Curly, Kinky, Coily: Is there a Difference?

kinky coilyCan someone please clarify the difference between coily, kinky and curly? I don’t subscribe to the hair typing system so I just figured, “Hey! I’ll stick with some basic terms to simplify things.” I thought perhaps general terms that are already readily defined by a dictionary to describe hair could be useful; you know, words like curly, kinky, coily?

The more I pondered this thing the more I realized it’s not as cut n’ dry as I thought it would be. The thing is when it comes to using words like coily, kinky and curly, I often get stuck. The more I thought about it the more I recognized that I don’t have a clue what the difference is. For the most part, it just seemed that they were used interchangeably so I got to wondering if there are distinct differences. Now I have been natural all my life and still have difficulty with explaining the difference so I can only imagine those who are new to healthy natural hair care.

It seems that of the three, curly is the most obvious. To most of us, curly hair has a pattern of spirals, but is it different at all? Just peep this definition of curly from merriam-webster.com:

A series of connected spirals or concentric rings formed by gathering or winding: a coil of rope; long coils of hair; to form (as the hair) into coils or ringlets

Hmmm…so if I’m to follow this, curls are coils so that would make coily a synonym for curly? I paid particular attention to the words ‘concentric rings formed by gathering or winding’. In mulling over the matter, I was interested in finding descriptive terms that would indicate that the state is a result of something that is naturally occurring.  Notice how in that definition it is not explicit?

In a forum over at Curly Nikki this was the point that stood out in the very short thread:

Kinky is fluffy, wirey, or tight. Curly is the hair making S shaped patterns. Coily is the hair making O shaped patterns.  [Squeaky82]


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About Marsha Buchanan


As a Jamaican girl raised in a devout church family headed by my mother, I have always had my natural hair, no chemical processing. After years of mistreating it , often ignorant of that fact, I began my healthy hair journey in January 2013 in fact, I have seen to it that my entire household falls in line where this is concerned. When I am not poring over some hair blog or forum I spend my time teaching English to rowdy high school students (ok maybe I have some little sweethearts in the mix), mothering the most adorable two year old on this globe, or rushing to meet the deadline for a writing project on Elance. In my spare time I enjoy a stroll along the beach with my doting husband.

About Marsha Buchanan


As a Jamaican girl raised in a devout church family headed by my mother, I have always had my natural hair, no chemical processing. After years of mistreating it , often ignorant of that fact, I began my healthy hair journey in January 2013 in fact, I have seen to it that my entire household falls in line where this is concerned. When I am not poring over some hair blog or forum I spend my time teaching English to rowdy high school students (ok maybe I have some little sweethearts in the mix), mothering the most adorable two year old on this globe, or rushing to meet the deadline for a writing project on Elance. In my spare time I enjoy a stroll along the beach with my doting husband.

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Jesslyn Hendrix
Jesslyn Hendrix

When I was growing up, I remember studying my father’s hair and telling him itlooked liked he used tiny rollers. My daughter has the same hair. If she wets her hair and rubs it a bit, it separates into dozens of tiny coils. So beautiful.

Me? My hair is kinky. Fine and with some coils, mostly kinks that will degenerate into naps and knots if I’m not careful. My sister has the same hair except extremely coarse. All of our hair will frizz and fuzz, but I consider my daughter to have coily and myself to have kinks.

I consider curls to be…well…curls. IMO, I think anything that you can pull a brush through without breakage is curly.

Carla
Carla

The best description I saw was by youtuber: ProtectivePrincess. She did a “Master Your Texture Series” where the 2nd episode was focused on Curls, Coils, Kinks, strand thickness and overall density. The video is a little over 7 minutes, but definitely packed full of substantial information. Check it out.