March 6th, 2012
Tags: Hair Science

# The Science Behind Your Curls

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## Helical Structures

We have established that the helix structure repeats throughout the hair from its most basic molecular building blocks into the bulk hair pattern. But what exactly is a helix? You may recall the spiral staircase geometry of the DNA-double helix strand from high school biology. A helix is a ribbon-like coil that occupies three-dimensions and is governed by specific trigonometric equations used to describe the length of revolutions and the pitch angle.

X (t) = r cos t

Y(t) = r sin t

Z = ct

Where t = [0,2π], c = constant, r = radius, and 2πc = vertical separation of the loops.

This three-dimensional mathematics can become a bit tricky to visualize, so it can be easier to eliminate the third dimension (z) and think in terms of two-dimensional sine waves. Sine waves can be used to model many different types of oscillating cycles that occur throughout nature, such as sound waves, visible light waves, and radio waves. In trigonometry, we call the length of time or distance it takes to complete one full cycle the period.

If one were to examine a spiral hair curl, it would be possible to see that one full curl revolution would be equal to one complete cycle or sine wave. The distance required to complete one full cycle varies for everyone. Very kinky curly hair would complete more revolutions per the same distance than hair that is less curly. Think of it as higher frequency curl pattern.

Take an example of three different people, with three different degrees of curl, all having hair nine inches in length.

Person A: Her hair completes one full spiral in one inch. In nine inches, it complete nine full revolutions and appears to very kinky curly. If she were to grow it out longer, the weight would eventually stretch the curls out a bit, so that her curl pattern would relax. She would be said to have Type 4 hair.

Person B: Her hair completes one one full spiral every three inches. In nine inches, her hair completes three full revolutions and appears to be mildly curly. If she were to cut it short, it would appear wavy or even straight, but grown longer, it would develop into well-defined spiral curls. She would probably be said to have Botticelli or Type 3 hair.

Person C: Her hair completes one full revolution in six inches. In nine inches of length, her hair only completes one-and-a-half revolutions and appears merely wavy. If she were to trim her hair to be six inches or less in length, it would appear straight. If she were to allow it to grow out to be very long (eighteen inches or more), she would begin to see a pronounced curl pattern emerge. She might be said to have Type 2 or Type 3 hair, or even straight hair, depending upon its length.

MORE FROM NATURALLY CURLY: Find Your Curly Hair Type

### Final Thoughts

Human hair is such an intricate structure, and it varies so much from person to person. The helical structure present in our very DNA makes itself apparent on a nano-level in the keratin strands that make up the foundation of our hair and is repeated at higher and higher levels until it is expressed in the gorgeous spiraling curls of our “kinky-haired” sisters and brothers.

Most of us with curly hair find ourselves with a mixture of all sorts of curl types on our heads, and we spend a lot of time and effort attempting to enhance, define and control them. Those with hair that takes longer lengths to really develop and show the curl patterns would do well to keep that in mind when cutting out hair. Lack of caution can lead to a disappearance of those precious curls. Remember the mathematics.