Since the inception of the natural hair movement, which has been steadily gaining momentum since the early noughties and accelerated post-pandemic, there’s been increased focus within the industry on understanding the structure and styling requirements of those with curly hair. Historically, curly hair has been straightened or relaxed, but thankfully, we are now seeing a levelling of the playing field with curly/natural textured hair being equally celebrated and sought after by clients. As such, there is a desire from both the consumer and the professional stylist for education on the different curl patterns.
This brings us to the next point. As the curly community emerged so did the popularity of the Andre Walker Curl Typing System, a groundbreaking hair classification system created by the world-renowned hairstylist, which categorises curly hair into types (i.e. 3A, 4C etc) to make it easier for those with curly hair to know the products best suited to them. In recent years some have observed that while the system is invaluable, it does have its limitations due to the fact that most people with curly hair typically have a multitude of textures throughout.
But while it’s not perfect, curl classification still remains a viable way to work with clients when it comes to getting an overall perspective on their hair type, so you can confidently select the best products and implement the most effective styling techniques. The breakdown of curl patterns on the following pages is here to act as your guide.
THANKFULLY, WE ARE NOW SEEING A LEVELLING OF THE PLAYING FIELD WITH CURLY/NATURAL TEXTURED HAIR BEING EQUALLY CELEBRATED AND SOUGHT AFTER BY CLIENTS.
Generally speaking, curl patterns are categorised as follows: type 2 hair is wavy, type 3 is curly, and type 4 is tightly coiled hair. Within those 3 types are further sub-categories - A, B and C - which refer to the width and density of the curl (type A is looser, type B is medium and type C is tighter).
CURL CLASSIFICATION DECODED
Clients with 2A hair will have a slightly tousled texture that’s barely distinguishable to the untrained eye. This hair type tends to be finer in appearance and flat around the root area, so will benefit from products that can create volume and texture such as hair mousse and curl sprays. However, due to the fine nature of this particular hair texture, you’ll need to avoid heavy products that could potentially weigh it down.
Type 2B hair is described as wavy hair and forms the perfect balance between straight and curly hair. This hair type is often straighter at the root and becomes wavier towards the end, with the wave taking on an ‘S’ shaped formation. 2B hair can be prone to dryness so do ensure you apply products like wave sprays to maintain the pattern and minimise frizz.
Like its 2B counterpart, 2C hair is mostly wavy but the point of difference is the waves tend to occur throughout – from the root area down to the ends. Consequently, 2C hair is fuller in appearance, and the waves are defined and thick. 2C hair is also susceptible to dryness and frizz, so incorporating a good cleansing routine with your client will help to keep hair hydrated, shiny and glossy.
Type 3 hair is the category assigned to curly hair. 3A hair consists of a looser curl texture, that takes on the appearance of springy, spiralling curls. It’s one of the most versatile of curl types which varies in terms of density - with some curls appearing fuller and some finer.
Hair that features bouncy, even formed ringlets is categorised as 3B hair. As mentioned previously, curly hair often consists of a number of textures, and this is often quite commonplace with 3B hair that can feature both tight and looser corkscrew curls. One of the main characteristics of 3B hair is its volume, but this often makes it vulnerable to dryness, so clients should be advised to have regular conditioning treatments to smooth the cuticle.
Of all the type 3 curl types, 3C hair is tighter in structure, and therefore looks more voluminous and densely packed, although in terms of texture, hair fibres will vary from fine to medium, so its thicker appearance can be deceptive.
CURL CLASSIFICATION DECODED (CONTINUED)
Type 4A hair consists of tighter, smaller curls, often referred to as kinky and coily. It also creates an ‘S’ shaped curl when extended, and tends to shrink when wet, so is one of the most versatile of the curl types. Due to its dynamic, stretchy composition, 4A hair can be fragile and prone to breakage so should be handled with lots of TLC. Encourage your 4A clients to have regular trims, moisturising treatments and minimise the use of heat.
With its distinct zig zag pattern, fullness, and springy nature, 4B texture is one of the most nuanced of the curl types. Those with 4B hair tend to have a combination of the looser ‘Z’ shaped coils with that of a kinkier texture known as 4C hair, which is next on the list. 4B hair will also greatly benefit from regular deep conditioning treatments.
4C hair is the tightest of the type 4s and is often what we associate with Afro hair. It’s composed of a zig zag pattern that is densely compacted, and due to its tight, wiry strands it can shrink up to 75% of its actual length particularly when its wet. 4C hair often grows upwards and outwards and unlike other curl types, doesn’t have a visible curl pattern. Despite its thick appearance, 4C strands are extremely fragile so do ensure you use the right styling tools when brushing and combing to prevent the hair from snapping.
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