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The 3C Hair Type | Quick Reference Guide & Care Tips

Featuring tight, corkscrew curls with a medium to coarse texture, the 3C hair type is totally unique and requires special curl care to look its best.

Learn how to fend off frizz, deeply moisturize your curls, and keep damage at bay with our quick reference guide for 3C hair!

What Is the 3C Hair Type?

Woman with the 3C Hair Type

NeonShot/Shutterstock

The 3C hair type is the curliest of all type 3s (3A, 3B, and 3C). It features very tight corkscrew curls or ringlets that are sometimes referred to as coils because of their compressed, springy shape.

You might hear 3C hair described as “curly-coily” because it’s the bridge between curly type 3s and coily type 4s.

Like all curly type 3s, 3C hair has a defined S-shape curl pattern, a tendency to frizz, lack of natural shine, and tons of bounce and volume. Like all type 4s, the 3C type can deal with some shrinkage as it dries and may struggle with chronic dryness.

These are the general characteristics of type 3C hair: 

  • Tight, corkscrew curls about the circumference of a straw
  • Poor curl definition when strands are under-moisturized
  • Excellent curl volume and bounce
  • Chronically dry and thirsty for moisture
  • Prone to lots of frizz and tangles
  • Curls retain their pattern after being stretched out

Not quite sure if 3C accurately describes your hair type? You could fall under one of the similar hair types. Compare these related hair types to see if you’re truly a 3C. 

  • Type 3B Hair: Medium-tight defined ringlets about the size of a permanent marker with medium texture
  • Type 3C Hair: Tight, springy corkscrew curls about the size of a straw or pencil with fine to coarse texture 
  • Type 4A Hair: S- or O-shaped defined coils about the size of a coffee stirrer with fine to coarse texture and limited shrinkage

With these hair type features in mind, let’s take a look at some of the best and worst features of 3C hair. Then, we’ll cover all the basics you need to know to properly care for your 3C mane! 

Best Features of 3C Hair

The 3C hair type has a lot of enviable features, including thick hair density, lots of volume, and a strong curl pattern that isn’t easily flattened or stretched out. Here are some of the best features of the 3C type. 

Thick Hair Density

The 3C hair type is renowned for its high density (thickness). Strands are packed closely together, giving better scalp coverage and the appearance of fuller, thicker hair even if your strands are somewhat fine. 

The tight corkscrew curl pattern 3C hair is known for, combined with the overall thick density of the strands creates a full, healthy look in this hair type. 

Tons of Volume

The 3C hair type never has to worry about flat, limp, or lifeless hair. While other hair types may clamor for volumizing products and sprays that promise root lift, type 3Cs have natural volume that just won’t quit. 

Your tight curls “prop up” your strands, adding height and volume from the roots all the way to the ends.

Even heavy, long 3C hair is bouncy and voluminous enough to retain lift! With this much volume, it can be a challenge to wrangle your curls and nail a polished look, but using the right products can fix that.

Strong Curl Pattern

While 3A and 3B curls show a weak to medium curl pattern, the 3C curl pattern is strong. You can tug and stretch 3C curls as much as you want and they’ll always spring right back into place without showing signs of stretching. This means your curls have more longevity and don’t go flat or limp throughout the day. 

Your hair strands have excellent curl pattern “memory,” so they’ll always go back into the natural curl pattern unless you manipulate them with heat or chemicals. With the right amount of moisture, the curls can have excellent definition. 

Worst Features of 3C Hair 

If you have 3C hair, you know that there’s a lot to love about it, but there are some inherent challenges with this hair type and curl pattern. You likely deal with chronic dryness, endless tangles, and (depending on how dry your strands are) a lack of curl definition. 

Chronic Dryness and Frizz

The 3C hair type is prone to chronic dryness and frizz due to the shape of the intensely curly strands. Imagine water flowing down a straight tube. It would travel fast, right? Now, imagine water flowing down a curvy tube (like a crazy straw).

It would take a lot longer due to all the twists and turns. That’s the same principle behind the chronic dryness of the curliest hair types. Your curvy, springy strands don’t allow your scalp’s natural oils to quickly travel down the hair shaft. The result is drier, more brittle strands that may lead to breakage and lots of frizz.

You can easily correct this issue with regular moisturizing, but many women don’t realize just how much moisture 3C hair actually needs to combat the natural dryness! 

Tendency to Tangle

The dryness of 3C hair leads to tangles lots and lots of tangles. With a rougher strand texture and a lack of moisture inside each strand, it’s easy for strands to cross over each other and twist around to form knots and tangles.

This problem is compounded if your hair is damaged in any way due to excessive heat styling, chemical processing, or even environmental damage from UV rays and wind. The tangling issue typically leads to more breakage as you struggle to detangle and smooth your strands, especially if you do it while your hair is wet or damp.

Correcting your moisture balance may be enough to reduce tangling. But if hair damage is the culprit, you’ll need to take damage-repairing steps with protein-enriched products to minimize tangles. 

Lack of Curl Definition

Type 3C curls have a really strong curl pattern that is almost impossible to stretch out, but this hair type also deals with a lack of curl definition when it’s under-moisturized. You’ll know if your hair is under-moisturized because your springy, corkscrew curls will take on a fluffy, undefined look. 

You may see a mass of frizz with a few defined curls/coils peeking through. The good news is that it’s easy to combat poor curl definition with extra moisture and the right curl-enhancing products. 

Maintenance and Care Tips for 3C Hair

Getting the best results from your 3C strands means taking special care of it every step of the way from washing and drying to the products and methods you use to style it. We’ll show you the best practices for 3C hair care and maintenance below. 

Washing 3C Hair

How often should you wash 3C hair? An ideal shampoo schedule for 3C curls is washing once every 2-6 days. That’s a wide range, so it’s important to consider the actual texture (fine, medium, or coarse) of your strands to narrow your wash schedule down a bit. 

  • Fine 3C hair needs to be washed every 2 days or so to avoid getting greasy and limp. Since your curls are so prolific and require several layered products on wash day (which can be a chore), you may be happier washing less often if your strands can handle the excess oil. 
  • Medium 3C hair needs to be washed every 4 days or so. This will help you cleanse away dirt, oil, and product buildup often enough to keep your curls clean without stripping them bare and leaving them drier than ever. 
  • Coarse 3C hair may only need to be washed once a week to stay healthy and clean. Since your strands are thicker individually, they can hold onto more moisture than fine or medium strands and take longer to appear oily. 

Not in love with your current shampoo? See our top picks for curly hair here. If you want the most personalized shampoo schedule for your hair, take our quick quiz to find out how often you need to wash (and why): How Often Should I Wash My Hair? | Quiz Time! 

Drying 3C Hair

Drying 3C hair should be done after you apply and layer the hair products you’ll be using to moisturize, control, and support your curls. Applying your products in the correct order will give you the best results and most curl definition.

Using the right products formulated for curly hair makes a big difference, too! Here are our favorites: Best Products for Curly Hair | Our 11 Must-Haves

Here’s the general product flow you should follow: 

  1. Leave-in conditioner
  2. Mousse or foamy product
  3. Curl-enhancing cream
  4. Styling gel
  5. Oil (for coarse textures)

Start with soaking wet, freshly cleansed and conditioned hair. Spray your favorite leave-in conditioner all over and “squish” it upward by scrunching the ends toward your roots. Follow with curl-enhancing mousse (or any foamy, lightweight product).

Curl cream is next, followed by styling gel (apply to individual curl groups or all over). If your hair texture is coarse, you may need a final touch of sealing coconut or argan oil to seal your products and moisture in. After you’ve applied the products you’ll be using, it’s time to dry.

When you dry 3C hair, you need to focus on preventing and minimizing frizz whether you air dry or blow dry. Air drying is recommended to avoid heat damage and preserve the health and integrity of your hair. However, it’s perfectly fine to blow dry 3C hair with gentle, low heat. 

We recommend a diffuser attachment if you choose to blow dry your curls to avoid frizz and flyaways from uncontrolled airflow. It’s pricey, but nothing works better on 3C curls than the Dyson Supersonic hair dryer  plus, it comes with a wide diffuser attachment! 

Styling 3C Hair

Styling 3C hair presents you with lots of options you can rock your hair down and loose, in a messy pony or bun, a polished updo, casual braids, or fun half-up styles that show off your curls. Some of our favorite style options for 3C hair are below. Why not try something new?

Let Your Hair Down

Woman with 3C hair in a studio

Brastock/Shutterstock

Your hair’s naturally curly and wild-in-a-good-way texture is made for showing off. Wear it down and loose whenever you can to take full advantage of your spiral curls and volume.

Bangs and face-framing layers can stagger your curls in a flattering way around your face. Rock down and loose styles on wash day and for a day or two afterward, then move to pulled-back styles as you get closer to the next wash day. 

Pull Your Curls Up

Woman pulling her curls up as a way to style 3C curly hair

Daniel Hoz/Shutterstock

Is there anything better than a tousled, curly high pony with springy curls hanging down? There’s so much body and volume in the style thanks to your 3C curls’ tight corkscrew pattern. Pull your curls up when your definition takes a nosedive before wash day or rock it just because it looks cute! 

Try Textured & Accessorized Braids

Woman with 3C hair smiling while it's in braids

Raushan Murshid/Shutterstock

Fun braids with accessories are a great way to control your curls while still showing off their gorgeous shape and pattern. Try classic 3-strand braids or 2-strand twist outs are perfect for 3C curls, and there’s a bonus. They’ll leave you with some curly texture and keep frizz to a minimum! 

Things to Consider

Taking better care of your 3C curls starts here. You’re familiar with your hair type’s characteristics the best and the worst. You know what types of products to use and the order to layer them in.

You’ve got styling options and tips for drying your curls to a frizz-free finish. What else do you need to know to have great hair days? 

  • Use a hair mask once a week for extra hydration and strength. Your hair craves moisture and fortifying protein. A once-weekly protein-enriched hair mask can supply those needs and leave your mane stronger, softer, and more hydrated. Apply your mask (see our favorites here), wait 30 minutes or leave it on overnight, and see how drastic the difference is! 
  • Take it easy with the processing. It’s okay to color, bleach, or highlight 3C hair, but you shouldn’t overdo it. Your hair texture is fragile and more prone to breakage due to the curves and bends in each strand. By limiting how often you process it (and using the lowest developer volume you can), you’ll help protect your strands from damage. 
  • Practice cute styles to air dry your hair. If your 3C curls are a little messy or present in a range of different curl sizes, you can experiment with different air dry styles that leave you with perfect, heatless curls and no heat damage. After applying your products, try twisting your hair into rope braids for gentle waves or creating 2+ high buns for big curls.
  • Remember the hands-off rule. You should only touch your wet curls to apply products. Too much contact with your hands will lead to stubborn frizz that is hard to manage. Apply products to sopping wet hair with your hands, then it’s hands-off until it’s dry. 

The 3C Hair Type: Final Thoughts

If you put these considerations and care tips into action, you’ll be able to fully embrace your 3C curly texture and make the most of your lively, corkscrew curls. Focus on hydration, product layering, and using products to perfectly clump and group your curls. You’ll be amazed at the transformation! 

You can double-check your hair type to make sure you’re really a 3C with our quick, 3-question quiz. Take it next to learn more about your hair type and what it needs from you the most: Take Our Hair Type Quiz.