The Ten Types of Hair: Part Three, Curly

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 continuing with type 3, curly 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.

Curly Hair

Type 3 curly hair is defined by two different components:

First of all, the hair must naturally curl itself without the aid of a curling iron, blowdryer, curlers, or other similar tools. This is what distinguishes it from type 2 wavy hair: type 2 essentially squiggles back and forth, while type 3 curly hair forms full, perfect circles when it’s long enough to do so, usually around ear length.

Secondly, the curls that naturally form cannot coil. We’ll talk more about this in part four, when we go over type four coily hair, but, to simplify, here’s a quick allegory. Imagine a slinky toy; you can either spread it wide in your hands horizontally, or drop one side down vertically so it rests on the floor. The horizontal slinky mimics type three curly hair and the vertical slinky mimics type four coily hair.

Those with curly hair also tend to have a lot of volume and very thick hair. How thick? For those of you who’ve seen the Princess Diaries movie, remember that scene when the hairdresser’s brush snapped when he was trying to brush Mia’s hair? Pretty accurate. 

Because of this, I know a lot of people with type 3 that simply don’t brush their hair, but, instead, wet it and comb through before blow drying. The circular blow dryer attachment is made specifically for this purpose. Those who do brush their hair dry will often use a detangling product to ease it a bit.

But, what are the subtypes? Well… follow me.

Type 3A: Soft and Smooth

Type 3A hair tends to have a softer and smoother texture, hence the name. These curls have the largest diameter, about as wide as two fingers put together. Those with this hair type are usually the ones that brush their hair when it’s dry. You can usually forgo most hair products for frizz, but it’s highly recommended that you have a detangler on hand for those days that your hair refuses to cooperate. Lighter holding products such as hair clay will better serve you than thick gels or hairspray, because, since the curls are so large, they’re more fragile than other type three’s, so such products can easily weigh down your bounce.

Type 3B: Eggshell

Strange title, I know, but it works for two reasons. First, the curls are smaller than type 3A, usually about the diameter of–you guessed it–an egg. It can also vary in diameter–some will have wider curls (like the middle of an egg) and some will have tighter ones (like the edge of the egg).

And the second reason? If you want to style your hair, you’d better walk on eggshells. This type of hair can be incredibly difficult to work with, because it’s not loose enough to lend itself to easy changes, but just loose enough that practically any change will cause it to frizz. Brush it too hard or too often? Frizz. Try to blow dry it straight? Nope. Straightening iron? Laughable. You’ve got to experiment and work with type 3B to see what makes it happy and what doesn’t, or you’ll be in a world of hurt.

But, on the plus side, it’s volume lends itself to a lot of different updo’s, and, unlike type 3C, the locks tend not to tangle as much, so it’s fairly easy to separate in order to make a braid, half-pony, and others. And, unlike type 3A, you don’t have to limit your choices in holding products, because the curls are strong enough to withstand some weight.

Type 3C: The Stubborn Curl

If type 3B is difficult to change, type 3C is virtually impossible. These curls are so tight that they will naturally tangle, the same way wires tangle in your office drawer if left alone for more than ten seconds. While its volume is the same as 3B, this mesh of locs creates the illusion of less volume. It also makes this hair type slower to grow long.

Without a chemical treatment, don’t bother to brush, straighten, or anything similar. It won’t work. The curls are too stubborn, and you’ll get frustrated trying to separate each layer to run under the iron. Leave-in conditioner and smoothing agents are highly recommended for this hair if you want to experiment a bit, but it may not always work.

Stay tuned for more!

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