Life is all about little wins: Those blessed with curly hair may do a small victory dance every time their curls cooperate. But more often than not, it can seem like frizz, dryness, and flatness conspire to dash any hope of good hair days. If you can relate, we have a hunch that you might have 3A hair, the widest and loosest of all curly hair types. We tapped Mizani artist Jada Jenkins and Pureology educator Shon Washington to break down how to spot 3A curly hair and tips for properly personalizing your haircare routine. Settle in for all the scoop.
What Is Type 3A Hair?
Before we explain how to determine whether you have 3A hair, a quick refresher on how hair is classified is in order. Hair type refers to the pattern (1 = straight, 2 = wavy, 3 = curly, and 4 = coily) of your strands. Subtype, on the other hand, denotes the width and density of your curls on a scale from A to C. Subtype A is the widest and finest curl, type C is the tightest and coarsest, and type B falls somewhere in the middle. These two characteristics are then combined as a letter and number. 3A hair, therefore, is fine-to-medium density with a wide curl pattern.
To find your curl type, wash your hair and then let it air-dry without applying any styling products. Once dry, examine the shape of your strands: If they resemble a springy curl about the size of a thick dry-erase marker, chances are good you have type 3A hair.
As Washington explains, “3A hair is curly hair in a [true] S-shape or loose ringlet.” It presents as a deep wave when wet, she says, but dries into a springy curl and experiences less shrinkage than other curl types. Curls may also be looser and flatter at the root and become more defined as you travel down the hair shaft.
How Do I Know if My Hair Is 2C or 3A?
The hair types that sit next to each other on the curl typing scale share many similar characteristics, which can blur the lines between 2C and 3A hair. If you’re uncertain where your hair falls, consider the shape of your curls. Typically, 3A curls have more distinguished and springy ringlets compared to 2C’s zig-zag waves.
Keep in mind, however, that it’s very common for multiple patterns to exist throughout wavy, curly, and coily hair. For example, while your surface curls may appear distinctly 3A, the underlayers may fall into 2C or 3B territory. When in doubt, visit your local hairdresser to spell it out for you from A to C.
How Often Should You Wash 3A Hair?
Whether your hair is 1A or 4C, there isn’t a firm answer on how often you should wash your hair. Washington explains that washing frequency should be determined by your daily activities and needs. As a general guideline, however, she advises washing 3A hair no more than twice a week. Anything beyond that tends to strip curly hair of its natural oils, which can contribute to frizz.
If your curls tend to lose definition between wash days, a curl-reviving spray like Mizani’s Style Shifter Society Coco Dew can help you reactivate your pattern without jumping in the shower. Having a good dry shampoo on hand is also key. Many formulas work double-duty to absorb oil and grease at the root and texturize hair for added body. We love Pureology’s Refresh & Go Dry Shampoo.
Is 3A Hair Hard to Style?
Every hair type has its advantages and disadvantages. According to Washington, 3A hair is usually easier to manage than tighter curly or coily hair patterns, allowing you to manipulate it into various hairstyles without a ton of product. Plus, she says its spirals can give hair lots of volume and movement.
However, 3A hair isn’t as effortlessly full as it may appear—it’s actually the least voluminous of the curly hair types. As Jenkins points out, 3A hair “grows down and slightly out from the head and is very flat at the crown with low to moderate volume.” So, while the ends of your hair may appear bouncy and vivacious, the top half may require a bit more coaxing (like scrunching or diffusing) to match that energy.
3A hair is also prone to frizz due to its structure, making it hard to retain the smoothness of your curly styles. Washington says this is because your scalp’s natural oils can’t travel down curly hair as effectively as it can on straighter hair types. And since dry hair equals frizzy hair, 3A types can get very puffy—a concern that can affect most curly hair types spanning 3A to 4C.
With the right products and advice at your disposal, however, 3A hair shouldn’t be particularly difficult to style and manage. This brings us to our next point…
How to Care for and Style Your 3A Hair Type
Investing in an effective 3A haircare routine can help your curls look and behave their best. Ahead, Jenkins and Washington outline their top care tips and must-have products for bouncy, voluminous curls.
Seek out sulfate-free shampoos...
Sulfates in shampoos work to remove dirt, oil, and other residue from the hair, but these cleansing agents can make certain hair types stripped, dry, or frizzy. As type 3A hair is already prone to dryness, Washington recommends swapping a sulfate-free shampoo into your routine. She prefers Pureology’s Hydrate or Hydrate Sheer, silicone-free formulas that offer a gentle yet hydrating cleanse. Follow them up with the brand’s Hydrate and Hydrate Sheer conditioners, respectively. Editor’s Tip: Hydrate is beneficial for medium to thick hair, while Hydrate Sheer is ideal for finer curly locks.
...or try co-washing
If you find that your hair still feels dry when using sulfate-free formulas (a common concern for those with color-treated curls), Washington suggests co-washing in between shampoos. This technique involves washing hair thoroughly with only a conditioner to help remove product buildup and restore moisture to strands. Learn more about the pros and cons of co-washing in our article Co-Washing: What Is It And Should You Be Doing It Yourself?
Invest in hair masks
A weekly hair mask can help replenish lost moisture, keeping your curls smooth, defined, and frizz-free. Try Pureology’s Hydrating Superfood Treatment, which contains avocado and coconut oils to moisturize and repair hair while adding softness and shine. Our Best Hair Masks for Curly Hair roundup has even more salon-quality suggestions to discover.
Avoid heavy ingredients
Styling products that contain thick butters and heavy oils may weigh fine to medium ringlets down. Instead, look to lighter foams, mousses, and creams to shape and define 3A curls. In general, Jenkins says that type 3A hair fares best with formulas that offer light-to-medium hold, such as a mousse layered with a curl cream.
Washington highly recommends Mizani’s selection of lightweight curl-definers since the brand formulates its products with textured hair in mind. The brand’s True Textures Curl Enhancing Lotion is particularly useful for detangling 3A hair. Comb it through your damp mane with a wide-tooth comb to distribute the product evently. Once your curls set and dry, try to avoid brushing or touching your hair, as doing so can lead to frizz and tangles.
Sleep on satin
Ensure your curls remain buoyant and bedhead-free between wash days by rethinking your sleep routine. “At night, I would recommend [using] a satin or silk pillowcase or hair scarf,” says Jenkins. These slippery-smooth materials prevent your hair from snagging on your bedding at night, reducing the friction that contributes to frizz, breakage, and curl disruption. Plus, these fabrics are non-absorbent, so they won’t lap up all your nourishing hair products.
3A Hair: The Bottom Line
Understanding your hair type is the biggest step you can take toward reaching your hair goals. By heeding these tips, you can make your 3A curly hair look and feel its best, no matter what the day throws your way. For more in-depth advice, consult a stylist versed in curly haircare. They should be able to answer your specific questions and help you curate your perfect at-home curl care routine.
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