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August 31, 2022 4 min read

Knowing your curl type is the first step in understanding how to take care of your hair. The most common types are wavy, curly, and coily. 

Hair curl is a beautiful thing and something that humans from all over the world experience. There’s even an entire industry built around the curl, helping people:

  • make the most of their curls
  • make their hair more curly
  • with curls to get rid of them

At ANTIDOTE, we vote for everyone to make the most of whatever curl they have

To recognize your curly hair type, first take a close look at your own curl pattern. At its most basic:

  • Wavy hair has the loosest curls of all and tends to bend in an ‘S’ shape. 
  • Curly hair has tighter curls than wavy, and these are normally corkscrew shaped. 
  • Coily hair, has the tightest curl pattern of them all and can either be small corkscrews or in ‘z’ patterns

Professional stylists use a system to characterize hair. Type 1 is for straight, Type 2 for wavy, Type 3 for curly, and Type 4 for coily.

They then elaborate on each type with an A, B, C to describe the size of the curve. A is for wide curve, B for medium curve, and C is for the tightest curve.

What makes hair curl?

Dr. Yella Hewings-Martin of Medical News Today explains, “The hair follicle is a complex, multi-cellular compartment, buried deep inside your skin. Straight hair follicles produce straight hair fibers, while curly hair grows from curved follicles.”

“In straight hair, all the cells in the follicle act in a coordinated fashion, leading to even hair growth from the straight follicle. These hairs are round.”

“In curly hair, the way that the cells divide and produce certain proteins is asymmetrical and correlates with the bends in the curved follicle. This results in a hair fiber that has an elliptical shape, which allows it to curl.”

To understand more we reviewed the work of Elsabe Cloete from the Hair and Skin Research Lab, Division of Dermatology, Department of Medicine, Groote Schuur Hospital and University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa.

Elsabe explains, “Each hair fibre comprises two distinct portions: namely, the growing and the keratinized portions. Below the scalp, the growing portion is generated in the follicle; above the scalp, the keratinized portion exists as a dead biological structure. The terms more commonly used for the keratinized part are ‘hair shaft’, ‘hair fibre’ or simply ‘fibre’.”

Humans developed curly hair for its ability to both protect the scalp from the sun and provide a cooling effect. Curly hair does this by creating a naturally insulating air layer between the scalp and the hair shaft. In contrast, fine hair lays close to the scalp.

Focus on curl type, not ethnicity, to avoid confusion

By emphasizing curl type, you’ll be in a better place for finding the hair routine that works for you. This will also avoid confusion that comes from assumptions that people make about ethnicity and hair type. 

Elsabe explains, “The terms ‘European hair’ and ‘Caucasian hair’ are often used interchangeably and are taken to denote ‘wavy’ to ‘straight’ hair; ‘East Asian’ hair is taken to mean ‘pin-straight’ hair; and ‘African’ or ‘ethnic’ hair is taken to signify ‘curly’ or ‘very curly’ hair. A variation of ‘African hair’ is ‘Afro hair’ and afro-textured hair, to signify ‘very curly’ hair. These assumptions are essentially flawed since many individuals from both of the first two groups have curly hair.”

Data shows that the majority of humans, regardless of ethnic background, have wavy to curly hair. For example:

  • While 41% of “Europeans” have straight hair, nearly 60% have wavy to curly hair
  • While 47% of “Asians” have straight hair, 53% have wavy to curly hair
  • African hair ranges widely from wavy to all types of curly

When you describe your curl, avoid ethnic terms so that you don’t get the wrong routine. Instead, use the numerical ratings system that professionals use.

Do your curls frustrate you?

You are not alone! While waves and curls are so beautiful, they do come with their own challenges. The two challenges we hear the most often:

Tracking the wave. The best hair days are when the hair wave starts in the right place and arches up and over the scalp. These will always be followed by days when the wave flows in the “wrong” direction. This may require changing your style or part until your back to where you want your wave to begin.

Curl variety. When you have wavy to curly hair, keep in mind that your scalp can have a variety of follicles. That is, you might have a looser curl on top than on the sides, and maybe a third curl pattern in the back. And for those wearing a beard, keep in mind that your beard might have an even different curl pattern!

Looking for advice on how to care for your curl?  Check out “Steps in building a hair care routine” blog post here.  You can also check out products best suited for different hair types here.  Always talk to your professional stylist for advice for your particular curl pattern.

If you want to explore more research about “The what, why and how of curly hair” – Check out the rest of Elsabe Cloete and team’s work here. 

Got a fun curly hair story? We’d love to hear from you

- Abigail + David


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