Types of Curls
At this point, you may also be wondering: if everyone’s hair is made from the same protein, includes the same chains cross-linked by side bonds, and is made up of the same cuticle and cortex structure, then why do people have different wave patterns at all?
Surprisingly, we don’t really know. One of the most popular theories out there insists the shape of your hair’s cross-section is what determines the amount of curl—straight hair has a round cross-section, wavy hair is oval, and curly hair is almost flat. But in truth, that’s not always the case. Modern studies have shown cross-sections of hair can be any shape (even triangular!) and they do not always correspond to the amount of curl you have (Milady, Milady’s Standard Cosmetology, Milady Publishing, 2002).
A recent and more logical theory proposes that natural curl is the result of one side of the hair strand growing faster than the other side, as determined by your genetics (Milady, Milady’s Standard Cosmetology, Milady Publishing, 2002). The tension caused in the hair strand will then cause the long side of the hair shaft to curl around the shorter side. Hair with a uniform growth pattern has no tension and therefore results in straight hair.
One of the most significant hair principles to understand at this point, however, is that your wave pattern is completely independent from other hair properties such as texture, porosity, density, or elasticity. One has absolutely nothing to do with the other. As you start understanding more about hair properties, this principle will become quite meaningful when determining the best daily maintenance routine for your curls.
The “Curl Classification Systems”
Several “curl classification systems” have been developed over the last several years in an effort to provide a visual means of identification for individuals with curly hair to determine what “type” of curl they have. A huge ruckus has been made in the past several years over determining what “kind of curl” you have.
It seems, however, that the curl classification systems springing up often do little more than mystify the uninitiated and frustrate others who are desperately trying to figure out a way to categorize themselves. Calls for help abound on message boards as people plead plaintively, “Here is a picture of me…can you please tell me what kind of curls I have???”
Anyone who knows me can tell you these systems often drive me crazy because they lead people to believe they must take care of their hair based on how their curls “look.” The truth of the matter is, they might be interesting and helpful from a visual identification point of view—but, from a stylist perspective, it doesn’t really matter what “kind of curl” you have. Not the least little bit. As a matter of fact, trying to force your curls into the tidy little categories ordinarily found in these classification systems is sometimes like trying to herd pigs.
There isn’t a curl in the world that will always follow the fixed set of rules that makes it a Type A, a Type B, or whatever. Be honest—you tell me who you know with curls that behave and respond perfectly to their care and treatment 100% of the time just because their owner “knows” they are “Type X” curls. I’ve had what could be categorized as “spiral ringlets” my entire life and to this day, I can’t tell you at any given time what they’ll feel like doing, even with a virtually identical day-to-day maintenance routine, just because they carry that particular wave pattern.
The only thing—and I mean the only thing—that matters when it comes to the care of curly hair are your particular hair properties: your texture, porosity, elasticity and density. Your wave pattern has absolutely nothing to do with any other hair property. That means knowing if you have “corkscrew” or “spiral” curls, or you are a “5K” or “9T” means a big fat nothing when it comes to the big picture.
Instead, you need to ask yourself: do you have fine, medium, or coarse texture, or are you a combination of textures? Do you have high, normal or low porosity? Do you have low or normal elasticity? Is your hair thin, thick or medium density? Those are the critical questions you need to ask yourself as you embark on your curly-haired odyssey.
I will make one concession: When it comes to styling routines, different curl patterns can benefit from different techniques. For example, I would not style a girl with wavy hair the way I would style one with coils. But as far as hair health and care? Forget about it.