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Curly hair and wavy hair each have unique characteristics and needs. Here’s what you should know about caring for both of these hair types.

Is My Hair Wavy or Curly? Here’s How To Tell the Difference

Curly hair and wavy hair each have unique characteristics and needs. Here’s what you should know about caring for both of these hair types.
Is My Hair Wavy or Curly? Here’s How To Tell the Difference

If you’ve ever questioned whether your hair is technically curly or wavy, you’re not alone. Textured hair is rarely uniform—it tends to feature a range of curl and wave patterns that can make it tricky to decipher which category your mane belongs to. But does it really matter when curating a haircare routine for curly hair vs. wavy hair?

Ahead, we’re explaining why the answer to this question is a resounding yes. Although wavy hair and curly hair are sometimes grouped together, these two hair types actually have different characteristics and needs—and using the right products for your type can be a game-changer for your locks. Read on to learn more about the difference between wavy and curly hair and how to correctly identify your hair type, according to the pros. Plus, discover a few of our favorite products for voluminous, frizz-free curls and waves.

Is My Hair Wavy or Curly?

Deciphering whether your mane is wavy or curly is pretty straightforward—it all comes down to correctly identifying your hair type. “You can find your hair type based on how your hair dries,” explains Matrix ambassador Barbara Simovic. The tightness of your hair’s wave or curl pattern when it air dries will help you determine whether your hair is wavy or curly. “If it dries naturally with a bend or an S-curve, then you would have wavy hair, [also known as] type 2 hair,” she says. Meanwhile, curly hair—known as type 3 hair—dries into spirals, coils, ringlets, or twists.

Editor’s Note: Type 4 hair is sometimes referred to as curly hair, but most professionals classify it as coily hair. This hair type is more textured and dense than curly or wavy hair and appears as tight coils and/or a zig-zag pattern.

Good hair day by @curlsbybebonia.

Types of Curly Hair and Wavy Hair

Here’s where things get a little bit trickier. Once you’ve determined your hair type, there’s also a subtype to identify. The subtypes of wavy and curly hair are used to describe the thickness and shape of your strands. Keep reading to learn more about each of these subtypes.

Good hair day by @tiptopknot.

Type 2: Wavy Hair

Wavy hair is characterized by loose, flowing curls that take on the shape of gentle waves. Here are the three subtypes of type 2 hair:

  • 2A: According to L'Oréal Professionnel ambassador and stylist Tauni Dawson, “Type 2A hair is flat [at the roots] and will begin to wave on the curve of the head. It is a fine texture with an S-shape wave to it.”
  • 2B: “Type A has a slight wave, [while] type B has more of a medium wave,” says Simovic. She also explains that 2B hair lies flatter [than 2C hair] at the crown of your head instead of curling right from the root.
  • 2C: “2A and 2B hair are looser waves, while 2C hair starts to form a more defined S-shaped curl,” explains Kérastase Texture Expert Jonathan Matias. “It will hold curl definition longer than 2A or 2B.” According to Matias, 2C hair is one of the most versatile hair types when it comes to styling options.

Good hair day by @mo__beautii.

Curly hair features tighter, more defined curls than wavy hair. The curl pattern of this hair type can range from loose spirals to ringlets. Here are the subcategories of type 3 hair:

  • 3A: According to Pureology educator Shon Washington, “3A hair is curly hair in a [true] S-shape or loose ringlet.” These curls appear as a deep wave when wet, but dry into springy curls that experience less shrinkage than other curl types, she explains. They may also look flatter and looser at the root, with more defined curls further down the hair shaft.
  • 3B:3B hair is a tighter, more defined spiral ringlet curl,” says L’Oréal Professionnel artist and texture expert Geoffrey Britt. “This hair formation has big, bouncy, full-of-life energy, giving us curl-sistency from roots to ends.”
  • 3C: This is the densest and most voluminous of all type 3 curls. 3C hair is categorized by S-shaped curls that are tightly packed together and approximately the size of a pencil. According to Mizani educator and stylist Jada Jenkins, 3C hair can hold its shape with little product support but may be prone to frizz.

Good hair day by @strandsby.christineshanae.

Can Wavy Hair Become Curly?

There are several factors that can cause your locks to transition from wavy to curly (and vice versa). Hormonal changes are one possibility, as well as aging and genetics. The Cleveland Clinic states that, as you get older, it’s normal to experience changes in your hair’s texture—especially after menopause.

Dry, damaged curls may also appear looser and less defined as a result of heat styling, bleaching, overwashing, or wearing tight hairstyles. And, although it may seem obvious, your curl pattern may appear on the wavy side if you grow your hair longer—strands that are longer are also heavier, which can weigh down and elongate your natural curls.

Can You Have More Than One Curl Pattern?

According to Simovic, it’s extremely common to see multiple wave patterns throughout your hair. So, if you struggle to pinpoint whether your mane is curly or wavy, you may have a mixture of both. For example, many people notice that the top layers of their hair appear curlier, while the bottom layers are flatter and more on the wavy side.

Good hair day by @hairika_st.pihair.

How Can I Tame Frizz and Define My Curls?

Frizz is often an unwelcome guest when you have natural curls (or waves, for that matter). Curly hair tends to lack moisture and can be prone to dryness, split ends, and yes, frizz. Anything that strips your hair of its natural oils can make matters worse, such as overwashing your locks or using the wrong products for your hair type.

Proper haircare for curly hair is key if you want to fight frizz head-on and enhance your natural hair texture. Read on to discover a few of our favorite products for defining your natural curls.

Redken Frizz Dismiss Shampoo and Conditioner

Achieving smooth, defined curls begins with choosing an anti-frizz shampoo and conditioner system—like Redken Frizz Dismiss Shampoo and Conditioner. This frizz-fighting duo is designed to moisturize, detangle, and help protect your hair from humidity. With consistent use, you can expect visibly smoother, shinier locks.

Pro Tip: Extra-dehydrated, frizzy curls may benefit from co-washing between wash days to extend the life of your style. We suggest using products such as Mizani True Textures Cream Cleansing Conditioner or Matrix A Curl Can Dream Co-Wash, which were created specifically for this purpose.

Mizani 25 Miracle Milk Leave-In Conditioner

This nourishing formula is Mizani’s best-selling leave-in conditioner for curly hair—and it’s not hard to see why. The multi-tasking formula with fennel seed oil and coconut oil delivers 25 hair-supporting benefits to prep, protect, and moisturize your strands. It’s suitable for all texture types and is formulated to control frizz for softer, more lustrous curls.

Matrix A Curl Can Dream Lightweight Gel

You’ll need a few styling essentials if your goal is well-defined, frizz-free curls—and Matrix A Curl Can Dream Lightweight Gel is one of our favorites. This light-hold hair gel adds definition to your natural curl pattern, without any flaking or crunch. It’s formulated with Manuka honey extract and works well on both thick and thin hair.

Matrix A Curl Can Dream Lightweight Oil

Matrix A Curl Can Dream Lightweight Oil is the perfect final step in your styling routine for glossy, healthy-looking curls. This formula is infused with sunflower seed oil and is designed to be used as a finishing product to help separate your curls. It adds shine while still feeling lightweight on your strands.

Good hair day by @danielmbeauty.

How Can I Enhance My Waves and Make Them Look More Defined?

One of the biggest complaints among people with wavy locks is that it’s challenging to create waves that look tousled and beachy (rather than frizzy and unruly). To help enhance your natural waves, you’ll need styling products that hydrate and add definition without weighing your strands down. Our editors have a few go-to wavy hair products, which we’re sharing below.

Pureology Smooth Perfect Smoothing Lotion

Pureology Smooth Perfect Smoothing Lotion tames frizz and nourishes wavy strands for a silky-smooth finish. It’s formulated with camellia to smooth your hair, shea butter to soften, and xylose to create a protective barrier against heat styling. We recommend giving this lightweight styling lotion a try if you have color-treated hair, as the formula features Purelogy’s patented Antifade Complex to help maintain color vibrancy.

Kérastase Curl Manifesto Gelee Curl Contour Gel-Cream

Another one of our favorites for wavy hair is Kérastase Curl Manifesto Gelee Curl Contour Gel-Cream. This formula contains Manuka honey, ceramide, and shea butter, and is designed to soften your strands, add definition, and reduce frizz. It combines the hydration properties of a cream and the hold of a gel for 24H frizz control—this makes it perfect for creating more defined, crunch-free waves.

Shu Uemura Art of Hair Kaze Wave Curl Mousse

Mousses and dry shampoos are excellent options for adding body, texture, and definition to wavy locks. One mousse we can’t get enough of is Shu Uemura Art of Hair’s Kaze Wave Curl Mousse, a curl-defining formula that offers a soft, weightless finish and long-lasting, flexible hold. It’s perfect for taming frizz, protecting your strands from heat damage, and leaving your hair with a smooth, glossy-looking texture.

L’Oréal Professionnel Tecni.Art Morning After Dust Dry Shampoo

L’Oréal Professionnel Tecni.Art Morning After Dust Dry Shampoo is another styling product that deserves a spot in your line-up. This cleansing dry shampoo instantly refreshes wavy hairstyles, absorbing excess oil at the scalp and providing light hold with minimal residue. It’s ideal if you have fine to medium hair that needs a bit of texture and body between washes.

Good hair day by @hairbynour_.

Curly Hair vs. Wavy Hair: The Bottom Line

Whether your hair is curly or wavy, understanding the basics about your hair type can help you get closer to achieving your hair goals. The above tips are a great starting point to help your curly or wavy mane look and feel its best. For additional guidance on the best haircare routine for wavy hair or curly hair, we recommend visiting a stylist who specializes in your hair type. They can recommend the right haircut, products, and at-home styling routine for bouncy, voluminous waves and curls.

Looking for the ideal cut or color to enhance your naturally curly or wavy hair? Use our salon locator to book a consultation with a stylist near you.

Next Up: 2B Or Not 2B? Here’s How To Identify and Manage This Wavy Hair Type

Header photo credit (left to right): @curlsbybebonia and @tiptopknot

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