The Ultimate Curl Pattern Guide: Figure Out Your Curl Type

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Many people think that all curls are the same. They see the waves and say, “Oh, you have curly hair.”

But there are 9 different types of curl patterns, and each has different characteristics.

It’s easy to define hair as straight or curly because you can obviously see it. But it’s not as easy when it comes to determining the exact type of curl pattern.

Knowing your curl type may be confusing, but it doesn’t have to be super complicated. We’re here to show you the different hair types and how you can identify yours.

a young woman wearing black longsleeves top touching her curly hair while looking down

Whether you have soft waves beautifully falling down your back or tight coils extending toward the skies, your curls need to be known and understood.

That’s because different curl patterns have different needs. And in determining your curl pattern, you can care for your curly hair better.

Why Is Your Hair Curly?

It’s easy to blame genes when you have curly hair because it’s really a big factor. After all, hair texture is hereditary and curly hair is a dominant gene.

That means if one of your parents has curly hair, you’re more likely to have this hair texture as well.

But what really forms curly hair? The answer is right under your scalp.

A hair strand grows out of what we call a hair follicle. It’s proven in studies that the shape of the follicle affects the shape of the strand.

Follicle ShapeHair Pattern
RoundStraight
OvalCurly
Flat OvalCoily

Another thing is the hair bulb, which is the base of the follicle. When the bulb is slightly hooked, the hair grows out curly. On the other hand, a straight bulb forms straight hair.

What Are the Curl Patterns?

Curl patterns come from different hair types. So before we start learning about our curls, let’s first take a look at each type of hair.

The most common hair typing system today was started in the ’90s by Oprah’s hairstylist Andre Walker. It was his way of promoting his new hair products.

He categorized hair into four basic types.

Curl Patterns Chart

Hair TypeTexture
Type 1Straight
Type 2Wavy
Type 3Curly
Type 4Coily

Eventually, more and more hairstylists used this system, and subcategories were added to these basic hair types.

We’ll talk about these subcategories more, but we won’t include type 1 hair because it’s not part of the naturally curly hair types.

Type 2 Wavy Hair

A beautiful young woman with wavy hair in a floral dress.

In between straight and curly is this beautiful, relaxed hair type that’s made of loose, S-shaped waves.

It’s straight when wet and ripples as it dries. Since the strands are not really defined as curls, this hair type is commonly mistaken for frizzy hair.

Type 2A

What it looks like: The first wavy hair type looks like relaxed beach waves. This hair grows straight and flat at the roots and starts to curl at the ear level.

Type 2a hair is easy to straighten using a styling tool but is hard to curl. It also lacks volume since the waves aren’t defined.

Type 2B

What it looks like: With this hair texture, the waves are more drawn, like what you’d have if you made waves using a flat iron.

Type 2b hair has more volume than type 2a and also has thicker strands.

Since the hair has bigger and more defined waves, it takes more effort to be straightened.

Type 2C

What it looks like: This natural hair has a loose curl pattern with a clearly defined S shape.

This texture is often mistaken for curls, but upon closer look, you’ll see that it doesn’t have ringlets like curls do.

The waves start from the roots, and this makes the hair voluminous.

Moreover, the strands of type 2c hair don’t receive much moisture from the scalp. That’s why this hair type is prone to frizz.

Type 3 Curly Hair

a woman with natural make up is smiling at the camera with her curly hair

Zendaya, Rihanna, and Beyonce. These single-named celebrities are well-known for their naturally curly locks, which are categorized as type 3 hair.

This hair type ranges from loose spiral curls to tight springy ones. It has height and volume at the roots that make a bouncy and bodacious crown.

But this volume can also be an uncontrollable mess when the strands are not in their best shape.

In addition, curly hair can be fine, medium, or thick.

Type 3A

What it looks like: The curls of type 3a hair look like stretched spiral curls that are large and soft.

This hair has the least defined curls among the type 3 curl patterns, and thus, it’s also easily weighed down by hair products.

When weighed down, the hair tends to look more like a type 2c wave. We’ll talk about how you can prevent this later.

Type 3B

What it looks like: This hair texture has corkscrew curls with a diameter as large as that of a permanent marker.

The hair looks full and, when in good condition, will bounce up and down. It definitely makes a statement.

However, it can be high maintenance. Because of the curls, it’s prone to dryness. So to keep it full of life, you need to make sure it’s always hydrated.

Type 3C

What it looks like: This has the tightest and stiffest loops, with a diameter the size of a pen. You can also see some strands that are clumped or packed together.

Like type 3b, type 3c hair is prone to dryness because the natural oils can’t spread throughout the hair. That’s why it also has a tendency to break easily.

Type 4 Coily Hair

a woman with afro hair is smiling at the camera and posing with her eyes closed

Coily hair is commonly known as afro or afro-textured hair. Some also refer to this as kinky.

This type has a mass of very tight coils that are more zigzag than S-shaped. Moreover, it can be challenging to manage if you don’t have proper knowledge about it.

Type 4 hair also generally has low porosity, which means it can’t absorb moisture well. That means it can be very dry.

Type 4A

What it looks like: This is a kinky hair curl pattern with tight, perfectly cylindrical curls. Are you familiar with a crochet needle? That’s how wide the size of each curl is.

Type 4a hair keeps its shape when wet or dry but experiences shrinkage. But when you fluff it out, it can look really full.

And similar to other hair types, it can be fine and thin or thick and coarse.

Type 4B

What it looks like: The curls in type 4B bend in sharp angles like a letter Z.

If you have this hair type, you should focus on moisture. Moisture absorption and moisture retention, that is.

This hair has low porosity, and you’ll notice that products seem to just sit on top of the head rather than work their way through.

Type 4C

What it looks like: When you look at curl pattern 4c hair, you’ll see no defined sections of strands. Everything is formed into a full spongy crown.

This type is most prone to breakage because it lacks moisture the most.

It also has a great amount of shrinkage. The hair shrinks up to 50% when dry. That’s why some people love stretching these coils.

How to Identify Your Curl Pattern

infographic about curl pattern

You can determine which curl pattern you have by looking at your hair and understanding the descriptions above.

For a more precise test, you must be willing to sacrifice a few (around 3 to 5) strands from different parts of your scalp.

Just take some strands from different areas of your hair while it’s still wet. Then lay the strands on a flat surface and observe them as they dry and take their natural shape.

Once you’ve seen the shape or texture, you can compare them with the hair types you’ve learned.

And do remember that there isn’t only one type of pattern on your entire head. That’s why we recommend getting 3 or more strands.

How to Care For Hair Based on Your Natural Curl Pattern

As we’ve explained above, curl types have different characteristics. Therefore, you need to customize your hair care routine based on the hair type you have.

Shampoo and conditioner won’t be enough to make sure that you keep your curls bouncy.

That’s why we’ve listed down some steps that you can add to your regimen according to your curl pattern.

Type 2 Hair

For wavy hair, it’s all about balance. Since the natural oils from the scalp can’t easily moisturize the hair down to the ends, the hair won’t get too oily.

But that doesn’t call for a celebration because this also means your locks can be dry.

To keep the moisture balance, we suggest the following:

Type 3 Hair

Curly hair is notorious for being highly porous. That means its cuticles are open and it can easily absorb moisture and whatever product you apply to your hair.

The problem is since there are too many large holes in your strands, moisture can also effortlessly get out before it can even effectively nourish your hair.

So this hair needs that moisture to stay in the hair shaft. How do you do that? Try these steps:

Type 4 Hair

In contrast with type 3 hair, coily hair is mostly low-porosity hair. In that case, it can’t absorb moisture.

So no matter how much product you apply to your hair, it won’t work. They’ll just sit uselessly on top of your head and form nasty buildup.

That’s why the first step in your hair care regime should be opening the cuticles. Once you’ve done this, you can then go to town with moisturizing your hair.

Here are the things you can do if you have type 4 hair:

  • Do the maximum hydration method to open up your cuticles.
  • Follow the MHM with LCO (liquid, cream, oil) to hydrate the strands.
  • Use a diffuser when drying your hair to avoid damage.
A woman with curly hair smiling against a yellow background.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can curl pattern change?

Yes, curl patterns can change over time. And it can happen naturally because of several factors:

  • Hair damage
  • Product buildup
  • Hair length
  • Hormones

These can affect your hair’s texture, and you’ll notice that your curls won’t be as bouncy as before.

How to change your curl pattern?

We’d love for you to embrace your natural curls, but if you want to change them, you can do so. For a temporary change, you can use styling tools.

But for a longer pattern makeover, you can have your hair relaxed to straighten it or have it permed to enhance the curls.

What are black hair curl patterns?

Curl patterns for black hair are type 3 and type 4. African-American hair generally has a curly or coily texture.

Curl Pattern Hair Type Matters

Understanding the curl patterns for natural hair is important because it will help you know which products and hair care methods may or may not work for you.

While it’s true that there are products specially made for curly hair, remember that there are different curly hair types as well.

Now that you can figure out your curl type, you can design your hair care routine and style your hair the right way.

Do you have other hair care questions?

You might find the answers here:

Authors

  • Rachelle Velasco

    Rachelle, is a sought-after freelance hair and makeup artist, shines particularly in the world of hair color. From subtle ombres and balayages to vibrant hues and intricate root work, she crafts unique styles tailored to individual preferences. Beyond her artistic talents, Rachelle also holds a Bachelor's degree in Elementary Education, showcasing her diverse skill set and dedication to learning.

  • Jessica Hoelscher

    With thirteen years in cosmetology, Jessica Hoelscher is a seasoned stylist recognized for her modern techniques. A graduate of Paul Mitchell the School in St. Louis, her expertise has been showcased on Fox Two News and in People Magazine. Self-employed at Salon Lofts, her work has graced TV screens, styling for renowned events and Ole Miss cheerleaders.

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