What is a curl pattern & What is yours?

If you’ve always wondered what your natural curl type is, we’ve got the definitive guide to discovering your true curl type.

Hair pattern types

Let’s start with curl patterns. Your curl pattern is the overall shape and size of your curls, from big, loopy ringlets to tight and coily, and they’re separated into three groups:

  • Type 2: Wavy
  • Type 3: Curly
  • Type 4: Coily and/or kinky

Within these three types, there are three subgroups - A, B and C - based on the texture and thickness of your strands, so there are nine curly hair pattern types in total.

Type 2A curls: Type 2A hair features loose, barely-visible beachy waves with moderate volume which is usually easy to manage and style. It tends to be relatively fine and has a gentle, natural curl which starts further down your strands. You can easily straighten Type 2A hair, or style it into more defined waves.

Type 2B curls: Type 2B hair has more defined waves with a noticeable ‘S’ wave shape and a stronger curl pattern which starts further up your strands. It’s slightly more voluminous than Type 2A hair, and can be prone to frizz , but still has a smooth texture.

Type 2C curls: Type 2C hair tends to have a combination of fine and coarse strands, and looks like well-defined waves that may transition into loose curls towards the end of your strands. It’s usually more resistant to styling and straightening, and may require stronger hold products to maintain the shape of your curls.

Type 3A curls: Type 3A hair showcases well-defined loopy spirals or large, loose curls with a definite ‘S’ shape. They feel soft to the touch, and curl formation starts at the crown, rather than further down the strand. Curls are about 4 - 5cm in diameter and may need mousse or a curl refresher spray to help them keep their bounce.

Type 3B curls: Type 3B hair is characterised by tighter, springy curls which often look like large, loose corkscrews. Ringlets have a diameter of around 2 - 3cm, and these voluminous, full curls are often prone to breakage and frizz.

Type 3C curls: Type 3C curls are springier, have a more defined curl pattern, and can vary from loose to defined helixes. This hair type can be prone to shrinkage, and benefits from regular deep conditioning and gentle detangling techniques . It’s thicker and coarser than Type 2 hair, which gives it masses of body and volume - perfect for big, bouncy curls .

Type 4A curls: Type 4A curls are where curls start to become clearly-defined coils. These small ‘S’ shaped strands are sequenced into tight, looped rings which start at the root. These tight corkscrews are about the diameter of a whiteboard marker, and they don’t take kindly to brisk rubbing on wash day - so make sure you’re always using the curly girl plopping technique .

Type 4B curls: Type 4B hair has a distinctive ‘Z’ shaped curl pattern, and is often paired with compressed, defined ‘S’ shape curls. It bends at sharp angles, has a tighter coil structure, and can be styled easily as it’s fairly versatile - although it is prone to dryness .

Type 4C curls: These curls are similar in shape, texture and style to 4B curls, but they have an even tighter ‘Z’ shape pattern with tightly coiled, densely-packed kinks with minimal curl definition. Type 4C hair needs careful handling, regular deep conditioning, and protective styling to prevent breakage and retain moisture.

What curl type do I have?

To identify your true curly hair type, follow this method:

  • Start by washing and conditioning your hair, as freshly-washed hair will allow you to get accurate results. If you’re thinking of switching up your shampoo and conditioner, our guide on the best shampoo and conditioner for curls will help you find the right products
  • The next part’s important, as you don’t want to disturb the formation of your wet, washed curls by wrapping them tightly in a towel. Using a soft cotton t-shirt, lean forward, gently flip your wet hair over and plop your wet hair onto the t-shirt
  • With your head still upside down, gently wrap the t-shirt around your curls and secure the edges of the t-shirt with a large claw clip
  • Allow your curls to air dry in their natural shape under the t-shirt
  • Resist the temptation to comb it or run your fingers through your hair - the less you touch it, the better
  • Once your hair’s completely dry, carefully remove the t-shirt, and examine the natural shape and pattern of your curls

Don’t be discouraged if you spot multiple curl types - this is perfectly natural. For example, you may have tighter curls framing your face, and looser, less defined curls at the back of your head.

Your hair may not look exactly like curly hair illustrations you’ve seen, but the reality is that most curl types don’t fit neatly into one type. The trick is to discover the curl type that your hair fits the most, and use this as a starting point for better curl care.

What are the types of curl patterns?

There are three main types of curl patterns:

  • Type 2 (wavy hair)
  • Type 3 (curly hair)
  • Type 4 (kinky/coily hair)

Within these types, there are three subcategories based on the intensity of the curl type’s pattern.

For example, Type 2 hair can range from loose, lush beachy waves (Type 2A) to more defined, ‘S’ shaped waves (Type 2C). Type 3 hair ranges from loose yet defined curls (Type 3A) to tight, springy curls with far more body and volume (Type 3C).

Type 4 hair includes patterns ranging from tight coils (Type 4A) to densely packed, kinky coils (Type 4C).

Can you change your curl pattern?

Although you can use heat tools, chemical treatments and braiding to temporarily change the shape of your curls, it’s not possible to change your natural curl pattern permanently.

This is because your hair’s coil pattern is determined by your genetic makeup and the structure of your hair follicles. While you can temporarily alter the appearance of your curls, these changes are not permanent and your hair will eventually revert back to its natural curl pattern.

If you’re trying to change your curl pattern because you’re unhappy with it or don’t think it suits you, you can encourage your curls to sit differently with different styling techniques.