Skip to content

A comprehensive guide to different curl types and how to nurture them

Those that know, know: Learning about different curl types is key to decoding your own — and it can be a game-changer in more ways than one.

“Understanding your head of hair, its behaviour, and what can be achieved with it can lead to a happy, healthy relationship with it,” says Vernon François, celebrity hairstylist and texture educator. “It helps inform how you approach it for the best outcomes all around.”

The most common way to determine curl types is the traditional system of types two to four with sub-categories of A to C; but it must be acknowledged that it’s general, and often individual hair will have its own intricacies and even a few different textures in it. As a person with dyslexia, François adds that it’s vital that charts are as universal as possible; to that end, he created his own visual language for hair with simple visual icons back in 2015.

Though there’s room for improvement, the basic curl types system can be a helpful roadmap on your curl journey nonetheless. Here, a guide to what you need to know about the intricacies of texture and the different types of curls.

Curl porosity and elasticity

“There are many things that make your hair uniquely yours, including how quickly it absorbs and loses moisture, which is called porosity,” says François. A strong indicator of your porosity level is the health of your cuticles, which is the outermost layer of the hair strand. When the cuticle is healthy, it lays smooth, closed, and retains moisture. If the cuticle is compromised by damage due to factors such as heat, over-processing, and natural weather, it lifts away from the hair shaft.

Because curly hair is naturally dryer, it’s more vulnerable to this damage. “The way the cuticle presents is the texture you should be thinking of when choosing products for your hair,” says Roberts. “The smoother the texture, the less hydration and hold you need. The more raised the cuticle, giving a natural amount of healthy frizz, the more hydration and stronger-hold styling products will be needed.” A general rule of thumb? “The more porous and brittle the hair is, the more damaged it might be from colouring or heat styling,” says François.

“Porosity is hereditary or caused by damage,” adds Jennie Roberts, celebrity hairstylist, textured hair educator, and a global senior hairstylist for Curlsmith. “Low porosity is when the hair appears waterproof, so more hydrating products are probably needed. If the hair is high porosity, it gets wet very easily and can be very limp with over-hydration.”

Another element of hair health to consider is elasticity, which is “if and how strands stretch when tension is applied,” says François. Elasticity helps prevent breakage when hair is being manipulated. “Elasticity is genetic but can be affected by chemical or bad hair practices,” says Roberts. “If there’s not enough strength and elasticity, hair might break or not hold the natural curl or coily pattern, [thus] moisture is needed. [On the other hand], if your hair is stringy and mushy when wet, then it needs protein to build the broken bonds back to strengthen the curl pattern.”

The different curl types

Wavy, type 2A to 2C

“Type two hair generally tends to have a smooth cuticle and is a gentle S-shape bend,” explains Roberts. Within the A-C spectrum, it comes down to “how defined the wave is,” says François. “A is elongated and C more of an obvious S shape,” he adds. Since type 2s often require less hold, he recommends a volumising mousse applied to freshly washed wet hair. “Let the waves air dry naturally while gently bouncing strands upwards with a flat palm of your hand,” he instructs. For optimal health, look to a sulphate-free cleanser and conditioner, and nourish the mid-lengths and ends of hair with a repair oil to keep hair “looking and feeling healthy and hydrated,” says François.

Curly, type 3A to 3B

“Type three usually means curly hair, with A, B, and C describing how loose or intense the curls are,” says François. Within this shape, you will find different tensions of corkscrew curls, says Roberts, who suggests focusing on the cuticle texture to determine how much moisture or hold you need. “Sulphate-free shampoos are a must because the more intense the curls, the drier they tend to be, and the ideal is to gently cleanse hair while keeping moisture where it’s needed — in the strands.” For light conditioning in between washes, look to a leave-in conditioner, and for non-sticky, soft, and flexible curls, a styling cream or lightweight gel will be your best choice.

Coily, type 4A to 4C

“Type four hair is super texturised, presenting as tight or looser zig zag or tight and looser coily/kinky shape,” explains Roberts. “The cuticle texture is very raised, hence the texture. It can be moulded, sculpted and texturised in so many ways.” In terms of care, type four hair needs a lot of hydration, as it can become dry and break easily. “Slippery moisturising products are great for this texture as they will help with the detangling process, which can be the biggest challenge on wash day,” says Roberts. For styling, a stronger hold product can “capture the curl” that’s been formed when wet to switch up the texture for a wash-and-go style.

This article was originally published on Vogue UK.

Share this article: