You may have noticed more noise among social media and hair marketing lately about the hair type system and curl patterns. Terms like 4C, 3A and 2B are being used more than ever before. So, what does this all mean and is it something that you should consider? The answer is yes, but with a caveat.
The “hair type/curl pattern” system was originally introduced by popular 90s hairdresser, Andre Walker. He identified four hair textures, including:
Straight (Type 1)
Wavy (Type 2)
Curly (Type 3)
Kinky or Coily (Type 4).
It has been built upon over the years to include additional identifiers of A through C to break down the pattern or texture more clearly.
As you can see, the numbers (2, 3, and 4) refer to the curly family, while 1 refers to types of straight hair. The letters (A, B, and C) refer to everything from hair diameter (fine, medium, thick) to the wave/ curly type, and even fragility or breakage propensity.
So yes! The hair type system is a great tool to use as once you identify your hair or curl type and pattern, it can make styling techniques and shopping for products much easier. The only caveat is that as with all systems, there are differentiations. Most people can include more than one hair type/curl pattern so if you don’t fall completely into one hair type don’t feel confused. Our hair, like you, cannot be put into a box so take this assistance with flexibility.
Curious about your curl type? Here’s a simple way to find out:
Wet your hair with water alone, then cut out a few strands. (You should wet your hair with only water to make sure that no product interferes with the curliness of your hair, making it more or less curly).
Second, place the wet strands of hair on a flat surface, and leave them to air-dry and take their natural shape. You may notice different patterns in your hair, but this is a common occurrence since many curly-haired people have different curl patterns in their hair.
Next, compare it to the information below. We won’t be talking about Type 1 hair, since it is straight hair.
The three types of curly hair; Types 1, 2, and 3 are subdivided into three types each. There are a total of nine categories. These are their characteristics:
Type 2 — Wavy Hair
Type 2 hair ranges from natural waves that are almost unnoticeable to almost curly hair. Wavy hair is usually straight when wet, then creases as it gets dry. It can’t form twists or wrap around itself the way curly hair can.
For healthy hair, ensure you use light products like leave-in conditioners and potions designed for wavy hair, instead of heavy creams and oils that will weigh the strands down.
2A - Loose Waves
2A is closer to being straight than curly. The hair texture is generally fine, but that is not always the case. It can grow out straight from the root then have a loose “S”-wave or bend at the midlength and ends. This curl pattern is easily straightened with a blowout or straightener.
Start your routine with a lightweight leave-in conditioner like Innersense Sweet Spirit Leave in Conditioner to detangle, add shine, and deliver light hydration.
2B - Wavy
2B grows out straight but starts to create a well-formed medium to large “S” wave bend at the midlength and ends like Millie Bobby Brown.
This hair type can feel flat at the roots with more fullness at the ends creating a upside down “V” shape, so increase volume by using a volumizing product like Kavella Volumizing Mousse.
Define waves, preserve bounce and control frizz (2B curls have more frizz than 2A) by using a lightweight a curl-defining cream or potion like Oway Curly Potion.
2C - Strong Wave
2C has tight and well-defined S-shaped waves starting at the root and extending through the ends. The hair texture tends to be thicker and prone to frizz. Many people with 2C hair also have a few curls.
Start your styling routine with a hydrating hair oil, like Davines Oi Oil. This will add much needed moisture and control frizz.
Follow it with a styling product that creates volume and curl definition. Your goal is the maintain volume while controlling frizz which seems like competing tasks but you can easily achieve it with the right styling routine.
go to products for type 2 hair
Type 3 — Curls
Type 3 hair comprises curls in ringlets and spring shapes. The curls look like waves when the hair is wet, but they transform into corkscrew-like swirls as they dry.
The curl pattern starts from the roots giving it more volume than Type 2.
Type 3 hair needs lots of moisture. Invest in oils, defining creams, and leave-in moisturizers. These products help to prevent frizz and dehydration. Styling gels and serums help your hair to get its curly definition back, so make sure to always have those in your arsenal.
Type 3 hair types should avoid dry detergents and sulfates, opting for sulfate-free shampoos and conditioners. Choose a hydrating leave in conditioner to help with detangling, frizz, and hydration. Oway No Rinse Moisture Conditioner is a great option.
The rich leave-in moisturizing spray softens and detangles thick unruly hair with a nourishing blend of organic oils and botanicals. Most importantly it is vegan and cruelty-free.
3A - Loose Curls
Type 3A is the loosest curl pattern with a stretched spiral curls that are larger in diameter. The are one of the easiest types to manage with lots of bounce (aka elasticity) even with minimal styling.
Go with light styling creams or a gel like Evolvh Dream Gel to form controlled curls and reduce flyaway. Our hair stylist experts recommend Davines Love Curl Primer paired with Love Curl Cream to form defined, frizz-free curls.
If you lack volume, go with a volumizing product that creates volume at the root, like Oway Volumizing Root Spray.
3B - Curly
Type 3B hair includes well-defined ringlets with more bounce and fullness like Julia Garner. It can be more dry and fragile (aka prone to breakage and frizz) than 3A hair, so use a weekly strengthening and moisture treatment like Innernense Hydrating Hair Masque as well as a daily hair oil like Oway Silk’n Glow Serum.
This curl type creates fullness and volume so no need for volumizing products which can be drying. Use a detangling brush specific for curly hair to maintain body and curl definition. Our favorite is Tangle Teezer Thick & Curly Detangling Brush.
3C - Super Curly
The curls are more tightly packed corkscrews (the circumference of a straw or pencil) with smaller springs which can fluctuate between loose or highly defined. Hair is tightly packed resulting in dryness and frizz as natural oils struggle to make their way down the hair's mid-length and ends.
Use a daily hair oil on the mid-length and ends and always choose fragrance- and sulfate-free shampoo and conditioners. Also ensure to keep your hair’s pH balanced. High alkaline shampoos (the majority of those on the market) are extremely drying and can cause brittlness.
go to products for type 3 hair
Type 4 — Kinky and Coily
Type 4 is the tightest of all curl patterns. Type 4 hair ranges between tight s-shaped coils or tight zigzag patterns.
Type 4 is the most fragile of curl patterns, with the hair being prone to tangling, breakage, and shrinkage. It requires tons of moisture. You can apply creams and oils, both when it’s wet and dry. Avoid over-drying products like mousses or gels with alcohol.
Use a cowash between shampoo days and a scalp scrub, like Innersense True Enlightenment Scalp Scrub, once per week or every other week to clarify and remove build up from the scalp and hair.
4A - Coily
Type 4 A hair is distinctive from 3C hair by its combination of tight ringlets mixed with ”S” shaped tight waves like Yara Shahidi. It retains moisture better than 4B & C but can still be prone to tangling and dryness.
Start your styling routine with a oil or moisturizing leave in conditioner like Evolvh Smart Curl Leave-in Conditioner.
Follow it with a hydrating and strengthening defining product like 100% Pure Pro-Vitamin B5 Smoothing Serum. It controls frizz and repairs while adding great shine softness.
4B - Tight Zig Zags
4B hair is in tight zigzag patterns instead of full-on coils like Zazie Beetz. They tend to shrink a lot, so make sure to apply moisturizers, then add occlusives to keep the hair hydrated. An occlusive product has ingredients that are targeted at providing a protective seal over your hair and lock in hydration into your hair.
Avoid sulfates, fragrance and silicone as these can cause even more drying of the hair. A rich, clean hair oil like Innersense I Create Shine to deliver hydration. Keep scalp and hair nourished by applying a scalp healthy treatment daily like Cult & King Tonik Scalp and Hair Purifier.
It is imperative that this hair type be balanced and hydrated so use a weekly hair mask like Naturally Drenched Restore. 4B curls are most delicate when wet, so make sure hair is well-conditioned before detangling and styling.
4C - Tight Coils
Danai Gurira is the perfect example of Type 4C hair. This is the most delicate curl pattern. It has a tight, undefined pattern, quite similar to 4B, except it is in coils instead of z’s. It’s prone to dehydration, shrinkage, and breakage so you should invest in highly moisturizing shampoos and conditioners.
Use a protein treatment once per week or every other week like Original Mineral Power Base Treatment. Do not over-proteinize, which happens when too many protein-based products are used. A protein treatment once per week or every other week is suitable to increase strength.
If you want to relax really tight coily or kinky curls, try Innersense Quiet Calm Curl Control. The curl control gives a smooth and sleek texture, hydrates and defines the curls and eliminates frizzy hair.
Take special care when detanling. Only do it using a conditioner when wet and use a detangling brush, like Tangle Teezer Ultimate Detangling Brush (that do not include bulbed bristles).
go to products for type 4 hair
Your natural hair texture and pattern are beautiful and unique, regardless of whether you have Type 1A or Type 4C hair. Getting your hair to the best, healthiest version of itself just requires tons of moisturizing, patience, gentleness, consistency and the right products.
Take our FREE online Personalized Hair Care Quiz. Our experts will curate the perfect combination of products specifically tailored to your personal hair type, needs, and goals.
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Shop "Free Of" ingredient preferences using our Filters. You can also take the North Authentic Hair Quiz to get your personalized hair care prescription of the best products for your hair curl type.