Curly hair types: a guide to figuring out your curl pattern

We asked an expert how to figure out which of the curly hair types you have

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Most people may think curls are just curls, but actually, there are more than half a dozen curly hair types. Ever used a hair product, thinking it was right for you, but it just didn't work or made your hair feel gross? Chances are it wasn't right for your curl type.

Knowing your specific hair type can help you find the right products for your hair—whether you're using the Curly Girl Method or just looking to buy the best hair dryer for your curly hair or best brush for curly hair. The nine types range from 2A to 4C with the number referring to the curl type, such as wavy, curly, or coily or kinky, and the letter refers to how tightly wound they are—"A" being looser and "C" a tighter wave or curl (straight hair falls under type one).

It's worth pointing out that many people have more than one curl type—and several hairdressers say that the typing system is too reductive—but you can use the most noticeable to generally categorize your curls and their needs.

So if you’re unsure of your pattern(s), we’re here to help you figure out your curly hair type and the best way to care for your hair.

Meet the expert in curly hair types

  • Michelle Sultan (opens in new tab) is a celebrity hairstylist and textured hair expert, who has has styled the likes of Jennifer Hudson and Jordyn Woods. She helped us break down each curl type as well as the styling products best suited to them.

Curly hair types—the My Imperfect Life Guide

Type 2A Curly Hair: Wavy

The first type has small waves to it; think very loose and beachy. This hair sits close to the head and has a sufficient density.

People with 2A hair usually have medium to low hair porosity, which is how well your hair can absorb and retain moisture.

You will want to use hydrating shampoos and conditioners to help tame frizz. For styling products, try a water-based product, like mousses or gel.

Type 2B Curly Hair: Wavy

This hair is similar to 2A in that these could also be called beachy waves. However, the waves are more defined and form a clear, loose "S" shape.

If you want more definition to your curls, use a curl mousse, or for a softer look, go with a water-based serum or cream.

Hair masks are also beneficial, provided they aren’t so heavy that they weigh your hair down; you also want to avoid over-moisturising as this will affect volume. 

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Type 2C Curly Hair: Wavy

2C hair tends to have a deep, “S” shaped wave that may curl loosely at the end; it’s the closest wavy hair gets to a true “curl” without being completely ringlet-like.

Like 2B types, 2C hair benefits from hair masks to keep moisture levels up and would benefit from a cream-based product when styling. 

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Type 3A Curly Hair: Curly

"This hair type need the most help in supporting and holding the curl pattern in place and some parts of the hair may still be too loose," says Michelle.

"I would encourage the use of gels to help define curls but also hold curl pattern in place without dropping."

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Type 3B Curly Hair: Curly

"This curl is a definite spiral and this is where the hair can have lots of volume when teased out," explains Michelle.

"I would use a leave in conditioner before applying gels or curl creams to define each curl type. This is where hair can experience dryness but does not require heavy products that have silicones because these will create a 'wet' or 'greasy' look."

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Type 3C Curly Hair: Curly

"Type 3C curls look like tighter coils that have a stretch factor of 3 to 8 inches. These curls resemble that of a thick pencil," Michelle explains. "This hair requires moisture at all stages, from washing to styling."

She continues: "I would highly recommend that you use Moisture Masks at least once a week to avoid type 3 hair drying out after cleansing. Leave the mask on for a minimum of 15 mins to get good product absorption concentrating on ends of hair."

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Type 4A Curly Hair: Coily

Type 4 hair is coily and kinky textures, and is the type most prone to shrinkage. "This hair resembles tight coils that can look very short," Michelle confirms.

"When stretched. this hair type has very tight coils that look like they could fit around a chop stick."

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Type 4B Curly Hair: Coily

"Type 4B is very curly tight coils and to the eye can looks very dense however, this hair type can be very fragile," Michelle advises.

"This hair looks like it could fit around a crochet needle but the curls can also be undefined and frizz-prone if not well moisturised."

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Type 4C Curly Hair: Coily

"4C hair is very tight zig-zag kinks. Due to this fact this hair type requires the highest level of care and moisturiser, deep conditioning treatments are strongly recommended.

"I also recommend using oils in hair treatments and leaving on for a minimum of 30minutes."

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Once you've figured out your curl pattern, the next step is to invest in a good curly hair regime.

Sulfate-free shampoo is a great place to start, as well as styling products whose weight will depend on your porosity (read our guide to hair porosity levels here).

You could also try out the curly curl method for beginners to get the most out of your pattern. Happy curly-ing!

Lucy is a beauty journalist who has written for titles including Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, OK!, woman&home and Women's Health, as well as regularly contributing to My Imperfect Life. Her work covers everything from skin and haircare tips to trying and testing the latest beauty launches, and interviewing celebrities and experts. A certified dog person, her other interests include mental wellbeing, books, piña coladas and not getting caught in the rain.