The Ultimate 3C Hair Handbook

The Ultimate 3C Hair Handbook

It’s twisty, turny, unpredictable & attention-grabbing in all the best ways. Are we talking about the latest Hollywood thriller? Nope—we’re talking about gorgeous, gravity-defying type 3C hair.

If you’re looking for ways to bring out the natural beauty of your 3C curls—or if you’re not quite sure a 3C hair type is what you’ve got—you’ve come to the right place. 

We’ve put together the ultimate guide for maximizing the potential of 3C hair with all the care & styling tips you need. We’ll also help you identify your curl pattern so you know if this is the routine for you. 

What Is 3C Hair?

Let’s take it back to basics. Just what is 3C hair? 

The hair type scale classifies natural curls & textures from stick-straight (Type 1) to the tightest kinks & coils (Type 4). Determining your hair type is the first step to pinning down the perfect care routine for you. 

3C hair is known for corkscrew curls that start right at the root. This curl type is versatile & can be styled to resemble a looser 3B curl or played up to verge on tight 4A spirals. 

3C curls bounce back when stretched & tend to have lots of volume. If you’re a 3C, you’ll see noticeable shrinkage as your curls dry after a wash. 

The Hair Type Scale

It’s not always easy to determine where your hair falls on the scale. If you’re like many of us curlies & coilies, your curls don’t grow in the same curl pattern all over your head.

Don’t worry about trying to find the perfect match. Just go by the dominant pattern over most of your head. Expect some of your tresses to stand out from the pack & do their own thing. 

Now, let’s break down the curly hair types one by one: 

Type 2, wavy to curly curls can include:

  • 2A – Slight, loose S-waves
  • 2B – Tighter waves, some loose curls
  • 2C– Tighter curls, a few looping into ringlets

Type 3, curly to coily hair might be:

  • 3A – Wide, loose spirals from crown to ends
  • 3B – Tighter spirals & some corkscrew curls
  • 3C –Tight, bouncy corkscrews, about the circumference of a pencil

Type 4, coily to tight textured includes:

  • 4A – Tight, dense coils & ringlets 
  • 4B –  Z-patterned coils & kinks with fewer curlicues, more zigzags & bends
  • 4C – The densest, finest kinky hair strands

How Do You Know If You Have 3C Hair?

If you’ve read & reread the hair type scale but you’re still not sure exactly where your pattern fits, don’t fret.

Curly hair can be a chameleon, changing with the weather, how it’s treated, how long it’s been since wash day & many other factors. Plus, every head of curly hair usually has a variety of curl patterns in different areas. 

Overall, to identify 3C curls, look for curls that are:

  • About the size of a pencil or straw
  • Very curly & dense
  • S- or Z-shaped, even when stretched
  • Have a defined corkscrew or spiral shape, not coily or tight textured 

What About 3C Hair’s Porosity?

If you’ve been investigating your curl type, you might also want to find out how porous your hair is. But the truth is, your hair’s porosity can vary even among the different types.

Here’s how hair porosity works:

The outer layer of a hair strand is called the cuticle. If you looked at a hair strand under a microscope, you’d see tiny overlapping scales like shingles on a roof. If these scales lie flat, the cuticle is strong & tightly sealed. If the scales are lifted, this leaves gaps in the cuticle layer. Hair with these gaps is known as porous hair. 

Porosity can be caused by damage from styling & chemical treatments, but a lot of it is simply genetic. Curly hair often has higher porosity naturally because the cuticle lifts where the shaft bends. Higher porosity isn’t good or bad—it just means your hair might need a bit of extra attention to adding hydration & locking it in. You can shop our collection of high porosity hair products here.

How Porous Is Your 3C Hair?

It’s easy to find out whether you have low vs high porosity hair. All you need is clean, dry hair & a glass of water. Drop in a strand of hair & leave it for about four minutes. Then, observe the following: 

  • If it floats — You have low porosity hair. Your strands don’t take moisture in easily, sometimes even beading up on the surface. Natural hair styling products & oils may build up quickly since they’re coating the outside of the shaft rather than absorbing. Protein treatments may leave your hair feeling stiff.
  • If it sinks a bit, or slowly — You have normal or medium porosity hair. Lucky you! Your hair has a nice balance that allows hydrating products to absorb & won’t lose hydration too quickly.
  • If it sinks quickly — You have high porosity hair. You may notice that it absorbs water quickly, dries fast & becomes dry fairly easily. Your hair loves products that offer lots of hydration & occasional protein treatments to help fill gaps in the cuticle.

How Should You Care for 3C Hair?

Now that we’ve talked about the basics of your curly hair type & porosity, let’s get down to business. How do you care for 3C curls? 

There’s one key thing all type 3 curly hair has in common: the curlier the hair shaft, the less sebum can travel the twists & turns all the way to the ends. Since 3C curls are the curliest of the type 3 curly hair family, a 3C hair care routine needs to include plenty of hydration & protection. 

With that in mind, here are three top tips for voluminous curls.

#1 Put Your Hair to Bed Right

Taking care of your 3C curls when you sleep is key. As with all curly hair types, type 3 hair can go longer between wash days & retains curl definition the best when it’s protected overnight. 

You have a few options for nightly hair protection, including:

  • Pineapple it — Simply gather up your curls into a high, loose bunch at the top of your head. Gently wrap with a satin scrunchie, not too tight. In the morning, carefully take it down & give your curls a few minutes to relax back into shape. Pineappling is the easiest way to keep your curls safe & cozy overnight.
  • Top it with a cap — For even more protection, cover your pineapple with a satin cap or bonnet, such as PATTERN’s Satin Cap. You can also add a satin pillowcase for extra silky comfort & to protect any strands that escape.

#2 Consider Your Hair Goals

Depending on the look you want to achieve, the details of your routine & the styling products you prefer may vary a bit. You may want to: 

  • Volumize it — Are you looking for gravity-defying voluminous curls? Don’t overdo it with hair oils. They’ll add shine to your 3C hair but can also take some of the spring out of your strands. Remember that frizz isn’t the enemy—some frizz is natural & adds volume & personality to a gorgeous crown of curls.
  • Define it — Are you more interested in definition & extra shine? Then you’ll want to add  jojoba oil for hair or argan oil to your routine, after your hydrating products. Once you’ve boosted the hydration in your strands, topping with oil, like PATTERN’s Jojoba Oil Blend or Argan Oil Blend can help lock it in place.

#3 Add a Deep Conditioner to Your Routine

It’s a little time-consuming, we know, but find time to pamper those ever-thirsty 3C curls with regular deep conditioning. Here are some easy guidelines to start with:

  • You don’t need to deep condition every day, but once a week is a good starting point.
  • Coat your strands generously & top with a conditioning cap to hold in heat & hydration.
  • Let your hair luxuriate for at least 20 minutes for best results.

How Often Should You Wash 3C Hair?

Your ideal 3C wash routine depends on a variety of factors. These may include your hair’s porosity, how much styling product you apply, and what shampoo and conditioner for curly hair you routinely use. You’ll need to experiment to find the right balance for your 3C curls. 

That said, too-frequent washing can strip sebum from your hair & scalp. To avoid this, focus on hair care techniques that keep your natural curls poppin’ for two or even three days between washes:

  • A hydrating mist can refresh curls in the morning without a full wash.
  • If a few curls need extra reshaping, try pin curling only those strands.
  • A little dry shampoo can absorb oil at the roots for a hit of volume on day two or three.

Most people with 3C hair type find that washing one or two times per week is about right. Choose curly hair shampoos & conditioners that cleanse without harsh surfactants like Sodium Laureth Sulfate or Sodium Lauryl Ether Sulfate.

What Are the Best Styling Tips for 3C Hair?

Every head of hair is unique, so you’ll want to experiment to find what makes your type 3 hair the happiest. To start, here are a few of our favorite tips:

#1 Style in the Shower

Applying product to sopping wet hair helps distribute it evenly & smoothes frizz. Simply follow these steps:

  • Use a rubber bristled styling brush & plenty of your favorite curl conditioner.
  • Twirl the brush through a lock of hair, applying a dollop of conditioner for slip.
  • This will group strands into defined, extra-juicy curl clumps & the extra definition can help you go longer between wash days.

#2 Try the LOC Method

Many 3C curlies find that product layering is the most effective way to achieve defined, lasting curls. This method works especially well with high porosity hair: 

  • Follow with O – Use a curl-friendly oil like argan or jojoba to smooth & seal in moisture.
  • Finish with C – Add cream moisturizer glazed over curls for styling.

#3 Diffuse Until Damp, Not Dry

For the healthiest curls, it’s best to opt for air-drying when you can. But on days when you just don’t have time to wait (or you just have to have that extra kick of volume), it’s okay to blow dry. Just remember these tips:

  • Never use a blow dryer without a diffuser
  • Keep the heat setting on low
  • Use your diffuser gently, so curl clumps aren’t blasted with hot air
  • Stop when your hair is only 80% dry

#4 Take on Tangles with Care

Wondering how to detangle hair, especially 3C hair? Like all textured hair, 3C hair can tangle more or less depending on how you care for it. If you’re struggling with a lot of tangling, try: 

  • Changing up your nighttime routine – Minimizing the movement of your hair overnight is vital to keeping your curls tangle-free.
  • Using a detangling product Detangler for curly hair like the PATTERN's Detangling Nectar work by pulling hydration into the hair shaft & reducing friction, letting strands slide past each other easily. Look for a product that includes humectant ingredients. Considering the benefits of sea moss for hair, coupled with the many benefits of grapeseed oil for hair, consider looking for products that contain these ingredients to more easily achieve a natural slip to your strands.

Maximize the Potential of Your 3C Curls with PATTERN

With the tips in this guide, you’re ready to pamper your locks & enjoy the lush, vibrant crown of curls you’ve been dreaming of. 

Remember, every curly hair journey is unique. Your natural hair isn’t going to look or act exactly like anyone else’s—& that’s something to celebrate.

Think of PATTERN as your curly hair guru. Our entire line is created with your hair’s health as our number one priority, using the highest-quality ingredients & backed by science. We’re here to share our knowledge & guide you to the right curly hair products & techniques to help your hair reach its full potential. 


Pattern Beauty. Curl Guide. 

Byrdie. Ingredients to Avoid for Curly Hair. 

Cosmopolitan. The Easiest Way to Style Every Type of Curl. 

Curly Chemistry. The Sea Moss Effect on Your Curls. 

New York Society of Cosmetic Chemists. An Overview on Hair Porosity.