Ask a woman with natural hair what her biggest hair gripe is and nine times out of ten she will mention defining her curl pattern.
Finding the perfect method to define your unique curl pattern is likened to the endless search for Big Foot. Does the perfect defining method exist? Is it possible to define every twist and turn of your unique hair texture?
While I can’t solve the mystery of Big Foot, I can offer some insight on different ways to define your curls pattern. If you are new to the natural hair community, allow me to be the first to say; Welcome!
Before we dig into the methods that define your curl pattern, I’ll explain a few facts about curl patterns to help you understand what’s happening on that beautiful curly head of yours.
Do Curls Have patterns?
The answer is: “Sort of.” There’s a big debate in the natural hair community surrounding just how much curl patterns matter.
The answer is a matter of personal preference and lifestyle. While you decide if your curl pattern matters to you or not, I’ll break down the five basic curl patterns and what you should expect from them. Keep in mind that no two curl patterns are the same and that what works for your best curl-friend may not necessarily work for you.
Taking the time to get to know your curls will help you learn how to define the best.
What’s in a Number?
To begin, it’s essential to you understand that your curl pattern is the shape your hair takes when you allow it to air-dry without any product in it.
The hair community has then taken those natural hair shapes and categorized them into Types 2, 3, and 4 curls. As if that’s not enough to keep up with, once you’ve identified the number your natural curl pattern fits into, then your curl pattern is sub-categorized by the intensity with the letters A, B, and C.
Phew! Are you tired yet? Understanding how to classify your curl pattern can be exhausting and confusing. Although these classifications are helpful, many are critical of these hair categories because a majority of curly women have multiple curl patterns in their hair. If you have more than one curl pattern in your hair, it’s best to choose the two most prominent hair types in your hair.
I view the hair categories as more of a guide than a law to follow. Identifying your curl pattern by type will help you understand what products to try and what kinds of results you’ll get from products and curly hair methods.
Wavy Curl Pattern
If your hair is wavy, then you more than likely fall into the Type 2 category.
I have heard the argument that Type 2 is not a curl pattern. To that, I’d suggest asking the ladies who manage hair that refuses to stay straight, and I’m sure they’ll all disagree.
Like all hair types, Type 2 hair has three sub-categories. 2A will be straight at the root until about midway down the hair shaft, at which point the end will slightly twirl. Ladies with Type 2B hair will be straight at the roots of your hair but begin to make a large barrel curl halfway down the hair shaft.
Women with Type 2C will have large waves that start at the root and turn into tighter ringlets toward the ends of their hair.
Curly Curl Pattern
Although we tend to call all textured hair “curly,” Type 3 is the category that describes curly hair.
Type 2 waves were all about where the wave began on the hair shaft, and Type 3 is all about the size of the curls. Ladies with Type 3 curls have a coil through the entire length of their hair.
But Type 3A curls are spiral curls that start at the root and spiral down to the tips of the hair shaft. Type 3 coils that are in sub-category B are also full-length ringlets but are smaller in circumference, about the size of a marker.
Women with Type 3C curls tend to have smaller spirals similar to the size of a drinking straw.
Coily Curl Pattern
You are mistaken If you thought curls couldn’t get any smaller than a drinking straw.
Coily hair or Type 4 curls are as tight as a curl can get. Women with Type 4A curls have tiny corkscrew curls that are comparable to the size of a crochet needle. Those with Type 4B curls have even smaller spirals, about the size of the sprig of a pen.
Type 4C spirals are about the same size in width of Type 4B curls but tend to be denser.
Understanding your curl pattern is only half the battle.
Knowing the makeup of your curl pattern gives you a guide as to what you should expect once you define your curl pattern. For those of us who enjoy defining our curl patterns the journey of discovering the perfect method can be somewhat of a challenge.
Let’s look at a few defining techniques that require little effort but yield significant results.
Define Your Curls with a Twist Out
Twist outs are arguably the easiest way to define your curl pattern.
However, mastering the method to doing the perfect twist out can be tricky. A twist out is done by taking a section of your hair and splitting that section into two more parts and then wrapping those two sections around one another.
Once your hair is dry, your twist out will make your hair look like defined spiral curls. That might sound simple enough, but a twist out is one of those hairstyles that gets better with time.
There are two keys to achieving the perfect twist out.
I’ve been wearing my natural curls for five years and detangling before a twist out gives me consistent results.
When I’m doing a twist out, I not only detangle my entire head, but I also go over the smaller section again to make sure that all my hairs are entirely smooth. The smoother your strands, the better the shape of each twist will show on your hair.
When you’re wearing a twist out your hair will look like a perfectly wild and free mess, but the only way to get that look is to start with uniformed sizes.
Make sure that you are separating your hair into the same size twists so that your hair looks neat when you take your twists out. Large twists make for bigger curls. Keep in mind that the larger the coil from your twist out, the less time your twist outlasts.
Smaller twists make for tiny zig-zag curls that will last for over a week.
Bonus: Twirl It!
I’ve learned that the best way to make your twist out last is to twirl those ends.
After you’ve twisted your hair strand all the way down to the ends, take a little more of your holding product and twist the ends around your finger. Twirling keeps your twists from unraveling during the drying process. It also gives your hair a little more of a natural looking curl once your twists are taken down.
Switch up your twist out by trying a flat twist out! Flat twist outs are similar to French braids, but instead of braiding your hair, you only use two strands to twist down onto your scalp. I also like to do smaller twists around my face and then make my twists larger toward the back of my head.
I’ve noticed that doing my twist outs this way I get more of a natural spiral look rather than wearing the same size twists all over my head. You can also try a twist out on both wet and dry hair.
Experiment with this method to discover what works best for your curl pattern.
Define Your Curls with a Braid Out
Many of us have been wearing braid outs for years without even knowing it.
A braid out is merely braiding your hair with three-strands and then taking it down to reveal super defined crinkly-curly strands. As a child, my mother would braid my ponytails, and when they got old, she would take the braids down and let me wear my hair textured.
The same goes for your braid outs on your natural hair as an adult. Braid outs give you a different texture than twist outs because you’re breaking that section of hair into a smaller part and twisting each section around each other three times.
If you want to get different results from your braid out, try doing different braid variations.
Instead of braiding your hair straight down, try French braiding your hair for a more uniform look. French braids also give your natural texture a wavy look instead of a crinkly look.
The only difference between a French braid and a Dutch braid is the method that feels most comfortable for your hands. A French braid is an overlapping braid a Dutch braid is an underlapping braid. The texture of your hair with a French braid will come out a little more defined than a Dutch braid because your hair is pulled tighter with a French braid.
The great thing about defining your hair texture with French braids is that you can wear your French braids as a style and then take them down when you’re ready to wear your natural hair out.
Define Your Curls with Finger Coils
Finger coils are the hairstyle that caused me to ask myself, “why didn’t I try this sooner?”
Finger coils take a while to install, so it’s best that you set aside a little time to complete your entire head. But, like French braids, finger coils can be worn as a style that looks similar to Sister Locks. Install finger coils with a curl cream, hair gel or both.
To do a finger coil, you smooth the hair product down the shaft of your wet hair. Then, start at the root and twist your strand of hair around your finger in a downward motion until you reach the tip of your hair. Leave your hair in the coils until it has dried completely. You can choose to sit under a hooded drying to speed up the drying process or allow your hair to air dry.
When you take down your finger coils, your hair texture will be springy spiral curls. Over time your hair will get looser and look a little more like loose waves with a curl at the end.
Finger coils are a great style to wear on a vacation as you can wear your hair for a few days then take them down for a fun and fresh look.
Define Your Curls by Shingling
When I first learned about shingling, I felt like I found the holy grail method for my kinky coily hair!
While my curls are pretty well defined, they tend to clump into large sections making them seem frizzy. Shingling is a method that isolates each curl, allowing that curl to form without attaching itself to the hair next to it.
You don’t need any tools for shingling your natural texture. All you need is your fingers. I tend to coat my hair in hair after a thorough shampoo and condition. Then I run my fingers down the hair shaft and isolate a single coil.
This process can be lengthy if you have long hair or tiny curls like I do. But the results of shingling your curls are well worth it. I’ve noticed that when I shingle my hair, I get more time out of my hairs’ definition than if I do a twist out or use a Denman brush to define my texture.
The key to getting smooth results from shingling your curls is not to touch the section once you have completed shingling it.
Stroking your natural hair introduces frizz, and once you’ve introduced frizz to your hair, there is no turning back. Don’t get me wrong; frizz isn’t bad. In fact, frizz is what gives naturally textured hair it’s magic powers.
Unless you’re heat styling, there isn’t such a thing as a “frizz-free” natural style. If you’re going to wear your natural hair, you will need to start embracing the frizz that comes along with it.
However, reducing the amount of frizz on your defined texture is possible if you can remember not to touch your hair as it is drying.
Define Your Curls by Smoothing
Like shingling, the only tools you need for the smoothing method are your hands. Any hair texture can get defined with the smoothing technique. However, looser curls respond best to this method. Here’s how to define your curls by smoothing.
After rinsing out your conditioner, part your hair down the middle of your head.
Spread your curling cream or hair lotion between both of your hands.
Start at the root and smooth the hair product between your hands in a downward motion.
Concentrate the product on the ends of your hair.
No Strand Left Behind
You’ll notice that your hair will seem flat and lifeless.
Your curls will begin to form as they dry, and you’ll notice that your natural texture has transformed into soft and bouncy curls. Hydrated hair is the most significant benefit of smoothing your hair.
If you suffer from dry hair or hair that has difficulty absorbing moisture, the smoothing method makes sure that your hair absorbs as much of the product as possible.
When in Doubt, Grab Some Tools
Who says tools are only for the guys? Sometimes you need a little extra help in achieving the curl pattern you desire. Sometimes you want to switch it up. When I first went natural, I wore a braid out for almost a year straight.
Eventually, I started to get bored with my style and my hair. My hair journey lost its excitement, and I stopped taking care of my hair. Eventually, that lead to a setback and when I visited a professional to seek advice, my stylist encouraged me to try new curl defining methods.
Thankfully there are a few tools that can aid in giving us the curls we’ve always desired. The exciting thing about trying new methods is that despite your curl pattern, each method gives you a slightly different result.
If you’re ready to venture away from your tried-and-true method, here are a few tools to help you try out a new way to define your natural hair texture.
Define Your Curls with a Diffuser
Just because you’re not wearing your hair straight doesn’t mean that it’s time to pack up your blow dryer.
The diffuser attachment on your hair dryer can define your natural hair in a jiffy. If you’ve never experimented with your hair diffuser, then this is a method that you must try!
Diffusing your hair has multiple benefits. Not only does your hair get dry faster but it dries with less frizz and diffusing add volume to your hair. To diffuse correctly, make sure that you gather the hair at the tips and push upward onto your scalp. Hold the diffuser in place for a few seconds before releasing and gathering a new section of hair.
It’s important to remember that any time you use a heat tool, you risk heat damage to your hair. Once you’ve diffused your hair, you won’t need to diffuse it again until after you wash. However, it’s crucial that you use a heat protectant before you use your diffuser. You also need to make sure that you are using your blow dryer on the correct heat setting.
Selecting a higher heat setting on your blow dryer will not make your hair dry faster, but it will deplete your hair of its much-needed moisture. My suggestion is to start on the lowest setting possible.
Over time experiment until you find a setting that meets your dry time without interfering with your hairs moisture level.
Define Your Curls with a Denman Brush
If you’re not into heat styling your curls, then you can get similar results from a Denman brush.
A Denman brush is a detangling tool that also defines your curls and adds volume and shine to your hair. Denman brushes are great for removing shedding hair from your head, and the rubber pad helps with smoothing your hair.
There is some controversy with this brush because some curly ladies report that their curls are poufy and undefined. The position in which you hold the brush makes a difference in how your curls come out. Also, if you find that it’s too complicated to detangle your hair, you can remove a few rows until you find the right combination that allows the brush to flow freely through your hair.
The benefit to using a Denman brush is that you can detangle and define your hair all at once. It’s important to remember that you should not use a Denman brush on dry hair. Any tool that is used to separate your natural texture will only work on hair that is wet and full of conditioner or another smoothing hair product.
If you’re looking for a method that allows you to define your natural texture and cut down on your styling time, try out a Denman brush.
The main thing to remember on your natural hair journey is not to stress.
Learning and exploring new methods of defining your natural hair texture should be a fun and carefree experience. If you try out a new method and it doesn’t work, sometimes you should try playing with your products before ruling out the method.
What is your favorite way to define your curl pattern? Leave a comment below and share your tips! Are you looking for hair inspiration? Follow @privalelabelextensions on Instagram.