At the beginning of every woman’s natural journey, the hair type conversation comes up. Hair typing, which is a simply a classification system for hair includes type 1, 2, 3A, 3B, 4A, 4B, and 4C hair types. Natural hair generally falls into one of two categories: Type 3 or Type 4 natural hair. Type 3 natural hair is characterized by it’s loose, wavy, curl pattern, while Type 4 is characterized by its kinky, coily curl pattern. Both are beautiful and are a diverse representation of the diversity of the natural hair spectrum.
Understanding your hair type is a great starting point for your natural hair journey. It’s a foundation that can help you understand what kind of products you will need, what concerns you may encounter, and what your hair maintenance may look like. Your hair type will even determine what natural hair styles you’ll be able to master and which ones your curls aren’t able to acheive. Having a clear understanding of exactly what your hair type is can save you a lot of time and money as you start your natural hair journey.
With that being said, remember that curl typing is simply a system that natural haired women, stylists, and product creators use to define the different types of natural hair. Your curl type is by no means a comprehensive guide to understanding everything there is to know about your natural hair. Think about curl type like you would skin tone. Simply knowing a person is brown skin or dark skin doesn’t really help much when it comes to picking out foundation. It gives you a general idea but there’s much more to keep in mind. This is similar to curl type, there are many other factors that need to be examined to really get a good grasp on what your hair needs to flourish and thrive, but curl type is sort of a universal starting point within the natural hair community.
Understanding Curl Types 3 and 4 Natural Hair
On the surface, it seems like it would be pretty easy to distinguish between the two natural hair types, but sometimes, the lines are blurred. For kinky haired women with a looser curl pattern, are you a 4A or a 3B? And what if have you tight curly that is really shiny? Is that still considered type 4? It’s these kinds of curls that can make things a bit complicated when it comes to hair typing. To help provide some clarity, we’ve detailed the key characteristics and differences between these two natural hair curl types.
Type 3 Natural Hair
The most common natural hair type that you’ll find in mainstream and mass media is type 3. These soft, defined, curls have been at the forefront of the natural hair movement but are no means representative of the natural hair community at large. Here’s your guide to type 3 natural hair.
The curl pattern: Type 3 natural hair is known for its super defined S-shaped or C-shaped curls. The curls are known for their uniformity with the majority having the same look, diameter, and definition. One of the key characteristics of type 3 natural hair is that it tends to fall down instead of up and out, so while you may find this curl type getting some nice volume, it’s impossible to achieve the full kinky afro textured hair that type 4 naturals have.
Type 3A: The first curl pattern in the type 3 category is type 3A natural hair. This hair type is home to big s-shaped curls. They are loose, long, and heavy and naturally pull downward. This is why type 3A curls tends to look the longest of the hair types because they have so much weight. While type 3A curls are heavy, they aren’t tight at all. In fact, some people in this category my have curls that are more wavy than curly. A key characteristic of type 3A hair is it’s shiny appearance which is related to the low porosity found amongst this hair type.
Type 3B: If you’ve seen natural hair in mainstream spaces, chances are it was this curl type. Type 3B natural hair consists of the curly c-shaped curls that take on a corkscrew type curl pattern. These ringlets are usually very dense providing type 3 naturals with nice volume and lift.
Type 4 Natural Hair
Most African-American women have a curl pattern that falls inside the the Type 4 hair category. Even those with looser curls generally have a type 4A or 4B rather than type 3. Type 4 hair is much more fragile than type 3 because the strands tend to be thinner and more coarse. And because of this, moisture is the number one concern for type 4 natural hair. Here’s our guide to Type 4 natural hair.
The curl pattern: Type 4 natural hair is known for its diverse curls and textures that live together on one head. Just one person with type 4 hair can have a variety of different curl shapes and patterns. Afro textured hair dominates this hair type with one key difference between the types. Where type 4A and B have a silkier afro texture, type 4C has a coarser texture. But one thing every hair type within the Type 4 category has to deal with is shrinkage. Unlike type 3 hair which has less shrinkage and falls downward. The deeper into type 4 hair the more extreme the shrinkage tends to be.
Type 4A: This hair type is home loose, coily curls. The pattern and definition between them will vary with some being more wavy than coily, and others being more curly than wavy. Type 4A hair is usually the shiniest of the type 4 family because this hair type tends to lean towards low porosity. It also is the heaviest type 4 hair so it will fall a bit more than 4B and 4C which prohibits its ability to grow an afro.
Type 4B: This hair type falls right in the middle of the type 4 category. Like type 4A, this hair type is home to various types of curl definition, with a mixture of tighter and looser curls making up this curl pattern. The general curl pattern of this hair type are z-shaped curls. They are much tighter that 4A but still looser than 4C hair overall. Because of this, shrinkage is a bit more intense and curls grow out to the side. Type 4B hair is generally low to medium porosity.
Type 4C: This hair type is the most fragile hair type of them all. Commonly compared to type 4B because of its dense tight curls, 4B hair is much more tight, fine, and thin. This hair type can be low, medium, or high porosity and like the other hair types in this category, it’s not uncommon to have a few different curl patterns on your head. This hair type is characterized by its afro texture and lack of definition. When left in its natural state, type 4C hair is prone to serious shrinkage and becomes an afro.
Remember, your curl type is just your starting point to understanding your natural hair. But with this knowledge, you should be able to begin to find products, styles, and regimens that will work for your unique natural hair.