It’s almost been five years since I decided to chop my hair off in my college dorm room. Since then, my journey with my natural hair has experienced its share of successes and failures, with more than enough bad hair days to count. Now that I have a solid handle on caring for my hair and understand more about it, I wanted to share information with you that no one shared with me starting out.
Believe it or not, when I first left home 9 years ago, Instagram was barely a thought and when I did the big chop five years ago, it hadn’t quite emerged into the beauty and hair oasis that it is now. In fact, that cute video that goes around every graduation season with the girl gluing a headband to her grad cap did not exist when I turned my tassel in 2011, which is why I came out of my graduation looking like this:
Jokes and memories aside, the only resources I had were some YouTube videos and blogs that I found from some vague Google searches. In the years since, I’ve started a hair-focused Instagram page, @whotaughtyou4, and learned some fundamental characteristics of my fro. If you’re just going natural, I encourage you to take notes. For my current naturalistas who are frustrated by everything, hopefully, this helps you!
It’s time that we break down this whole hair typing thing. I know there are some people who despise hair typing, and others who cling to it like shed hair in a comb after a vigorous detangling session. But let’s be honest about something: regardless of how you feel about traditional hair typing, it’s not enough to understand your own hair and everyone else’s hair that you keep gawking over on social media. And here’s why.
In the natural hair community, there’s a chart that explains the varying degrees of curl that exist, from 1-4 or straight to kinky. These numbers are further broken down by letters, to help you pinpoint what kind of hair you’re dealing with. This is what we typically refer to as hair typing.
Type 1 is usually hair that’s naturally straight, the kind you would aspire to if you were getting a silk press.
Type 2 is wavy hair that moves a bit but is still relatively straight. It’s got body and pattern but it’s not shrinking up either, we still pretty much know how long your hair is.
Type 3 is your traditional bouncy curl that gets progressively tighter. It’s what you typically see when natural hair is advertised.
Type 4 is the tightest curls, the kind of hair associated with a bomb afro that shrinks to a percentage of its true length. You’d have to be close to someone to see the curl.
As your natural curls come in, you will see that your curls most likely match up to one of these depictions, and you will most likely find that you might have more than one of these curl patterns throughout your hair. Tracee Ellis Ross, who just launched her Pattern Beauty haircare line months ago, uses a simple method to distinguish different curls: curly, coily and kinky.
Either way you look at it, some people have looser or tighter curls than others. It’s just that simple. The nature of your curl pattern will determine the amount of shrinkage you experience–which is when your curls contract as they dry, making your hair appear shorter than it really is. Loose curls hang more, therefore reflecting your actual length better since they hang more than they curl or coil up.
Now, most people stop here when trying to figure out what kind of hair they have. You might hop on YouTube or Instagram to find someone with a similar curl pattern only to realize that you still can’t get your lovely locks to do the same thing theirs are doing. What gives?
To truly understand your hair, you have to determine five different characteristics: pattern, density, texture, porosity and elasticity.
We went over pattern, which is the shape of your curl.
Texture is the size of your individual strands. If your hair strands are very thin, they are considered fine. If your hair strands are thick, your hair is coarse. You can determine this by taking a strand and running it between your fingers to see if it feels thick, thin or normal.
Porosity is your hair’s ability to absorb and hold moisture and chemicals. You may notice that some people can run their hair underwater and it immediately gets soaked, while others take more time for the water to penetrate. An easy way to test porosity is to take a strand of hair and place it in a bowl of water. If it stays on the surface, it has low porosity. If it sinks immediately, it’s highly porous. If it floats somewhere in the middle for a while it’s normal.
Density refers to the sheer number of hairs on your head. It refers to the number of hairs per square inch. So if you have a lot of hair, it’s highly dense. If your hair is more sparse, even patchy, it’s less dense.
Elasticity is a marker of your hair’s health more than it is the actual characteristics, but it’s still worth noting. Hair that bounces back to shape after you stretch it is in good health. Hair that does not and remains limp or even breaks easily, is in poor health. When your hair is wet, stretch a strand. If it stretches and does not return, you likely experience breakage, and may need moisture. If it stretches a long way and then breaks, you need protein. If it stretches and bounces back, keep doing what you’re doing girl!
Once you’ve determined what kind of hair you have, you can understand the limitations and strengths associated with various kinds of hair qualities:
- The coarser your hair is, the more resistant it will be to color services or similar treatments in general. The finer your hair is, the quicker it will take to these treatments.
- Very porous hair is easy to lighten but it can also be a sign of damage since chemicals and heat cause hair to be overly porous. Nonporous hair is more resistant to coloring processes.
- Very dense hair means you will need to section it in smaller portions to get the best benefit. Less dense hair can be sectioned into larger portions.
- Hair that is on the low end of elasticity will be difficult to style and won’t hold curls and styles as it normally would.
You can imagine now why–although your hair curls similarly to another person’s–it doesn’t respond the same way to various products or techniques. Two people could have hair that is equally coily (“type 4” as we would say), but one person’s hair could be less dense and fine while another’s is very dense and coarse.
So many people are discouraged by their hair and frustrated by comparing their curls to someone else, simply because they’ve been identifying their hair based on one single characteristic. The next time someone asks what kind of hair you have, you’ll be empowered to whip out an in-depth description, something like, “girl, my hair is curly, about 3b, very coarse, not too dense with low porosity.” They may stare back at you with bug eyes, but you’ll be the one who’s empowered!
Did you know there were so many ways to get acquainted with your hair?? I wanna hear your experiences, drop them in the comments below!