October 6, 2022

A close up of the model Alanna Arrington with her naturally curly hair

Who runs the world? Curls. Just like people, curly hair comes in all different shapes, colors, and sizes, and it’s important to tailor your routine and styling toward your curl pattern. Understanding curl patterns can be intimidating at first, but once you’ve figured it out, creating and following the routine that best serves your curls can make a world of difference.

So, what exactly defines the curls of type 3A hair? We turned to the experts—stylist Nubia Rëzo and trichologist Kerry Yates—to find out.

What Is Type 3A Hair?

Understanding your curl type can often be difficult. “Did you know that not every follicle is created equal, and each follicle works independently, meaning on one head you can have many different curl types ranging from type 2 and type 3 curls?” shares Yates. That being said, the experts have some tips on how to identify your curl type as 3A.

3A curls have a defined ringlet, as you’ll see in the chart above. The curl itself is both wider and looser than other ringlet curls. “To understand what I mean by ringlets, visualize a corkscrew and when I speak of loose curls, think of that ringlet being wide enough to easily wrap around a small banana or a thick highlighter pen,” notes Yates. “The diameter ranges from 1 inch to 1/2 inch.”

And for a simpler way of putting it: “They are springy loopy curls,” says Rëzo.

Differentiating Between Type 3A and Other Hair Types

Differentiating between curl patterns can sometimes be difficult as the curls get tighter, but there are some key notes to help clarify any lingering question marks.

“There are four basic curl types of texture types ranging from 1 to 4,” shares Yates. “Type 2 denotes wavy hair with no discernible curl, and types 3 and 4 plus additional classifications define both the curl type and shape. If your curls are defined ringlets, think like the shape of a slinky or corkscrew, then you have class 3 curls. If your curls follow more of a ‘z’ pattern, then you have class 4 types of curls.”

Deferring back to the curl pattern chart, the difference between 3A’s neighboring pattern 2C is quite defined. Type 2C does not have a completely formed ringlet, whereas 3A does, making it a generally direct differentiation standpoint. The difference between 3A and 3B, however, can be a tad more difficult as both are defined ringlets and differ in curl tightness.

“3B curls are more spirally ringlets,” Rëzo adds, “3A hair is often made up of strands that are ‘s’ shaped.”

How Should You Care for Type 3A Hair?

“Curly hair is more fragile, and the tighter the curl, the drier the strand,” Yates notes right off the bat. “Type 3A curls can require some extra support based on the hair texture (fine, medium, coarse) and hair health.” So, how do you narrow down the perfect routine that shows your hair love without causing distress? The experts have some tips.

Avoid Chemical Exposure

“Heavily highlighted curls will be dry and more prone to breakage,” Yates says. “Exposure to heavy chemicals can negatively impact the curl shape and can cause some ringlets to be more wave-like and even appear frizzy.”

Studies support this notion, showing that chemical treatments lead to a decrease in the lipid content of the cell surface in hair and change it from the state of hydrophobicity to a more hydrophilic state, meaning hair is no longer locked in moisture and can generally lead to what Yates noted as dry hair with more breakage.1

Deep Condition

Experts note that deep conditioners can be essential to helping repair damaged hair. “Since 3A is right in the middle, it is advised to show it some extra love, but not too much,” says Rëzo. “You want to make sure to deep condition as part of your hair routine, especially with any texture tighter than a 3. Usually, the tighter the curl, the dryer the hair. This happens because the more textured the hair is, the harder it is for it to hold moisture.”

Limit Silicone Products

“Choose formulas that limit their silicone usage,” says Yates. “Silicones can enhance shine and flexibility in the short term but can exacerbate hair conditions and [compromise] overall health in the long term.”

Typically, over time, a silicone buildup in hair can actually cause breakage, dehydration, and leave your hair generally weaker. Instead, look for products with emollients such as plant-based oils. “In addition, for curls with various ringlet shapes, choose styling products with natural resins that tout weightless styling,” Yates notes. “The idea is to create a bouncy curl, not a heavy curl that will fall into a wave after styling.”

“Since the type 3A curl is already naturally springy, you really don’t need much product to style,” adds Rëzo.

Avoid Over Washing

“Washing your hair too frequently dries it out,” Rëzo says. “It is advised to wash your hair only once a week. This way the natural oils your scalp produces will sit in your hair and will make your hair stronger and overall healthier.” Note that this applies to 3A hair specifically, and other hair types may require different wash frequencies.

Sleep With Silk

“The hair should always be protected with a silk pillowcase, bonnet, or scarf to ensure it does not tangle up while sleeping,” Rëzo says.

What Are Some of the Best Hairstyles and Cuts for Type 3A Hair?

In terms of a cut, the experts agree that while technically you can wear 3A hair at any desired length, shorter is often better. “Long hair can be heavy, and as a result, it can pull the ringlet feature out of the hair,” Yates says. “To ensure perfect ringlets, you need to limit your hair length to no more than two to three inches below the shoulder (when hair is straight) or at your shoulder when hair is styled curly.”

Rëzo notes that styling 3A as a round-shaped cut can often compliment the curls. “This is a very popular cut for 3A hair considering it is a cut meant for any curly hair type and caters to 3A hair, especially if they are looking for volume,” she shares. “There are many ways to wear this specific hair type whether you leave your hair up or down, short or long.”

“In addition, you will want to create multiple layers throughout the hair; otherwise, the end result will make you look like you are wearing a bell on your head,” Yates adds. “Bobs, short and long, are good for this curl type.”

When it comes to drying and styling the hair beyond the cut, it’s important to treat 3A curls with a little extra TLC. “When drying your hair after it is styled, it’s important to be extra gentle with type 3A hair,” Rëzo says. “This hair type is known to frizz up so being gentle to the touch will help avoid that. You want to make sure you’re always using a microfiber towel to pat the hair dry. Using a regular towel will cause friction and frizz to the hair and also create damage. When diffusing, make sure to use low heat and high pressure. Using low heat will avoid any heat damage on the curls which can loosen them up. This happens especially with type 3A hair and looser.”

The Best Products for Type 3A Hair

Innersense Sweet Spirit Leave In Conditioner
Innersense Sweet Spirit Leave In Conditioner $26.00

“Everything from Innersense is brilliant,” Yates says. “On wet hair, apply Sweet Spirit leave-in conditioner. This will keep the curls hydrated and frizz-free. Taking sections apply from roots to ends. To ensure even saturation, work through with your fingers. You can then dry naturally or with your diffuser.”

Dyson Supersonic™ hair dryer
Dyson Supersonic Hair Dryer $430.00

“The Dyson dryer with diffuser quickly dries without negatively impacting the curl,” says Yates. The Supersonic is engineered to help protect hair from extreme heat damage with fast drying and controlled styling (and has a five-star rating from Byrdie editor Ashley Rubell).

Innersense I Create Lift Volumizing Foam
Innersense I Create Lift Volumizing Foam $28.00

“If you need a bit of root volume, apply the I Create Lift Volumizing Foam at the roots before drying/diffusing,” Yates says. “Once dry, loosen the rings and you are ready to go.”

Rëzo Curl Control Shampoo
Rëzo Curl Control Shampoo $32.00

“Rëzo Haircare is formulated specifically for curly hair and is made with all-natural ingredients that promote hair growth and nourishment and stop the shedding of hair,” Rëzo says. “Aside from awesome products, your curls actually need a lot of water. The more water the better. Just like your skin needs to stay hydrated, your curls need to stay hydrated too. The ratio of a lot of water and little product will dry the hair very moisturized and shiny. This step will leave your hair feeling very lightweight and hydrated and the goal is for you to feel like there is nothing in your hair. In addition to the whole lightweight feel, using a clarifying shampoo takes on a huge role in every curly hair routine, and clarifying will remove all of the product buildup sitting in your hair. It will give your scalp a clean slate which is also great for trying new products.”