Curlies across the world are regularly asking this question and we feel your pain. Determining what curly hair type category, you fit into can be confusing. There’s a wealth of information out there in the curly world with several different curl typing systems in existence. For the sake of this explanation we will be using the Curl typing system created by Oprah Winfrey’s hair stylist, Andre Walker which was further developed on the NaturallyCurly.com platform.
The credibility of curl typing has been the subject of many debates. Many have argued that this type of categorisation is too narrow and simplistic. Curl pattern alone cannot determine what products you may need there are other factors that need to be taken into consideration such as porosity and density. However, curl typing is often a starting point for many people in determining a healthy hair regime and selecting curly hair products.
How are curls created?
The natural curls and curl combinations are unique to you that you possess are unique to you patterns and combination are unique, different but are all equal, there’s not one curl pattern that’s better than another.
Our curls are usually inherited through our genes, the curl patterns are either altered by manipulation, chemicals or by heat. Hair texture and pattern is determined by your hair shaft, ( the strands of hair that you style and love) and hair follicles (the part that resides within the scalp, our dermis). These two determine our curl pattern.
The amount of bend, twirl and curl in your hair depends on the shape of your hair follicle. The follicle of curly hair has an oval shape, the flatter the shape, the curlier the hair. This is opposed to straight hair that has round follicles. The direction in which the follicle tunnels into the scalp is another determining factor of your curl pattern. Follicles of straight hair tunnel straight down into the dermis, if the follicle tunnels into the dermis at an angle the hair will grow in a curve and a curl will be created. Within the dermis there are glands that line the follicles providing sebum and oil to lubricate the hair. However when the follicle curves, sebum is unable to get to the entire length of the hair, resulting in dryness where the sebum is absent.
The strands of our hair that you can see is comprised of mainly dead cells of fibrous protein known as Keratin. This protein contains the amino acid cysteine which has a sulfar containing chemical group which allows it to contain strong bonds with other sulfar containing molecules. As hair is mainly keratin these cysteine amino acids can bond with other cysteines further down the hair shaft contributing to curling of the hair further down the hair shaft. Curly hair has more of these bonds known as disulfide bonds than straight hair because the follicle shape and angle allows different areas of the hair to come closer together, making these bonds easier to form.This is how perms and relaxers change the structure of our hair by taking advantage of Keratin’s ability to disulfide bonds to change the structure of the hair to the way we want. So if you have curly hair and want straight hair you will need chemicals to relax or break up the bonds. If you have straight hair and want curly hair, you need chemicals that will allow these bonds to form.
Now you should have a greater understanding of how curls are formed, let’s get down to the grouping which is less technical.
WHAT’S MY CURL TYPE?
The curl typing system uses to curl identifiers these being numbers, identifying the curl type and letters based on the diameter of the waves, curl or coils. Curly hair starts from 2 being wavy, 3 Curly and 4 Kinky- coily. Read on and check out the examples below to see where you fit?
Don’t worry if you can’t find the exact match for your curls choose one or two categories whose description fits your curl type the most. Also if you have more than one hair type, this is perfectly normal, most of us do, this is just a general guide.
TYPE 2 (WAVY)- Type 2 hair is classed as wavy which its definition lying between being straight and not completely curly. The curl pattern can range from loose curls forming a wave pattern to undefined “s” shaped curls. The stronger the S shape the curlier the hair.
TYPE 2 A- Waves tends to be thin, fine with a loose gentle bend and “barely there” tousled curl. Hair tends to be flat at the roots. Those with type 2 hair should avoid heavy styling products e.g. butters or gels as it could weigh the hair down leaving curls limp and lifeless.
TYPE 2 B- Waves tend to start from mid length and roots are quite flat. There’s a more defined S pattern and the strands appear thicker than the 2A. Hair can be prone to frizz and has a medium texture.
TYPE 2 C -Waves have a more distinct S definition and generally start from the roots. Type 2c hair generally is thick and is prone to frizzing.
TYPE 3 HAIR- Hair pattern ranges from loose curl to tight, from buoyant curls, to springy ringlets and a combination of both and everything in-between. Tends to have more volume at the roots than Type 2’s and is prone to frizzing.
TYPE 3A-This hair type tends to have big loose curls and spirals with a well-defined “S” shape. Hair tends to be shiny.
TYPE 3B- Hair tends to be a combination of bouncy spring curls and corkscrews. Hair is usually densely packed loves movement and curls are the size of a magic marker. This hair type can be prone to dryness.
TYPE 3C -Densely packed corkscrew, sometimes defined as curly coily hair. Usually has a great deal of volume, with curls having a similar circumference as a pencil. Due to the corkscrew nature of this curl pattern, the hair bounces and loves to recoil, causing shrinkage.
TYPE 4 HAIR -Coily to kinky hair has the appearance of being the strongest curl type but is actually the most fragile, due to having the fewest cuticle layers to protect the hair from dryness. Patterns vary from coils to zig zags and from thick to fine hair. The main curl concerns are dryness, tangling and retaining moisture.
TYPE 4 A- Tends to be finer and in texture and weight 4 A is usually has a tightly packed corkscrew pattern. Hair is usually springy making an "S" shape when stretched out with a circumference of a crochet needle.
TYPE 4 B- Instead of curling or coiling 4 b curls tend to be angular forming a z shape pattern. Curls tend to be dense tight and have the circumference of a pen.
TYPE 4 C- The tightly packed coils density similar to 4b but with much more conviction. Hair has much less definition, often hair has no visible definition. Texture ranges from fine to thick, is prone to extreme shrinkage and is the most delicate hair type of them all.
Our curly crowns are unique, they sometimes dance to their own tune. It's extremely normal to have one curl type or to not fit into the categories that have been shown. This is just a guide, knowing your hair type is more of a “good to know” as it may just bring you closer to understanding your curls and their behaviour in greater depth. Let your curls flow!