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7 Things That Matter More Than Your Hair Type

Avatar • Feb 1, 2015

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When people ask me what my hair texture is, I typically give one of two replies: “3c” or “type 3‑something”. In truth, I really don’t use the hair typing system (unless a blog post specifically calls for it), because I don’t find it to be all that useful. I just use those responses to satiate people’s need to quantify and classify. Really, if I were to use the typing system, my hair would be all over the place. Some parts of my hair act like they want to be 3b when they grow up, my crown has days when it thinks its 4a, I’ve got a cool little patch of 3c ringlets over my right ear, and then there’s the front of my hair, which does not compute on any scale. In fact, the more I look at my hair, the more I realize I’m a curl impostor. My hair has a range of tight and compact waves, to looser, more elongated waves that form a curl on (most) ends.

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I say all this to say, that categorizing your hair by any typing system — whether it be the Andre Walker, LOIS, Mizani Curl Key, Curly Girl/Devachan, or anything else has its place in your natural hair journey, but it should not be your central focus. Particularly if you have multiple textures (which is fairly common among naturals). Because texture typing is more subjective, you can have a variety of curl patterns identify themselves as one thing (I get a headache every time I try to Google or YouTube something for 3c hair), and it does not take into account unique characteristic traits that are more valuable to the health of your hair, and the ease of your journey.

1. How does it look?
You can go about this as simply or with as much complexity as you like. I could just say “I’m 3c” and keep it moving to question number 2, but that would be a gross oversimplification. Rather than just resign your curls to a random category designed by Oprah’s wigmaster, take a few minutes to observe them wet and dry. Take note of how they look, with and without product applied. Is your hair more of a tight coil than curly? Does it kink up into tight zig-zags, or does it hang more loose and curly? Heck, is it a curl at all? Maybe it’s a deep S wave, or somewhere between an S and Z. If it doesn’t quite fit into a category that you’ve seen before, that’s okay. Your hair is unique to you. Whether it fits on a scale or not, it’s beautiful.

My Curl Profile: My hair is more wavy than curly, although there are chunks over both of my ears that form ringlet-type curls. The back half of my hair is a looser wave that curls on the end and doesn’t change much at all, whether wet, dry, with or without product. The front/center and crown is a combination of tighter waves and hair that doesn’t want to clump together or become anything in life. Those areas require more product and more manipulation to fall in line. Without products or manipulation, that area becomes very shrunken and poofy.

2. How does it feel?
On your next wash day, take a few strands of product-free hair from each unique segment of your head. Run your fingers down it, then run your fingers up. How does it feel? Is it smooth on the way down, or a little rough and bumpy? Does the smoothness change when you reach a particular point? When running your fingers from end up to the root, is it equally as smooth, or are there some rough patches? Take note of changes along the hair shaft. This is going to become very important in your healthy hair journey. How your hair feels between your fingers has everything to do with strand health, cuticle health, porosity and how your regimen is built.

My Strand Feel: In each area of my hair, my strands feel smooth on the way up and down. This is no exciting revelation though — I had rough ends for the majority of my first year with natural hair, and only got rid of them by gradually trimming. Then I got red ombre, and the rough-feeling ends returned. They only went away after a series of intentional pH-balancing, protein-infusing, and hydrating deep conditioning sessions. Click here to learn more about getting rid of dry, frizzy, and rough ends.

3. How does it shrink?
Shrinkage may as well be a four-letter word in the natural hair community. I see many talking about embracing shrinkage, but many, many, MANY more looking for ways to combat it or stretch it out. In truth, shrinkage is one of the indicators of health for your hair. How much shrinkage you encounter, is wholly dependent upon your individual head of hair. In segments of your hair, it is perfectly normal (barring heat or chemical damage), to have hair that does not shrink up as much as others. One useful tidbit from Lorraine Massey’s Curly Girl Handbook is her guide to shrinkage, which she calls “The Spring Factor.” Although her method is geared more toward helping you identify your curl type, it is a perfect guide for illustrating the point that looser textures shrink less, while tighter textures shrink more. Different levels of shrinkage on one head are a sure sign of differently textured hair.

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My Shrinkage: Is a mess. I’m kidding. The front half of my hair shrinks significantly more than the back half. When it’s all wet, it all looks fairly the same and one texture. But oh baby, when it dries! Unmanipulated, I get a mushroom mullet. Because my hair shrinks unevenly, I have to stretch the front half to give it more shape. I often achieve this by pinning the front half back while air drying, and banding at night.

4. Does it have elasticity?
Closely related to shrinkage is elasticity. I like to think of elasticity in hair simply as “bounce back”. Testing the elasticity of your hair is really easy to do. Just grab a curl, kink, wave or whatever and pull it down gently until it is stretched out, then let it go. Does it snap right back, snap off, hang lifelessly or slowly meander back into its original form? If your hair is coiling back, the elasticity is on point. If it’s hanging lifelessly, (or worse, breaking in your hands) there are protein, moisture-balancing and elasticizing treatments that can be used to restore the health of the hair.

My Elasticity: My hair elasticity is pretty on target. It doesn’t snap off in my hands and springs back accordingly.

5. How porous is it?
Let me just go’n and throw this out there right now: POROSITY TESTS WITH A GLASS OF WATER ARE JUNK SCIENCE. I don’t know where it began or who perpetuated it, but putting your hair in a strand of water to understand water uptake is like telling someone to bake a chicken by just throwing the chicken in the oven on 375. Sure, the chicken will bake. But is it any good? Probably not. Just like haphazard chicken bakery, water glass porosity tests are grossly oversimplified and will almost always lead to useless results. Sorry if it seems like I’m popping off, but it grinds my gears when I see bloggers promoting this test as though it will revolutionize your haircare regimen. Jc of The Natural Haven has my favorite article on why the water glass test is hella unscientific.

So how do you test for porosity? Unless you know how to do nitrogen sorption tests, you can’t. But what you can do is study your hair on your next wash day. If it feels like your conditioners have difficulty penetrating and you notice that your moisturizers require extra elbow-grease to work them in (or they just sit on top of your hair altogether), then it is highly likely that you have low porosity hair. Low porosity hair is notoriously difficult to moisturize, because the cuticles are so compacted. On the contrary, highly porous hair tends to appear dry, more prone to breaking and splitting and feels rough on the way up or down the shaft (remember point number 2), because the cuticles are cracked, weathered, or damaged. Medium porosity hair sits right in the middle, allowing penetration of ingredients and retaining moisture fairly well. It is entirely possible to have varying porosity in different areas of your hair, so don’t freak out if you discover some areas are more trifilin’ than others.

My Porosity: My hair is on the high end of medium porosity. It was on the low end of medium before my hair color, but of course, permanent hair color creates porosity issues. You can help correct them with the right products, but your hair will never quite be like before. Don’t believe the hype — color is customized damage. #thingsotherbloggerswonttellyoubutiwill

6. How thick and dense is it?
Thickness and density are two entirely different concepts when it comes to the canvas of your hair. Thickness refers to the individual strand. Density refers to how many of those strands are compacted into a square inch. It is commonly believed that natural hair is always thick, which is not the case. In fact, many naturalistas will find they have fairly thin strands, but plenty of them packed into a single area. On the whole, darker hair is thicker in diameter than lighter hair (with black hair being the absolute thickest). Hair thickness is also in some ways dependent upon the weather — the hair cortex swells in warmer weather and compacts in colder weather. As a general rule of thumb, a string of thread can be used as your baseline guide for determining strand thickness. Thicker than thread = thick, same size as thread = medium, thinner than thread = thin. You can marginally and temporarily alter your strand thickness, but the density of your hair is genetically predetermined. You cannot gain density, but you most certainly can lose it (alopecia/hair loss, medical conditions, etc.). Understanding hair thickness and density will help you big time in regimen building, and selecting the right products to work for your hair.

My Thickness & Density: My hair strands are a mixture of fine and medium thickness and my hair is of medium density. It is not super easily weighed down, but there are some oils, butters and products that are too thick and heavy for my hair.

7. How strong is it?
Closely related to elasticity is strength. You want your hair to stretch and return to its original state without breaking or wearing thin. Hair that loses elasticity or breaks easily has some structurally weak points (beyond the weak points where your curl, kink, or coil bends) that need to be addressed. There are two methods I use to test the strength of my hair. The first is to just gently graze through a section of hair. If I don’t see any wisps, I’m generally good. The second I again borrowed from Jc — the scissor test. Every once in a while, I take a standard pair of scissors, and loop one of my shed hairs through one of the handles. If my hair is maintaining its strength, it will stretch and hold the scissors in the air without snapping. If the hair snaps on impact, I need to work on strengthening my hair ASAP.

My Hair Strength: See for yourself:

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Once you have a firmer understanding of these 7 areas of your hair, you’ll be able to ease your way in to building a solid regimen that addresses all your hair’s needs. Click here to follow the Curl Care 101 Series on The Mane Objective and learn more about the basics of caring for natural hair!

 

Discuss! Do you put a lot of stock into the hair typing system?

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About Christina Patrice

Born, raised, and living in Los Angeles, Christina is BGLH's resident transitioning expert and product junkie. In addition to loving all things hair, she is a fitness novice and advocate of wearing sandals year-round. For more information on transitioning, natural hair, and her own hair journey, visit maneobjective.com. Or, if you like pictures follow Christina on Instagram @maneobjective.

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Me
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Me

On number 7: How exactly would you strengthen hair? I would guess that those of us who have thicker hair would be able to carry heavier scissors than those who have finer hair could. In my mind, I generally think that your hair shaft is either fully in tact or not. Therefore, being able to carry a pair of scissors with a strand of hair is a matter of the amount of surface area available to carry the load, in which case the goal would just be to grab a strand of hair that doesn’t have any fractures in the… Read more »

Hair typing is GOOD
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Hair typing is GOOD

There is nothing wrong with hair typing. I wish everyone would indicate their hair type in each and every video, article, etc first and foremost before anything else. My understanding is no one wants to indicate hair type because there are people out there who discriminate based on hair type. Then let them. They are clearly ignorant and have issues. If you are not going to indicate your hair type because of these people then that only indicates to me that you believe them. I LOVE my 4b hair. Completely in love with it. GAH! I wouldn’t even have known… Read more »

JenniD
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JenniD

I disagree. Hair typing is only useful visually. When you need to get to the meat of hair care it all starts to go down hill. You can not go by looks alone. And even then it gets dodgy. People start arguments in comment sections about this nonsense. Stating that I’m type 4 bc and I do x and like x product doesn’t really help someone of the same texture much. It’s still a question of trial an error. You could be missing out on great advice all because the person giving it isn’t your ” hair twin”. I think… Read more »

EllieLo
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EllieLo

I so agree with you. I really don’t feel any sort of way about hair typing. I personally there are better ways to truly figure out your hair (porosity and density are a little more helpful with that, imo), but it’s not the devil of natural hair!! The only thing hair typing is is an objective way of putting a label on your curl pattern. The hair typing system is, in itself, inoffensive. It’s the PEOPLE who CHOOSE to make it “matter” some how that are the problem. The people who somehow decided that a 3b curl was “better” than… Read more »

Camille
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Camille

I agree. It’s just a description. The meanings that people attach to it are what separates people. It doesn’t matter what people call the different hair types, they would still be different from each other. I follow youtubers who are low porosity regardless of texture and find them helpful, but styling-wise, it’s not helpful to watch people who are way different.

Cygnet
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Cygnet

No one has ever asked me my opinion on my hair type, and I’m quite content to not volunteer the information (although my sister seems to think my hair is 4c. I don’t agree, but I also don’t really care enough to argue about it). If my opinion of my hair type is ever asked, I’ll say my hair is variably curly. My reasons are simple: 1. It is. 2. I don’t have (and I don’t think anyone really wants to give me) a whole 10 minutes to explain all the stuff that goes on with the different curl patterns… Read more »

Juuuu
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Juuuu

No relation to the article but i’d like to point out that there are waaaaay to much ad on this website! I check it out every day and i am very much annoyed by the 3–5 ads WITH SOUND starting at the same time that make me cringe every time i open an article. I know the website’s funding work through ads but that’s too much. I mean i’d like to support the site but that’s way beyond limit of what I can take. That’s just encouraging me to enable ad blocks and not support you at all. That would… Read more »

Kizzy
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Kizzy

very well written and relatable article.…It has encouraged me to find new ways to improve my regimen

AdinaKay
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AdinaKay

The only thing hair type has ever helped me with is finding styles that may work best on me. It didn’t really help me retain length. Learning about porosity helped me see the best results. My hair was stuck at neck length for years and hair products would just sit on my hair. As soon as I figured out my hair was low porosity and how best to moisturize low porosity hair, the turnaround was almost instant. Got to BSL in two years. Not saying this will go for everyone, but that’s how it went for me. Everyone is different.… Read more »

Tieasha
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Tieasha

I have never got down with the hair typing system(s). They just didn’t seem to positively benefit me throughout my journey. I have relied heavily on majority of these care practices & they’ve helped me learn so much about my hair & how to care for it. I am about to try the scissor test now! I’ve never heard of it til now!

Sophie
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Sophie

Nice list, although I don’t think hair typing is a useless thing because sometimes you do want an idea of how things will *look* (style-wise) and finding people whose hair looks like mine has been very useful for that. As far as products and styling practices, though, even some wavy haired people have given me ideas that have been really useful. I must comment too that the page in Curly Girl shown for measuring shrinkage gives a useless rubric unless they give the length they’re assuming (doesn’t make sense to just halve the numbers if your hair is “short”… what… Read more »

Jacky
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Jacky

Nice article! I wanted to share it on Google+ but there’s no option for that.

Aliyah Morrison
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Aliyah Morrison

Um that’s a lie I have multiple curl patterns mostly 3c/4a and I only get 4 inches of shrinkage at most . I’m in the awkward stage length my hair is shoulder length when stretched neck length with shrinkage .

Aliyah Morrison
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Aliyah Morrison

I have been natural for a year.

Aliyah Morrison
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Aliyah Morrison

Also hair type doesn’t help either I learned alot from people who had two or three three textures like me and some who kinkier hair. Porosity products hair regime low manipulation protective styling rather if it’s fine medium or thick etc is what matters. Most of the time I tell people I just have multiple curl patterns if they ask.

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