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Why You Can’t Figure Out Your Curl Pattern: 9 Reasons Explained

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Curly haired woman staring at her curls trying to figure out her curl pattern.

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Have you ever stood in front of the mirror, feeling overwhelmed by your curly hair, wondering why it behaves the way it does? You’re not alone. The complexities of curly hair, with its mix of waves and tight coils, can be a frustrating experience. It’s important to know that struggling to understand your unique curl pattern doesn’t mean you lack skill in hair care.

Curl patterns can be perplexing for a variety of valid reasons, and today, we’re going to dive into those intricacies. There’s no need to stress over getting your curls to form perfect spirals every time.

Understanding your curl pattern and hair type is the first step toward managing your curls. It’s not just about identifying your hair’s shape; it’s about recognizing the unique characteristics that make your curls special. So, let’s begin by exploring the basics of curl patterns and hair types, setting you on a path to more joyful and confident hair care experiences.

What Is Curl Pattern?

Image of a curl pattern chart.

Curly hair comes in all shapes and sizes, from kinky curls to voluminous waves, every head of curly hair is uniquely different and beautiful.

Many of us are familiar with the term’ curl pattern’, especially those of us who have naturally curly hair. However, curl patterns can be a bit confusing.

Simply put, curl pattern is the distinct shape or formation that a curl takes when it is formed. Different curl patterns determine the curl type and can influence how your style looks and behaves.

It is not uncommon to have more than one curl pattern on your head. You can have a combination of wavy, curly, kinky/coily curls all in one head of hair.

Some curlies’ curls vary significantly in texture and tightness from area to area. Generally, we all possess one main curl pattern; so if you can’t identify which curl pattern you have go with the one that occurs most often.

Different Curly Hair Types and Characteristics

Now that you are aware of what a curl pattern is, let’s unpack each curl type and explore the details.

When it comes to curls, there is an array of types with each boasting its distinct texture and structure. Curly hair types vary widely in terms of diameter, curliness, mechanical strength, color, and density.

Your curl type is determined by the shape of the follicle that your hair grows out of from your scalp. “The flatter or more oval-shaped the follicle, the curlier your hair; the more circular the cross-section, the straighter your hair. Your curl pattern is also identified by the shape that the strands of hair make, whether they kink, curve, or wind around themselves into spirals.” 

Let’s break it down a bit further to help you with curl identification. Presently, many people rely on Andre Walker’s innovative hair typing system for curls to reference and identify their curl type.

The system is comprised of four main categories with specific subtypes labeled A, B, and C added to some types. The sub-classifications are based on the diameter or width of your wavy, curly, or coily hair.

Type 1 refers to straight hair. The type 2 category represents wavy hair. Type 3 represents curly hair, and the number 4 represents coily hair.

Here’s a brief overview of each curl type and its characteristics:

Type 1AStraight hair with fine texture. With a soft texture and glossy sheen, this hair type is difficult to hold curls. It is usually very oily and highly resistant to damage.
Type 1BStraight hair with a medium texture. This type of hair has substantially more volume and a fuller body.
Type 1CStraight and coarse texture. This type of hair is a naturally straight texture that is difficult to curl.
Type 2AS-shaped waves that are loose. Strands of hair remain close to the scalp.
Type 2BDefined S pattern waves that tend to frizz. Slightly resistant to styling.
Type 2CWide, defined waves that can frizz easily that are resistant to styling.
Type 3ALoose, bouncy curls. This hair has a plentiful texture and plenty of body, with an unmistakable curl pattern. Frizziness is often present in this type of hair, while it may also contain multiple textures.
Type 3BDefined, tighter curls and has a medium amount of space between the curls. It is typically characterized by having two or more textures combined in one.
Type 3CTightly coiled corkscrew curls. These ringlets are extremely curly and tightly wound
Type 4ATight, kinky-coily defined coils that have an ‘o’ shaped pattern.
Type 4BTightly coiled with a less distinguishable kink pattern, resembling more of a “Z”-shaped texture.
Type 4CComposed of tightly coiled strands that are barely distinguishable from a distance. On closer inspection, the curls form an “o” pattern which gives it its unique texture and look.

Knowing your curl pattern and type is an invaluable tool when it comes to taking effective care of your natural texture, allowing you to amplify its definition.

Although it can be useful in determining which hair care products to use, such as lightweight versus heavy, this factor is likely the least imperative element in attaining healthy and beautiful locks.

Hair porosity is a more significant factor to consider regarding hair care than curl pattern or curl type.

Now, let’s explore 9 reasons why figuring out your curl pattern might be tough. 

Reasons Why You Can’t Figure Out Your Curl Pattern

We’ve all been here – trying to figure out our specific curl pattern to style and manage. With so many factors like hair type, products used, and lifestyle dominating how we approach our curls, it’s understandable why so many of us struggle to identify our curl patterns.

Here are several things that could impede your journey toward discovering your true curl pattern:

1. Dryness

Image showing the back of long curly brown hair.

As someone who has trouble with dry hair, I know how frustrating it can be to try to keep curls defined. Trust me; it’s all about moisture.

Dryness causes your hair to lose its elasticity, making it more difficult to determine its natural curl pattern.

To combat dryness, you need hydration and moisture in your hair care routine. Hydration is simply the process of “adding water molecules.” Moisturization, however, goes further by not only ensuring adequate hydration but also “preserving existing hair moisture levels.”

Hydrating the hair is made simple by using humectants, which actively draw in water molecules and retain moisture within the hair fiber.

To moisturize your hair, incorporate deep conditioning treatments into your hair care regime. Incorporating deep conditioning into your weekly routine is essential, yet it’s important to remember that the frequency of doing so will depend on the condition of your hair and lifestyle habits.

Lastly, to preserve your hair’s moisture levels, use oil or butter as the last step in your styling routine. This will create a barrier against water loss.

In the world of hair care science, hydration and moisturization are two key components that work in tandem to add precious water molecules while also safeguarding existing ones.

It’s important to pay attention to the ingredients in your hair products and make sure they contain the right ingredients to combat dryness.

2. Heat Damage Can Mask Your Natural Texture

Suppose you frequently straighten or blow-dry your hair with heat tools at high temperatures. In that case, this could lead to heat damage over time which will mask your natural texture and make it harder for you to determine what type of curl pattern you actually have underneath all the damage caused by heat styling tools!

Try swapping out traditional heating tools for diffusers or lowering the temperature settings. Incorporating a leave-in conditioner as part of your routine can help protect against further damage while restoring some definition to those curls!

If you’re still transitioning, it can be hard to figure out your curl pattern because the damage is masking its true texture. To get a better idea of what type of curls you have, make sure to trim off any damaged ends and give your hair some time to heal itself.

3. Frizzy Hair

As a curly-haired person myself, I’ve observed that frizz is a common issue among all curl patterns. Frizz can affect anyone, regardless of their curl type.

It’s important to note that having frizzy hair doesn’t automatically mean you have a specific curl type. It just means your hair requires a bit more maintenance.

Combatting frizzy hair can be a long and arduous process; however, you can take proactive steps to battle the unruliness.

Utilizing curly hair products that help reduce frizz or prevent it all together is one of the best methods for keeping your mane in check —think curl creams, leave-in conditioners, and curl-enhancing gels.

4. Your Hair is a Combination of Textures

Image of curly-haired girl running her fingers through her curls while looking at them.

Although it’s normal for our hair to change over time as we age or if our hormones fluctuate. Some people even have multiple textures on their heads as mentioned earlier, where different parts or sections may require different types of care or styling methods due to varying texture patterns.

It’s also possible that some parts may be coarser than others, making them more resilient and less prone to damage from heat-styling tools or environmental stressors like the sun or salt water.

So if you struggle to define the texture of your hair, remember that it may not fit precisely into one category—it may be a combination of different textures!

5. Products Could Be Altering Your Texture

Do certain products weigh down your curls or make them look greasy after only a few hours?

This could mean the products are too heavy for your curl pattern and are causing build-up on each strand, altering its natural shape and definition throughout the day.

Try switching products until you find one that defines and moisturizes without weighing down those precious locks.

This curl journey is a constant learning process. Getting to know your curl pattern and understanding what works best for you by trial and error is all part of the ride!

6. Allow your Hair to Return to its Natural State

Image of Black woman with a coily curl pattern stretching out her coils.

The curlier your hair is, the more shrinkage you’re likely to experience. If you know, you know!

Shrinking is a natural characteristic of curl patterns, and while it’s tempting to stretch out your curls with a blow dryer or other means, it will not bring out its true curl pattern.

Your curl pattern is unique, so take time to experiment with different products, tools, and techniques and allow your curl pattern to shine in its natural state!

If you try to assess your curl pattern when it’s wet, the water content can skew the results, so it’s best to wait until your hair is fully dried to assess its natural texture.

After a good cleansing and conditioning routine, evenly distribute a moisturizing product and styling aid throughout your hair using just your fingers. Try different styling techniques to bring out the definition of your curl pattern.

7. Do Not Comb Your Hair After Washing It

Well, one of the best ways to see your curl pattern is when your hair is clean and hasn’t been styled.

As someone who knows a thing or two about curly hair, let me tell you this – do not comb your hair after washing it.

Trust me, I understand the urge to comb your hair, but it only takes away from the true definition of your curls. Now, this is only to assess your true curl pattern, not for styling purposes.

Combing or brushing wet your curls will cause them to lose definition and create a frizzy look. Your curl pattern will look stringy and separated.

Don’t get me wrong, using a comb is great for detangling and shaping your hair, but it can ruin the natural alignment of your curls.

While a comb can come in handy when detangling or styling, it ultimately compromises the natural curl alignment and definition of your hair.

8. Incorrect Styling Techniques

It’s essential to understand that incorrect styling techniques can alter your curl pattern.

For example, tight ponytails or buns can cause some curl patterns to become more straight over time. This can damage your curls overtime, and it occurs when the curl pattern is stretched out or manipulated.

It’s also important to note that bleaching and dyeing your hair can damage curl patterns, as well. Chemical treatments break down the curl pattern structure of your hair and strip it of its natural curl pattern.

Using incorrect styling techniques can make it difficult for your natural curl pattern to come through and form properly because it disrupts the formation process by breaking apart the clumps that form naturally when wetting or conditioning.

9. Not Getting a Regular Haircut

Your curl pattern is delicate and needs routine maintenance, just like anything else.

Don’t make the blunder of overlooking a trip to the hair salon; many individuals make this common mistake.

Getting regular trims helps to keep your curl pattern looking its best. It prevents curl pattern damage due to split ends and encourages healthy growth for your curl pattern.

It’s essential to note that not all curl patterns need the same amount of trimming, so it helps to get regular consultations from a curl specialist for knowledge and advice on how to properly maintain your curl pattern.

Wrap Up

There you have it, the nine most common reasons people can’t figure out their curl pattern.

It’s essential to take your curl pattern into consideration when styling and caring for it, as this will help maintain curl health and prevent curl pattern damage.

It’s important to remember that there is no one stop solution when it comes to curl patterns, as each curl pattern is unique. Take time to experiment with different products, tools, and techniques and allow your curl pattern to shine.


I’m just a girl who transformed her severely damaged hair into healthy hair. I adore the simplicity of a simple hair care routine, the richness of diverse textures, and the joy of sharing my journey from the comfort of my space.

My mission? To empower others with the tools to restore, and maintain healthy hair, and celebrate the hair they were born with!

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