The Ultimate Guide To Curly Hair: From Curl Types to Care Tips

Juicy, poppin’ curls that align just right...who doesn’t want more of THAT? But having a good curly hair day isn’t easy. 

Any girl with any type of curl knows one thing for sure: curls are unpredictable, and have a will of their own.

The natural shape and structure of all curls, from loose spirals to tight ringlets to dense coils, makes them vulnerable to a slew of common curly hair problems (dehydration, frizz, tangling, breakage and limpness). Which makes styling super challenging! 

The truth is, your personal journey to curl styling perfection starts by solving your unique curly hair problems.

If your goal is healthier natural curls, that means finding the best new wash day routine and
scientifically-advanced styling formulas for your specific curl type and texture.

Our Curl Wow team of experts are here to guide you through the complexities of curly hair care. We know there are zillions of curl products and styling techniques out there, from time-honored traditions to hot TikTok trends.

Some very good... some not so good! We’re here to help you sort through it all and find smarter, safer, simpler solutions to all your curly hair problems.  

We will be covering everything you need to know about curly hair in this blog, but it makes sense to start with the basics!

What makes hair curly? Let’s find out!

what makes hair curly?

Curly hair is determined by genetics. But what makes some strands bend and twist while others grow straight? It all boils down to the anatomy of a curl, which is dependent on two main factors: 

  1. The shape of your follicles
  2. The angle in which your follicles sit in your scalp 

Oval-shaped follicles produce curly hair. And, how the follicles sit in your scalp (at acute angles vs tunneling straight down), impacts how tight your curls will be. The greater the angle, the tighter your curls will be. 

As you can probably imagine (or have experienced yourself!), the combinations between these two factors are endless, resulting in a wide range of curl shapes, from tight coils to loose spirals… or even a mix of a few on one head!

Curly vs straight - what’s the difference?

straight vs curly hair strand

Just as curly
hair is determined by its follicle and strand makeup, so too is straight hair. Unlike curly hair, straight hair grows out of a round follicle that tunnels straight down into the scalp.

Straight hair is less likely to struggle with dehydration and dullness than curly hair. This leads to the better, more even distribution of natural scalp oils.

These oils can easily travel down straight hair strands to help lock in and retain critical moisture and lubricate the hair surface. 

This isn’t the case for curly hair. Due to its angled follicle shape, plus the twist and turns of each strand, it’s much more difficult for any natural oils to travel down and help retain critical moisture and lubricate the hair surface.

This not only leaves curly hair more dehydrated than straight hair, but also more prone to breakage and frizz.

Why is my hair curly underneath but straight on top

There are a few reasons why your hair may be curly underneath but straight on top. One simple explanation is genetics. Hair texture can vary due to genetics, leading to mixed patterns on the same head. 

The top layer is also more exposed to environmental damage and frequent styling, which can straighten curls over time.

Additionally, the weight of your hair can pull down and relax curls, especially on top. Chemical treatments can also alter texture. 

So, a combination of genetics and external factors might result in hair being curly underneath but straight on top.

Wavy vs curly - what’s the difference?

Wavy hair forms loose "S" shaped patterns and sits on the spectrum of curl shapes between straight and curly textures.

In contrast, curly hair exhibits clear, spiral-like curls or ringlets. While wavy hair often has a smoother texture with slight frizz at the ends, curly hair can be more prone to overall frizz. 

The care and products suitable for each type differ due to these textural variations.

Both types, however, offer unique styling opportunities and represent diverse hair beauty.

What are the different types of curly hair?

All the “curl classification” systems out there might have you confused and wondering “what’s my curl type?”  

It’s an inexact science, but knowing where your curls fall on the continuum of curl configurations can help you find the best curly hair products for your curl type.

Basically, curls are commonly classified as “curly hair type 2A” to “curly hair type 4c”, which ranges from gentle, loose waves to tightly coiled hair. No doubt, your curly hair type fits somewhere in this range.  

And BTW, if you’re like most of us, you have several types of curly hair on your head!

curly hair types

  • Type 2A-2C curls: wavy hair with "S" curve ringlets (can be loose or tight cylinders)
  • Type 3A-3C curls: corkscrew spirals + ringlets (can be loose or tight)
  • Type 4A-4C curls: tightly wound ringlets, coiled hair in cylinders

Beyond the C-shape and S-shape pattern and tightness of the coil, there are other key variables that define the best way for you to care for your curls.

The texture of your curly hair strands can be thin, thick or very coarse. The density of your hair (number of strands on your head!) can be sparse or very dense.

And, of course, the condition of your curls can range from hydrated and healthy to dry, frizzy, dehydrated, porous...even brittle and prone to easy breakage. 

What are the most common curly hair problems?

close-up of a hand pulling curly hair outwards

Curly hair has problems that are similar to all hair types, but also has its own unique issues.

And while curl-specific problems can feel like a never-ending list, they’re all rooted in one main concern: lack of moisture and strength.

Yup, what gives curly hair its beautiful bends and twists is also what makes it more susceptible to dryness, breakage, frizz and other concerns.

The twists and turns in curl patterns mean that the natural oil (sebum) from your scalp can’t easily slide down the hair strand to deliver the critical moisturization necessary for bouncy, glossy, frizz-free curls. 

How to care for curly hair: our top tips

If you’re struggling with your natural curls and can’t seem to find the right products or process to hit your style goals, the key is knowing exactly what type of curls you’ve got to work with.

Ultimately, finding your best curly hair washday routine and styling strategy depends on what shape your curls are in...literally!

When you know your unique curl pattern, and the density and current condition of your curls, we can help you find the right curl formulas, care and styling techniques to take your curls to a whole new level.

person wearing a hat, salmon and avocado on a wooden board and comb running through curly hair

Here are some universal curly hair care tips to get you started: 

  1. Limit Wash Frequency: Curly hair tends to be drier than straight hair. Instead of daily washing, wash your hair only 1-2 times a week to maintain its natural oils and moisture. Visit our guide to washing curly hair properly for more information.
  1. Sleep on Satin or Silk: Swap your cotton pillowcase for a satin or silk one. These materials reduce friction, preventing breakage and helping to maintain the shape of your curls overnight. You can also use a satin- or silk-lined bonnet, hair tie or scarf if you prefer.
  1. Gentle Detangling: Always detangle your hair when it's wet, using a detangling wet brush, large tooth comb or your fingers. This approach minimizes breakage and preserves the natural curl pattern.
  1. Protect from Environmental Factors: When out in the sun or wind, consider wearing a hat or scarf to protect your curls from drying out or tangling.
  1. Healthy Diet: Eating a balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals, especially those known for promoting hair health (like biotincan help maintain the strength and vitality of your curls.
  1. Invest in Quality Products: Avoid hard hold gels and hairsprays which can make your curls brittle and hard and lead to breakage.
  1. Reduce Friction: Where possible, try to reduce any friction your curls might encounter as this can rough up the cuticle, leading to increased frizz and dehydration. For example, buy silk-lined hats, and use a microfiber towel instead of a cotton towel.

What products should I use on my curly hair?

curl wow product range

Navigating the world of haircare can be overwhelming, especially when it comes to curly hair with its unique needs and challenges.

The right products can make all the difference, enhancing your curls' natural beauty, reducing frizz, and ensuring they stay hydrated and healthy.

That’s why our Color Wow Lab created Curl Wow. Formulated with our proprietary Naked Technology (Profaxil-18™ Complex), this collection of curly essentials is designed to better deliver essential moisture and hydration to help enhance the beauty of your natural curls. 

Our Chief Chemist, Dr. Joe Cincotta, explains the Naked Technology behind Curl Wow below:

Try our Curl Wow routine for bouncier, glossier, crunch-free curls that that look super healthy, and feel “naked”, like nothing is on your hair!

curl wow snag free

Step 1: Detangle with Snag-Free Pre-Shampoo Detangler

This pre-shampoo moisturizer adds slip to curls for easy shampooing, a deeper clean and less breakage. Contains de-frizzing Pracaxi Oil, lubricating Coconut Oil, and our Profaxil-18™ Complex.

curl wow hooked shampoo

Step 2: Cleanse with Hooked 100% Clean Shampoo with Root-Locking Technology

This super-sudsing, sulfate-free formula leaves no residues behind for truly clean hair and scalp. Plus, its Procapil Complex® helps anchor strands into their follicles for reduced shedding.

curl wow coco-motion conditioner

Step 3: Condition with Coco-Motion Lubricating Conditioner

This weightless formula – with Marula Oil, Coconut Oil + our Profaxil-18™ Complex – delivers deep-down moisture to help bring back bounce, elasticity and fluid motion to dry, dehydrated curls.

curl wow flo-etry curl serum

Step 4: Treat with Flo-etry Vital Natural Serum

This intensely moisturizing serum mimics your natural scalp oils to help distribute essential moisture down the length of each curl (something curly hair struggles to do on its own!). 

Formulated with Jojoba, Pequi, and Coconut Oils, plus our Profaxil-18™ Complex, for silky, glossy, juicy results. Clinically proven to deliver 84% less breakage.

curl wow shook curl spray

Step 5: Style with Shook Mix + Fix Bundling Spray

This 2-in-1 styler and hydrator combines crunch-free styling polymers and powerful moisturizing oils (Jojoba, Rice Bran, Passion Flower, Grape Seed + Profaxil-18 Complex™) for perfectly defined, weightless, glossy, frizz-free curls. Clinically proven to deliver 78% less frizz in high humidity.

Your curly hair FAQs: answered!

Can you train straight hair to be curly?

No, you can’t train straight hair to be curly. You’re either born with it or you aren’t!

While you can't permanently change the natural texture of straight hair to curly (without utilizing chemical means, such as a permanent wave), you can use techniques to temporarily create curls.

Methods like braiding damp hair overnight, using curling irons, or trying heatless curling methods with rods or rags can give straight hair a curly appearance.

However, these results are temporary, and the hair will return to its natural straight texture after washing or over time.

There is, however, such a thing as curl training for people who already have curly hair.

This care routine is meant for anyone whose curls have been damaged by chemical or color processing and have since lost their curl pattern.

While this method does not reverse damage, it can help encourage curl reformation to create a better blend, minimize further damage, and eventually work to grow out and remove the “dead” hair.

Does curly hair grow faster?

No, curly hair does not inherently grow faster than straight hair. Hair growth rate is primarily determined by genetics, health, and other internal factors, rather than hair texture.

However, because curly hair coils and spirals, it may seem like it takes longer to gain length when compared to straight hair, even if both are growing at the same rate.

Additionally, factors like breakage, which curly hair is more prone to due to its structure, can also give the impression of slower growth.

If you think you might be experiencing curly hair thinning, take a look at our guide to possible causes and solutions.

How often should you cut curly hair?

The frequency of trimming curly hair depends on several factors, including hair health, personal style preferences, and hair goals. Here are some general guidelines:

  • Hair Health: If your curly hair has split ends or noticeable breakage, it's a good idea to trim it. Regular trims, every 3-4 months, can help maintain hair health and prevent further damage.
  • Hair Goals: If you're trying to grow your curly hair longer, you might extend the time between trims to 6 months. However, it's still essential to trim occasionally to avoid split ends, which can lead to breakage.
  • Hair Style: Some curly hairstyles might require more frequent trims to maintain their shape, especially if they're shorter or have layers.