9 Best Products for 3c Curls and How to Apply Them 2020

Hi, hello, and welcome to your little corner of the internet devoted to all things 3c hair (wow, so warm and happy here). Whether you’ve known your 3c curl type since you were in junior high—ahem, classified my own 3a curls in 7th grade, TYVM—or you’re just now discovering the whole hair-type system for the first time, I can pretty much guarantee you’ve got a few questions—or, at the very least, could do with some new product recommendations for 2021.

And that’s where we come in. Keep reading to find everything you’ve ever wanted to know about your 3c hair (JK—maybe like 30 percent of it, because honestly, you could get a PhD in curly hair and still not know All of The Things).

What does it mean to have 3c hair?

If you’re new to hair-typing, 3c hair is part of a classification system originally devised by hairstylist Andre Walker that breaks hair down into four categories: straight (type 1), wavy (type 2), curly (type 3), and coily/zigzag (type 4). Sounds confusing, so just look at this hair chart we made, k? People with 3c hair have super-tight curls, just a step down from being actual coils (i.e., 4a hair), though most 3c textures will also have some looser 3b curls and/or tighter 4a coils.

What does 3c hair look like?

3c hair tends to have tight curls the size of a straw or pencil—as in, you could just barely slip a straw or pencil through the curl—that are thickly packed together, which is what gives your hair such major volume. 3c hair can be on the finer side or the coarser sider, or have a mix of both textures.

What are the best products for 3c hair?

Out of all the type-3 curls, your 3c hair is the most prone to dryness and breakage (woo! Congrats! You win no prizes! Sry!), which means the best products for your hair will be hella moisturizing and lightly defining, like leave-in conditioners, oils, gels, and curl creams.

But a very important note: It’s not about finding the absolute best curl product for your 3c hair—it’s about finding the best product for your specific porosity. Porosity is your hair’s ability to absorb and retain moisture (like a sponge), based on its cuticle structure. And yup, this matters because:

  • If your hair is highly porous (think: a sponge filled with holes), it’ll absorb moisture quickly…but it’ll also lose that moisture quickly, too. So high-porosity curls need richer, thicker, more oil-filled products to keep them happy and hydrated.
  • If your hair has low porosity (think: a dense sponge with no holes), it’ll repel moisture, so products tend to build up on the surface rather than being absorbed. Low-porosity curls need lightweight—yet still hydrating—formulas to stay defined and healthy.

The quickest way to figure out your porosity? A hair-porosity quiz. Seriously, it’ll make your life so much easier.

As for the exact combo of products to use? That’s going to require some trial and error. BUT, as a very basic starting point, if your 3c curls are high-porosity, damaged, and/or have a ton of 4a coils, your hair might benefit from the LOC method (i.e., layering on a leave-in conditioner, then an oil, then a cream) for max moisture. But if your 3c curls are low-porosity and fine, OR you just want more curl definition in general, try playing with a leave-in, curl cream, and a gel (don’t worry; product recommendations are below).

How do you apply products to 3c hair?

There are a billion (zillion? Trillion?) application methods when it comes to curl products, but in general, people with 3c hair tend to have the best result with combing or finger-raking conditioners and leave-ins through their damp hair, then applying their stylers with praying hands, scrunching, shingling, and/or plopping.

Are these 3c hair products Curly Girl Method approved?

As a refresher, the Curly Girl Method (CGM) is a method—a guide? An actual way of life?—for getting really excellent, defined, healthy curls by swapping out a bunch of damaging habits and products. If you are following CGM, rest assured that a bunch of the products below are CGM-approved, but always make sure to run the ingredients list through a formula checker (my favorite: Is It CG) before using them just to make sure.

Got all that? Great. Now keep reading for all of the 3c hair products you should obsesses over…immediately.

1

Best Cleanser for 3c Hair

Jessicurl Hair Cleansing Cream

Whether your curls are low-porosity, high-porosity, coarse, or fine, your “shampoo” needs to be sulfate-free and moisturizing. This cleansing cream—aka co-wash, aka cleansing conditioner—uses a mix of lightweight hydrators (like avocado and glycerin) and gentle surfactants to break down scalp oils without stripping your hair. It’s on the lighter end of the moisturizing spectrum, so if you’ve got coarser, drier hair, make sure you’re following with a buttery rinse-out conditioner, and play around with a pre-poo treatment once a week for added hydration.

2

Leave-In Conditioner for 3c Hair

The Mane Choice The Alpha 3-In-1 Revitalize & Refresh Conditioner

Unless your 3c hair is ultra fine and ultra low-porosity, you need to rake or comb a leave-in conditioner through your hair every single time you get it wet—even if you’re not cleansing it. This one from The Mane Choice uses a mix of oils (castor, rapeseed, avocado) and aloe vera to give your hair tons of slip for detangling, while also wrapping it in moisture for a hydrated foundation for the rest of your stylers. 

3

Lightweight Curl Cream for 3c Hair

Shea Moisture Coconut & Hibiscus Curl & Style Milk

If your 3c hair is on the finer side with, say, some 3b curls and/or low-porosity, you don’t necessarily want or need a heavy, buttery curl cream. Instead, try this cult-favorite style milk, which will help define and moisturize your curls without making them feel oily. After applying your leave-in, smooth the milk over your hair, section by section with the praying-hands method, then gently scrunch it up and into your curls until they’re evenly coated.

4

Curl Cream for 3c Hair

Miss Jessie’s Multicultural Curls

If your 3c curls are thirstier than your college roommate after a breakup, you need a curl cream that’s loaded with moisture and oils to keep them from frizzing, tangling, and breaking. Enter: This formula from Miss Jessie’s, which uses olive oil and safflower oil to hydrate your dry curls without feeling greasy or heavy like a butter or pudding. Try gliding/scrunching it throughout your damp hair after raking in your leave-in, or after applying your favorite hair oil (if you prefer the LOC method).

5

Best Gel for 3c Hair

MopTop Salon Anti-Frizz Medium Hold Gel

Gel?! Yes, gel. Unlike the drying, alcohol-filled formulas of your childhood, the gels of today can be surprisingly moisturizing, giving your curls just the right amount of hold, definition, and shine to really enhance your texture. If you have finer curls or a mix of looser types (like 3b curls), try gliding and scrunching this medium-hold gel through your damp hair on top of your curl cream and/or leave-in. When your curls are 120 percent dry, gently scrunch them again to break the gel and fluff ’em up.

6

Moisturizing Gel for 3c Hair

Curlsmith Curl Defining Styling Souffle

If you’ve got a mix of 3c/4a hair, or coarse 3c hair that’s perpetually dry/damaged, try this rich gel from Curlsmith. It’s got a mix of oils and shea butter to really moisture your hair while still giving each coil major definition. Just be sure to shingle it over a moisturized foundation of a rich leave-in conditioner and an oil-spiked curl cream (which, ahem, are all listed above). 

7

Lightweight Hair Oil for 3c Hair

Mizani 25 Miracle Nourishing Oil

Oils + 3c hair = BFFs, since they help lock in moisture to keep it from escaping. Buuut, annoyingly, a too-heavy oil can cause buildup on fine, low-porosity strands, which is where this lightweight oil comes in. It uses coconut, jojoba, and sunflower seed oils to smooth ragged hair cuticles without weighing them down. Rub it between your palms then scrunch through your dry, second-day curls for added moisture and shine, or scrunch it through your damp hair after your leave-in.

8

Best Oil for 3c Hair

Aunt Jackie’s Frizz Rebel, Coconut & Sweet Almond Natural Growth Oil

If your 3c hair is hella dry or has a mix of tighter, high-porosity textures, opt for this coconut- and almond-based hair oil, which both penetrates and seals your hair cuticle to deeply moisturize it. If you’re an LOC-method lover, smooth and scrunch this oil throughout your damp hair after your leave-in, or massage it into your scalp as a pre-poo treatment when roots feel especially dry.

9

Scalp Treatment for 3c Hair

Curls Blueberry & Mint Tea Scalp Treatment

This little scalp treatment is filled with oils (hi, blueberry, coconut, and safflower) and shea butter to soothe and moisturize dry, itchy scalpsOn non-wash days, dab the treatment across your scalp, then massage it in with your fingertips. 

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