Contrary to popular belief, curly hair isn't just one giant category. In fact, figuring out your curl type can be quite the task. For starters, there are different types of curls—from 2a to 4c—and each has their own set of unique characteristics and traits. So, how do you identify your curl type? It takes a bit of exploration, and since our hair transforms over time, it also takes patience and kindness to your tresses. To get some intel on the different curly hair types and how you can properly distinguish which one your hair lies in, we reached out to three pros in the natural hair game: Michelle Breyer, NaturallyCurly.com co-founder and author of The Curl Revolution; Vernon François, celebrity hairstylist and founder of the Vernon François Haircare collection; and curl extraordinaire Diane C. Bailey, celebrity stylist and SheaMoisture brand ambassador. Keep scrolling to determine your exact curl type and styling tips with the help of our handy chart and expert-approved tips—you're going to want to bookmark this one.
The 9 Types of Curls
"Hair typing is a starting point, an easy way to start wading through the many product and styling options," says Breyer. "We mean it to be a reference guide, not a way to separate people into different groups." According to her, here are the nine types of curls and their characteristics.
Slightly "S"-waved hair that sticks close to the head and tends to be fine in density.
The wave usually forms throughout the hair in the shape of an "S" like Type 2a, but the hair sticks closer to the head. Type 2b waves might be slightly frizzier on the crown of the head and tend to lose curl definition easily.
These waves are the coarsest of wavy hair patterns. They are composed of a few more actual curls, as opposed to just waves.
Curls show a definite loopy "S" pattern that is well-defined and usually springy. Type 3a curls have a circumference the width of a piece of sidewalk chalk.
Curls are more voluminous and have a smaller circumference than Type 3a curls—the size of a Sharpie marker.
Curls resemble tight corkscrews and are approximately the circumference of a pencil or straw. Type 3c hair tends to be higher in density and coarser than Type 2 or 3 hair.
Tightly coiled hair that has an "S" pattern. It has more moisture than Type 4b coils and has a visible curl pattern. The circumference of the spirals is close to that of a crochet needle.
Strands have a "Z" shape and a less defined curl pattern. Instead of curling or coiling, the hair bends in sharp angles like the letter "Z." Type 4b hair is tightly coiled and can feel wiry to the touch.
Hair is composed of strands that will almost never clump without the use of styling techniques. Type 4c hair can range from fine, thin, and soft to coarse with densely packed strands.
How to ID Your Curl Type
François recommends identifying curls by looking at their texture. "I define the characteristics of each hair type by its true texture," he says. "There's often some overlap with chart systems—like Type 4 may be both kinky and coily—so for me, being dyslexic, it makes much more sense to define by texture."
Kinky hair has kinks in it, meaning the strands make a zigzag shape, not a curl or a wave.
You will know that kinky hair is due for a cut when the ends of your hair begin to tangle together easily.
Coily hair is when each of the strands form tight coils. It's very versatile but can be fragile—especially if the strands are fine—because it usually has a thin external layer.
Curly hair strands cluster together and wind around themselves in a spiral or looser curl shape. This texture needs plenty of moisture to encourage a defined pattern, but a little frizz can give it personality.
Wavy hair is when strands curve or form an "S" shape.
Straight is when strands go straight up and down.
Kinky, coily, curly, wavy, and straight hair can also be stressed by heat styling, coloring, or chemical treatment and may need some extra TLC, so damaged is a hair type too.
To make matters easier, Breyer's company created an online quiz to easily help women identify their natural curl type. "The quiz also helps identify other texture attributes, such as porosity, density, and width, which can be equally important when it comes to finding the right products, styles, and cuts for your hair," she notes.
For François, a more visual approach is helpful. "Anyone with no idea about ID'ing their hair texture should check out my icons," he explains. "I created these hair texture shapes because my clients told me that they found texture typing charts confusing.
People can see at a glance what their hair type is and identify the best products from my collection for them. It's a universal visual language for hair: Just match the shape that your strands make with the shape on the icon: kinky, coily, curly, wavy, straight, or damaged."
And if you're still stuck, Bailey has a slightly different tip. She recommends examining your curls while they're wet—the texture will be evident. "You may have more than one texture in your hair, which is common," she says.
Is it Possible to Be Between Curl Types?
Turns out, the answer is unanimously yes. "It's definitely possible to have in-between curl types and several curl types on your head," Breyer explains. "For example, I have 3b curls on most of my head, but 3c and 4a at the nape of my neck, and 2c on my crown. That's part of the fun of being a curly girl. All of us are in-between, and no two textures are alike. The diameter of the hair may be different, the density of the strands may vary, and the porosity and growth cycles of the strands will change. Everyone has more than one hair type or texture. In the back it may be one texture, very curly, fine and fragile; the midsection may be dense with less curl and more frizz; and the front hairline may be softer and less curly and have more breakage."
The Best Types of Products for Your Curls
Breyer laid out her favorite, go-to products for each curl type:
Type 2: Make sure to use lighter products that won't weigh your hair down. Mousses, gels, and cream-gels work well for soft waves. To enhance your texture, sea salt sprays work especially well.
Type 3a to 3b: Use an anti-humectant (humidity-blocking) styling cream, cream gel, or styling milk for less frizz but more definition.
Type 3c: Use styling creams or puddings that moisturize. Deep condition at least once a week to retain elasticity and moisture.
Type 4: Use a creamy humectant as a leave-in treatment to maximize protection and moisture. A curl-defining custard or gelee can stretch the coil safely for twist-outs and braid-outs.
How to Care For Your Curls
François recommends that all women with textured hair use sulfate-free shampoos to preserve moisture and avoid drying their hair out. "Regular co-washing in between sulfate-free shampooing is also a good idea to help boost moisture levels and keep hair well nourished so that it’s less brittle," he says, adding that using a wide-tooth comb will help keep curls formed.
"For kinky and coily textures, I'd recommend the shampoo, conditioner, and moisture spray from my PureFro range," François says. The shampoo in particular is packed with hydrating plant oils and strand-strengthening ingredients such as green tea extract and chamomile flower.
"For curly, coily, and wavy hair, my Curl range collection is best," he continues. "Women with damaged hair will love the ReVamp line. Whipped Deep Conditioner is a luxurious treat for restoring all stressed hair. A lot of my clients like to use this on a Sunday night every few weeks as part of their home pampering session."
Bailey touts this curl smoothie for its ability to enhance your curl pattern while lightly hydrating. Plus, it tames frizz and nourishes the hair without weighing it down.
According to François, this styling cream works across all hair textures and is great for doing two-strand twists with curly, kinky, and coily hair types. "It works great with several styles like finger twists with wavy, kinky, coily types," he says.
For waves, Breyer loves a tousled look achieved by diffusing while the hair is almost dry. "Wavy braids with a few tendrils left out are also a pretty look when you need to get ready in a hurry. For curlies, high buns can work well in any weather—the messier, the better," she explains.
Breyer says that "Twists, twist outs, flat twist, and flat-twist outs are popular styling techniques and are usually created on wet or dry hair. The process involves taking two equal sections of your hair and wrapping one section around the other until you reach the ends, and twirling the end around their finger to ensure closure and less frizz. The twist out is merely untwisting the hair and fluffing to a desired look."