More and more people with curly hair are stepping away from the flat irons and relaxing treatments and opting for more natural hairstyles and braided hairstyles. However, for a lot of people, the process of transition requires a lot of trial and error, and understanding what it is your hair needs can take time and practice.
The first thing you need to do while deciding on a new haircare regime is determine your hair type; this is especially important for curly-haired people, as curly hair requires quite different products and treatments than straight hair.
When talking about curly hair, you’ll usually see a hair classification system that goes from 2-4 and letters A, B, and C. The combination of numbers and letters determines your hair type; the number refers to the strength of your curl, from wavy to coily, and the letter refers to its diameter. It sounds straightforward, but it’s still important to get it right – a lot of hair doesn’t fit neatly into one or other of the categories and many women follow the curly girl method.
What causes curly hair?
Before we get into hair types in detail, let’s take a moment to talk about curly hair in general. Why is it that some people have curly hair, while others – often in the same family- have hair that is poker-straight?
Our hair is mostly made up of a protein called keratin, which is made in the hair follicle (the part of your hair that lives under the surface of your scalp). This protein forms the hair shaft, which contains bonds known as disulphide bonds. The more bonds your hair has, the curlier your hair will be – fewer bonds mean straighter hair. The shape of the follicle has an impact, too – people with symmetrical follicles tend to have straight hair, and people with asymmetrical follicles have curly hair.
Hair Typing System
The curl classification system we’re using here (and the most popular) was created by Oprah’s hairstylist Andre Walker. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s a great place to start.
Type 1 hair is straight – we include it here just so we have everything covered. Straight hair is significantly more robust than curly hair and is less susceptible to breakage and damage. This is because the sebum, natural oil produced by the scalp, can more easily travel to the end of the hair shaft. This also means that straight hair reflects the most sheen and appears shinier – this doesn’t mean it’s healthier. It is difficult to curl straight hair, but not impossible with the help of heat or chemicals. It is not possible to curl it permanently – the hair will always grow straight.
Type 2 hair is wavy – somewhere between truly straight and truly curly. Looser waves, Type A, will be closer to straight hair than Type C, tighter waves. Type A waves will also reflect more sheen and be oilier than Type C waves, and be easier to straighten or style.
Wavy hair is generally prone to frizz, so wavy-haired people should avoid touching their hair too much as this will make it worse. Curl definition creams, applied with a light hand as this hair type is still reasonably oily, might help.
Type 3 hair is curly – you can see the difference between curly hair and wavy hair by taking a strand and pulling it slightly taut. A Type 3 strand will have a distinctive ‘S’ shape. Type 3 hair usually has tons of natural volume but is significantly more prone to breakage than straighter hair as the strong curl pattern makes it hard for moisture to travel from the scalp to the ends. Curly hair is also must more susceptible to damage from the weather – humidity is a one-way ticket to serious frizz. There are products that can help, but curly hair cannot be washed or styled the same way straight hair can. It needs specialist care.
Looking after curly hair is a delicate balance; too little product and you’ll likely get frizz, too much, and your curls will look limp and weighed down. Many curly-haired people now use something called the ‘curly girl method,’ which involves washing hair with only conditioner (known as co-washing) and following that with a leave-in conditioner, oil, and cream product of choice.
Type 4 hair is kinky – if you pull it taut, it will have a similar shape to Type 3 hair but slightly more ‘square’ more of a zig-zag than an’S,’ and be much more tightly coiled. Kinky hair is generally extremely dry, as moisture simply can’t travel down the hair shaft, and so is the most prone to breakage of all hair types. Because of this, there is a common misconception that kinky hair doesn’t grow – it does; it just tends to break off at the ends a lot, which can make it look like it is staying the same length. This is known as ‘shrinkage.”
The main thing to do when taking care of kinky hair is to moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. It should be co-washed, then conditioned, then styled using the ‘LCO’ method – leave-in conditioner followed by cream and then oil. The leave-in conditioner adds extra moisture; then the cream defines your curls, and the oil locks everything in to keep moisture from evaporating as your hair dries. There are certain ingredients to look out for, too – natural oils, butters and humectants such as honey (humectants help kinky hair to absorb and retain moisture).
Looking after your hair
Once you have your hair type down, you can start thinking about what products you’d like to use. Set a budget, and think about how much product you’re likely to get through; prioritize if you need to. You can also look at other ways to look after your hair, such as ‘plopping’ with a T-shirt instead of drying with a towel, and how you might make your curls last several days without frizzing or losing definition.