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Curls Explained: What Kind Of Locks You Have And Why It Matters

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Think about someone you just met recently for a brief amount of time. If I ask you to describe him or her, chances are you’ll tell me physical signs: “She has a cute nose.” “He has bushy eyebrows.” “She has curly hair.” While I can probably picture the first two examples, saying that someone has ‘curly hair’ is not as specific. I might be thinking of someone with frizzy ringlets, while the person you’re describing has long, smooth beach waves.

If you’ve ever researched different types of curls, you’ll know that hair is divided into four types. They range from Type 1 hair (straight) to Type 4 hair (kinky). Each of these types, besides for Type 1, is divided into sub-categories (Type 2a, Type 2b etc.).

Let’s explore the different types of curly hair as well as how to best treat and style them.

Different Types Of Curls Explained

2a Curls: Slight Waves

Back view of woman with curly hair.

Woman with slightly curly hair.


2a curly hair is finer hair whose curls shape the letter S. Some call Type 2a hair ‘wavy’ because it’s between curly and straight, but it could really go either way. Because it’s so fine it’s the easiest type of hair to style, which is probably the best part about this hair type. You can blow it straight without too much of a struggle, and it cooperates well when you style it with curls.

2b Curls: Soft Waves

2b curly hair looks similar to 2a, but the hair is thicker and the waves are slightly more defined. Both 2a and 2b have straighter hair at the roots, with their curls/waves starting at around ear length. Thicker hair can be nicer, but it’s also more prone to frizzing than 2a.

2c Curls: Defined Waves

2c curly hair is often a mixture of both tighter curls and waves. Unlike its older siblings, 2a and 2b, 2c starts its curls right from the roots. It’s generally thick with a decent amount of volume, and that’s the good part. But unfortunately, it’s the most prone to frizzing of all hair types (yup, that’s me!).

Then there’s Type 3, which is your classic curly hair stereotype.

3a Curls: Loose Curls

3a curly hair is often confused with 2c. But unlike 2c, the hair will have volume throughout, even on the top of the head, whereas Type 2 hair will stay flatter at the top of the head. Type 3a curls are big and loose – the kind of curls people pay to have styled in their hair. Like all curly hair, 3a’s are prone to frizzing. So keep your hair well-conditioned and use a good oil to keep your curls smooth and defined.

3b Curls: Springy Curls

Woman with curly hair putting hair oil drops in her hair.

Hair with springy curls.

3b curly hair has loads of bounce. The hair is curly throughout, with thinner, more lively curls. Unfortunately, this type of hair does not absorb moisture as easily as other kinds, so it tends to get dry and frizzy. But with proper care, 3b’s can enjoy gorgeous, voluminous curls with a lot of personality.

3c Curls: Tight Curls

If you have 3c curly hair, you may have a mixture of both defined curls and kinky curls. Your hair has tons of volume because the curls are densely packed. The curls themselves are fine, although people may not realize this because of the volume those densely packed curls create.

Type 4 is considered kinky hair. If you’re a woman of color, you probably have Type 4 hair (either 4a, 4b, or 4c).

4a Curls: Kinky Curls

Woman with curly hair in field with eyes closed.

Woman with kinky curls.

4a curly hair is similar to 3c in the fact that the curls follow an ‘S’ pattern. The hair is fine, and because it has less cuticle protection, it’s quite fragile and prone to breakage. 4a holds moisture better than any other 4 hair type.

4b Curls: Kinky Hair With Medium Definition

4b curly hair follows a ‘Z’ pattern and instead of defined curls, the hair has what looks like sharp angles (hence the name ‘Z’ pattern). Afros look great with this hair type, but the downside is that it’s very porous (it absorbs a lot of water, which can lead to breakage). Because it’s so fragile, it’s important to keep the hair well-conditioned.

4c Curls: Kinky Hair Without Definition

4c curly-haired people have super kinky hair, but their curls can often have little or no definition. If not treated properly, it can become hard to manage. This type of hair is extremely prone to shrinkage. Meaning it can look waaay shorter than it actually is, which can make for some fun hairdos but can also be annoying when you don’t want your hair to look half its actual length.

Best Curly Hair Products

Two friends laughing with one blowing bubble gum.

Know which products are best for your curly hair.

The bottom line is that curly hair is not easy to manage. Having voluminous yet tame, free yet not frizzy, and loose yet not wild curly hair is a hard feat. But by using the best curly hair products containing the best curly hair ingredients, you can nourish it and make it as healthy as possible.

Shea butter is one of the top ingredients to look out for in your curly-hair product selection. It is high in fatty acids and is an emollient. Shea butter, therefore, creates a layer of oil surrounding your strands of hair, thereby hydrating them. It will make your curly hair softer, smoother and shinier, and it will help repair damaged hair.

Aloe vera is another winner when it comes to ingredients for your curly hair. It encourages hair growth, halts hair loss and addresses scalp issues. It’s lightweight and watery, so it won’t hold down your curls’ natural bounce. It also has plenty of vitamins, minerals and fatty acids, which can really nourish your hair.

And then there’s vegetable glycerin. Vegetable glycerin is a clear and viscous liquid that can come from plants such as coconut or palm oils. Glycerin is hydrophilic, which means that it likes water. And what this means for your hair is more hydration. Using vegetable glycerin in your hair will also help prevent damage caused by brushing. Yet using glycerin alone can cause your hair to dry out, so it’s best to use it on your hair as an ingredient in a product.

At the end of the list of which ingredients you should use on curly hair is a big asterisk with the ingredients you should specifically avoid. The main ones are silicone and sulfates. The majority of silicones are not water-soluble, so a mild shampoo might not fully cleanse you of them. A buildup of silicones can weigh down your hair and reduce its curl factor, so it’s best to pass on this ingredient. The problem with sulfates is that they can be harsh on your hair and they can remove your natural oils from your hair. Yet your natural oils are actually good for you, as they make your scalp healthier and help to hydrate your hair.

Deep Conditioner For Curly Hair

Back of womans head with leave-in conditioner.

Woman with conditioner in her hair.

Anyone with curly hair knows the struggle of having dry hair since the curls make it difficult for our hair’s natural oils to get all the way down the strands. Warning signs include hair breakage and pesky flyaway hairs. If this problem speaks to you, you should consider adding a deep conditioner to your routine.

It’s good to use a deep condition for curly hair once a week, and you can leave the product in for 10-30 minutes. Doing this will give it a boost of moisture and nutrients in order to make your hair both softer and healthier. You can go to a salon to have it done, buy a deep conditioner to apply at home, or even be so bold as to make one yourself.

When using a deep conditioner, it’s best to apply it to wet hair and then expose it to heat. The steam from the heat lets the hair follicles open up to absorb the conditioner. To apply the heat you can either use a hot towel or use a hairdryer to blow hot air at your shower cap.

Haircuts For Curly Hair

Everyone has their own preferences when it comes to cutting and styling curly hair. A lot of it depends on what fashion statement you want to make. But let’s be real, some of it is a mere product of practicality. Some of the main factors that go into our hairstyle choices involve manageability and season (summertime = short haircuts for curly hair and straight hair alike). Although curly hair can sometimes feel difficult to work with, know that there are plenty of options for you to choose from.


Friends smiling.

Different types of curls look best at different lengths.

Of course, there’s always the short curly hair option. You can even choose to accent it with side bangs. The bangs can be straightened for a bit of diversity, or you can keep the curls to make life a bit easier for yourself. Leave the rest of your hair with loose curls or waves.

If you have tight ringlets, you’ll likely want to grow your hair out to shoulder length. Hair that’s very short and super curly can leave you with a look of too much volume since the tight curls will make your hair shorter than it is when you come straight out of the shower. Medium length is also a good look for anyone with loose waves or medium curls. If your hair is extremely dense, you can try thinning it out from the inside to help balance out the shape.

You can also opt to grow your hair out long in order to show off your curls to the max. If you choose to do so with tight curls, you can leave them as-is or mix it up with a braid. Natural, beachy waves work great with a longer cut, as this provides a look of effortless beauty. For the best results, you can add some layers to your hair.


The Ringlets of Romance Curly Look is a great look if you have medium-intensity curls. It involves making a middle part and layering your hair in a way that gives it a heart-shaped look. This cut is ideal if you have shoulder-length hair.

The Short and Sweet Top Curl Pixie Cut is an edgy and bold look for anyone who wants to showcase their curls in a dramatic way. As the name suggests, this cut is on the shorter end of the spectrum. And it works with all curl types! The best part is that it doesn’t require an even cut, as the messiness adds to the nature of the look.

The ‘Solange’ is what we’re calling the inspired look of none other than Solange Knowles. She’s stunned by cutting her curls at different lengths and simply letting them be. High five for curl pride!

How To Curl Your Hair Without Heat

We all know that heat is usually the fastest and most effective way to get curly hair. But we also know that it can be extremely damaging to your strands. If you do ever use heat on your locks, make sure to first coat them with a heat protectant spray, and try your best to not apply the heat directly. Yet if you want to try a healthier approach, consider these options for how to curl your hair without heat:

Hair Rollers

Pile of hair curlers.

Hair rollers.

While it might seem old-fashioned to use hair rollers, what’s old is new again! If you’re working with wet hair you can use plastic mesh curlers, while if you are styling dry hair you can use foam rollers. To get started, simply take your hair, divide it into sections, and roll each section onto a hair roller. Leave the rollers in for a minimum of 2 hours. You can even leave them in overnight if you’d like. You’re best off using bobby pins to hold the hair in place in the rollers so that they don’t get messed up as you move. Once you’re ready, take them out and style them as desired.

Sea Salt Spray

Sea salt spray is great in that it adds body and texture to your hair. It’s ideal for enhancing naturally wavy hair. Yet it can also help tame naturally thick, curly hair, and it can help add some texture to hair of the straighter variety.

You can use sea salt spray with both dry and damp hair. It’s ideal for hair that has not been freshly washed, as this allows it to cling to the cuticles better.

If you want to apply the spray to damp hair, towel dry your hair before spraying. Then let your hair dry naturally for a beachy look. If you decide to apply it to dry hair, apply it as the last product after any other serums you have in your hair care routine. If you have fine hair, make sure not to put on too much sea salt spray, as it can weigh your hair down.

How To Make Your Hair Naturally Curly


Close up of hair in braid.

Hair in a braid.

We’ve been braiding our hair since we were little girls, but perhaps at that age we didn’t realize the amazing byproduct of this fun hairstyle- curls! If you simply braid your hair and leave it in for a while, you’ll have some loose waves when you take it out. The curls will be even more pronounced if you braid your hair while it’s wet. The easiest way to achieve this look is to braid your hair at night before you go to sleep. In the morning, simply undo your braid to enjoy the results. You might want to use a serum to remove any frizz and to style the curls. Talk about wanting to sleep on it!


The back of a woman's head as she makes herself a bun.

Getting beachy waves is as easy as making a bun.

If you want some relaxed waves, the bun method is definitely for you. Take your wet hair and gather it as if you were making a low pony. Once the hair is gathered, simply twist it all together from top to bottom. Then take the twist and begin wrapping it in a spiral, forming a bun. Hold it together with some bobby pins or with a ponytail holder. The longer you leave your hair in the twisted bun to dry, the more noticeable the curls will be. I personally like to have my wet hair in a bun for a few hours and then take it out right before I go to sleep. While I lay on my semi-dry hair overnight, it softens into the ideal relaxed waves.


Many people don’t realize just how many types of curly hair there are! But it’s important to know what kind of hair you have because every hair type needs different treatment than the others. You might think that because your hair has loads of volume, it must be really durable – when in reality, it may be very fragile and need quite a bit more TLC.

Regardless of what kind of curls (or kinks) you may have, there are loads of styles you can do with your curly hair, whether you choose to keep it natural or go all out. It can take a little more work in the morning than your straight-haired friend’s quick pony, but let’s be real: curls are often so much cuter and prettier. And with a bit of effort and the right treatment and hair products, you can enjoy your curls in all their glory.