. Our experience shows that the same products can work for all types of curly hair, from 2A to 4C. The application technique is different, and it will make a difference in the results for your curl type, but the product used can be the same.

    Finding out your curly hair type will help you identify which techniques are better to apply the products. From there you can understand how often you should wash your hair, how you should style your hair. As well as how you should refresh and protect your curls at night and in between washes.

    Curlsmith's approach to curl types 

    We believe that all curls are beautiful and should be enhanced in their natural form. Understanding your hair porosity, density and thickness will have a more relevant influence on the creation of your curly hair routine than your curl type does. Care for curls with our strength range that restores hair bonds, to our moisture range that provides ultimate hydration. From our clarifying scalp range, to our fun color range, to address your hair’s needs.

    Gaia Tonanzi
    Product Development & Textured Hair Expert

    Product development expert on a mission to shine the spotlight on textured hair, bringing awareness of the category to the whole haircare industry. She is passionate about debunking false myths and bringing science-backed facts to the community, creating easy-to-follow guides to simplify curly haircare.

    Gaia Tonanzi
    Product Development & Textured Hair Expert

    Product development expert on a mission to shine the spotlight on textured hair, bringing awareness of the category to the whole haircare industry. She is passionate about debunking false myths and bringing science-backed facts to the community, creating easy-to-follow guides to simplify curly haircare.