How to Care for Every Type of Curly Hair

Follow these tips for gorgeous hair every day.

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woman combing curly hair
Photo: Getty / iprogressman

Long or short, blonde or brown, hair comes in all different shapes, lengths, and textures, each with its own unique best care practices. But curly hair comes with its own set of specific challenges, including everything from nonstop frizz to varying curl intensities that can change as frequently as the weather. And if you don't know how to care for your curls, you can end up with a different look after every wash. Once you realize what type of curls you have, they become easier to manage; you just need to figure out what techniques and products will give you your most beautiful and glossy curls yet.

There are four types of hair, and the curly types are further broken down into subgroups based on curly size. "To put it simply, Type 1 is straight, Type 2 is wavy, Type 3 is curly, and Type 4 is coily," says celebrity stylist and Ouidad brand ambassador Irniel de Leon. "Within those are sub-classifications such as A, B, or C which are based on the diameter of your wave or curl. A being [a] wider curl pattern, B being medium, and C being coily," she explains. You might be wondering why there are so many subclassifications for curly hair, and the pros say there's a good reason why. "Texture types aren't one size fits all," explains celebrity hairstylist Tippi Shorter. "More important than the texture type is the porosity and strand size. For example, if strands are thin, you want to use a lightweight curl type of product like liquid or light creams. If the strands are thick, you want a thicker cream or gel type of product."

Type 2: Wavy Hair

Type 2 waves are fairly bendable with an "S" shape. They can range from fine to coarse and typically lay close to the head. For these types of curls, it's important to "use a sulfate-free shampoo and only brush in the shower while the hair is wet because this will tame the unruliness of it. Remember to not fuss or play with the hair before it's completely dry because it'll result in unwanted frizz," says George Papanikolas, Matrix celebrity stylist.

Since this type of curl tends to be drier by nature and requires maximum moisture, look for a hydrating system—like Biolage 3Butter Control System Shampoo ($27.32,—conditioner, and mask. "[It] uses shea, cupuacu, and murumuru butter to make the hair more manageable without leaving a heavy residue, especially [if you] apply at the mid-lengths and ends," he explains.

Type 3: Curly Hair

"This curl type tends to be more uniform and can range from buoyant loops to an 'S' shape curl pattern," says de Leon. "It has a coiling shape from the roots to the very ends (think ringlets) and is prone to dehydration so extra care and hydration is necessary for this curl type." Type 3 is frizz-prone and can range from understated loops to tightly wrapped corkscrew shapes, which are known to dry easily because the "sebum from the scalp isn't able to glide down a strand that's twisted," shares Michelle O'Connor, L'Oréal Matrix artistic director. These curls can be densely packed and offer lots of volume, so to make the most of this type of hair, you should always detangle before washing. "This hair is easily tangled; therefore, pre-shampoo detangling will aid in the ease of your cleaning routine and will reduce the possibility for the breakage and snapping, that's so prevalent to this hair type when brushed or detangled dry," she says.

Once out of the shower, be sure to apply moisturizing products like a leave-in conditioner and oil to strengthen the hair and enhance the softness and shine. de Leon recommends products that aid in moisture and definition. "The Ouidad VitalCurl Gel Cream ($26, is incredible, along with the Advanced Climate Control Featherlight Styling Cream ($26,, both add moisture and definition for this hair type," she says.

Type 4: Coily Hair

Coil curls are known for their tight appearance. They're typically prone to a drier texture and can range from fine to coarse. Like all of the other curl classifications, Type 4 is also defined by letters and numbers. "4A is coiled with an evident 'S' or ringlet pattern," says Alicia Bailey, hair texture expert and director of education at Design Essentials. She says the hair type has some volume with limited movement and is fragile, dry, and knots easily. "4B is tightly coiled with less defined curls," she explains. It tends to be dry, fragile, and knots easily as well. The tightest coil, 4C, is known for its zig-zag pattern—it usually requires manipulation to achieve curl definition and like the other type 4s, is fragile, dry, and knots easily.

"The best way to care for this type of curl is to handle with care!" warns Bailey. "Coily hair can be fragile, so it's always best to shampoo trying one's best to keep the hair in the same direction to aid in detangling," she says. "And when applying conditioner, be sure to coat each strand, use small sections for control, and take your time with detangling." Bailey emphasizes the importance of using products that will not only define the coil but will also impart moisture that will aid in increased elasticity, bounce, and shine. She recommends The Design Essentials Natural Hair Almond & Avocado Collection, especially their leave-in conditioner, ($12.99, as a go-to for all curl types. In fact, Bailey says she uses the brand herself and urges those with coily hair to try it as well. "Coily hair needs moisture and products to help with manageability and this collection provides intense moisture leaving the hair soft and easy to detangle," she says.

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