Naturally wavy hair is often envied for its versatility and lustrous body. However, those blessed with natural waves can tell you it can be a bit of a puzzle when it comes to styling.
Mapped out below is your guide to mastering your naturally wavy hair — from learning what contributes to your natural hair texture and discovering your exact hair type, to figuring out your perfect haircut and how to blow dry and style it like a pro.
What Makes Hair Naturally Wavy (Or Curly Or Straight)?
There are two major components to hair — the follicle and the shaft. Each one plays a role in determining the natural texture of your hair. Follicles are the parts of hair within the dermis (or skin) of the scalp. Shafts, on the other hand, are the parts of hair you see atop your head — that is, your actual strands of hair.
The Role Of The Hair Follicle
Hair follicles contribute to your hair’s texture in two unique ways.
One, a perfectly round follicle yields a very straight strand of hair, whereas an oval-shaped follicle will yield a curly strand of hair — with the flatter the oval, the curlier the hair.
And two, straight hair follicles tunnel vertically down into the dermis, while follicles that angle into the dermis will curve as they grow and — you guessed it — cause the hair to curl.
This angled tunneling can also be blamed for dreaded dry ends, as the natural oil (sebum) that secretes from the dermis to lubricate your strands cannot easily travel the length of your hair — but more on dealing with dry hair later.1
The Role Of The Hair Shaft
When it comes to the shaft, it’s all about the distribution of the fibrous protein keratin, which is the main building block of hair. An even distribution of keratin is a central part to straight hair, whereas curly hair has an accumulation of keratin near the curled hair’s inside edge.2
So, what does this tell you about your wavy hair? It’s (literally) in your nature. And in the next section, you’ll be able to determine your exact hair type and learn how to best work with your natural texture.
Know Your Natural Hair Type
Knowing your exact hair type can make caring for and styling your natural strands so much easier. The most widely recognized classification is the Andre Walker Hair Typing System, developed by none other than Oprah Winfrey’s hair stylist. There four hair types in this system, and each is broken down into further subtypes. For the purpose of this article, the focus will be on those whose hair is defined as somewhere between straight and curly.3
- Type 1: Straight Hair
- Type 2: Wavy Hair
- Type 2A: Your hair is soft, thin, and fine, with loose, undefined waves.
- Type 2B: Your hair is a medium texture and prone to frizz at the crown, with waves that start about mid length and have a more defined S-pattern.
- Type 2C: You have thick and/or coarse frizzy hair, with defined waves that start at your roots.
- Type 3: Curly Hair
- Type 4: Kinky Hair or Coily Hair4
Beach Waves Start With A Great Haircut
As you may have just discovered, there is no one type of “wavy hair,” so the perfect cut for your unique head of hair begins with a conversation with your stylist.
One of the best ways to determine what’s right for you is to let your hair air dry the day of your appointment. This way, your stylist can study your natural wave pattern and how it works with your texture. This is the first key to fighting frizz — layers that give your waves movement but don’t cause uncontrollable flyaways.
If you have thin hair with loose waves, your stylist may suggest light layers with a shorter cut to lift your waves and add movement without making your hair look too wispy or thin. Alternatively, if you have thicker, coarser hair, you may be able to handle more layering, but your stylist may be mindful not to cut your layers too short to avoid your waves shrinking.
No matter your texture, long side-swept bangs or layers that frame the face are especially complementary to naturally wavy hair.5,6,7
Styling Type 2A Wavy Hair
Unlike Type 2B and 2C, frizz tends to be of little concern to you. Instead, a lack of volume and definition of waves may be your top woes. Starting with your hair care, look for shampoo and conditioner that are formulated to be both lightweight (to add bounce) and defining (to give your waves shape). Out of the shower, allow your locks to air dry naturally, and then seal in your soft waves with a curl-defining gel or mousse, which won’t weigh your waves down.
Since Type 2A waves can fall a bit flat, it’s a good idea to keep a 1.5-inch curling iron on hand to add a bit more definition on days when your waves are looking limp. Remember to use a heat protectant spray beforehand, and only curl completely straight locks. Hold your waves in place with a lightweight hairspray or sea salt spray.8
Styling Type 2B Wavy Hair
Your Type 2B hair tends to be straighter at the roots and kicks into S-shaped waves about mid length. Since your hair is prone to frizz, you’ll want to start with a sulfate-free shampoo (sulfates are notorious for causing frizz) and a moisturizing conditioner.9 Straight out of the shower, it’s all about the plop. The plop, you ask?
“Plopping” is a Type 2B’s secret weapon. Its purpose is twofold: prevent frizz and dry ends, and allow natural curls to form. Here’s how it works:
- Apply a leave-in conditioner (remember, wavy hair is drier since moisturizing sebum can’t make its way easily down the hair shaft) and a styling product, such as a curl definer.
- Wrap your hair in a T-shirt (terry cloth towels pull too much moisture from hair) by flipping your head forward and placing the base of the T-shirt at the nape of your neck and pulling the sleeves over and around your head to tie together behind your head.
- Make sure you have a tight knot for a secure fit, and tuck in any loose ends. Allow hair to “plop” atop your head for 10 to 20 minutes. Then air dry, or blow dry with a diffuser, if you are short on time.10
Styling Type 2C Wavy Hair
Women with Type 2C wavy hair can follow all the same steps recommended for those with Type 2B (plopping, in particular), but can also do well with regular use of a deep conditioner and styling with a diffuser to help fight frizz and add even more definition to natural waves.
A diffuser is an attachment for your blow dryer that breaks up the concentrated airflow of the dryer. This dispersion of air helps reduce your hair’s exposure to direct heat, which can cause frizz, and helps retain your hair’s natural wave pattern.
To dry your hair with a diffuser, you’ll want to add your moisturizing products along with a heat protectant spray. Then, with the blow dryer on low, cup your hair onto the diffuser. For more volume, you can do this with your head flipped forward. The final tip: Stop when your hair is 80% dry to allow it to retain some of its natural moisture.11
Don’t Fight Your Naturally Wavy Hair, Play It Up
Just like with skin care, hair care is all about finding what works for you. Hopefully, the above tips have shown you that any type of wavy hair can have those much-desired bouncy, frizz-free beach waves. It’s all about working with your stylist for the right cut, finding the right products that either add volume or tame frizz, and drying your hair in a way that allows your beautiful natural waves to set.
Here’s to you, and to a lifetime of good hair days from here on out.
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