Shortly after discovering the curly girl method and realizing my hair was wavy, I wanted to know what my curl pattern was. I don’t really even know why I wanted to know. I just did. I looked at curl pattern charts and found most of them really confusing. I thought I would make a wavy hair chart guide that would be a bit easier to make sense of!
Wavy Hair Number
Wavy hair is “type 2” hair, spanning from 2a to 2c. 2B waves are shaped like the letter S, while 2a waves are looser, and 2C waves are tighter.
2b? 3a? What do these wavy hair numbers or curly hair numbers mean? I found them really confusing at first. I would look at different curl pattern charts and feel like the images shown would vary dramatically. I think finding your curl pattern from those charts is confusing because they show you an entire head of hair, often with varying wavy hair numbers on their head.
I found the same to be true of looking up #2bhair or similar on Instagram or other places online. If you look at any given curl pattern tag, you’ll see a dramatic range of curl patterns. How confusing! It’s common for people with wavy hair to have more than 1 wavy hair category that they fit into.
It just doesn’t really make sense to me to try to give a single curl pattern to most people. It makes way more sense to give a type to individual waves/curls. So I’ve taken some photos to help show you how to find your wavy hair number for your individual waves or curls. Most likely, you have multiple.
Wavy Hair Curl Patterns
The easiest way to understand wavy hair patterns is to know that 2B hair is shaped like a letter S. 2A hair is looser than the letter S, and 2c hair is tighter than a letter S. Here are some photos showing each of these to help illustrate.
Differences in 2a, 2b and 2c waves
Imagine making a letter S with a piece of string. if you would have to pull the ends of the string tighter to mimic your hair, then you have 2a waves. If you would have to squish the string closer together you have 2 C hair. If the letter S is close to your hair pattern, you have 2B hair.
In the graphic above, can you see how you can make out a “letter S” in the 2B photos, and then how the 2a photos are looser, and the 2C photos are tighter than a letter S? That’s how you can determine your wave pattern!
Just look at one wave at a time and see what most of your hair seems to align with best.
Can Wavy Hair Have Multiple Curl Patterns?
Most people with wavy or curly hair have two or more curl patterns on different parts of their head. It’s also common for your hair to be different patterns on different days. Curl pattern is somewhat fluid.
This is why many people will list their pattern as something like 2a/2b, because they span multiple patterns. Most people who do list their hair as a single pattern are just listing their primary curl pattern. All of the photos in this blog post are my own hair, I span the whole wavy spectrum 2a, 2b and 2c most days. This is why I usually just refer to my hair as wavy and leave it at that.
However, my pattern definitely varies. My hair pattern looks a lot different if I don’t use gel or mousse, or if I diffuse or air dry. I have a whole post about air drying vs diffusing wavy hair if you’d like to see and read about how it make a difference in my hair pattern.
Or if you find that you have really varying curl patterns in different sections and want to try to make it more even, check out my post about my uneven curl pattern and how I try to tighten my straighter sections to get more of a balance.
Does curl pattern impact how to care for your hair?
Curl pattern doesn’t really impact how you should care for your hair. Determining your hair porosity, hair thickness, and density are far more important aspects of figuring out the best routine for your hair.
However, there are some common differences between wavy and curly hair that can be useful as general guides if you are brand new to embracing your wavy hair. See my posts How To Modify The Curly Girl Method For Wavy Hair or What Are The Differences Between Wavy And Curly Hair for more info about the common differences.
Is My Hair Straight Or Wavy?
If your hair goes both left and right in a loose “S” shape then it is wavy. If your hair flips to one side (left or right) but doesn’t come back the other direction, it’s 1C straight hair.
I made a photo to try to help explain this.
In the photo above, my hair is product-free and unstyled so it doesn’t have much definition (sorry!) but I used yellow to trace pieces of my hair that are more 1C, so they’d be considered straight although they flip in one direction so they are not “pin straight”. The blue lines are tracing a couple pieces of my hair that make a bend to each side, so they are 2A and considered wavy.
If your hair is looser than a letter S, you may be asking if your hair ‘counts’ as wavy or not. Some straight hair is pin-straight, however, 1c hair can have a slight bend to it. The difference between 1c straight hair and 2a wavy hair is whether or not the hair bends in both directions. 1c hair may flip to one side, but won’t go both left and right (or back and forth, however you want to perceive it).
Where wavy hair will go left, then right, not just in one direction. If your hair usually just flips in one direction and doesn’t come back, so it currently looks to be 1C, but you’re treating your hair like straight hair, it may actually be wavy if you treat it differently.
“treating it like straight hair” means brushing it frequently and not using any leave-in products, among other things. Check out this post of mine about signs that your straight hair may actually be wavy. It’s fairly common for naturally wavy hair to look like 1b or 2c straight hair if it isn’t intentionally treated like wavy hair.
Even if treated was wavy, you may find that some of your hair is straight while others are wavy. I have an article on my uneven curl pattern and how I try to balance out my straighter section with my curlier section.
If you are realizing you have wavy hair and aren’t familiar with how to care for it like wavy hair, check out my wavy hair blog post directory. I have tons of helpful info for people new to wavy hair!
My hair has bends in it but I can’t see individual waves
Curl patterns are largely based on looking at well-defined waves, meaning hair where you can pick out one wave at a time and look at its pattern. If your hair sort of blends all together instead of being in groups, then it will be really hard to determine your curl type.
The photo above is my hair without product in it, and you can tell it isn’t truly straight, but you can’t really pick out individual waves to determine their type. If you want to get more defined hair so that you can determine your curl type, check out my post How To Test If Hair Is Wavy Before Starting The Curly Girl Method to get more defined waves, without having to spend any money.
Is My Hair Wavy Or Curly?
If your hair goes “back and forth” from side to side like an S shape, or in a loose corkscrew shape, then your hair is wavy. If your hair makes full 360-degree spiral twists, then it is curly.
Another way of putting it is, in curly hair you could hide a marker. In tighter wavy hair (2b to 2c waves) it may make a loose corkscrew shape around, so you could stick a marker through the center of the wave.
However, in wavy hair, you could still see parts of the marker. Where in truly curly hair, the marker would be fully wrapped with hair so it would be hidden in the curl. I have full blog post about the differences between wavy and curly hair if you want to explore this in more depth.
Can Curl Pattern Change?
Curl pattern can change with age or hair routine. Many people find that their hair gets curlier the longer they follow the curly girl method. The tightness of your curl pattern may vary from day to day, even.
Wash day, day 2, and day 3 – my hair gets looser textured as days go by.
My hair is tightest on wash day, and as it loses definition on days 2 and beyond, it typically gets looser, and my curl clumps get fatter as they combine with nearby curl clumps.
Overall, my hair has gotten curlier since I started the curly girl method. When I first started, my hair was primarily 2a, and now it is primarily 2b. Products can impact your hair pattern. For example, if you use products that are too heavy for your hair, it might weigh down your pattern and stretch it out.
Lacking protein can also stretch your pattern out. Air drying can allow water to weigh your hair down before it dries. There are many potential factors.
Can a single curl clump have multiple patterns?
Individual curl clumps can have multiple patterns! Many people with wavy hair will have straighter hair closer to the root, and tighter curl pattern closer to the ends.
Sometimes it is a sign that your hair might be weighed down, or it can be a sign that your hair needs protein. Other times, it is just the way that naturally wavy hair behaves. My hair is never as tightly textured at the top vs the bottom. However, when my hair starts to only have waves or curls low on my head, I know it’s time for a protein treatment.
If you’re new to learning about caring for your waves, it may take a while to learn the signs and symptoms of what your hair needs, when.
What about wonky curl patterns that don’t match the curl chart?
Occasionally, my hair does really weird things. I find it entertaining and like to photograph it when this happens. Here are a few of my really off the wall curl clumps from the past.
This one twists over on itself, then changes direction, and goes from narrow to wide at the bottom. It had no idea which way it wanted to go!
This one felt like doing a loop-d-loop I guess!
This one almost looked like a pin-curl right up against my “sideburn” area, then turned and did a loop the opposite direction.
This one had sharp edges, more like a zig-zag than my typical S shape.
I mostly find these entertaining. Seriously though, most of the time these are caused by doing strange things to my routine. For example, some of them were caused by the way my hair laid in the diffuser in an unnatural position.
When a curl clump starts one direction and then flips in another direction, I think that is often caused by how the hair is manipulated when I style upside down, but then flip upright.
I almost always style upside down and it usually works fine. However, sometimes my hair starts to dry in one direction, and then when I flip upright the wave will change directions part-way down my head.
I don’t sweat over it when I have a wonky wave or two. I know that wearing my hair naturally means embracing imperfections sometimes. However, I do like to take note of what happened and try to figure out why, so I can learn more about what I’m doing right and what I can work to improve.
I cut all my hair off and as it grew back I noticed that my curl pattern had completely changed as well. That straight section at the back is now the curliest part of my hair. I get really tight rightlets at the nape of my neck. Now the top section, the part that curled first, is more wavy than curly.
I’m having a really hard time trying to understand what you mean by “hair flips to one side but won’t go back the other direction.” I’m trying to figure out if I’m 1c or 2a. Can you please elaborate on what you meant by this?
Emily Evert says
I just drew on a photo of my unstyled hair and added it, and an explanation of the drawing to this post to try to help illustrate the difference. Hope it helps!