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2c vs 3a Hair: Difference in Curl Type & Styling Tips

Do you want to know the difference between 2c vs 3a hair? This post tells you everything you need to know about telling the difference between these two hair types as well as what routine and products are best for each.

2a vs 3c hair

The original hair typing system was created by Oprah Winfrey’s hair stylist, Andre Walker. He categorised hair into four pattern types: straight, wavy, curly and coily. Types 2, 3 and 4 are then broken down further depending on their curl pattern, as illustrated in the image below.

2b hair type, 2c vs 3a hair

Type 2 is wavy hair. It is bendable, can be fine or coarse, and is characterised by a definitive s-shape pattern. Type 3 hair on the other hand is curly. The curls can range from loose spirals to tight, springy corkscrews. It usually has some sheen to it but is more prone to dryness and frizz than type 2 hair.

2c vs 3a Hair

If you are wondering whether you have 2c or 3a hair, there are a various differences between these two hair types. To start with, type 3 hair is a uniform texture all over. The curls start from the root and are the same degree of tightness through to the ends. With type 2 hair however you can have a mix of both waves and curls.

Also, unlike type 3 hair where the curls start from the roots, with type 2 hair you can have an inch or two from the root before the curl pattern starts. This means if you cut the hair short you may not even see the curl pattern. With type 3 hair you will always see the curl pattern regardless of how short the hair is.

Type 2c Hair

You can see from the two images below that 2c hair is a clear S shape. The waves are defined and can occasionally have some full ringlets. Although the waves start from the root, 2c hair has straighter roots compared with 3a.

2c hair
2c hair

Type 3a Hair

3a hair type has large, loose, curls that would fit around your middle & index fingers combined. They are loose, buoyant spirals and start from the root. 3a hair has the same hair texture and curl type across all the hair strands. If you have a few loose curls mixed in with S shaped waves, this would be 2c type hair rather than 3a.

3a hair type
3 hair

Biggest Hair Problems for 2c vs 3a Hair

2c Hair Problems – Type 2 hair is usually not as oily as type 1 (straight hair) because of the hair’s slight texture. Oil travels easily down straight hair but less well down wavy hair. This hair type also tends to be thicker than type 1 but thinner than type 3. Out of all the hair types in the wavy category, type 2c tends to be the most prone to frizz.

3a Hair Problems – Type 3 hair tends to be dry due to its texture and shape. The natural oils on the scalp are less able to travel down the hair strand to get to the end of the curl than with straight or wavy hair types. Type 3a hair tends to be thick with some shine but is also prone to frizz, breakage and split ends.

Good Hair Products for 2c vs 3a Hair

Generally 3a hair type tends to be more prone to dryness than 2c and more likely to become brittle and damaged. This is because the tighter the curl, the more difficult it is for your hair’s natural oils to travel down the hair shaft, moisturising and protecting the hair.

For this reason 3a hair types should opt for products which are slightly more hydrating, as well as protective sprays. 2c hair type also needs moisture but should choose lighter products which won’t weigh the hair down. Heavy products can sometimes cause type 2 hair to appear straight.

Best for 2c hair – You need to find the perfect balancing between controlling frizz and not weighing down the hair. This means adding moisturise without loosing wave definition. Choose moisturising shampoos and conditioners and use a hair mask once a week to lock in hydration. Use lighter products that won’t weigh the hair down such as mousses, gels, or sea salt sprays.

Best for 3 a hair – You need to keep the hair well hydrated and protected. Choose hair creams and jellies that have protection against the environment to keep your hair healthy and strong. The right products for this hair type will focus on moisture and block humidity for less frizz and more definition. Use styling creams, styling milks, or hair yoghurts.

Products for 2c Hair

If you have 2c hair you need to use products that moisturise the hair without weighing it down. My own hair is 2c (that’s my hair in the photo at the top of he page) and I’ve found the following five products to be perfect for adding hydration, defining the hair’s wave pattern and leaving the hair bouncy and glossy.

1. OGX Coconut Curls Shampoo 

OGX Coconut Curls Shampoo

The OGX Coconut Curls Shampoo is formulated for wavy and curly hair types! It’s infused with coconut oil, sweet honey and citrus oil to reduce frizz and enhance your natural curl pattern. If you are following the curly girl method, this shampoo is also curly girl approved! See which other OGX products are curly girl approved here.

2. Shea Moisture Raw Shea & Cupuacu Frizz Defense Conditioner

Shea Moisture Raw Shea & Cupuacu Frizz Defense Conditioner

This Shea Moisture shampoo is perfect for wavy and curly hair that’s prone to frizziness in humidity. The formula contains a blend of Amazonian cupuaçu butter, raw shea butter, passiflora and pistachio oils which work to detangle the hair and define your natural waves.

3. Wavy Hair Oil

wavy hair oil

The Wavy Hair Oil is an ultra lightweight oil designed specifically for wavy hair that’s type 2a, 2b or 2c. It improves the hair texture of fine or frizzy hair and leaves it glossy and bouncy. The main ingredients include jojoba oil, grapeseed oil, Argan oil and sweet almond oil which help to define your hair’s natural waves and strengthen the strands.

4. Noughty Wave Hello Taming Cream

Noughty Wave Hello Taming Cream

The Wave Hello Taming Cream conditions and defines a visible curl pattern in wavy and curly hair. The formula is 97% natural and contains sea kelp extract and avocado oil to tame frizz, and leave hair conditioned and silky soft. If you are worried about fly away strands, this is one of the best products to improve natural hair texture in different types of curls.

5. REDKEN Dry Shampoo Powder 

REDKEN Dry Shampoo Powder 

If you have wavy 2c hair which is fine but also oily, the Redken dry shampoo is perfect to absorb excess oil in between washes. It creates light volume and lift from the root making lank hair appear thicker. The formula contains charcoal which not only absorbs impurities but also improves hair texture and adds definition to loose waves.

Products for 3a Hair

If you have 3a hair you will need products that both moisturise and protect the hair. This is because curly or coily hair types are more prone to dryness and breakage. The following five products are deeply hydrating and contain protective ingredients.

1. Maui Moisture Vegan Shampoo for Curly Hair

Maui Moisture Vegan Shampoo for Curly Hair

The Maui Moisture Vegan Shampoo for Curly Hair contains aloe vera, coconut water, coconut oil, papaya fruit extract and plumeria extract to enhance curl definition in both loose and tight curls. The best way to boost your hair’s natural movement is through hydration, and coconut oil and aloe vera are the perfect ingredients for increasing moisture in dry hair.

2. CANTU Shea Butter Cream Conditioner

CANTU Shea Butter Cream Conditioner

The CANTU Shea Butter cream conditioner is perfect for curly hair types that need extra protection. It’s made using a sulfate-free formula which contains pure shea butter to moisturise dry hair and prevent split ends and breakage. This products is excellent for all curly and coily hair including type 3a through to type 4c. It is applied to wet hair after shampoo and rinsed with cool water.

3. Curly Hair Oil

Curly Hair Oil

The Curly Hair Oil is designed specifically for light curls that are hair type 3a or 3b, and helps to soften and moisturise dry and coarse hair. The main ingredients include caprylic / capric triglyceride, Argan oil and avocado oil which penetrate the hair shaft, strengthening it and adding hydration.

4. Garnier Ultimate Blends Hair Food Coconut and Macadamia

Garnier Ultimate Blends Hair Food Coconut and Macadamia

The Garnier make a number of different deep conditioners that are perfect for protecting and repairing hair that has become brittle from heat damage. Their coconut and macadamia conditioner can be used as a conditioner, hair mask or leave in conditioner. Since it has a lightweight texture that absorbs well into the hair it can be used on either 2c or 3b hair types without weighing the hair down. The product is also curly girl approved.

5. John Frieda Frizz Ease Dream Curls

John Frieda Frizz Ease Dream Curls

If you have a curly hair type, the John Frieda Frizz Ease Dream Curls is a great defining cream for loose curls or tight coils. It stops curls from becoming frizzy, flattened or unravelling. If you have 3a hair type with loose spiral curls this cream will help to infuse moisture and leave your hair supple and strong without any crunchiness. It improves natural texture, curl definition and hair thickness.

Kerastase Curl Manifesto for 2c or 3a Hair

Kerastase Curl Manifesto Range

An excellent range which is light, moisturising, protective and would suit both wavy and curly hair types is the Kerastase Curl Manifesto range. The products are slightly more expensive that the other items recommended in this post however they produce excellent results and work in any curly hair care routine.

My hair dresser actually uses this range on my hair when I get my hair cut! You can see all the steps she takes to style my hair in my post on how to style thin, curly hair. I also have a video demonstration showing how to use the Kerastase products. If you want to jump straight to the demonstration, it starts at 04:39 in the video below.

1. Kerastase Curl Manifesto Bain Hydratation Douceur

2c vs 3a hair: Hydrating for 2c hair and protective for 3a hair

Kerastase Curl Manifesto Bain Hydratation Douceur

This deeply hydrating, creamy shampoo is infused with manuka honey and ceramide for curly or wavy hair. This formula also works well on kinky hair to cleanse the hair strands without stripping the hair’s natural oil.

2. Kerastase Curl Manifesto Masque Beurre Haute Nutrition

2c vs 3a hair: Nourishing for 2c hair and Reparative for 3a hair

Kerastase Curl Manifesto Masque Beurre Haute Nutrition

This extra rich, nourishing mask treatment is perfect for hair which is prone to breakage. It strengthens any type of hair and would work well on either wavy or curly hair types.

3. Kerastase Curl Manifesto Fondant Hydratation Essentielle

Kerastase Curl Manifesto Fondant Hydratation Essentielle

This is a daily moisturising, leave in treatment that protects the hair from heat of up to 230° C. It’s an ultra-lightweight cream that won’t weigh down wavy 2c, 2a, or 2b hair, and provides intense hydration and protection for type 3b or 3a hair.

4.  Kerastase Gelée Curl Contour Gel-Cream

2c vs 3a hair: Enhances Curls and Waves in Both Hair Types

Kerastase Gelée Curl Contour Gel-Cream

The Kerastase curl enhancing gel cream can be used on different shapes of hair including wavy, curly, very curly and coily hair. It combines the hydration properties of a cream and the hold of a gel so you won’t loose s shape.

5. Kerastase Huile Sublime Repair Oil

Kerastase Huile Sublime Repair Oil 

This repair oil could be used on any hair shape including a straight hair type. It is a hair and scalp oil which moisturises the hair and enhances shine. It helps to promote hair growth and repair hair that has been damaged from chemical treatments.

Styling Tips for 2c vs 3a Hair

2c hair – Only use a wide-tooth comb rather than a hair brush as this will help to reduce frizz. Try to avoid touching your hair whilst it is drying as this is more likely to make your waves appear lank instead of bouncy and defined.

3a hair – Use a wide tooth comb to detangle the hair and avoid combing while the hair is wet as this is more likely to break or pull the hair strands. Also avoid heat styling as this could damage or dry the hair further. Since curly hair tends to be more fragile, use a microfiber towel instead or a regular towel to avoid stripping your hair’s natural moisture.

Which Products Are Curly Girl Approved?

Check out the following posts to find out whether your favourite hair care brand is CG approved.

This post was all about 2c vs 3a hair

Thank you for reading my post on the differences between 2c vs 3a hair. If you have one of these hair types and have tried any of the products recommended then please leave me a comment below and let me know how you got on.


Tuesday 18th of January 2022

Thank you for this post-I am older and have tried so many products and methods-I think I definitely have 2C curls and have been weighing them down with heavy products because I thought it was too dry- the top has no volume-I have on top layer of hair but underneath I have spirals-I was so disgusted with trying so many products that I went and got a long layered shaggy hair style but would love to grow my hair out and get the curls and waves like your hair-I am so exited to try your suggestions-thanks again😊


Tuesday 7th of December 2021

Thank you so much for this post! I have 2C hair and you are right the curls doesn't start from the roots, it starts from the middle and ends with spiral ringlets. Many times I thought my hair was just wavy but there are definitely curls whenever I wash my hair. I love OGX and has been using for many years and their coconut range are perfect for 2C hair type. Will definitely try all the products you mentioned! ;)

Yolanda Garcia

Wednesday 21st of July 2021

Since the lawsuit for OGX came out recently, what shampoo are you using instead?

Olivia Herlihy

Wednesday 22nd of September 2021

Hi Yolanda, I think the lawsuit was about their use of DMDM Hydantoin and it's possible connection with hair loss. I looked into this and not all of OGX's shampoos contain DMDM Hydantoin. Their Coconut Milk Shampoo didn't last time I checked. I've made a list of shampoos which are free from DMDM hydantoin or Formaldehyde in this post: Olivia.

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