All The Different Curl Types Explained

From stylers to hairbrushes to gravity, curls seem to defy almost everything — even classification. If you're a curl head, you'll know that boxing your hair into a single category is nearly impossible. For starters, no two curls in your wreath of a mane look the same. Moreover, each wash day leaves your curls looking different from the last. Can these freewheelers really be tamed into categories? Celebrity hairstylist Marilisa Sears posits, "The first rule of curl club is that the rules change ... constantly" (via InStyle). It's a good thing curlies aren't playing by the rules anymore. Gone are the days of using flat irons to fit our strands into society's limited notions of beauty. Our time is here — we're all about embracing our frizzy, juicy, imperfect, magnificent hair now!

Knowing where you stand on the curl scale is one of the first steps to befriending your natural hair. "That's pretty much half the battle," stylist Ursula Stephen tells HelloGiggles. Not only would figuring out your hair type offer a steady guide to your hair care routine, but it would also direct you toward the right product for your curls, based on the hydration, protein, or styling they need. That said, a one-size-fits-all approach doesn't (and won't ever) work for curly hair. As curl entrepreneur Lisa Price says, "It is okay to play around until you figure out what works for you" (via Elle). So let your curls loose and scroll on! 

Broadly, there are three curl types in the family

Classifying curly hair is a feat that has long been attempted, with stylist Andre Walker's categories accepted as the general standard (via Allure). Walker, the name behind Oprah Winfrey and Halle Berry's iconic tresses, devised a curl scale that's divided between types 1 through 4, with each category having three subcategories in ascending order of curliness. "The curl type system is a small step in the right direction of knowledge," salon owner Martha Ellen Mabry says, pointing out that the chart even dispels stereotypes associated with natural hair (via Ipsy). Type 1 is a straight hair exhibit, types 2 and 3 have wavy and curly hair thrown into the mix, while type 4 is a coil fest.

"The higher the number, the curlier the hair and the tighter the coil," expert Rolanda Wilkerson tells Good Housekeeping. If there's even a hint of an S-shaped wave traveling through the lengths of your mane — congrats, you're part of the curl community! Curl wiz Alex Mouneu suggests making an appointment with a hair specialist to get a comprehensive picture of your texture needs (via Today). Each type differs characteristically — ranging in elasticity, dryness, porosity, thickness, and volume — and, while the Walker chart gives an overview, you'll want to understand these factors in the context of your own curls for the best hair health.

Type 2A

Simply explained, 2A is the closest that curly hair gets to straight hair. Type 2A is the flattest of all curly hair types, marked by loose, S-shaped waves running through the lengths of a relatively straighter head of hair. Since it's a spawn of straight and wavy hair, this texture often tricks its owners into believing that it falls in the former bracket. As noted by Allure, there have been eureka moments for tons of TikTok users who realized their hair has a curl type after brushing their hair the "straight" way all their life.

The most predictive signs of having a curl type are frizz in parts of your hair or if your hair is drier than straight hair types (via Get the Gloss). As celebrity stylist Luke Hersheson observes, "Nothing in a bottle will improve your hair until you really know exactly what you're dealing with." So before you go all-out purchasing curly hair products, it's important to know what will work for your hair. 2A waves tend to be finer and lack volume, according to Mane Addicts, which is why a natural route is the best one to take. Shorter hairstyles will bring your waves out. With 2A hair, hydration should be your focus, says stylist Nai'vasha Johnson, who recommends being "delicate with the amount of product that you use" (via Shape). You're born with effortless waves that people pay fortunes to get — embrace them!

Type 2B

Along the progression of the curly hair chart, the 2B type lies fairly balanced between straight and curly textures. Hair practitioner Gaby Longsworth explains that the S-pattern in this category of tresses has a higher definition (via Byrdie). A wavy silhouette may begin to form along the crown itself, going down through the lengths to the end. Since the curl pattern here is more evident than its predecessor, styling to define them becomes easier. Frizz is a characteristic of 2B hair — which celebrity stylist Kim Kimble says is what beach waves look like — so consider taming your mane through masks and giving it definition with the help of light mousses (per Glamour). Think Camila Cabello.

"With wavy hair, you have an option of either letting it naturally dry or scrunching it as it takes both shapes well," stylist Hiral Bhatia told Vogue India. To get the most out of your waves, Bhatia suggests tying damp hair up in a bun and letting it down once dry to give the curl pattern a natural scrunch. Beware, though: don't go overboard with product or wash days! Though waves need their share of conditioning, they don't need as much moisturization as tight curls. Therefore, natural hair expert Evan Joseph advises, "Stick with lightweight products with hold that aren't sticky" (via Who What Wear). Cleansers with lightweight consistencies are best since they won't weigh your waves down. 

Type 2C

Your curls are showing! The 2C type has pronounced body and volume, given that curls begin taking precedence over waves under this classification of hair. With a head of abundantly textured tresses, Colombian bombshell Shakira is universally regarded as the celebrity face of this hair type. Almost-there curls are the defining feature of this hair type, which is prone to unrestrained frizz. But wait, don't rush to eliminate all that frizz just yet! While mainstream beauty standards have sold sleeker hairstyles as the pinnacle of elegance, there is something to be said about embracing your frizz. As noted by Glamour, frizz plays an important role in keeping your hair buoyant and giving it to-die-for volume. It's your personal halo!   

According to expert stylist Cynthia Alvarez, 2C hair is rather distinct, given that "the strands are thicker and coarser, definitely more resistant to styling straight" (via PopSugar). To manage the hot mess that the 2C type is, people turn to gels, mousses, and hair creams to rein their hair in. While hydrating your hair is a must to keep 2C curls moisturized, it is equally essential to be mindful about not going overboard with product or heat. "Over-styling is a common mistake among people in the type 2 hair family," stylist Nai'vasha Johnson tells Shape. Focus on keeping your tresses conditioned by adding a leave-in serum to your routine on wash days. 

Type 3A

Type 3A is where the curl carnival begins! This hair type is best characterized by patterns that actually look like curls, albeit a mix of different kinds. Loose waves, springy ringlets, corkscrew curls, a few coils here and there — all of this mishmash comes together to form 3A-type hair. Needless to say, it renders the hair pretty voluminous, what with everything going on under there. According to Cosmopolitan, a "loopy, S-shaped pattern" is the defining feature of this hair type, with curls described as having enough circumference to have a bottle cork pass through. The way you wash and style your hair becomes imperative to your curl pattern from here on out. Testing out the Curly Girl Method (CGM) is a great place to begin, by going sulfate-free and using curl-enhancing products to keep your hair looking its bouncy best (via Mane Addicts).

"It is key that you allow the curls to form themselves," says hair care expert Adam Reed (via Vogue India). Your 3A curls are alive and kicking — all you need to do is help them retain the definition they are capable of achieving. Distribute product — leave-ins or gels — evenly along the lengths of damp hair with the help of a wide-toothed comb. This will also separate any curl clumps that formed during styling so that your hair looks abundant when dry. Stylist Leigh Hardges advises against washing 3A hair too often; once a week is a good frequency (via Glamour). 

Type 3B

Juicy, springy ringlets are the mainstay of type 3B hair — that is, if you give your mane the TLC it deserves! If a marker can easily pass through your curls, this is the type your hair corresponds to. "Type 3B hair lacks the shine of 3A curls and tends to be coarse and dense — also prone to shrinkage and frizz," according to author and curl guru Michelle Breyer (via Women's Health). Given their dry texture, these curls are forever thirsty for moisture. Steer clear of chemicals like sulfates, alcohols, and parabens in your products, since they tend to strip your hair of whatever little hydration they get. "Instead, opt for moisturizing products such as gels, mousses, and curl creams," suggests celebrity hairstylist Ursula Stephen (via InStyle).

Conditioners of all kinds — from leave-ins to argan oils — are best friends to 3B curls. In fact, co-washing is recommended as a great way to keep this hair type tamed, and many curl heads in the community swear by it. That said, washing your hair only with conditioner may or may not suit your curls, so you can try alternating co-washes with sulfate-free cleansers to figure out what works for you (via Refinery29). After styling, expert Eladia Lebron recommends using curl-friendly clips on the roots of wet hair to give your hair a nice lift when it's dry. "The clip needs to be on scalp to not make an indentation on the curl," says Lebron (via PopSugar). 

Type 3C

Dive into your stationery kit once more, but this time, fish out a pencil. That is accepted as the general circumference of type 3C hair, which, given its distinct character, is also referred to as the curly-coily type (per StyleSeat). Evidently down a size from Sharpie-wide curls, 3C hair boasts tighter coils that may experience shrinkage but definitely don't shrink away from definition. The texture in this bracket is described as fine and coarse, with the curls on your head being the densest in the family. As noted by Mind Body Green, 3C hair is rather versatile, and depending on the approach, your curls can switch between looking like either the 3B or 4A type.  

"All hair textures require protein and moisture, especially kinky, coily, and textured hair," says trichologist Precious Rutlin, who advises incorporating a healthy balance of protein and deep conditioning treatments in your natural hair care routine (via Byrdie). Here, figuring out your porosity (or the ability of your hair to retain moisture) will aid you in charting out the perfect regimen and products for your type. Beware not to overload on either element, since it could leave your strands brittle or limp, Rutlin says. While there are hordes of product distribution techniques to choose from (think brushing or the praying hands method), Cosmopolitan suggests finger-raking for this class of curlies. As for hairstyling, you can opt for cute buns or simply let your gorgeous curls run wild! 

Type 4A

Type 4A hair marks the beginning of what is known as kinky-coily or Afro-textured hair. Defined by tight coils, this genus of natural hair requires distinct care. While the need for hydration progressively increases with each hair type in this family, 4A curls are fairly easier to manage, as noted by celebrity hairstylist Cynthia Alvarez (via "The curls have a springy S-shape and are about the size of a crochet needle," she says, adding that this hair type is not too fussy about moisture retention and will comply with you. Small changes to your routine — sleeping on a satin pillowcase or adding drops of oil to freshly dried hair — can make a world of difference. 

A hot tip (literally!) to care for 4A hair is to add steam to your curl care routine. Not only will using a steamer ease the detangling process, but hair expert Lacy Redway says it will also "allow the cuticles to open up and help the product penetrate" (via InStyle). Don't forget to rinse with cool water afterward to close the cuticles (via Carol's Daughter). The dry texture of your hair might compel you to use conditioners and humectants lavishly. Stylist Tamika Gibson advises exercising caution here, warning of something called hygral fatigue that damages hair due to over-conditioning (via Shape). Breakage and dryness are common with 4A hair. From raking out knots to keeping your curls conditioned, go gentle on your mane always! 

Type 4B

The curls are so intense with the 4B type that they level up from an S-pattern to Z-shape coils to form a coarse, cotton-like texture. As ever, if you're looking for the stationery equivalent of these curls, the circumference matches that of a ballpoint pen, according to Women's Health. Curl expert Michelle Breyer explains that "4B coils are densely packed and experience about 75 percent shrinkage." A typical feature of Afro hair, shrinkage often goes unappreciated in the context of stretched-out, longer curls accepted as the mainstream standard. But stylist Jamilla Powell observes that not only is shrinkage normal, it is also a telling sign that your hair is healthy (per InStyle). Keeping your curls quenched should be your one true goal — think strong-hold gels and products with shea butter. 

Many 4B curl heads swear by the LOC method to keep their hair looking heavenly. A super hydrating routine, LOC stands for leave-in, oil, and cream, and provides the order you should apply products to your hair after washing it (via Marie Claire). The wetter your hair is, the easier it will be for you to work through the strands and style it with maximum nourishment. Again, remember not to lay everything on too thick to avoid weighing down your natural volume. From box braids to two-strand twists and Bantu knots, there are endless ways to level up your versatile curls (per Mane Addicts).

Type 4C

Type 4C hair is the last in the curl family — so naturally (pun sincerely intended), it's a real blowout! The spirals in this category are super kinky-coily with a texture almost entirely too dense and coarse to define. And that's the beauty of this versatile hair type that lets its highly shrunk, zigzag curls be worn in endless ways! Black celebrity hairstylists, who have worked with A-listers like Kerry Washington to voice the glory of natural hair on Hollywood red carpets, are showing us how it's done. Braids are a mainstay in Lacy Redway's work, for instance, while Nai'vasha Johnson is known for experimenting with colors on textures (via Glamour). The scope to make 4C curls pop is endless!

This hair type is the most delicate of the lot, per Mind Body Green, and needs care accordingly. Its extreme dryness warrants deep hydration — think humectants and oils. Curl queen Gwen Jimmere reminds curl heads not to skip those green veggies, given that a healthy diet is central to your hair's well-being. Protective hairstyles — like knots, weaves, or simple buns — also help to lock in moisture while minimizing frizz. "Healthy 4C hair has a soft texture and shiny curls," stylist Latoya Moore tells Shape. Determining your hair's porosity and elasticity will help in curating the best products for your hair. As always, there is no hard and fast rule — except perhaps one. Condition like your (hair's) life depends on it! 

A beginner's rundown, if you're new to curl care

Let's take you through a quick checklist of the essentials that go into mane maintenance to keep your curls looking like a million bucks. For starters, take it from award-winning stylist Michelle O'Connor (via Allure): "The one thing I will never do is rub my hair in a pile on the top of my head like they do in the shampoo commercials. That's a no-no for curly hair." On wash days, more than any other days, go gentle on your hair since wet strands tend to break easily. Co-washing may not be for everyone; use a good cleanser if you have to, curl expert Ona Diaz-Santin suggests, pointing to a clean scalp as the key to healthy hair (via Oprah Daily). Silk bonnets and soft scrunchies will be your curls' kindest, friction-fighting companions! 

Curl-heads know what a pain detangling can be. If wet detangling in the shower with a curl-friendly brush provokes excessive breakage for you, then consider finger detangling with a conditioner that offers slip to ease out the knots (via Good Housekeeping). From pre-shampoo to styling, working through your hair in sections is always recommended. Since curly hair has a mind of its own, "What works today may not work tomorrow or ever again," expert Marilisa Sears says (via InStyle). The key is to figure out what kind of care your curls love. Focus on keeping them happy, not tamed. Let 'em run free and wild!