For Curly Hair, the Tighter the Curl, the More Careful the Technique

Natural Hair Styles

All curly hair is not the same. Researchers have found that smaller and tighter curls exhibit different behaviors than looser, wavier curls when stress is applied.

Pop Quiz! Which of these statements is true?

  • Among people of African descent, there are varying degrees of curls.
  • Research suggests as hair becomes curlier, it extends less when pulled.
  • The tighter the curl, the more fragile the hair.

Answer: All of them!

All curly hair is not the same. And mistakenly, I’ve tried concoctions recommended from another curly, who had different hair than I did. One day I saw a woman, with wide corkscrew curls (completely unlike my tight curls) and I asked her, “What did you do? I need to know.” She told me the secret which involved gel, mousse and everything in between. I followed her instructions to the tee. Yet it didn’t come out quite as I expected or like anything that I could justify going out into public with.

So researchers also know that no two curls are alike and did a study on over 15 samples of curls among people of African descent (Porter, Diridollou & Barbosa, 2005). They created three categories for the samples and placed the hair in water to observe the curls in their original form. Then, they measured each curly hair by its diameter, the circular space between the curves of the curls.

Researchers found that the smaller the diameter of the curl (or the tighter the curl), the less the curl extends when stretched straight. My hair begrudgingly stretches when I pull it to check its length and then snaps back to about half of its actual length.

So after finding out that it extended less, researchers also found that the smaller the curl, the more prone it is to breakage. Wow, us tight curlies can’t catch a break!

Therefore, if you have tight curls, you may have to think about grooming routines that can inflict stress on your hair, such as combing. I really never thought I was a “vigorous” comber. I just combed my hair the way I learned. However, I was combing really roughly and believe it or not, I didn’t even realize it.

Usually the best judge of vigorous combing is the time it takes. Gentle combing takes way longer to do than “vigorous” combing. Unless you have it down to a science, your detangling routine should take a while. Work on small sections with loads of conditioner and water. It may actually save you strands in the process.


  • Porter, C.E., Diridollou, S., & Barbosa, V.H., 2005 The Influence of
        African-American Hair’s Curl Pattern on its Mechanical Properties. International Journal of Dermatology, 44, (Suppl. 1), 4-5

For more curly hair research, read about what researchers observed about the growth of tightly curled hair.