For many people, especially folks just starting their haircare journeys, if hair isn’t obviously or poker straight, it’s curly—“wavy” is often forgotten or doesn’t exist!

Misidentifying your hair type can lead to a lot of frustration and annoyance as you won’t be able to give your hair the right care or style it right, which in turn leads to bad hair days and endless wondering about why your hair just won’t behave.

However, identifying your curl type can be quite a game changer, so here’s everything you need to know about hair waves vs curls!

The Difference Between Curly and Wavy Hair

The shape of your hair is defined by the shape of the follicle that the strand grows from. The more oval-shaped or flat the follicle, the curlier the hair.

This is the obvious difference that sets curly and wavy hair apart—the shape of the follicle and as a result, the shape of the hair. Wavy hair has more of an “S” shape that moves side to side, thanks to a more circular follicle, while curly hair falls in 360-degree spirals, forming complete circles as the strands twist.

The tightness of curls can vary, with your hair forming either corkscrews or loose spirals.

Some other possible differences between curly and wavy:

  • Wavy hair requires clarification more often.
  • Waves commonly tend to start lower down the head (though starting at the scalp is also possible).
  • Wavy hair tends to have lower porosity than curly hair.
  • It’s easier to break the definition of wavy hair and flatten it.
  • Wavy hair can be weighed down more easily.
  • Wavy hair requires lesser conditioning than curly hair.
  • Wavy hair isn’t as dry as curly hair because the natural oils from the scalp find it easier to travel down the strands to the tips.
  • Wavy hair is easier to style as such hair holds products and styles better.

Note that these aren’t rules written in stone; wavy hair can behave differently for different people. In such cases, it’s best to turn to the curl classification system. The differences between wavy and curly hair should become clearer as we take a look at the different types of classified wavy and curly hair.

Types of Curly and Wavy Hair

To help non-straight-haired folks around the world and make it easier to identify the curl type, curls are classified into different types:

Type 2

Type 2 hair is wavy hair—a defined “S” pattern, bendable hair, a texture ranging from coarse to fine, and hair that sits close to the head.

Type 2 waves are further broken down into 2A (very slightly wavy and easy to straighten), 2B (more defined waves that sit flatter on the head as they start midway down the strand and are harder to straighten), and 2C (the most defined “S” shape waves that start at the crown, are thick, and prone to frizz).

Type 3

Type 3 hair includes all kinds of curly hair, from tight corkscrews to loose spirals, and maybe frizzy.

Type 3 curls are further divided into 3A (shiny, loose, large curls with the width of a chalk piece), 3B (bouncy ringlets with a width close to a marker), and 3C (tight, densely packed, voluminous curls that are about as wide as a pencil or straw).

Type 4

Type 4 hair refers to coily hair. Such hair can be wiry and coarse or fine and soft, though the hair is typically spongy and very dry. These coils start right at the crown and cascade in small, tight, zig-zagging patterns.

Type 4 coils are further divided into 4A (patterned, springy, dense coils in an “S” shape that are as thick as a crochet needle), 4B (sharp, angular curls that are densely packed and bendable), and 4C (similar to 4B but featuring a tighter zig-zag pattern and more fragility).

Can Wavy Hair Be Curly?

As mentioned earlier, people with hair that isn’t obviously straight are all grouped under the tag of “curly”. “Curly” is a generic label that’s laid on all the kinds of textured hair described above—curly, coily, or wavy.

Given that “curly” is used to describe both type 3 hair and as an umbrella term for all kinds of textured hair, it isn’t hard to see where things get confusing.

While wavy hair itself isn’t curly, it isn’t uncommon to have a combination of curly and wavy hair, or for wavy hair to become curly. However, this isn’t necessarily a good thing—your waves can become curly as a result of damaging factors such as chemical treatments and heat styling.

Styling Curly and Wavy Hair

Having your best hair days involves styling it right, so here’s how to style curly and wavy hair right (if you have both, you can pick out the styling routines from both that work best for your hair).

Styling Wavy Hair

Styling wavy hair starts in the shower with high-quality sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner. When you condition, make sure you evenly distribute the product by combing through your conditioned hair with a wide-tooth comb or finger combing it. Use cold water to rinse out the conditioner.

Give your hair a good squeeze with a microfiber towel or a T-shirt to get out the excess water and follow this up with the styling products of your choice (a curl mousse is an excellent option for enhancing your natural wave pattern).

Let your hair dry to about 70%, ensuring that you don’t touch it during this time. Divide your hair into two, twist them into pigtails, and clip them up while the remaining moisture evaporates.

Once your hair is completely dry, unclip it and use light hair oil, coating from mid-length to the tips. Give your hair a good scrunch to bring out your natural waves. Finish off with a shine spray to keep your waves healthy and hydrated.

Styling Curly Hair

Styling curly hair is a lot more resource intensive than styling wavy hair since you’ll need more products, which means more steps. Additionally, the products that work best are those specifically designed for curly hair—curl shampoo, curl conditioner, leave-in curl cream/mousse, curl gel, a microfiber towel or T-shirt for plopping or a Denman brush, and serum or hair oil to scrunch out your curls (phew!).

Remember—curly hair loves moisture, so it’s nearly impossible to over-hydrate your curls. Deep conditioning or using a hair mask once a week will go a long way in locking in moisture.

However, an overload of products can weigh your hair down, taking away the bounce from your curls. It’s important to find the products and quantities that work for your hair.

Your natural hair texture and curl patterns are beautiful as they are; enhancing these, instead of fighting them, will ensure your best hair days!

While haircare products will help enhance your natural curls and keep them looking good, the right haircare routine will keep your curls looking their best. And to employ the right haircare routine, it’s essential to know what type of hair you have and what the type’s needs are.

Waves or curls, make sure you’re giving your hair the TLC it needs and deserves, and it’s “bye-bye, bad hair days”.