The Ten Types of Hair: Part Four, Coily

Genetics: nature’s lottery.

It feels that way, doesn’t it? So much of our life-- our looks, our health, our minds--is determined, in part, from the genes we were born with. Now, I’m not here to get into the “nature vs. nurture vs. culture” debate, but there’s no doubt that how we look in the mirror can determine a lot, both in the way people regard us, and how we regard ourselves. Yes, “don’t judge a book by its cover” is a nice saying--and, ultimately, great advice--but it’s also quite literally impossible. Within a tenth of a second of seeing something, the human brain has already made instinctive assumptions about it. To quote a friend of mine, “don’t judge a book by its cover is for your second thought, not your first. The first is what was drilled into you. The second is who you really are.”

Okay, so, where am I going with this? This is a beauty article, not freshmen philosophy.

Your “look” makes an impression on others and on yourself. Someone dressed in a typical “lady lawyer” suit pushes a different vibe than a Victorian-style nightgown, club dress, or sweatshirt and sweatpants. But, as easily as you can throw on makeup and change your clothes, hair is a little harder. Why? Your genes dictate what your natural hair will look like, and thus how easy it is to get certain looks. Simply put, hair isn’t something you have that much control over.

So, this new series is a handy-dandy guide that will go through the ten main natural textures of hair--four types, most with 3 subcategories--as determined by geneticists, and go through tips on how to manage it so you can sculpt the image you want to project. This week we’re finishing this series off with type 4, coily hair.

Diagram below by Ruth Basagoitia via Most of the information comes from a dissertation from the Journal of Medicine that I’ll link at the end.

Coily Hair: Attributes

Type 4 coily hair are naturally-grown pin-up curls; they’re the type of curls you get when using hair rollers or a curling iron. This is a special type of curly hair, where the curls are horizontal and usually wide enough to stick your finger through the middle. Using the slinky metaphor from part 3, coily hair curls resemble a slinky you hold vertically up in the air so it drops down to the floor. The vertical vs. horizontal curl is the main attribute that separates type 3 from type 4.

Coily hair also usually bunches together to create thicker locs than other hair, which is why most with coily hair have afro-textured/kinky hair. Unlike the thick, knotted type 3, the strands of hair will clump into sections, and those larger sections will rarely tangle together. In fact, each section of hair will be so separated that one can differentiate between each loc at a glance; you won’t even have to pick it up. This type of hair likes to fall forward too, which means that, at any given time, there’s a pretty good chance the frontmost locs will fall forward and rest on your shoulder.

Type 4 hair is also quite bouncy because each spiral of the horizontal curls are very elastic. Think of a spring you may see in machinery–the combined force of gravity will pull the curl down a little each time you take a step, but then the curl will pop back up to its natural form until you take your next step. The very tight curls of coily hair also make your locs more sensitive to gravity, which is why coily hair bounces and curly hair does not.

Coily Hair: Maintenance

It’s recommended that those with coily hair only brush when it’s wet. Not because it’s too thick (like curly hair), but because the curls are sensitive enough that brushing may reduce them to a frizzy mess. But, because they clump together, you’re not going to have enough knots anyway to justify it. It’s better to use a wide-tooth comb or your fingers to fix and style, or just wet the hair and brush it then. Air drying is preferable to blow drying for the same reason, plus, you won’t have to worry about noticeable frizz, as the tight curls hide that too. If you must blow dry, use a thin round brush and the thin wide attachment, and hold the brush vertically to twist your hair into its natural spiral.

Moisturizing hair products like leave-in conditioner are a must for coily hair for two reasons: first, it’s very fine, which makes it more brittle and easy to burn (another reason to stay away from blow dryers), and, second, the dense locs make it difficult for your natural oil secretions from the scalp will make it all the way down. In addition, spray products like hairspray and mists are preferable to those that must be manually spread through the hair: gel, clay, putty, and oils. Why? Because such sprays will spread better without using a fine-tooth comb, and it’s much easier to target each side of the coils separately, which is a must to combat hair density. Plus, sprays won’t flake if you don’t wash or comb it out at the end of the day, which is good, because that means you won’t have to wet or wash every time you put something in the hair.

Now, let’s get to the subtypes, but those sections will be rather short and mainly focus on the characteristics. There’s not much difference in terms of maintenance because each subtype is very similar to the last. The only real separation comes from how wide vs. tight the curls are, and the angle the hair naturally grows in (usually due to density). So, look at the next sections are a “fun fact” list over advice.

Type 3A: Wire Locs

This subtype is defined by smaller, thinner curls than the other two. They will resemble the small wires found wrapped around a whole host of electronic devices, hence the name. They can grow straight down or at a 45-degree angle depending on how thick your hair naturally is.

Type 3B: Z-Shape Coils

These coils are more of an angled shape, similar to a Z. They will usually grow vertically, rather than angled. These locs are also wider than the other types.

Type 3C: Tight Spirals

These very tight spirals will be so compact that, from afar, they could be mistaken for locs of straight hair. Because of their tight coils, this hair type is prone to shrinkage, which makes it harder for it to grow very long.

Okay! We’ve gone through all the types! Next time I’ll end this series with a summary of all four posts, and advice on hairstyles (as I did in part 1, straight hair).

Come Through, Growth!

Source:, the Science of Medicine’s Common Variants in the Trichohyalin Gene Are Associated with Straight Hair in Europeans, and various bits of advice from local New York hairdressers. 

By: Melody Rose