How To Get Your Best Curls, According To Your Hair Type

Ashleigh Cometti taps two hair experts to break down some of the texture typing categories and share tips and tricks for beautiful, manageable curls

Learn about unique hair types, which range from 1A to 4C. Photo / Getty Images

“I’m washing my hair tonight” isn’t simply an excuse to get out of that Tinder date/dinner with the in-laws/The Crown marathon with your nan. For some people, hair washing is more of an event than a regular beauty practice. Especially for those with hair that’s curly, coily or kinky.

Establishing where your hair sits on that scale can be confusing, especially since several different textures can exist on one head alone.

The current hair typing system, albeit slightly flawed, was first developed by hairstylist Andre Walker in the 1990s and has since been modified by members of the curly hair community.

It breaks down curls into types and sub-types, ranging from 2A to 4C, each with their own unique set of traits. The number points to curl families, while the letter refers to how tightly wound curls are.

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Andre’s method has been critiqued for being too divisive or narrow, but for now it remains a useful tool to identify your unique curl pattern (or patterns) and acts as a solid jump-off point for which products to use, and styling tips.

No two heads of hair are the same, so to get the 411 on the different curl types and how to properly identify which category your locks fall into, we reached out to two pros in the hair game: Sky Cripps-Jackson, a freelance hairstylist whose work spans from Aotearoa to the UK; and natural haircare extraordinaire and founder of local haircare brand Sans Ceuticals, Lucy Vincent.

Why understanding your hair type matters

According to Sky, making sense of the characteristics of your hair will help with everything from manageability to selecting the right products or accessories that enhance (rather than flatten or separate) your curls.

“As soon as you understand what your hair type is and how to work with it, it gives you endless possibilities as to what you can do with your hair from a styling, cut and colour perspective,” she says.

Lockdown provided Sky with the downtime she needed to develop a localised version of Andre’s aforementioned hair type guides, which are now available on her website Skycrippsjackson.com or on her Instagram @Skycrippsjackson_hair. Each one is broken into the four main types and sub-types, into which we’ll dive a little deeper in this story.

This blueprint of sorts will ensure you don’t waste time (or money) on products that leave your tight curls looking lank or limp, or vice versa — if you’ve got fine waves, you can opt for lighter formulas that won’t weigh them down. It’ll help you feel well-researched when shopping, to avoid being mystified by buzzwords and marketing hype.

An overview of hair types

Each of the curl types are determined by the shape of the follicle that the hair grows out of. Oval-shaped follicles lead to curlier hair, while circular-shaped follicles lead to straighter hair.

The way in which each strand grows also informs how much moisture is retained in the hair, which is why some hair types are more prone to dryness or frizziness.

“Straight hair grows out of the hair follicle perpendicular to the scalp. As it grows out of the follicle it passes the sebaceous glands, which give it this luscious lacquer. That lacquer or coating is responsible for slip and sheen, as well as protecting hair from the elements, like heat and UV, while sealing moisture into the hair,” Lucy explains.

“But when hair is wavy, curly or coily, as the hair grows out of the follicles, it spirals and corkscrews so it sometimes inadvertently misses the sebaceous glands and doesn’t get the same lipid coating, making it drier and lacking in moisture.”

The basic overview is this: type 1s are straight, type 2s are wavy, type 3s are curly and type 4s are coily. The sub-classifications of each (A through C) speak to the width or circumference of the wave, curl or coil pattern. Type As have the widest pattern size, type Bs medium and type Cs the smallest of the three.

TYPE 1 HAIR

Generally speaking, type 1 hair is straight from roots to ends, making it shiny in appearance and prone to looking oily quickly, Sky explains. This hair type can be more resistant to heat, meaning it doesn’t always hold curls as easily.

1A hair is thin and fine with a softer texture, and is most commonly found in people who are undergoing extreme hormone shifts like menopause, or recovering from treatments like chemotherapy, Sky says. Often referred to as baby fine, this hair type doesn’t hold curl well because it’s so soft. Curling type 1A hair can prove a tricky task, as curling tongs can flatten individual strands rather than giving the desired result of creating volume and width.

1B hair is denser than its predecessor, but equally as straight. “It has medium body and medium texture, but with a higher density,” Sky says. But despite its higher density, it’s still resistant to holding waves and curls. “It’s just so soft and slippery,” says Sky.

1C hair is naturally coarser and thicker in texture, and contains a higher concentration of keratin and melanin (the colour pigment that sits inside hair). For this reason, Sky says it’s slower to respond to colour and heat treatments. “Because it’s stronger and naturally a bit drier, you need to hold the heat on for a very long time,” she explains, adding that a Parlux 385 Ceramic & Ionic Dryer, $333, is her pick to dry hair fast.

Think of 1C hair like bamboo, Sky says. Its natural structure allows for the ability to bend and flex, but it will always return or relax back to its original state.

TYPE 2 HAIR

Not quite straight and not completely curly, type 2 hair encapsulates wavy hair textures ranging from loose loops to coarse, thick S-shaped waves combined with curls.

“The hair’s texture is typically flatter at the root and lays close to the head, getting curlier towards the ends,” Sky says. Where sub-classifications are concerned, types A and B are softer and finer, but type C is slightly coarser and a bit frizzier (even though curls aren’t
super tight).

Sky recommends tools that mimic the circumference of your natural curl pattern. In type 2’s case this ranges from 19-24mm. Try diffuse drying hair with a Dyson Supersonic Hair Dryer, $649, which Sky says has the best air flow for achieving results on type 2 hair.

2A waves are fine and thin, and form a slight C-shape bend towards the ends for a loose, tousled texture. It’s typically fine, but can be easily straightened using a lower heating setting — 120-170 degrees is best to avoid any heat damage.

Look out for sea salt sprays (try Goldwell Stylesign Surf Oil Salty Oil Spray, $30) as well as cream-based products and oils, like the Sisley Paris Hair Rituel Precious Hair Care Oil, $150, to enhance waves without losing body.

2B hair is straighter at the roots, and falls into more defined S-shaped waves from mid-lengths to ends. It’s medium in texture, with a tendency to frizz at the crown. Keep it light is the styling motto with type 2B, with a light leave-in conditioner like Evo Liquid Rollers Curl Balm, $38, or an oil like  Olaplex No. 7 Bonding Oil, $57, as well as a sea salt spray for dry styling.

To style from wet, diffuse on a medium speed with a medium heat (once again, the Dyson Supersonic Hair Dryer is Sky’s go-to). If you’re heat treating, select a 90mm tong to match the hair’s circumference, and cap the temperature between 165 and 195 degrees.

2C waves tend to start at the root, and hair is generally thick or coarse and prone to frizzing. While many 2C hair types may think their hair will benefit from thinning the bulk out, Sky says it actually sits far better if the weight is retained. “When you start cutting into the hair and removing too many individual strands, it just exacerbates frizz,” she says.

It’s best to style this hair type from wet, applying product first then twisting out each curl. Apply cream-based products in layers to ensure the middle layer isn’t missed. Try Joico Zero Heat Dry Styling Creme, $29.

A drying technique known as plopping can be used to speed up the drying process for hair types 2, 3 and 4. Flip your hair upside down and “plop” it on to a microfibre turban like the Aquis Rapid Dry Turban, $48, before collecting the hair/turban back up to sit on top of your head. This method helps hair to dry in its naturally curly state without having to twist it into a towel.

TYPE 3 HAIR

One of the broadest hair type categories, type 3 varies from a light curl to tight curly tendrils in myriad textures. They can be defined and springy with more height and volume or big, loose curls.

Type 3 curly hair tends to be shiny with a well-defined S-shape and, despite appearances, it’s actually a lot finer than you’d think.
For best results, both Lucy and Sky recommend combing hair in the shower when it’s loaded with conditioner. This has the least impact on the hair’s condition while still keeping curls together.

“Use your hands like a rake and tease out any knots. If there’s any thick matts within the hair, get a Tangle Teezer on board, but make sure you twist the hair back into curl formation afterwards,” Lucy says. For stubborn knots, detangle strands from the bottom up to unravel.

3A hair tends to be high density, meaning it not only retains water for longer, but it makes strands more prone to shrinkage.

In the salon, Sky says to ask your stylist to cut hair while dry so you can see the shape developing and where it will naturally sit. “With hair types that have high shrinkage, what is cut off when it’s wet, what you walk out with when it’s dry and what you wake up with are often three different things.”

Rather than clutter up your vanity, find a curl-defining cream like the Davines Love Curl Cream, $44, and a moisturising oil (try the Living Proof Curl Moisturizing Shine Oil, $48) that will offer definition and control, and can be used wet and dry.

3B hair types vary from springy, ringlet curls through to corkscrews — they’re often voluminous and are roughly 9-16mm in circumference.
Coarse and dense, the best products for a 3B hair type include an anti-humectant styling cream and a leave-in conditioning milk.

Unlike previous hair types, hair types 3B and above don’t need to be washed as often — every four to eight days is fine. You want to avoid removing natural sebum, Lucy says, adding that from this type onwards is where you move into sudless shampoo or co-wash territory to retain moisture.

Lucy recommends this simple haircare routine for hair types 3B up: saturate hair and shampoo once with Sans Ceuticals Nourishing Hair Wash, $39, before squeezing out as much water as possible and applying Sans Ceuticals Nourishing Hair Hydratant Ultra+, $42. Work the product through mid-lengths and ends, rinse, then apply a spritz of the Sans Ceuticals pH + Shine Corrector, $50, on top.

3C is commonly referred to as curly and coily hair, and is generally very dense, tightly packed corkscrews roughly the circumference of a pencil. Use as little heat as possible if you’re wanting to create a style that’ll last the distance, says Sky.

One style that works particularly well on 3C hair types is the Bantu knot, which gently enhances curls without heat, says Sky.

Not just a hairstyle, Bantu knots have their roots in Africa, and are believed to have originated within the Zulu culture more than a century ago — as far back as 1898. Bantu knots aren’t knots at all; rather, hair is sectioned off and twisted around itself so the hair spirals to form a “knot”.

TYPE 4 HAIR

Some people may be surprised to learn that despite type 4 hair being the most coily of all hair types, it can be the most delicate.

“Coily hair may seem robust, but it’s actually the most fragile hair texture because it has the fewest cuticle layers to protect it from dryness,” Sky says.

For manageability, some people prefer to keep coily hair in corn rows. It remains a specialised hair type and should be treated by someone who has extensive knowledge of how to maintain hair’s condition. Lucy stresses one of the most important things to factor in with type 4 hair is pH management.

“When the pH is disrupted (through minerals in your water, chemical services or UV) it opens up the hair cuticle which leaches out moisture, protein and colour. Hair becomes crispier, drier and more matte,” Lucy says.

“You want to keep that cuticle locked down tight like the surface of a snake. When cuticles are flat, light bounces off the surface and gives that beautiful shine.”

4A hair is commonly dense, springy curls that are wiry or fine, with a visible S-pattern the circumference of a crochet needle. Shop for haircare that contains natural emollients to maximise wash-and-wearability. Or consider Lucy’s holy grail of curly hair, an ingredient called behentrimonium methosulphate which is derived from rapeseed.

“It’s ionic — it binds and holds moisture deep within the hair. It provides this incredible coating without weighing it down and gives the hair slip, sheen and de-frizzes,” Lucy says.

4B hair types don’t curl or coil, rather they bend in sharp, Z-shaped angles in a pattern that is tighter and less defined — roughly the circumference of a pen.

Say yes to overnight oils, growth stimulants and sudless shampoos, and steer clear of any aerosol-based products, says Sky. Apply a pre-shampoo treatment to retain the natural oils on the scalp, and curl gels like Oribe Curl Gelee – Shine and Definition, $76, to define curls.

Two styling techniques to try include shingling, where you roll the hair with the forefinger and thumb, or comb twists, where you use a tail comb to roll the hair which creates a tiny, springy curl. These techniques can take some practice, so ask a pro to give you a tutorial before you begin.

4C hair is similar in texture and density to 4B hair types, but experiences less definition, more shrinkage and more frizz.

“The tightly coiled strand texture ranges from super fine and thin to wiry and coarse. It’s more of a Z-shape versus being round and voluptuous. This is so delicate, if you’re wanting to work with natural texture, stay away from heat as much as possible,” says Sky.

Weekly conditioning treatments and leave-in moisturisers will keep hair happy. Sky loves the Shea Moisture Jamaican Black Castor Oil Strengthen & Restore Hair Serum, $18. Twist into coils into a defined texture, or use an afro sponge to press hair into shape.

This story was originally published in Viva Magazine – Volume Six.

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