There was once a time when we saw a head of curly hair and took it at face value—after all, a curl is a curl, right? Many of us slapped on any ol’ hair product claiming to enhance curls, only to realize it didn’t make our spirals look quite as aspirational as we’d hoped. Over time, many hair aficionados realized this was because curls were not one-size-fits-all, and catering to your unique curl type is what unlocks the key to better hair days ahead.
Today, we’re discussing all things 3C hair, the tightest of all type 3 curls, with Mizani artist and stylist Jada Jenkins. She breaks down how to spot a 3C hair type, what makes it different than other curls, and how to create a more personalized hair care routine. If you suspect your corkscrew curls fall under this umbrella of hair types, keep scrolling for all the scoop.
What is a 3C hair type?
If you have defined, S-shaped curls that are tightly packed together and about the size of a pencil, you likely have a 3C hair type (also known as texture type 5).
According to Jenkins, 3C curly hair often grows horizontally out from the head, can naturally hold its shape with little product support, and can be easily disturbed and get frizzy. Thanks to its compact curl pattern, you may also notice significant shrinkage with 3C hair—hair may resemble type 2 curls when wet but springs up significantly once completely dry.
Is 3C hair curly or wavy?
3C hair falls squarely in the curly category and is the densest and most voluminous of all type 3 curls. That said, it’s very common for multiple curl types to exist throughout the hair, especially if you have types 3 through 4 hair. While the majority of your mane may fall into strict 3C curl territory, you may notice variations of curls throughout your head, like softer ringlets around your face or tighter spirals near the nape of your neck.
Why is my 3C hair so frizzy?
“The higher or tighter the texture type, the harder it is for oil to travel down the hair shaft—this is what causes frizz,” explains Jenkins.
Ever notice that your hair becomes extra puffy in humid climates? That’s because your dry hair is attempting to seek moisture from the surrounding environment, causing strands to swell up and spoil your style. If that’s the case, hydrating formulas and anti-humidity products may be your new best friend to control frizz and keep your 3C curls defined and bouncy (more on that below).
What is the difference between 4C and 3C hair?
You may think 3C and 4C hair are similar thanks to their letter classification, but this isn’t the case. While a 3C hair type has a reliable S-shaped curl, 4C hair is a bit more complex as no one single pattern defines it. Those with 4C hair will notice a mix of coils, curls, and zig-zags throughout their mane and tons of volume. However, both 3C and 4C hair are similar in that they’re the densest and most voluminous of their respective categories. You can learn more about type 4 hair in our 4C hair care guide.
How do you care for 3C hair?
Now that you’ve determined you have type 3C hair, chances are you want to personalize your at-home care routine. Well, you’ve come to the right place! Here are some key takeaways to help you upgrade—or begin—your 3C hair journey.
Moisture is key.
“I believe all hair can be dry if not properly using the right products, but 3C hair types do need a heavier product than lower texture types might,” says Jenkins.
You’ll want to ensure all products touching your hair are as hydrating and moisturizing as possible. Think: luxurious creams, leave-ins, masks, and so on.
“I would recommend hydrating your hair with a hair mask of your choice under a steam machine,” says the Mizani artist. “These treatments should be done as much as possible to lock in moisture and reduce frizz.” (Editor’s tip: If you don’t have access to a steam machine, wrap a warm towel around your head instead.)
She loves a mask from the Mizani True Textures line to help enhance curl pattern, such as the Moroccan Clay Steam Mask, which is made with olive, coconut, and marula oils to add moisture and definition to curls. Discover more deep conditioning masks for your 3C hair routine in our best hair masks for curly hair roundup.
“Avoid using any oils or products that don’t penetrate directly in the hair,” adds Jenkins. “A lot of products just sit on top of the hair and coat it; therefore, they’re not doing anything for the hair. Seek a professional hair stylist to guide you on what will work well for you [regarding] products and styling tools.”
Consider going sulfate-free.
Sulfates in shampoos are helpful for a foamy, deep cleansing experience, but those with naturally drier hair may find that sulfates strip their locks of moisture (and that’s the last thing you want on wash day if you have type 3C hair). To the rescue: sulfate-free shampoo. These formulas use creamier, more hydrating ingredients to give you a gentle clean sans removing natural oils and moisture from the hair or scalp.
A system made specifically with curly hair in mind will yield even better results. We love Redken’s All Soft Mega Curl Shampoo, a sulfate-free formula made with the brand’s exclusive Nourish Complex and powerhouse aloe vera to provide moisturization and conditioning properties—all without increasing frizz or adding weight to compromised curls. Complete your routine with the line’s All Soft Mega Curl Conditioner to ensure your curls are smooth, hydrated, and beautifully bouncy.
Try a cleansing conditioner.
Another way for those with 3C curly hair to manage their mane on wash day is by using a cleansing conditioner, also known as a co-wash. Co-washing is when you wash your hair with a conditioner in place of shampoo, which can benefit anyone needing to amp up the moisture content in their hair.
Rely on a co-wash about twice weekly (or alternate it with your regular shampoo every other wash day) as a replacement for your deeper cleansing shampoo. Looking for a good option? Matrix A Curl Can Dream Co-Wash for Curly and Coily Hair is infused with manuka honey extract and is ideal for in-between wash days to help revive curls without drying them out.
The foundation of your 3C hair can ultimately help you achieve your styling goals, and it doesn’t get any more basic than brushing your hair.
“When dealing with any hair type, it is important to A.B.D. (always be detangling) from start to finish,” says Jenkins. “You want to ensure there are no tangles. This allows the hair to be manageable when it’s time to style. Start from the ends and work your way to the root with a detangling brush. The higher the curl type, the more fragile the hair is; therefore you must care with love.”
Be sure to add a detangling solution into your routine, like Mizani’s 25 Miracle Milk Leave-In Conditioner, to make brushing 3C curly hair more of a treat than a chore. Discover more detangling tips in our guide on how to brush your hair the right way.
Stretch your curls.
Type 3C hair is familiar with shrinkage, which can be frustrating when looking for a hairstyle with a bit more length. As water evaporates from strands, it causes your curls to bounce way upwards, giving your hair the illusion that it’s much shorter than it truly is.
One way to alleviate shrinkage is to opt for a higher-hold gel to help maximize your length and prevent curls from springing up. Mizani True Textures Sleek Holding Gel provides the benefits of a flexible, long-lasting hold without crunch or flaking.
Want more significant length? Try a braid-out, which is when you cornrow your hair so it dries in an elongated state. Not only will your hair appear longer when you remove the braids, but you’ll also have a beautiful heatless texture.
Rely on beauty sleep.
Last but certainly not least, rethinking your sleeping habits can make a big difference in the look and feel of type 3C hair.
“At night, I would recommend a satin or silk pillowcase or hair scarf,” says Jenkins. “This will ensure hair stays hydrated.”
Find more natural hair care tips and professional products on Hair.com.