Men’s Curly Hair Types Demystified: Tips and Techniques

Knox Beasley, MD

Reviewed by Knox Beasley, MD

Written by Grace Gallagher

Published 05/03/2024

So you’re rocking curls. Did you know there are actually several types of curly hair men can have? In fact, there’s a whole curl-typing system. Knowing what curly hair type you have matters when it comes to styling, buying products and choosing a haircut.

The hair-typing system was created by Andre Walker, a hairstylist trusted by Oprah and Halle Berry — he gave Berry her iconic pixie cut. Walker’s four categories are straight, wavy, curly and coily. Then there are sub-categories describing each curl pattern (essentially how loose or tight the curls are).

It may seem daunting at first, but with a little guidance, it’s pretty easy to figure out your curl type. Here, we’ll explore the different types of curls men can have, how to cut and style curly hair and the best styling products for your specific curl type and hair texture.

While curly hair is often underrepresented in studies and product lines, 50 percent of European, African and Asian populations have some degree of curl.

The hair classification system is a crucial tool for educating curly-headed folks and stylists on how to best manage the types of curly hair men have.

Here’s how it works:

  • Type 1. Straight hair is completely straight from root to end, with no visible curls or waves.

  • Type 2. Wavy hair has noticeable but loose bends. It’s not quite curly but definitely not as straight as type 1.

  • Type 3. Curly hair has a more well-defined spiral formation than wavy hair.

  • Type 4. Coily hair is tightly packed, with lots of kinky texture in a zig-zag pattern.

Then there are three sub-categories (A, B and C) for types 2, 3 and 4. These are based on the width and shape of waves, curls or coils. With A hair, the curl pattern is loose, and it gets tighter as the letters go on.

For example, 2A hair has loose waves that are easy to straighten, 2B is in the middle of the wave spectrum, and 3A hair is very wavy but not technically curly.

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The categories of curly hair for men can be a lot to keep track of, but don’t stress.

In the absence of a male curl pattern chart, we’ll break down each of the nine types of curly hair men can have (leaving out type 1 because, while we love our straight-haired pals, this guide is all about curls).

1. Hair Type 2A

2A hair has a loose S-shape that’s typically fine and smooth. In fact, if you have 2A hair, it might seem straight when cut super short, as the wave pattern usually doesn’t start right out of the scalp.

Your strands are generally on the thinner side, and because of its finer texture, your hair may get greasy sooner than other curly hair types.

Ideal products for 2A hair: Texturizing spray, moisturizing shampoo and conditioner, leave-in volumizer.

2. Hair Type 2B

With 2B hair, you may notice some frizz on top, and typically, the wave gets more pronounced toward the ends. For that reason, the 2B curls men with short hair have might not be that noticeable but take on an S-shape as they get longer.

Similar to 2A with slightly more defined waves, 2B hair may easily be brushed straight or become less defined as the day goes on.

Ideal products for 2B hair: Anti-frizz serum, lightweight curl-defining cream, moisturizing shampoos and conditioner.

3. Hair Type 2C

Male 2C hair is wavy, approaching curly — maybe your hair has been described as “loose curls” — and coarser than other type 2 sub-categories.

Due to the coarser texture, 2C hair can benefit from more moisture.

Ideal products for 2C hair: Leave-in conditioner, smoothing shampoo and conditioner, lightweight hair oil.

4. Hair Type 3A

The 3A curls men have are a loose corkscrew shape about the width of a C battery. Sometimes called ringlets, 3A hair is more curly than wavy and tends to be pretty springy.

This type of hair can be frizz-prone, especially in humid climates, but it isn’t super thick or coarse.

Ideal products for 3A hair: Lightweight curl cream, anti-frizz serum, anti-humidity formulas.

5. Hair Type 3B

The 3B hair type men have is right in the middle of the curly spectrum. It’s firmly in curly territory with spirals about the width of a magic marker.

3B hair can benefit from some definition.

Ideal products for 3B hair: Curl-defining mousse, lightweight hair gel, hydrating foam.

6. Hair Type 3C

3C hair in men has a tight curl pattern that starts at the scalp. The curls are about the width of a pencil and typically have ample volume.

Like all type 3 hair (male and female), moisture is 3C hair’s friend. Curly hair also reflects less light than straight hair, so adding shine can help.

Ideal products for 3C hair: Deep conditioner, moisturizing hair mask, shine spray, gel, pomade.

7. Hair Type 4A

4A hair may be fine but is wiry with tight coils or curls about the size of a chopstick or pen. It has more natural moisture than 4B and 4C hair but still benefits from moisturizing products.

Ideal products for 4A hair: Detangling spray, curl-defining mousse, deep conditioner.

8. Hair Type 4B

4B hair tends to have a less defined curl pattern and starts to get more Z-shaped. The curls are about the width of a pinky finger or smaller.

This type of hair can benefit from moisture, especially when stretching or twisting into braids (dry hair is more prone to breakage).

Ideal products for 4B hair: Thick hair butter, replenishing mask, curl-defining serum.

9. Hair Type 4C

Despite being technically categorized as the curliest hair on the list, 4C hair may not actually have a defined curl pattern — instead, some refer to it as afro texture.

This type of hair does well with loads of moisture and can go longer between washes because of its coarse texture.

Ideal products for 4C hair: Rich oils, thick hair butter, clarifying shampoo, moisturizing hair mask.

Your barber can help you figure out the best men’s haircut for your particular type of hair and face shape, but you’ll want to consider how much upkeep the style requires.

Beyond curl type, a few characteristics influence how your hair behaves. These include:

  • Hair porosity

  • Hair elasticity

  • Overall hair health

We’ll dig into how each of these impacts the best methods and products to cut and style your hair.

Hair Porosity

Besides identifying your curl pattern, a stylist can help you understand your hair’s porosity.

Hair porosity is how well hair retains moisture. You can have low-porosity hair or high-porosity hair.

Low-Porosity Hair

Hair with low porosity is prone to dryness. It might take longer to saturate in the shower and may not be as receptive to any old conditioner.

So using products with humectants (ingredients that pull moisture from the air into hair and skin), like glycerin or hyaluronic acid, is key.

Low-porosity curly hair can be challenging to style because it repels the moisture needed to make it pliable. If that’s what you’re working with, you might consider a low-maintenance haircut to save time getting ready every day.

High-Porosity Hair

Hair with high porosity may have a damaged cuticle, which allows lots of moisture in but lets it out quickly — it tends to get super frizzy on humid days because it sucks up moisture from the air.

High-porosity curly hair might air-dry quickly or seem like it absorbs products as soon as you apply them. The goal with high-porosity hair is to seal in moisture with oil.

Hair Elasticity

Elasticity is hair’s ability to bounce back into place after being stretched — it’s an indicator of hair strength.

To test your hair elasticity, take a single strand of wet hair (still attached to your head) and gently pull it. If it springs back into place when you let go, you have high or balanced elasticity, which is a good thing for hair health.

If your hair breaks off before it’s about 50 percent stretched, you probably have low elasticity. This might mean your hair is dry and brittle.

Moisture is housed in the center of the hair strand, known as the cortex, which is surrounded by the hair cuticle. If hair is weak or dry, the cuticle can lift away, causing moisture and elasticity loss.

Products with protein can restore elasticity — look for ingredients like collagen, keratin and oat or wheat protein.

Overall Hair Health

In an unfair turn of events, thick, curly hair is more prone to breakage and dryness than other types of hair. So even if you haven’t been particularly rough on your hair, it could be damaged from occasional heat styling or environmental factors.

Your stylist can assess your damage level (it can be hard to see for yourself, especially with shorter hair).

To keep your curly hair healthy, try to eat a balanced diet with plenty of protein (check out our guide to the best foods for hair growth) and focus on scalp health. You might (understandably) think that means washing your hair a lot, but curly hair can benefit from the natural oils your scalp produces between washes.

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Aside from the random and impossible-to-predict days your hair air-dries naturally and looks amazing, curly hair usually needs at least a little styling to look its best.

Here are a few tips on the best styling products for curly hair, plus general guidance on caring for your natural texture.

1. Add Moisture

Curly hair is generally drier than straight hair because it’s harder for natural oils from the scalp to travel to the ends. Think of pouring a bucket of water down a spiral staircase versus a set of straight stairs — it’s much easier and quicker for the water to hit the bottom on the straight stairs.

Our volumizing conditioner (paired with volumizing shampoo) is great for adding moisture, plus it’ll give body to curl patterns that lay closer to the head and have a tendency to flatten out.

2. Use Curl-Defining Products

A hairstylist can help you figure out the best curly hair products for your specific type of curly hair (and learning what type of curly hair you have helps you choose products, too).

Here’s a quick rundown of all the products we mentioned above:

  • Texturizing spray. This will add grip and, well…texture to waves and make hair easier to style. Sea salt sprays are a popular option.

  • Moisturizing shampoo and conditioner. These contain hydrating ingredients to lock in water and seal the hair cuticle.

  • Frizz serum. These formulas control frizz, flyaways, static and split ends by reducing friction between strands.

  • Curl-defining cream. This will help define each individual curl clump (when a few individual curls gather together) and create a soft hold. Hair spray can work too if you don’t go too overboard.

  • Leave-in conditioner. Apply leave-in conditioner to wet hair to add moisture and help with detangling.

  • Smoothing shampoo and conditioner. These in-shower products often contain plant oils to tamp down frizz and coat the hair cuticle.

  • Hair oil. You can apply oils to lubricate your curly hair, making it less prone to breakage. They can also add shine and control frizz.

  • Mousse. Sometimes called styling foam, this lightweight product defines curls without weighing down hair.

  • Gel. This hair product offers a flexible hold and helps control volume.

  • Shine spray. These formulas have light-reflecting properties that help hair look glossy.

  • Hair mask and deep conditioner. With intensely hydrating ingredients, these can be used in place of regular conditioner and left on for a few minutes before rinsing.

  • Hair butter. This is usually a blend of plant butters (like shea, mango or cocoa) paired with oils like castor, jojoba or coconut oil.

  • Detangling spray. Often containing silicones, detangling spray gives hair a “slip” so it’s easier to comb.

  • Clarifying shampoo. This type of shampoo has heavy soap ingredients for a deeper clean so you can longer between washes.

3. Try a Diffuser Attachment

Using the diffuser attachment on a hair dryer (the spiked circular piece that looks much more intimidating than it really is) can help direct airflow so your hair settles into a defined curl pattern while reducing frizz.

When blow drying or otherwise heat styling, always use a heat protectant spray or cream to reduce damage — and try to use the lowest heat setting.

4. Leave It Alone

It’s a universal truth that curly hair looks best when mostly left untouched (easier said than done). Try not to play with it too much, and apply products to wet or damp hair.

If you scratch your head due to dandruff, you could create frizz and break up your curls. Our dandruff detox shampoo can help with that.

5. Protect Your Hair From Sun

Yep, hair needs sun protection too. UV rays can damage or dry out your hair, and the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends wearing a wide-brimmed hat outside.

Hair and scalp sunscreen exists. But you can also look for hair products containing zinc oxide (an active ingredient in many SPFs) to safeguard your hair from the sun and other environmental stressors.

6. Detangle Gently

Curly hair is prone to tangles and knots because it’s easy for the bends in the hair to interlock. Some research has found that the slight angle of the waves of very curly hair makes it more susceptible to breakage.

With that in mind, be gentle when brushing, and note that wet hair is more prone to breakage than dry hair, so take extra care when hair is damp.

A wide-toothed comb can be better than a traditional brush to prevent frizz — you can also use your fingers when detangling.

7. Take Care of Your Hair While You Sleep

Yes, a silk pillowcase sounds extremely bougie (and also amazing). But it can really cut down on friction that could damage or tangle your curly hair.

If you’re loyal to your cotton pillowcase, you could instead try wrapping your hair at night. Or, if you have long curly hair, consider sleeping in protective styles like braids.

Hair type is genetic, and curly hair is a dominant trait. So if one parent has curly or wavy hair, you probably will too (though not always, of course).

Without getting too into the weeds (er, the follicles), curly hair comes from a curved follicle, and straight hair comes from a straighter follicle. Hormones can make follicles change shape, as can other factors like damage to the follicle. So it’s possible to have straight hair that turns curly (anecdotally, some people’s hair turns curly after a hair transplant).

Curly hair seems to have pretty cool evolutionary benefits too. Researchers have found that tightly coiled hair offers the best defense against the sun’s heat. This was important as humans developed from Africa, where the sun spent most of the day directly overhead.

People with curly hair are no more prone to pattern baldness (androgenetic alopecia) than folks with straight hair. However — while this is certainly the exception to the rule — some men may notice their hair start to curl before falling out.

Another type of hair loss called traction alopecia (or ponytail hair loss) happens when tied-back curly hairstyles like tight braids or buns put pressure on the roots. It typically occurs in people who have tight spiral-curling hair (type 4).

Recently, researchers have pushed to get the curl pattern classification system more widely recognized by dermatologists. Why? There are statistical differences among the four hair types when it comes to the prevalence of certain types of alopecia.

If you’re experiencing hair loss — whether it’s male pattern baldness, traction alopecia or another type like telogen effluvium (stress-related hair loss) — a few hair loss medications and treatments may help.

These are a few of our faves:

  • Finasteride. Finasteride has been proven to slow hair loss and stimulate new hair growth. Studies show this prescription medication can reduce the amount of dihydrotestosterone (DHT) in the body by more than 90 percent. DHT is a male sex hormone that can stop or slow hair growth for those with male pattern baldness.

  • Minoxidil. There’s also topical minoxidil, which brings blood to the scalp to stimulate growth. It comes as minoxidil foam or minoxidil liquid solution.

  • Finasteride and minoxidil blend. Two heads are better than one with our topical finasteride & minoxidil spray. The easy-to-use treatment combines both FDA-approved hair loss medications.

  • Biotin supplements. Biotin gummies can help those experiencing hair loss from a vitamin deficiency.

  • Saw palmetto shampoo. If you feel like you have thin hair, are noticing a wider part or worry about a receding hairline, our thickening shampoo with saw palmetto can help your hair look and feel fuller.

Hair loss treatments, delivered

Whether you’ve always loved your curls or are just starting to embrace your natural hair, knowing the type of curly hair you have is the first step in making a love-hate relationship with your hair all love.

Here are a few things to remember:

  • Hair is divided into four types. Type 1 is straight hair, type 2 is wavy, type 3 is curly and type 4 is very curly or coily.

  • Then there are sub-classifications with letters A, B and C) that correspond with how tight or loose curls are. So, 3C curls are tighter and smaller in diameter than 3A.

  • Using the right products and finding curly men’s hairstyles or haircuts that work for you can help your natural curls shine (literally).

Worried about hair loss? Schedule an online hair loss consultation to find out more about your options.

For more information on how to take care of your hair, check out these men’s hair care tips.

19 Sources

  1. Krueger, L., Aguh, C., Peterson, E., Thomas, J., James, J., Sicco, K. L., & Shapiro, J. (2022). Curl pattern classification: A potential tool for communication and risk stratification. International Journal of Women's Dermatology, 8(2), e015. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9112386/
  2. Reis Gavazzoni Dias, M. F. (2015). Hair Cosmetics: An Overview. International Journal of Trichology, 7(1), 2-15. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4387693/
  3. Cloete, E., et al. (2019). The what, why and how of curly hair: a review. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6894537/
  4. American Academy of Dermatology. 6 Curly Hair Tips From Dermatologists. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/hair-scalp-care/hair/curly-hair-care
  5. Martel, J., Miao, J., Badri, T., (2022). StatPearls [Internet]. Anatomy, Hair Follicle. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470321/
  6. Kavitha, S., Natarajan, K., Thilagavathi, G., & Srinivas, C. (2016). Effect of Oil Application, Age, Diet, and Pigmentation on the Tensile Strength and Breaking Point of Hair. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5387873/
  7. InformedHealth.org [Internet]. (2019). What is the structure of hair and how does it grow? Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK546248/
  8. New York Society of Cosmetic Chemists. (2020). An Overview on Hair Porosity. Retrieved from https://nyscc.org/blog/an-overview-on-hair-porosity/
  9. American Academy of Dermatology. 10 Hair Care Habits That Can Damage Your Hair. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/hair-scalp-care/hair/habits-that-damage-hair
  10. Bernstein, E. F., Sarkas, H. W., Boland, P., & Bouche, D. (2020). Beyond sun protection factor: An approach to environmental protection with novel mineral coatings in a vehicle containing a blend of skincare ingredients. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7004163/
  11. Sinclair, R. (2007). Healthy Hair: What Is It? Retrieved from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022202X1552655
  12. MacDonald, J. (2018). Why Do Some People Have Curly Hair and Others Straight? Retrieved from https://daily.jstor.org/why-do-some-people-have-curly-hair-and-others-straight/
  13. Park, J., et al. (2024). Post-Hair Transplantation Complication: Kinky or Severely Curly Hair. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/38227626/
  14. Pulickal JK, Kaliyadan F. Traction Alopecia. [Updated 2023 Aug] StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470434/
  15. Lee, W.S., Juhasz M., Mobasher P., Ekelem C., Mesinkovska N. (2018). A Systematic Review of Topical Finasteride in the Treatment of Androgenetic Alopecia in Men and Women. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6609098
  16. Kinter K., Anekar A., Biochemistry, Dihydrotestosterone. (2023, March). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK557634/
  17. Zito, P.M., Bistas, K.G., Syed K. (2022, Aug. 25). Finasteride- StatPearls. NCBI Bookshelf. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK513329/
  18. Badri, T., Nessel, T., Kumar, D. (2023). Minoxidil-StatPearls. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482378/
  19. Patel, D., Swink, S., Castelo-Soccio, L. (2017). A Review of the Use of Biotin for Hair Loss. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5582478/
Editorial Standards

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references. See a mistake? Let us know at [email protected]!

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

Knox Beasley, MD

Dr. Knox Beasley is a board certified dermatologist specializing in hair loss. He completed his undergraduate studies at the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY, and subsequently attended medical school at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans, LA. 

Dr. Beasley first began doing telemedicine during his dermatology residency in 2013 with the military, helping to diagnose dermatologic conditions in soldiers all over the world. 

Dr. Beasley is board certified by the American Board of Dermatology, and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology.

Originally from Nashville, TN, Dr. Beasley currently lives in North Carolina and enjoys spending time outdoors (with sunscreen of course) with his wife and two children in his spare time. 

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