June 3, 2023

Zendaya with curly hair.

Every time we see a head full of beautiful, bouncy curls, we have to fight the inner beauty editor urge to lead a standing ovation. Because while wearing your hair au naturel has never been cooler, we know the serious work it takes to master—and maintain—curls. From styling creams to leave-ins to nourishing oils, a curly head of hair sans styling and TLC risks frizz, knots, and a serious case of dehydration.

And while no two heads of hair are alike, curls generally fall into one of nine curl types ranging from type 2A (fine, slightly s-shaped waves) to type 4C (tightly coiled, densely packed curls). Somewhere in between the two lies type 3B: tight and springy curls with significant volume and frizz. Sound familiar? Read on for everything you need to know about caring for type 3B curls, straight from trichologist Bridgette Hill and hairstylist Marilisa Sears.

What Is Type 3B Hair?

According to the hair typing system (which, to be clear, has a long and complicated history), 3B curls are characterized as tight and springy—the sort of curls that wrap around your finger, says Sears, with a circumference similar to that of a Sharpie.

Hill warns that the hair typing system is not perfect—naturally curly hair often has more than one type of pattern, and hair texture can create varied patterns as a result of different fiber weights.

Especially being in the middle of the type 3 spectrum, someone with type 3B curls could very well have a mix of 2C, 3A, 3B, and 3C curl patterns. That being said, for this article we’ve all agreed that we’ll refer to 3B curls as those with medium frizz and texture, and loose to loosely corkscrewed curl patterns.

Differentiating Between Type 3 Curl Patterns

To put it simply, all type 3 hair is definitively curly. The size, texture, and volume of those curls are then broken down into three subcategories: 3A, which has S-shaped, loose, softer curls; 3B, which has ringlet-shaped, voluminous, springy curls; and 3C, which has corkscrewed, tight, stiff curls.

Those with 3B hair are likely to have a mix of looser spirals and springy corkscrews throughout, as well as a variety of characteristics shared with 3A and 3B hair according to Sears.

That being said, type 3B hair generally features a significant amount of volume and defined curl patterns. This hair type tends to experience shrinkage from wet to dry and becomes puffy and frizzy when brushed (similar to type 3C styles). Unlike 3A hair, which can lose definition and curl depending on how it’s styled, 3B curls stay coiled no matter the tool or product used on them.

And regardless of hair texture, Hill says type 3B hair’s most defining characteristics tend to be dehydration and frizz.

How Should You Care for Type 3B Hair?

Both experts are in agreement when it comes to the best ways to care for type 3B hair:

  • Layer products to build and retain moisture
  • Avoid heat as much as possible
  • Opt for lightweight leave-in products to avoid weighing hair down
  • Create (and follow) a comprehensive plan for daily care and protection

Above all else, good products and protective care are key to maintaining 3B curls. Focus on building and retaining moisture by layering products throughout the scalp. The most important word here is layer.

Hill suggests committing to a pre-shampoo oil treatment before every shampoo—and notes that all deep masks should be used on dry, dirty hair prior to cleansing. Both pros recommend layering a rich shampoo and conditioner in a variety of ways to help define curls with minimal to no frizz. Another tip from Hill: Look for products with hyaluronic acid, fatty acids, and oils to properly hydrate hair. Avoid sulfates and heat, color, and chemical treatments as much as possible to minimize damage and dryness.

The more hydrated and moisturized hair is, the longer the curl pattern can be retained—and less hair washing is never a bad thing for curls. To do this, some sort of leave-on hydrator is crucial for avoiding frizz and dryness according to both experts. Layer on a lightweight leave-in conditioner and follow with a curl-specific product (cream, milk, etc.).

While those with a coarser hair texture should opt for a curl cream post-shower, Sears says finer textures should swap it out for a less dense option (think a mousse or lotion). Regardless, look for products with lightweight textures to avoid weighing down curls and losing definition. Finally, add in a layer of lightweight oil to seal in hydration.

And lastly, remember that daily care and protection are essential in extending the life of a hair wash. Hill suggests lightly moisturizing hair with a product of your choice in between washes as well as creating a sleep hair routine, whether that be protecting hair in loose buns or braids or investing in satin or silk pillowcases.

The Best Hairstyles and Cuts for Type 3B Hair

Type 3B hair can be deceiving when wet, so Hill suggests cutting hair dry. That way you’ll have clear curl patterns, proportions, and textures to work with.

Since type 3B curls are fairly versatile, you can really go as long or as short as you’d like according to Sears. For longer lengths, she suggests incorporating longer layers to create body and movement. Meanwhile, for cuts around the collarbone and shorter, she says adding tons of layers adds a truly timeless shape and sophistication to curls.

When properly hydrated, type 3B curls look amazing simply air-dried. Use the plopping method to style hair post-shower, and try to minimize heat styling (which will worsen frizz and damage hair, both experts warn). Between wash days, a loose ponytail puffed up top keeps frizz at bay and hair away from the face.

The Best Products for Type 3B Hair

Marc Anthony Strictly Curls Curl Envy Perfect Curl Cream $8.00

Sears swears this is seriously one of the best products on the market for curly girls. She suggests saturating wet, clean hair with it from root to ends (generously), and then gently scrunching for simple, fuss-free curl prep.

Ceremonia Açaí Style Refresher $18.00

This water-based mist brings hair back to life between wash days without weighing down strands. Simply spray and resculpt curls with fingers as needed. Plus, it’s infused with the brand’s signature scent to keep hair smelling fresh.

invisibobble Traceless Waver Hair Pins $5.00

These clips are multi-use lifesavers for those trying to elongate or stretch curl patterns. Use one to first isolate an individual section of hair and then use it as a roller and setting tool to give curls more length and density.

Ceremonia Pequi Curl Activator
Ceremonia Pequi Curl Activator $27.00

With a weightless, milky texture and a boost of hydration from castor oil and murumuru butter, this serum makes for the perfect nourishing styling ritual. It defines curls and cuts down on frizz without causing buildup or weighing down strands.

PATTERN by Tracee Ellis Ross Curl Gel $25.00

This curl gel is a serious game-changer when it comes to perfecting your wash-and-go routine. A powerhouse mix of aloe vera, coconut oil, cacay oil, and kahai oil leaves hair flexible and nourished with defined, juicy curls.

Innersense Pure Inspiration Daily Conditioner $30.00

More than a few of my favorite curly girls swear by Innersense. With formulas good for your hair and the planet, the brand prides itself on clean chemistry and radical transparency. This conditioner is lightweight but seriously effective, leaving hair hydrated and frizz-free.