How To Identify Your Curl Pattern

Plus, the best products and styling tips for each type.

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The coveted bounce and perfect definition of curly hair require time, regular maintenance and the right kind of products. Not all curly hair requires the same routine. Curls are broken down into three main groups—wavy, curly and coily—referred to as types 2, 3 and 4, (type 1 hair has no curl pattern—a.k.a. straight) and then there are sub-classifications within those—A, B and C—which point to how tightly wound your curls are within that curl family.

With each classification comes a different routine—and a whole new set of styling products. The most important thing you can do for your hair is to understand your curl pattern by identifying the natural shape of your strands so that you know how to work with, not against, your hair’s natural movement.

So, how do you identify your curl pattern? First, wash, condition and allow your hair to air dry. When your hair is still soaking, use a basic tee or a microfibre towel to blot excess moisture. (These softer fabrics won’t ruffle the hair’s cuticle the way a traditional towel can.) Avoid styling products or heat at this stage, because you’ll temporarily alter your true pattern. And avoid brushing and combing, too—doing so can stretch out your hair. Once it’s mostly dry, isolate a section and observe how your hair lays. Does it slightly curve, wind around itself into spirals or kink?

How to identify wavy type 2 hair

The most subtle of curls, wavy hair ranges from loose curves that stick close to the head, to more defined S-shaped strands starting all the way at the roots. 2A strands are not quite straight, but the waves are not fully defined either. The barely-there tousled texture also tends to be fine in density, meaning that each single strand of hair is thinner than sewing thread. If your hair forms defined S-shaped waves starting from the mid-length, you have type 2B texture hair, while 2C strands are thicker, coarser and have well-defined S-bends starting from the root.

Celebrities with type 2 hair

2A: Arizona Muse

 

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2B: Lorde

learn to identify curl pattern-music artist Lorde has type 2 curly hair
Photo, Getty Images.

2C: Sarah Hyland

 

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How to style type 2 Hair

“With waves, they can really easily be weighed down,” says New York-based editorial hairstylist and Dyson global styling ambassador Jawara Wauchope. To coax the best definition, the textured-hair guru, whose work has topped the heads of Solange Knowles and Naomi Campbell, recommends using lightweight products that are formulated specifically to enhance a tousled look (think: beachy waves as opposed to springy curls), like texturizing salt sprays and mousses.

Wauchope warns that oil-based formulas can cause waves to fall flat, and Keina Morgan, owner of the Toronto salon Urban Curls Hair Studio, agrees. “I find with wavier textured hair, it’s really important to use more water-based products,” notes Morgan. When applying styling aids, people tend to start at the crown of the head and work their way down, but too much product at the roots can weigh the hair down, especially when working with a wavier texture.

To avoid product overload, “I like to put [product] on the hands and pull it through starting at the bottom, little by little,” shares Wauchope. “So just taking a piece of the hair and raking it through from the bottom with my fingers, without touching my palms.”
L'Oreal Stylista Beach Waves mist for curl pattern type 2
L’Oréal Paris Stylista #BeachWaves Texturizing Mist, $7, walmart.ca.
Morrocanoil Beach Waves mousse for curl pattern type 2
Moroccanoil Beach Wave Mousse, $35, sephora.ca.

How to identify curly type 3 hair

Naturally well-defined and full of volume, this type of pattern is characterized by strands that vary from bouncy S-shaped curls (whereas type 2 hair is characterized by loose, stretched curves, these are more compact) to tight corkscrews. When talking curl circumference, think of spirals the size of a wine-bottle cork (3A), springy ringlets that are the size of a Sharpie marker (3B) and denser, coarser curls that mimic the size of a straw or pencil (3C) as the hallmarks that define type 3 curls. The more tightly wound the curl pattern, the harder it is for natural oils from the scalp to travel down the hair shaft, which often leave curls in this texture category dehydrated. “Hair tends to feel drier a lot faster because with every bend and turn in the hair, the cuticles are more opened,” says Morgan. What’s more, type 3 curls typically experience extreme shrinkage and are more prone to tangling, which can lead to excess breakage. (Note: Although undesirable to many, shrinkage is a positive indicator of healthy curls; it shows that your hair is properly moisturized and has good elasticity—a.k.a. bounce back from tugging and pulling which helps eliminate breakage.)

Celebrities with type 3 hair

3A: Zendaya

celebrity Zendaya has long type 3 curl pattern hair
Photo, Getty.

3B: Tracee Ellis Ross

Photo, Getty.

3C: Yara Shahidi

Yara Shahidi has type 3 curl pattern hair
Photo, Getty.

How to style type 3 hair

Regular trims to avoid raggedy split ends are necessary to help maintain healthy-looking lengths. “[Shrinkage] makes people with type 3 patterns not want to trim their hair as often, but the idea is, if you trim your hair, it won’t tangle as much,” explains Morgan. Bonus: freshly trimmed hair is easier to brush through, thus requiring less detangling products.

When it comes to selecting a styling aid, the options are bountiful. “What I love and appreciate about type 3 curls is that they can use water-based products or oil-based products—it really depends on the desired look,” she says. If you experience a lot of shrinkage and want more length from your mane, Morgan recommends reaching for thicker, gel-based stylers, which are formulated to control and set the hair. Stay away from gels with moisture-sucking alcohol that will leave you with stiff, crunchy hair. Instead, look for a curling gel loaded with powerful hydrating botanical ingredients, like conditioning aloe, says Morgan. One of her favourites is the Kinky Curly Custard Gel. If you prefer an elongated curl with softer, more voluminous definition, opt for curling creams as they generally provide a lighter hold than gels, she adds.

“I like Cantu for curls,” shares Wauchope, who’s a lover of the brand’s shea butter-packed Natural Hair Wave Whip Curling Mousse for type 3 curls.

jar of Kinky Curly Custard Gel for type 3 curl patternKinky Curly Custard Gel, $43, clorebeauty.com.

jar of DevaCurl Super Stretch Coconut Curl Elongator for type 3 curl patternDevaCurl Super Stretch Coconut Curl Elongator, $41, sephora.ca.

Cantu Shea Butter for Natural Hair Wave Whip Curling Mousse bottle for type 3 curl pattern hairCantu Shea Butter for Natural Hair Wave Whip Curling Mousse, $14, walmart.ca.

How to identify coily type 4 hair

In a gravity-defying class of its own, coily hair has the tightest, smallest curl circumference in the game. Some strands follow a defined S pattern, while others ultimately have no uniform texture at all. “[The hair] zigs, it zags, and it curls at some point along the hair shaft. [There’s] not a consistent curl that goes along the hair shaft all the way down,” says Morgan.

4A strands are recognizable by their S-shaped pattern, like with type 3, but the size is even smaller, similar to the size of a crochet needle. Densely packed and springy, 4B curls start to bend in a sharp Z-shaped pattern, while 4C coils are sometimes so zigzagged that the curl type can be impossible to identify by simply looking at it. And because of how tight type 4 curls’ natural texture is, curl shrinkage is inevitable. It’s also the most fragile curl family, as coily hair is very prone to single-strand fairy knots and breakage. All of which means that this curl pattern requires hydration and TLC, including regular trims.

Celebrities with type 4 hair

4A: Yaya Dacosta

 

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4B: Issa Rae

Issa Rae has type 4 curl pattern hair
Photo, Getty.

4C: Lupita Nyong’o

Lupita Nyong’o has type 4 curl pattern hair
Photo, Getty.

How to style type 4 hair

Like type 3 curls, type 4 hair benefits from moisture-boosting styling aids, from lightweight gels to rich creams and butters. If your coils are low in porosity, know that it can be harder to inject moisture into the hair shaft. In a nutshell, hair porosity is how well your hair absorbs and retains water—the more tightly-bound and compact the cuticle layers, the less porous your hair typically is, which means strands don’t open up as easily to allow hydration in or out. This can lead to heavier products sitting on and building up on the hair instead of penetrating it. To test your hair’s porosity at home, try the float test, which requires taking a couple strands of clean hair (like those that have shed during combing) and dropping them into a glass of water. If the hair floats, even after several minutes, you have low-porosity hair.

“If you’re doing a wash-and-go style, it’s better to use products with a thinner viscosity to absorb into that curl pattern,” says Morgan, who recommends opting for a nourishing strong-hold gel, like Earthtone Naturals’ aloe-packed Curl Define Curl Enhancing Gelly. To maximize coily hair’s curl pattern and volume, Morgan suggests applying stylers to soaking wet hair in sections and distributing the product evenly through coils by finger-raking from root to tip.

Another tried-and-true method for achieving incredible definition on a less-defined curl pattern is the two-strand twist out technique, shares Morgan. Beloved by the natural hair community for creating tight ringlets to larger curls, the protective hairstyle boosts a curling aid’s ability to better saturate the hair and lock in moisture.

Both hair stylists are in agreement that a good finishing oil that’s made to smooth strands and further intensify hair’s hydration levels is a must between wash days. Morgan is a fan of oil treatments infused with jojoba oil, she says, while Wauchope enjoys concocting his own coily hair elixirs using Jamaican black castor seed oil as his base.

Earthtone Naturals Curl Define Curl Enhancing Gelly for type 4 curl pattern hairEarthtone Naturals Curl Define Curl Enhancing Gelly, $13, earthtonesnaturals.com.

Earthtone Naturals Curl Replenish Revitalizing Scalp and Hair Oil for type 4 curl pattern hairEarthtone Naturals Curl Replenish Revitalizing Scalp and Hair Oil, $16, earthtonesnaturals.com.

Tools for success

How to blow dry curly hair

No matter your texture, letting curls air dry after applying styling products is your best bet for maintaining healthy hair. Due to all of its twists and turns, the cuticle of a curly hair shaft naturally lifts in certain places, exposing the internal structure of the hair fibre. These gaps make curls more vulnerable to damage and severe moisture loss caused by heat-styling.

But the reality is that some curl types can take hours to dry on their own, which isn’t ideal, especially during the colder months—subzero temperatures and damp hair increase the risk of breakage. If you’re going to turn up the heat to speed things up, one of the most useful tool to have is a diffuser attachment. Diffusers work to disperse a blowdryer’s airflow, so curls dry evenly and remain intact. As a bonus, it also boosts the curls’ volume. For frizz-free results, be gentle and take your time. “You want to use a warm, low setting with the diffuser head—never high and hot—and you want to keep it in one spot as [hair] dries before you move onto the next section,” says Morgan.

Dyson Supersonic Hair Dryer and diffuser attachment (included in box), $500, dysoncanada.ca.

How to protect curly hair overnight

To help preserve your texture overnight, wrap your hair with a bonnet, turban or scarf made of either satin or silk. If your hair is long enough, try pulling it up to the top of your head before wrapping the base of your updo with a long scarf. “You can [create] a samurai bun, or a pineapple roll on top of your head to bundle the curls,” recommends Morgan. If you hair is on the shorter side, stick to a bonnet or turban.

Being conscious of your pillow coverings is also key to reducing frizz-inducing friction while you’re tossing and turning in your sleep. “A satin pillow case is also very helpful to preserve curls overnight,” adds Morgan.

Evolve Essentials Satin Pineapple Sleep Cap in its packaging boxEvolve Essentials Satin Pineapple Sleep Cap, $9, clorebeauty.com.

Uxcell 2 Pack Silk-satin Pillowcase in black Uxcell 2 Pack Silk-satin Pillowcase, $10, amazon.ca.