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Curly vs Kinky: What’s the Difference?

Avatar • Aug 19, 2011

By Jc of The Natural Haven

I finally got my 3d programmer (otherwise known as hubby) to draw out some things for me! The big question is what is the difference between curly and kinky hair? Many people do not seem to distinguish between curly and kinky hair but structurally there is a rather major difference.

Now kinky hair can also be curly but curly hair is not always necessarily kinky!  (Reader question from Ehizele on why some hair is more ‘breakable’ will follow soon!!)

Curly hair is simply a spiral or wave while kinky hair has a torsion twist (which can be felt as a permanent crimp) where the hair strand turns around itself (see the diagram).

The torsion of kinky hair is basically the strand twisting around itself.  The simplest analogy would be the wringing of a cloth where you turn one side clockwise and the other anticlockwise.

Now kinky hair can be curly and have the same spiral turns in addition to the torsion twist. This creates the dominant type of hair seen among people of African origin — the kinky curly hair.  Going by the first analogy on a large scale think of it like wringing a sheet and then winding it around a large rod to form the curl.

Source:
Images modelled on SEM images in (PhD Thesis by Jutta Maria Quadflieg)

Awesome! Do these diagrams help you understand the behavior of your hair better? And where do you strands fall along the line? Are they curly or kinky?

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DeekayRhonda E. AmersonEbyan Burhan MohamedMarilyn WillettCurly vs. Kinky: Which would YOU prefer? | Beautifully Mane Recent comment authors
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Lola
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Lola

This is a good scientific explanation. My hair is from kinky to kinky curly in some parts. I also downloaded the scientist’s PHD thesis to read.

df
Guest
df

very cool…my head is diverse…the very front is just curly, most of my head is kinky and curly and a few areas are just kinky. It’s great to see such a detailed portrayal for the terms kinky and curly. I figured what curly meant, not so much kinky. I never encountered the term till i became natural.

lime
Guest
lime

I always knew the difference. I have a patch of curlies (3c) in the middle of my head, a few on the back and two straight (they feel like 1a hair) by my ears I find them quite odd, everything else is kinky.

Jade
Guest

I get so angry at the straight pieces. They won’t curl with the rest of my hair.

df
Guest
df

i have one completely straight and GRAY hair just chilling in the middle of my head…it’s actually kind of awesome…

JJ
Guest
JJ

Some of the back of my head is curly, but its mostly kinky and kinky curly

Vanessa
Guest
Vanessa

I didnt notice my hair was kinky curly, I just always say its kinky but looking at the images helped me get a better view of my hair. My whole head is kinky curly except for the front, that’s the ultra porous kinky hair.

JJ
Guest
JJ

Forgot to say, I love this post. Thanks

Savannah
Guest

Thanks so much for this post, it really helps to have a visual. Most of my hair is kinky curly with a few random patches of curly throughout.

Yirssi
Guest

This was really interesting, thank you for sharing. The top of my hair is curly, but the back is kinky.

Ashley
Guest
Ashley

Interesting, I guess my hair is curly.

Jai
Guest
Jai

Makes sense, great visual!!

Avilea
Guest
Avilea

Interesting. Not sure if I have the “torsion twist” in my strands — it would be helpful to see an example of this on actual hair. I am 4a/4b. Is it possible to be 4b and curly (not kinky)? Or does kinky vs. curly have nothing to do with the curl size?

Melanie
Guest

I heart Jc. She’s makes things so plain and I always learn something from her!

Jc
Guest

Thank you Melanie 🙂

@Avilea above — just click onto the thesis linked in the source for the article

Monzi
Guest
Monzi

My hair is definitely kinky because it has no curl pattern whatsoever after I wash it. I have to put something in my hair to give it a curl pattern.

Lyn
Guest
Lyn

Hmm … From this, I guess that my hair is curly. Some parts are curly, and some are kinky curly. I don’t have any kinky hair, since all of my hair forms curls (more so curly than kinky curly). This was interesting.

Sassncurlz
Guest

This is great! I think that I fall inbetween kinky-curly as I have about 3 different textures on my head.

shannon
Guest
shannon

wonderful post…

Brandie
Guest

I’m confused now, lol! I think my hair does both.…

lexibugg
Guest
lexibugg

good to know!!! i have always wondered what the scientific definition of kinky as oppose to curly was!!!! lots of my hair certainly has the torsion twist, this was something i noticed a very long time ago,just didn’t know that’s what made it kinky!!! it the coarser, less porous harder to keep defined sections that has this twist, the front all the way back to the crown, but it is still very much curly. while the sides and whole back third of my head is finer more porous, easier to define and more inclined to staying that way, doesn’t have… Read more »

1Nikki
Guest
1Nikki

One of my teachers at my cosmetology school taught against calling our hair kinky because she said at the end of the day the hair is still curly. It might be very tightly curled or wound but it’s still curly. I agree with her because some parts of my hair do the “torsion twist” but when I stretch it I can still see the curl. So I just refer to my hair as curly now plain and simple.

Got alove for ma hair
Guest
Got alove for ma hair

mine are def kinky

sandi
Guest
sandi

hii 😀 i love this information because this explains the difference between kinky and curly hair. i am not african american but i am hispanic, and i have african ancestry from both of my parents side…i happen to be light skin but with kinky hair… i used to hate my hair because people in my school were like you have “bad hair”. i relaxed it in middle school because of the peer pressure and it was the biggest mistake of my life and i regret it now. now I’m trying to leave it natural and i love it, kinky hair… Read more »

sandi
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sandi

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Tabatha
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Tabatha

Well some of my hair is kinky and some sections of my hair is curly. This is interesting.

sandi
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sandi

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Marilyn Willett
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Marilyn Willett

oh petes sake face it you have hair like wool, kinky hair, its not curly, Shirley temple had curly hair.

Deekay
Guest
Deekay

Hair texture and curl pattern are two completely different things. You can have curly hair that feels like wool. Black people have curly hair. Are you lost? What are you doing on a blog for black women?

Ebyan Burhan Mohamed
Guest
Ebyan Burhan Mohamed

My Hair is curly not kinky at all and i‘m
black

Rhonda E. Amerson
Guest
Rhonda E. Amerson

The perimeter especially the sides are more beach wave/curly and the back are perfect Shirley Temple 3B/C ringlets. I am French Creole and Cherokee Indian

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