What’s Your Curl Type? Or Do You Not Believe in Such Things?

Over the past few weeks I have been surprised to learn just how many natural women don’t know about the curl types. I knew there some that did not like the idea of generalizing or trying to put people and their hair in a box, so therefore do not use curl types when choosing styling methods and products, but to not know they exists? My mind was officially blown. Well, let’s have a little lesson.

There are many websites that break down the system, but I like and use the one over at NaturallyCurly.com.

First off, the basics. Each level of curl is assigned a number 2 – 4. “Two” is wavy hair, “Three” is curly hair, and “Four” is coily, also known as kinky,  hair. Most black women fall in the three or four range.

After you figure out your number, you’ll see that the numbers are followed by letters (a, b, or c). The higher up the letter is in the alphabet, the looser the curl is.  Here is an abbreviated description of each. I’m starting at 3a and skipping the wavy chicks.

Type 3 hair can be slightly curly to very curly, but what distinguishes it is that the curls are well-defined and bouncy. This type of hair is not coarse and usually pretty fine, as compared to Type 4 hair. If you are unsure of whether you have Type 3 hair, try this test. Take a natural curl after it is try. Do you have a defined curl pattern that without a twist-out or any other sort of manipulation? If you pull one of your curls does it spring back into place? If so, you have type 3 hair.

  • 3a: This type of curl is s-chaped and is a pretty big curl. The curl is also looser. Actress Debra Messing probably has one of the best examples of 3a hair I can think of.
  • 3b: This type is noticeably less shiny than 3a and the curls are tighter. No S-shaped curl here. These curls will be more bouncy and entering into the corkscrew shape. This type is coarser and harder to straighten. Think Felicity (or Kerri Russell who played her) and you’ll know what 3b is.
  • 3c: This is a corkscrew curl and 3c has become known as “curly coily,” “kinky-curly,” and “tightly curled.” These curls are still well-defined and usually bouncy, but the hair is harder to blow dry straight and the curls are more densely packed. I identify as 3C.

Type 4 hair is even more densely packed than 3C and prone to the most amount of shrinkage. Type 4 hair tends to dry out faster, making it more prone to damage from heat styling and damage to ends as well.

  • 4a: This has a definite curl pattern, usually in an S-shape. The curl is usually smaller, about the width of a crochet needle. Solange (Beyonce’s baby sister) has become the poster child for natural hair over the past few years and she has 4a hair.
  • 4b: If you have 4b hair your strands will be more of a z-shape and you most likely experience a lot of shrinkage. NaturallyCurly puts Lauryn Hill in the 4b category.
  • 4c: I’m not going to hold my tongue here. When people call someone nappy, they’re most likely referring to 4b or 4c hair. 4c is the nappiest of the nappy. Like 4b it shrinks a lot and tends to be more dry and fragile than 4a, but it usually has no curl definition. NaturallyCurly puts Erykah Badu and Jill Scott as 4cs and they demonstrate just how beautiful it can be with the proper TLC.

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