It’s 2021, and for the first time kinda ever, hair brands are finally paying attention to—and catering to—the multitude of hair types that exist in the world. Got straight hair that poofs instead of waves? There’s a product for that. Got tight curls that won’t stop breaking or looking frizzy? Oh, hey, here’s an entire drugstore aisle for that.
And though I’m personally very excited about the current hair revolution, I’m also aware that all of this new information and hair-typing jargon can also be overwhelming, especially when no two hair types are the same, and there’s also no universally correct hair product, routine, or really even classification system that applies to every hair type in the entire world. Womp.
That being said, enthusiasts and hairstylists (ahem, Andre Walker, the father of hair-typing) have managed to distill all the hair types into four very broad, very general categories over the decades—straight, wavy, curly, and coily—in an effort to help you figure out how to take care of and style your hair with the least frustration. Keep reading to see how to work with exactly what you've got.Sanchi Oberoi
What are the 4 types of hair?
According to the hair-typing system, there are four main (and very broad!) groups of hair. Here's the basic rundown of the categories:Type 1 hair = straight hairType 2 hair = wavy hairType 3 hair = curly hairType 4 hair = coily hair
Each category also has three a, b, and c subcategories (ex: 3a, 3b, 3c, or 4a, 4b, 4c) that breaks down each hair type even further. And if it sounds confusing, just trust the process, because I've gotchu covered with all the facts and product recommendations below.
How do I know my hair type?
Okay, this is going to sound obvious, but the only way to really know your hair type is by lookin' at a ton of pictures and charts, like the one we created above. It's important to remember that most people do not have just one type of hair—my curls, for example, are a mix of type-2 waves and type-3 curls naturally.
Sure, I can use an in-depth styling routine to make my curls spring up tighter and look uniformly type 3, but without any products, styling, or diffusing, my hair naturally dries into loose curls (I classify my hair as 2c/3a, FWIW—more on wtf that means below). So when it comes to figuring out your own hair type, look at your hair in its natural state, without products or styling, and then compare to the chart above.
Now let's get into to what each hair type really means. Right this way, pls..
TYPE 1: Straight hair
Straight hair can range from thin and silky to thick and poofy. But one thing all straight hair types have in common? That megawatt shine, thanks to the fact that the oil from your scalp can easily slip and slide down the lengths of your strands to keep them moisturized and healthy. Though some hair critics argue there's only one type of straight hair (ahem, straight), I'm of the belief there's a spectrum of textures out there. Let's break 'em down, shall we?
1a hair types tend to be the flattest, thinnest, and silkiest of the straight hair types. Keeping a bobby-pin or an elastic from sliding out of your straight hair requires magical powers. Your BFF: texturizing spray.
1b hair types are still super straight, but also have some bends and a few coarser strands. Your biggest enemy is likely greasy roots, rather than puffiness and/or dry ends. Your BFF: dry shampoo.
1c hair types are thicker and coarser, which means they're also more prone to frizz, poofiness, and dryness. If your straight hair is also damaged (hi, chemical, color, and heat treatments), you’ll likely fall into the 1c type. Your BFF: weekly hair masks.
Best products for type 1 straight hairTexturizing SprayVerb Volume Dry Texture Sprayulta.com$18.00 Dry shampooBriogeo Blossom & Bloom Volumizing Dry Shampoosephora.com$24.00 Volumizing sprayOribe Dry Texturizing Sprayamazon.com$48.00 Hair maskLiving Proof Night Cap Overnight Perfectordermstore.com$29.00 Required reading for you and your type 1 straight hair:How to Pick the Right Volumizing ShampooCurling Wands That Actually Curl Straight HairPSA: Straight Hair Does Not Mean Boring Hair.
TYPE 2: Wavy hair
Wavy hair tends to have definitive—and multiple—bends from roots to tips. Meaning if your hair has “just, like, one or two weird bumps” in it, you’re probably working with type 1 straight hair, versus true, type 2 wavy hair. Type 2 waves can range from perfect-looking beachy waves to fluffy, undefined bends and bumps, and they're also one of the most easy-to-play-with hair types (lucky you!).
Unlike with 1c hair, 2a hair types have a flat S-shape pattern that gives them their wave. 2a hair tends to be finer and flatter than any of the other type 2s, and can be easily blown out and straightened. Your BFF: sea-salt sprays to encourage your natural wave.
2b hair types tend to have slightly more defined S-shape waves—usually with a fine and/or medium thickness—and are a bit more prone to frizz and poofing, especially if your hair is damaged. Your BFF: a wave-enhancing mousse.
2c hair types are still mostly S-shaped waves, but they can also have a few loose curls and coarser textures mixed in (since they're right on the edge of type 3 curls). 2c waves tend to frizz easily and loose definition fast. Your BFF: a lightweight curl cream.
Best products for type 2 wavy hairSea salt sprayL'ange Hair Salt + Sea Texturizing Sprayamazon.com$16.99 MousseOuai Air Dry Foamsephora.com$37.00 Curl CreamSeen Curly Creme Fragrance Freedermstore.com$27.00$21.60 (20% off) Frizz-Smoothing CreamJohn Frieda Frizz Ease Secret Weapon Crèmeamazon.com$9.49$7.47 (21% off) Cool, now get all of the info on your type 2 wavy hair:The One Product You Need for Perfect Beachy WavesThe Easiest Way to Smooth Flyaways and FrizzThe Best Wavy Hairstyle Tutorials Ever.
TYPE 3: Curly hair
In order for you to be part of the curly-hair club, your hair has to have actual curls—i.e., pieces that curl around themselves like a spring, versus pieces that just wave back and forth in a flat S-shape. It’s common—and likely—to have a mix of curl textures (and even some waves!) on your head at once.
Unlike 2c hair, which has mostly waves and a few loose curls, 3a hair is mostly loose curls with just a few waves. 3a curls tend to be finer, easily blown out, and super reactive to the elements (humidity! Wind! Dryness!). Your BFF: a curl-enhancing mousse.
3b hair types usually have curls that are the circumference of your finger or a marker. These curls are springier and tighter than 3a curls, but they’re also more prone to dryness and frizz. Your BFF: a leave-in conditioner.
3c curls are noticeably tighter than 3b curls—think the size of a straw or pencil—and are thickly packed together, giving your hair major volume. They’re also the most prone to dryness and breakage of the type 3 curls. Your BFF: a moisturizing hair oil.
Best products for type 3 curlsCurl mousseDesign Essentials Almond & Avocado Curl Enhancing Mousseulta.com$15.99 Curl creamBriogeo Curl Charisma Leave-In Defining Cremeulta.com$20.00 Leave-in conditionerPattern Leave-In Conditionerulta.com$42.00 Lightweight oilBread Beauty Supply Mini Everyday Hair Gloss Oilsephora.com$14.00 Got type 3 curls? You *need* to read these:Why "Plopping" Is the Key to Perfect CurlsHow to Diffuse Curls for Definition, Not FrizzThis Is the #1 Thing That Solved My Curl Issues.
TYPE 4: Coily hair
Coily hair (also referred to across the interwebs as "kinky-curly" or "zigzag" or sometimes just "natural"), can have a mix of textures that range from a tightly coiled, spring-like pattern (S-shape) to a zigzag pattern that doesn’t actually curl around itself (Z-shape). Because of their kinks and angles, scalp oils can’t easily lubricate your hair strands, making type 4 hair the most fragile, dry, and damage-prone of all hair types—BUT also the most versatile to styling.
4a hair has the tightest, smallest coils—often mixed with some 3c curls—that can just barely wrap around a crochet needle. Your coils can lose definition and moisture fast, which means your BFF for 4a hairstyles? A curl gel for finger-coiling.
Rather than curling or coiling around itself, 4b (and c!) hair bends in a sharp, zigzag shape that has the circumference of a spring in a ballpoint pen. 4b hair is more prone to shrinkage and dryness than 4a, so keep hair moisturized and defined with your new BFF, an elongating gel.
4c hair has a Z-shape pattern that's way tighter than 4b hair, and it also naturally has fewer cuticle layers than any other hair type (FYI: The cuticle retains hydration and protects hair from damage), meaning it needs moisture, moisture, and more moisture. Your BFF for 4c hairstyles: an emollient-rich cream.