Figure Out What Type of Curls You Have

Plus, the best products to style them.

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When talking about hair that isn't straight, people and brands tend to lump curly hair into its own big category, assuming that all coils, kinks, curls, and waves can have a one-size-fits-all approach. But anyone with a curl type knows this is far from true—it's a lot of work to identify your curls and develop a routine that actually works.

So, how do you identify your curl type? Hairstylist Andre Walker started a curl typing system, which is still used today and provides a way to label hair types based on texture. It utilizes numbers 1 to 4, with one being straight hair and four being kinky texture, along with subcategories from A to C. A has the widest diameter or pattern size, and C has the smallest. For example, 1A is flat as a pin and define by a very thin texture that can only hold a curl by using styling tools like a curling iron.

It's a lot to think about and remember when you're shopping for products, looking for new ingredients, and trying to style them, so we asked professional hairstylists to break down the different types of curls, so you can easily ID your curls, shop better, and style smarter.

curl-types chart

Curl Pattern Types

Curly hair is a term used generically to describe textured hair—from loose waves to Z-shaped coils. But to truly determine your curl type, you have to start with your scalp and look at how the hair follicles grow. "Curly hair follicles are oval-shaped or asymmetrical, so they create an elliptical shape responsible for the curl. In straight hair, all the cells in the follicle act together, so the hair grows evenly from the straight follicle in a round shape," says Gaia Tonanzi, senior brand manager at Curlsmith.

The best time to examine your follicles is when the hair is wet since water weighs down the hair, altering how it looks compared to dry strands. Tonanzi notes that it's important to remember that most people don't fall into a single curl category and actually have multiple patterns on their hair. "The hair on our head grows differently depending on where it is—hair on the back of the neck will have a looser pattern compared to the hair on the front and sides," she says.

Now that we've reviewed the curly hair basics, it's time to dive into specifics. Reference the curl type chart below, then keep reading for a detailed description of each curl type and what type of products to look for.

Real Simple

Type 2

Type 2 hair ranges from fine to coarse, and includes anything from tousled texture to subtle curls. The curls hold their shape but can still easily deflate or be straightened.



2A hair is fine, has a tousled texture, is easy to smooth out using a hair straightener, and lacks volume at the root while slightly curling toward the ends. People with this hair type should use "a light mousse or serums to help plump and give volume to this hair type, instead of creams or oils, which weigh hair down," says Andrew DiMeo, a hairstylist at Nunzio Saviano Salon. This type of hair can also benefit from using products containing rice water to help thicken hair and prevent breakage.



2B hair has a flatter crown with more defined S-shape waves starting from the midlength and thicker strands than 2A. According to DiMeo, try a "sea salt texture spray for enhancing the natural texture."



2C hair has a texture that is getting thick, it's more likely to experience frizzing, and the S-bend starts right from the root and is very well-defined. It's important to keep this hair moisturized, so DiMeo recommends using a sulfate-free shampoo, which helps not strip natural oils and moisture away. A great drugstore option is L’Oreal Paris EverPure Sulfate-Free Shampoo. "This hair can finish with styling creams layered over mousse to enhance the natural wave pattern, as well as moisturize," he explains.

Type 3

Type 3 hair ranges from loopy S-pattern curls to tight ringlets.



3A hair tends to have large loose curls. However, the hair is fragile, so make sure to limit touching your hair, which will disturb the curls and create frizz. "When the hair is damp, apply a curl cream with defrizzing and moisture properties to help maintain moisture and reduce frizz when diffusing or air drying," DiMeo says. A top drugstore conditioner to try for curly hair is Not Your Mother’s Tahitian Gardenia Flower and Mango Butter Conditioner.



3B hair types have springy, coarse ringlets that can be more prone to dryness. "Products containing humectants work well with this hair type because humectants attract moisture to hair strands," DiMeo shares. Opt for a styling gel containing humectants to give definition and reduce frizz. It's best to use a hair brush like the Denman D3 Original Styler, which is considered the holy grail for curly hair.



Hair type 3C is defined by its tight corkscrew curls that are densely packed together with natural volume. This hair is also impacted by humidity and frizzes quickly. To keep curls from drying out, "use a sulfate-free shampoo and layer mousse and styling creams into wet hair to help curls clump together for a softer, stronger, and more natural curl pattern," DiMeo explains. One of the best shampoos to use for this type of hair is Virtue Curl Shampoo.

Type 4

Type 4 hair has tight, small, kinky curls that are naturally dry, and the texture can range from fine to coarse.



4A hair types have a visible curl pattern with springy S-shaped coils that are densely packed and require more frequent maintenance to keep coils manageable. "Use a curl cream and a leave-in conditioner with moisturizing ingredients to give the hair proper daily hydration and to make styling easier," shares DiMeo. When choosing a scalp massager to detox the scalp and reduce buildup, look for one designed for type 4 curls.



People with 4B hair have densely packed strands with sharp Z-shaped angles instead of coils. Since this hair is highly prone to dryness, DiMeo tells clients to use gentle cleansing conditioners and to rely on moisture sprays and leave-in conditioners to keep hair hydrated between washes.



4C hair is even more fragile than 4B hair because of its tight zigzag pattern prone to shrinkage. With this hair type, it's essential to stay away from sulfates that strip and dull the hair. Instead, "look for natural oils like argan, shea butter, and coconut oil, and heavier creams to keep this hair type moisturized," says DiMeo. SheaMoisture Jamaican Black Castor Oil Strengthen & Restore is a great hair-thickening shampoo for this type of curl.

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