Knowing your curl type is (almost) as much of a revelation as finally finding out your true bra size. Don't know if you're a 3A or a 4C? Real women who've found their curl fit share what's worked for them
According to Google, searches for curly hair are officially up which explains why an influx of celebs have been embracing their natural texture on Instagram - we're looking at you Ariana Grande and Vanessa Hudgens. Some of us, however, have been rocking our natural curls since day one, so we are all too familiar with the maintenance issues that come with having spirals, coils, waves and ringlets - or a mixture of all of the above.
Curly hair brings with it a lot of product trial and error as you try to navigate the dryness, the breakage and the shrinkage. But it also brings a whole lot of personality. Finding out your curl type can really help you find the right way to care for your hair (in fact, we'd venture to say that figuring out your curl type is as much of a revelation as knowing your true bra size) and now there are whole online communities dedicated to helping you do that.
Google 'curl type' and it will bring up fascinating curl charts and cult communities of women who have bonded over their curl type. Chief among them is corkscrew-curled hairstylist Lorraine Massey, author of Curly Girl: The Handbook. Her Curly Girl Method is a philosophy that trades damaging habits such as harsh shampooing, heat styling and aggressive towel drying for a healthy curl regime using conditioner to wash ( co-washing ), gel to set curls air and diffuser to dry, if you're not air-drying naturally. She emphasises the importance of finding a routine that works for you and sticking to it.
Curly isn't just one big category. There are many with their own characteristics - you'll find all sorts of names form Boticelli to corkscrew, the hybrid corkicelli, fractal, zig zag... the list goes on. Hair is also known by numbers 1 to 4 (1 being totally straight, 2 being wavy) with subcategories A to C like cup sizes. Curly hair falls under types 3 and 4.
"Curl types are a good blueprint for figuring out your routine," says award-winning hairstylist and curly hair specialist Charlotte Mensah. "Curl patterns describe the shape of your curls. I believe it’s best to examine your curls whilst your hair is wet as the texture is more evident and most people have several textures in their hair. Some people like to follow the curl type rules as it’s easier to know how to enhance their texture with the correct products."
Mensah agrees with us that nailing the right products takes a willingness to experiment. "It really depends on how your hair responds to individual products. Moisturising oils such as manketti, argan, coconut and other natural oils are great to seal in moisture and protect the hair," says Charlotte. For the most part, curly hair is dry, she points out. "You should avoid harsh sulfates that completely dissolve the oils in your scalp and leave your hair and scalp dry and itchy. Harsh alcohol lacks moisture, too, so there’s a good chance they will leave your hair dry and frizzy."
MORE GLOSS: Best sulphate-free shampoos
How would she describe the different curl types?
* "Type 3A has defined curls with a thick texture and a lot of shine, which can be prone to frizz.
*" Type 3B has tighter curls and a combination of textures.
* "Type 3C has very tight curls or kinks and it generally easy to style.
* "Type 4A has a defined curl pattern almost like an S shape it retains moisture fairly well but as with most curly hair types can still be prone to dryness (straight hair becomes greasy faster than curly hair because oil from your scalp travels down the hair shaft more quickly).
* "Type 4B hair has a less defined pattern of curls and looks more like a Z as the hair bends at a sharp angle.
* "Type 4C is tightly coiled in its raw state (no product and freshly washed) it does not have a defined curl pattern and coils have to be defined by either twisting or braiding."
Now you’re an expert on curl types, it’s time to hear from some curly girls themselves. We caught up with six curly girls to find out how they style, treat and rock their locks.
Curl type: 3A. Victoria Woodhall, Editorial Director Get The Gloss
“I decided to go with my natural curls curly a year ago after years of thinning and breakage (due to age, hormones, stress and straightening) had turned my once fulsome fringe into sorry wisps which would break at the slightest breeze. I stopped heat-styling it and discovered that I had quite naturally ringletty hair which was prone to frizz and dryness. After months of trying out many different products and styling regimes, I found what works to keep my curls looking healthy and hydrated and that halo of frizz away from my crown
“First, I got a decent cut at Michael Van Clarke in Marylebone. Michael pioneered the diamond dry cut which cuts according to how your hair falls naturally, which is vital if you have curls that are slightly different all over. The result is a more natural-looking finish. A curly bob can so easily end up looking triangular if it’s cut wet.
"Switching to silicone-free haircare and this has made the biggest difference to the condition of my curls, and that was also down to Michael, who has never used silicones in his 30+ year career. Silicones simply mask the condition of your hair by coating them in a shiny seal (remember you put silicone sealant around the bath!) which can clog up the scalp too. He tells me that it also dries out the hair - something you can ill afford when you are curly."
What works for me:
"I sleep in Michael Van Clarke Pre-Shampoo Protein Treatment Lifesaver, £29 for 500ml (it doesn't transfer to the pillow amazingly) and use his 3 More Inches shampoo, £18 for 250ml and 3 More Inches conditioner, £18 for 250ml . They are super light and hydrating. I never use oils which just end up looking greasy.
"I then apply Briogeo Curl Charisma Leave-In Defining Creme, £18.50 for 177ml , and spritz over with Kevin Murphy's Killer Waves, £31 for 150ml , for a bit of hold and definition, which is perfect for softer curls. I then curl sections of hair with my fingers to create defined curls. To finish, I dry with the Dyson Supersonic hairdryer, £299.99 , with the diffuser on the lowest power setting, which dries curls quickly without frizz.
"I also use my Hayou Beauty Restorer comb, £38 , for root volume (I don't use dry shampoo which just means more washing in the long run). I love Briogeo Scalp Revival Scrub, £36 for 236ml , for co-washing and the MVP 3 More Inches Lifesaver UV, £19.50 for 500ml for dry ends. If I could recommend one product it would be the Michael Van Clarke Pre-Shampoo Protein Treatment Lifesaver. It makes your hair baby soft and frizz-free.
Curl Type: 3B - Rachel Bishop, managing director
"My curly journey began in the 1970s when as a child (above) I had to endure having a brown halo of frizz that my dear mum could do nothing with. In those days there were no products to help curls so the solution was to brush the curls out and pop a hair clip into the parting. Thankfully those days are over and now curly girls (and boys) have the Curly Girl Method to help.
"I have fine hair but LOTS of it so finding the right products for my curls was the key to producing how my hair looks now. Too much product and my curls drop, not enough and it looks frizzy."
What works for me:
"I have three must-have products. First I use the non-foam Boucleme Curl Cleanser, £15 for 300ml , on the scalp and roots. This co-wash doesn't have any nasty foaming agents to is you are used to foam, keep going. Once I cleanse, I then add in the Boucleme Curl Conditioner, £17 for 300ml focusing on the ends and grab my Tangle Teezer, £12 , to get rid of any knots or trapped strands out of my curls. Then I grab my Aquis Lisse Luxe Hair Towel, £30 , and soak off the excess water.
Curl Type: 3C - Ava Welsing-Kitcher, beauty writer
"My hair’s been through it all; non-stop heat styling, multiple dodgy dye jobs (I used Veet bleach for highlights for years, please don't judge me). I've longed for longer, looser locks. Now, as I’ve cut back on straightening from weekly to annually, it’s the curliest and happiest it’s ever been despite being bleached."
What works for me:
"Once a week for the bounciest strongest curls, I use Olaplex No 3 Hair Perfector, £26 for 100ml , and the Olaplex No 4 Bond Maintenance Shampoo, £26 for 250ml , as well as the No 5 Bond Maintenance Conditioner, £26 for 250ml.
"I wash every three days with Briogeo Be Gentle Be Kind Quinoa and Avocado co-wash, £27 for 437ml and Dizziak’s Deep Conditioner, £22 for 200ml .
"While I'm still in the shower, I mix Boucleme's cream, £19, and gel, £15, in my hands and apply to soaking wet hair.
"Then I use an Aquis Hair Towel, £30 , before air drying. I use a pick when fully dry for volume, and separate all my curls for major lion mane volume - my hair is naturally quite fine and needs all the help it can get.
"I'll then sleep with a Silke Hair Wrap, £50 , and apply a tiny bit of Briogeo Farewell Frizz Rosehip, Argan and Coconut Oil, £28 for 30ml , every morning, sometimes adding IGK's purple Mixed Feelings Cooling Blonde Toning Drops, £25 for 30ml , when the highlights are looking a little brassy."
Curl Type: 4A - Jessica Morgan, writer
"I've always had a love-hate relationship with my hair. When I was younger, I was bullied for having curly hair and it has taken me 15 years to love my curly afro hair again . My hair has been through hell and back, though. I used to straighten, dye, curl, perm, bleach - you name it, I did it. And finally, I've begun to embrace my frizz, my curls, my shrinkage and have turned to the Curly Girl Method to revive some life into my curls. I don't straighten it as much and I always use a diffuser on a cool setting. My curls have never been healthier."
What works for me
"I only wash my hair every fortnight, so when I do I'll use Boucleme's Hydrating Curl Cleanser , £15, followed by Dizziak Deep Conditioner, £22 . If my hair feels a little dry or brittle, I will use John Frieda's Frizz Ease Dream Curls Deep Conditioner, £6.99 for 150ml and leave it on for up to 30 minutes.
"To style, and depending on how I want my curls to look, I will use Boucleme's Leave-In Cream, £19 for 300ml , for bouncy curls, Aveda Be Curly Curl Enhancer, £23 for 200ml , or Morrocan Oil Curl Defining Cream, £25.45 for 250ml .
"I will then air dry, or if I'm running late (which is most days) I will diffuse using my Dyson Supersonic hairdryer, £299.99 , on a cool setting. If I'm feeling super lazy, I'll run some Sisley Precious Hair Care Oil, £75 for 100ml through my ends and leave to air dry.
Curl Type: 4B - Porsche Stewart, executive assistant
"My earliest hair memories began with me sitting, or shall I say wiggling on the floor in between my mum's legs whilst simultaneously being told to sit still, so my roots could get blow-dried and my shrinkage would revert! Only to be followed with all the trusted Jamaican Black Castor Oil and Coconut Oil dynamic duo being slapped up and down my scalp.
"After years of constant tender headedness and dreading 'wash day', I soon realised that the whole ordeal was inevitable and had to find the right products to help me achieve my bouncy curly 'fro I now adore! It became my mission to solely use products that specifically catered to this."
What works for me:
"For that dreaded wash day, I use Shea Moisture Black Castor Oil Shampoo, £12.99 for 506ml as it removes build-up and it helps to reduce breakage as well as shedding.
"Then I condition my hair using Shea Moisture Raw Shea Conditioner, £10.99 for 379ml , because it deeply moisturises and revitalises my hair. If I really want to give my scalp and hair a treat, I'll leave it for 15 minutes.
"For styling, it's a toss-up between Cantu Daily Oil Moisturiser, £6.99 for 384ml , Cantu Shea Butter Leave-In Conditioning Repair Cream, £ 6.99 for 453ml , TRESemme Air Dry Curl Cream, £5.49 for 200ml , and Pantene's Gold Series Leave-In Detangling Milk, £7.99 for 225ml . Since stumbling on these products, I've never looked back!"
Curl type: 4C - Sharmmaine Furamera, digital marketing executive
"After taking a leap of faith and doing the ‘Big Chop’ in November 2016, I soon realised just how much love and care needed to go into my hair. To be honest, I was very very clueless, and it took me a while to get into the groove of taking care of my curls but thanks to YouTube and a few friends' help I managed to create my own routine.
"My absolute favourite product is the Cantu leave-in conditioner , £6.99. I mix that and water in a spray bottle and it works like magic. My hair goes from being dry and brittle to being well moisturised and brings out my curls a bit more."
What works for me:
For wash day aka doomsday, I use Cantu Shea Butter Cleansing Cream Shampoo, £6.99 for 400ml , Cantu Shea Butter Leave-In Conditioning Repair Cream, £ 6.99 for 453g , and Kuza Jamaican Black Castor Oil, £14.49 for 473ml . I can't say I enjoy wash day but it's very necessary and these products have made my hair grow like crazy in just three years.
Do you have curl insights to share? Let us know in the comments below. And by the way, this video by The Curly Girl Method is full of great tips.