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 its 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 may transform 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.
Meet the Expert
Keep scrolling to determine your exact type of curl 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. This type of hair dries quickly and straightens easily and is generally pretty low maintenance. To keep 2a hair looking beach wave ready, skip heavy products as they can weigh the hair down and avoid super long hair—it can pull the waves down and keep your hair looking flat on the scalp.
According to Breyer, Type 2s should use lighter products that won't weigh their hair down. Mousses, gels, and cream gels work well for soft waves. To enhance your texture, sea salt sprays work especially well.
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. To care for 2c hair, decrease frequent washing (or use a cleansing conditioner if you need to wash more frequently), use a curl cream to enhance your curl pattern, and sleep on a silk pillowcase to avoid frizz and tangles.
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. 3a is where the hair starts to feel a bit more dry, so deep conditioning on a weekly basis is a good idea!
Breyer recommends those with Type 3a and 3b curls use an anti-humectant (humidity-blocking) styling cream, cream gel, or styling milk for less frizz but more definition.
Curls are more voluminous and have a smaller circumference than Type 3a curls—the size of a Sharpie marker. This hair type usually is very voluminous and has very defined curls. 3b hair benefits from low to no heat, lightweight products that don't weigh the curls down, and layering in the hydration.
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. It's the tightest curl of the hair types and is prone to being super dry—but you also don't want to overload it with oils and butters, as it can weigh down your hair.
"Use styling creams or puddings that moisturize. Deep condition at least once a week to try to help retain elasticity and moisture," says Breyer of this curl type.
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. The main difference between 3c and 4a hair is that 4a hair needs a significant amount of moisture and benefits greatly from extra hydration. This could mean extra deep conditioning or styling hair with protective styles to keep the moisture locked in the strands.
For those with Type 4 curls, Breyer recommends using a creamy humectant as a leave-in treatment to try to maximize protection and moisture. A curl-defining custard or gelee can stretch the coil safely for twist-outs and braid-outs.
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. This is the hair type that requires the most moisture—heavy butters like the Melanin Hair Care Twist Elongating Style Cream ($20).
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 forms tight coils. It's very versatile but can be fragile—especially if the strands are fine—because it may have 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, NaturallyCurly 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," Breyer 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," he adds.
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."
How to Care For Your Curls
François recommends that all women with naturally curly 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 ingredients such as green tea extract and chamomile flower.
“It’s important to nourish and protect your curls,” says Bailey. “I use the SheaMoisture Jojoba Oil and Ucuuba Butter collection $10 and up), which is designed for protective styling. The brand's Braid-Up Conditioning Gel works beautifully for transitioning hair that’s in a protective style, as it’s light, soothing, and hydrating.”
Bailey touts this curl smoothie for its ability to enhance your curl pattern while lightly hydrating. Plus, it promises to minimize frizz and nourish 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.
"Twists, twist outs, flat twist, and flat-twist outs are popular styling techniques and are usually created on wet or dry hair," says Breyer. "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 the finger to ensure closure and less frizz. The twist out is merely untwisting the hair and fluffing to the desired look."
Gavazzoni Dias MF. Hair cosmetics: an overview. Int J Trichology. 2015;7(1):2-15. doi:10.4103/0974-7753.153450