Curls, coils, kinks – those beautiful yet unruly locks that defy gravity with their bouncy spirals. If you have naturally curly hair, you know the daily rituals of hydrating, detangling, and styling required to keep your curls looking their best. If you’ve wandered here your curiosity about your curly hair likely got the better of you. So what’s the science behind your curls?
Simply put, curly hair’s signature texture is the result of asymmetrical, non-cylindrical hair follicles. In contrast, straight hair emerges from symmetrical, cylindrical follicles. This small difference in follicle shape creates big differences in how strands interact and group on the scalp.
There’s your short crisp answer. Not satisfied? Wanna learn more about the intricate science behind your curls? Keep scrolling then.
The Undeniable Role of Genetics Behind Your Curls
End of the day, all the factors influencing your curls, be it the hair follicle shape or the hair shaft structure boil down to the instructions coded in your DNA.
So Is There a Specific “curly Hair Gene” to Keep an Eye out For?
Turns out, it’s not quite as simple as one “curly hair gene.” (Wouldn’t that be nice?) See, lots of different genes team up to decide hair texture.
One major player is a gene called TCHH, which contains the instructions for an important protein in curly hair development. Certain variants of TCHH are strongly correlated with curlier hair. Interestingly, the gene seems to be inherited dominantly – you only need one copy of the curly variant to exhibit the trait, which in turn makes curly/wavy hair a dominant trait.
Other genes like WNT10A and FGFR2 have also been linked to hair curliness, although TCHH appears to have the largest effect.
Only Specifically Shaped Hair Follicles Can Sprout Those Curls
Of all the factors influenced by your genetics, your hair follicle shape is the main reason behind your curls.
Curly hair follicles have an elliptical or “oval” cross-section rather than a round one. The unique structure of curly hair shafts also contributes to the distinctive texture and needs of coiled locks. Unlike straight hair, the elliptical shape means strands don’t lie flush against the scalp. The curved follicle growth trajectory causes them to “lift” away. This creates the signature volume and bounce of curly hair.
The Elliptical Follicle Forces Your Hair to Grow in Coils
Imagine squeezing toothpaste out of a tube with an oval opening rather than a circular one. The toothpaste would emerge in a wide, flat ribbon rather than a round cylinder, right? Now picture that same principle on a microscopic level.
When curly hair follicles produce a new hair strand, it squeezes out of the oval follicle opening as a flat ribbon or tape-shape rather than a cylindrical filament.
This causes key differences in:
1. Uniformity – The widths and depths of curly strands vary along their length rather than remaining constant. This unevenness allows for more bending, twisting, and coiling.
2. How Light Is Reflected – The flat ribbon shape reflects light differently than a cylindrical shaft, creating shine and definition in curls.
3. Interlocking Tendency- The non-cylindrical shape causes strands to tangle and lock together rather than flow smoothly like straight hair.
Curly Strands Naturally Tend To Spiral Around Each Other
Picture two straight, cylindrical spaghetti noodles side by side on a plate. Now imagine flattening one noodle into a ribbon shape. What would happen when you push the two strands together?
The flat ribbon noodle would begin twisting around the cylindrical one! Its asymmetrical structure makes the strand want to coil. Curly hair behaves the same way. Its flat, unevenly shaped fibers naturally spiral around each other rather than flowing in straight, uniform lines.
Some other factors enhance the twisting tendencies:
- Uneven texture – Curly strands feature variability in thickness along their length, causing kinks and bends.
- Rough cuticle – The cuticle (outer layer) of curly hair has more lifted scales for strands to catch onto each other and entwine.
- Looser wavy patterns – Types 2 and 3 curls have fewer twists per inch than tightly coiled type 4 hair, allowing more room for strands to spiral together.
The ribbon-like unevenness of curly follicles produces strands that inherently corkscrew together—no styling products are required!
It’s All About the Angles: Why Curly Hair Seems to Defy Gravity
Have you ever wondered why your straight-haired friends require much more frequent trims than you do? The answer lies in the direction in which hair emerges from the follicles.
Straight follicles grow hair perpendicular to the scalp, while curly follicles sprout strands at an angle.
This angled growth trajectory is what gives curls their signature bounce. The coils “hug” the head, giving volume and lift away from gravity’s pull. It’s also why the ends don’t hang down to receive wear and abrasion. Hence curly hair retains length for longer between cuts.
So embrace those gravity-defying spirals! The angular follicles producing them are truly working in your favor.
The Hair Strands Shape Makes Curly Hair Dry out Quicker
Curly hair has a bad reputation for not being able to retain moisture and drying out frequently. But to what extent is this true?
Well, not entirely true but the twisted shape of curly strands indeed makes it harder for moisture and oils to travel down the hair shaft. However, the actual lipid content (natural fats and moisture) is the same as in straight hair.
Where curly hair suffers is the gap between the cuticle scales. The uneven shaft surface doesn’t allow sebum oils to spread smoothly down the length either. So the hair itself fails to retain moisture and strength (one of the evolutionary upsides of curly hair), even though the actual moisture content is identical.
This should explain why curly manes benefit from that extra bit of hydration both inside and out!
The Tighter The Curl The More Prone It Is to Breakage
Frustrated by split ends, snarls, and breakage? These issues plague curly manes way more than straight ones. But why does hair with curls and coils seem so delicate and prone to damage?
It comes back to the unique structure of curly tresses. Here’s what makes them vulnerable:
- Thinner strands – Due to the flat, ribbon-like shaft, curly hair has less cortical mass overall. This means less structural integrity than thick, cylindrical straight hair.
- Uneven texture – In some spots, curly strands are thinner, porous, and have more gaps. This creates weak spots prone to snapping.
- Twisting and tangling – All the spiraling causes more friction, knots, and a chance for damage during washing and brushing.
- Drying time – With all those nooks and crannies, curly hair takes longer to dry fully. Wet hair is weaker and more elastic.
Yes—curly hair is more fragile. But you can prevent breakage by handling it gently, avoiding tangles, and keeping hair moisturized. Your precious curls will reward you with bounce and shine!
Making Sense of Hair Typing Systems: What the Hell Do They Even Mean?
All curls are not created equal. There’s a whole code system for classifying different types of curly hair. Hair typing helps you understand your specific curl pattern. But what do all those numbers and letters mean?
Here’s a decoder to crack the unnecessarily complicated curl classification code:
Type 1 – Straight hair (no curls)
Type 2 – Wavy hair with a loose S-shaped pattern
Type 3 – Curly hair with distinct spirals ranging from loose waves to consistent ringlets
Type 4 – Tightly coiled hair with very little elongation when stretched
Type 5 – Curly afro-textured hair that grows in tight coils with volume
And what about those letters attached to the number? Well, they indicate sub-categories ranging from A = fine strands to C = thicker coils
So a 4B pattern describes very kinky, afro-textured hair with thickness. While someone with 2C hair has a loose wavy pattern and medium strand size. Understanding your curl type helps customize care, cut, and styling. Embrace your curl identity!
Fun Fact: Curly Hair Can Change Over Your Lifetime
Here’s a fun curly hair fact – your curl pattern is not necessarily fixed for life. Hormonal changes, age, and other factors can cause texture shifts.
For example, many curly-haired toddlers lose some baby coils as their locks mature. Then puberty brings an oilier scalp and tighter coils again.
During and after pregnancy, textures can change too thanks to hormonal fluctuations. Even stress levels, diet, and health affect curl formation.
Don’t be surprised if those curls change a bit over time! Allow them room to spiral in new directions through each life stage.
5 Pro Tips for Maintaining Your Curls
Embracing your natural texture is empowering, but curly hair needs specialized care. Here are pro tips for keeping your coils happy and healthy:
- Moisturize obsessively – Hydration is key to avoiding dryness and breakage. Oils, leave-ins, and moisturizing shampoos prevent brittle hair.
- Gently detangle – Use fingers or wide-tooth combs to separate strands when conditioning carefully. Avoid pulling to prevent snaps.
- Sleep savvy – Protect hair overnight with pineapple (loose top knot), satin scarves, or pillowcases. This prevents tangles from causing breakage.
- Style strategically – Let curls set naturally rather than over-manipulating—Scrunch in the product rather than combing to limit disruption of curl pattern.
- Use sulfate-free products – Harsher detergents strip oils, so choose mild, hydrating cleansers without sulfates.
With the right care, your spirals will thrive! Understand the science and give them what they need to wind happily.
It’s Time To Embrace Your Unique Coils And Slay It With Your Dandy Curls
Having curly or wavy hair is a journey full of surprises, challenges, and amazing hair days. I should know—I’ve rocked corkscrew coils my whole life! Some days my ringlets are bouncy spirals worthy of a shampoo ad. Other times, it’s a frizzy rat’s nest that not even conditioner can tame.
But the science behind our unique curls helps explain their quirks. Learning to work with my hair rather than fight it made all the difference. Do I still have frustrating moments? Of course. But I’ve come to appreciate what my curly hair can do thanks to those oval follicles, ribbon-like strands, and funky growth patterns.
So if you also wake up with a bedhead that defies gravity on a daily, don’t sweat it! Embrace the science behind your magnificent coils. With the right care, you can coax your curls to bring their spirited best every day. Flaunt those fabulous locks just as nature intended. Our curls make us who we are.