Whether your locks are long or short, light or dark, everybody wants to enjoy as many good hair days as possible – and avoid the bad, of course. For those blessed with wavy or curly hair, making the most of your crowning glory depends on how well you know your curl type or pattern.
"Hair types are split into four main categories," explains Tom Smith, creative director at Billi Currie London. "Type one is simply straight hair; two is usually described as wavy hair; type three is coily [or curly] hair; type four is kinky [or coily] hair."
Within each of the three main curl types, there are three subcategories, A, B and C, which are determined by the tightness of your waves or curls.
"Be patient and take the time to learn your own curl pattern, so you know the best way to take care of your curl type, and get the best possible curls," says Michelle Sultan, Imbue creative director and ambassador. "Once you know what formula works best, you will find it easier to get into a routine and you’ll know what to expect each day."
Here, our experts run down each of the curl types and offer their advice for how to wash, condition and style your way to more great hair days…
"An easy way to determine your hair type is to look closely at a single lock of your hair," says Smith. Observe the shape of the strand to determine whether it’s a loose or tight curl.
"Curl type is determined by the shape of the follicle," says Sultan. "For example, if the follicle is flat/oval shape then the curl type tends to be curlier. Type two hair would be classified as a loose wave, much like an S-shaped wave."
Your curl type subcategory can be can be determined by the ‘spring factor’ – how far the curl stretches when pulled. With type A, it’s one to two inches, type B is three to seven inches, and type C is eight inches or more.
For loose waves of type 2A, 2B and 2C, Sultan recommends using a light leave-in conditioner or serum, to "encourage the wave with light control and tame flyaways."
She also advises "not to use shampoos with silicones, because this hair will appear to be lightweight – and you don’t want to weigh it down with a heavy product, or anything that will make it appear greasy or separated. And when applying conditioner, I would recommend that you avoid the roots to avoid any weight on the root area."
When you look at a hair strand if you see "a spiral like the form of a spring, no matter the tightness, you are likely to be a type three", Smith says. "If those spirals are very tight, you could be a 3C, while if they are looser but still definite spirals, you’re 3A."
As a rule, the higher the number of your curl type, the more prone to dryness the hair is, so maintaining moisture should be a priority for type three locks.
Type 3A needs "the most help in supporting and holding the curl pattern in place, and some parts of the hair may still be too loose", Sultan says, which is why she recommends the use of gels, to add definition without the weight.
For 3Bs, she advises a combination of leave-in conditioner and curl cream or gel, because "this is where hair can experience dryness, but does not require heavy products that have silicones, because these will create a wet or greasy look".
Type 3C hair requires "moisture at all stages, from washing to styling", Sultan says. "I would highly recommend that you use a moisturising mask at least once a week, to avoid hair drying out after cleansing. Leave the mask on for a minimum of 15 minutes to get good product absorption, concentrating on the ends of the hair."
"Type four hair is when the curl type is very tight springy coils (4A) to zig-zag kinks (4C) – this hair can appear to look short, because it is susceptible to shrinkage," Sultan says. "It is the most delicate of all hair types and needs the most moisture of all the curl types." Therefore, it’s important to avoid losing moisture with too much washing."
Smith says: "I recommend shampooing only when the scalp feels properly dirty. Between full washes you can rinse and condition your hair or – even better – ‘co-wash’. This is a type of conditioning cleanser that cleans light oil and pollution away, without over-stripping your hair and scalp’s natural oils."
Follow up with a generous amount of curl-enhancing product, applied to wet hair, he continues: "It’s really important to twist any rogue locks into place and allow to completely air dry, or use a diffuser attachment on your hairdryer – and keep the touching of curls to an absolute minimum while they’re in the drying process, or you’ll create major frizz."
Sultan, however, believes that air-drying is the best option for most curl types. "One of the main pieces of advice I give is to avoid using heated electrical appliances on your hair, sometimes even one blow-dry can reverse a healthy curl pattern and take you back to square one, even after wearing it curly for a while."
Finally, you need to ‘break the cast’, Smith adds, which means scrunching hair in sections: "Its normal for a product that has been air or diffuser-dried into the hair to feel ‘crispy’ initially. A single scrunch will soften this ‘cast’ and leave the curls frizz-free, supported and soft."