April 1, 2014

Understanding Fine Natural Hair

by Nicole Hollis of Hair Liberty

After studying African American hair in depth, doctors and scientists have found a lot of common features. Hair of African descent is likely to be very curly, dry, and fragile by nature. Those are the more universal characteristics, but obviously every black woman's hair isn't the same. One of the most important differences between hair types is one that's often overlooked when discussing black hair: strand thickness. Strand thickness or diameter refers to the size of each individual strand of hair on your head. That's different than the number of strands on your head. You may have a lot of hair, but each of those hairs can be fine, medium, or thick.

This picture shows actual strands of hair that were photographed using a special imaging system. The hair on the left is much finer (or thinner) than the hair on the right.


Strand thickness is important because it's closely tied to which products work well for your hair. Differences in strand thickness can result in one person loving a product and another person hating it, especially with regard to leave-in conditioners and stylers. Fine hair requires the most care, so it's important to figure out if your hair falls into that category. Even though black hair needs lots of moisture, using too much product or one that's too heavy, can make fine hair look stringy or sparse.

The most accurate way to determine your hair's diameter is to measure a few strands using a machine similar to the one used for the picture above, but you really don't need to be that exact. See if any of these scenarios sound familiar...

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Fine natural hair
  • Doesn't hold set curls well. You re-twist nightly to keep your curls defined
  • Breaks easily, even when you treat it gently and keep it well moisturized.
  • Is prone to fly aways and static
  • Rarely looks thick enough, even though you have a mass of curls
Those are just a few things that may characterize fine strands. If you're still unsure, spend some time working with your hair and listen to your instincts. If you do have fine hair, use this tip sheet to learn which products and techniques will work best.

Knowing your strand thickness can alleviate a lot of frustration. Whether your hair is fine, medium, or thick, try to opt for styles that are easy to achieve and least stressful for your hair.

Hair Liberty's Tips for Fine Hair

1) Do a Pre-Wash Oil Treatment before you wash your hair. Over-cleansed hair will be difficult to control.

2) Use a gentle, conditioning shampoo to wash your hair once or twice a week. High quality shampoos help protect your hair from abrasion during the wash process.

3) Use rinse-off conditioners that say “dry” or “damaged” hair not “fine” hair. Conditioners labeled for fine hair are usually too light for African American hair.

4) Experiment with leave-in conditioners and stylers that say “fine” hair on the label. You’ll have to decide if you prefer those over heavier formulas.

5) Comb and brush your hair as little as possible. Fine hair is extremely prone to mechanical damage.

6) When you straighten your hair, keep the temperature low. In most cases, it should not be set above 350 F.

7) Consider adding a reconstructing treatment to your hair care regimen. Look for conditioners that list protein (e.g. hydrolyzed silk protein) as one of the first five ingredients.

8) Schedule a trim every 6 to 8 weeks. The ends of fine hair may split even if you do your best to avoid that.

9) Be patient if you plan to grow fine hair to long lengths. Its fragility may make retaining length difficult, but not impossible.

Hair Liberty is a comprehensive resource for African American hair care information. We sort through the latest hair care advice and compare hundred of products to find the most accurate recommendations for our readers. Visit hairliberty.org to learn about your hair and how to achieve your hair goals. And be sure to Like the Hair Liberty Facebook page for extra tips and info!

29 Weigh in!:

Anonymous said...

Point of clarification: You can have fine hair and still have dense hair. You can have fine hair that holds curls well because they're naturally very tightly coiled. I think the characteristics stated in this article are actually attributable to other factors (like curl pattern) and not necessarily hair thickness.

Anonymous said...

Omg this described my hair exactly, I´m also extremely protein sensitive, any recommendations?

Anonymous said...

I'm protein sensitive also and would like to have protein alternatives.

Anonymous said...

I have fine hair but I also believe it is low porosity. I feel like this is the most difficult hair to deal with...

Ashley said...

I always thought I had fine hair until reading this article. Now I'm confused because none of those things match up except for the sparse part. Maybe it's just thin? Is it different for African American women with 3 type hair because my hair is obviously very curly all the time and stays that way?

nia0303 said...

Awesome tips!! This is exactly what my hair needs and I've been experimenting with all of them (reconstructive conditioner, trims every 6-8 weeks,etc.). Thankfully, I'm not seeing a lot of breakage after I added those things to my regimen. Great post!

Anonymous said...

Great tips. Thanks. What is the name of the machine used to illustrate the difference in diameter.

Michelle @ Radiant Brown Beauty said...

I agree with most of these tips. I know for a fact my hair is fine but trimming every 6-8 weeks does nothing more for my hair than prevent me from retaining length.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with the first comment. My hair is very curly but the strands are really fine.

Bri Rose said...

This definitely helped me A LOT!!!!

Anonymous said...

I have fine hair also* sigh* I will def try these tips out and see if this helps. My hair breaks very easily and sheds terribly bad. I need a solution asap! Hope these help.

Anonymous said...

My hair is very thick, and would like some tips on hydration. Thank you.
monisg@ig.com.br

momo7 said...

I am SO glad that this post is on here! I do have some fine strands of hair (mostly around my edges) but the majority of my head is filled with strong thick hair strands. If one just plucks a few strands from different parts of their head and compare the diameters with the naked eye, or a magnifying glass, strand thickness can be determined that way as well. It has been SO aggravating seeing people (in posts and videos on YT) associate "fine" hair with looser curl patterns or silkier hair (aka "good hair", a sickening term still used today), which has nothing to do with "fine" hair, SMDH. Fine means THIN! Thank you for posting this!

momo7 said...

I agree with some of what you typed, "Anonymous July 13, 2011 8:14 AM". The first few paragraphs are dead on, but the first part of the "symptoms"/"characteristics" portion of the article threw me off. Depending on actual curl pattern, fine hair may or may not hold curls well.

Malisia said...

I agree with Anon 10:30 fine hair with low porosity can be very difficult to care for. My daughter's hair is fine and lo po. I have yet to find a regimen that is very moisturizing.

Shanna said...

This article fits my hair dead on. When it talks about holding curls, it is not talking about your natural curls. It is talking about curly sets like roller sets, twist outs braids outs etc....

When I read these articles on fine hair, their are always people commenting that it doesn't really apply too. Yes, a lot of Afican Americans have Fine hair but maybe their needs to be a "super" fine category. I don't even know anyone on You Tube who has hair like that. That is because "super" fine haired naturals don't have that hair that people lust after and we don't tend to make videos because people assume that our hair is not healthy because it is not as voluminous.

I am glad to see people talking about it though.

Anonymous said...

When she days doesn't hold a curl she means a set.'my hair is fine and won't hold a set for long at all. My coils are tight though when I wash and go.

Anonymous said...

Nice article on fine hair. I've recently accepted that my hair is not gonna hold a bomb twist out or even press n curl bc it's quite fine. I had issued with holding curls when I was permed so it all makes sense to me.

momo7 said...

The author may have meant "set" when referring to holding curls. However, in my own personal opinion and experiences, the hair on my head does not hold up well with sets, and I have mostly thick strands of hair on my head. I do not know about anyone else's hair so, I am not sure who else relates to that.

momo7 said...

One more thing, lol! I forgot to mention that my strand thickness drastically changed (to thicker) after I was introduced to coconut oil a few years ago. I used to do a lot of pre-poo hot oil treatments, and also used coconut oil often to style my hair. Although I stopped using it for a looooong time now (it triggered acne breakouts) my strand thickness (growing in from the roots) is still the same!

everythingiric said...

Numbers 5 and 9 so clearly validate everything that I've gone through with my hair. All you have to do is look at my hair sideways for it to break. Grrr...

Anonymous said...

Another fine-haired natural with low porosity hair and most likely protein-sensitive. I asked in another post here about the advantages of the pre-wash oil treatment. I like my press 'n curls and it seems that may hair does best when I get them regularly, most likely because I'm loyal to my hairdresser and do nothing in between appts except tie it up and go to bed! I think this post is a good place for me to start incorporating these steps into my natural hair regimen.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this!
My hair is 3a, super-fine, and thin in volume(such a bad combination,IMO). It is so difficult to care for. I will try some of these tips.
I have found that a pre-shampoo oiling with jojoba oil has been very helpful. For some reason coconut oil doesn't work as well.

Unknown said...

Thanks for writing this! I did a strand test a couple months ago (measuring my hair against a piece of thread) and was surprised at how fine my hair is! My hair doesn't shed very much but it will break so quickly. I've always been thought to have thick hair and stylist would tell me how course my hair is. No wonder why I was prone to too straight relaxers and heat damaged hair smh. I have type 4 hair and ppl always say it's so thick and beautiful but to get curl def I have to apply in such small sections because I have so many thin little strands that frizz easily. Should I start alternating moisturizing treatments with protein repair treatments??

Dr. Heather said...

I also have fine hair..the article above described my hair to a *T*! When I have twists and braids, they are not as thick as I like. I decided to stop fighting with my hair trying to add volume and wear a cute curly twa! My fine hair looks so much better short and I get tons of compliments on my hair...it also looks thicker.

My hair likes creamy stuff and I have to re-twist nightly in order to keep the curl pattern. It's very soft in some places and thick and curly in others.

Anonymous said...

I have fine hair, but it is very dense so it looks extremely thick. It's also so curly I can hardly stand it sometimes. So, while I agree with most of the article, I disagree with that first point about it not holding a curl and the point about it looking sparse.

Anonymous said...

My hair is very fine. So fine I could never relax it. I did however flat iron it and it would be stick straight and curls fell flat quickly and you could seem my scalp in places. Not a good look but I had bought into this idea that st8 was beautiful and hated my curls/ Health issues sent me on a quest to find natural remedies. On this quest I learned how the beauty products they sell us are full of chemicals and actually exacerbate your "beauty problems" for example, silicone make your hair shiny but also blocks moisture curly hair needs to thrive. Lotion often contains alcohol. So your moisturizer leads to dry skin that makes you use more lotion. So anyway I went natural and learned how to care for my hair. My curls are beautiful and so shiny. My hair actually looks thicker and I love my curls. I wish I had learned how to take care of my hair years ago. I'm going to try the protein conditions see what that does.

Anonymous said...

I dont agree with the chopping 6-8 weeks. To retain length you have to hold onto your hair.I am also protein sensitive so the above tips might not really work for me.

Anonymous said...

Thank you sooooo much for this article. I have been searching for tips on what to do with fine natural hair and it has been hard finding anything on it. I told myself I was going to email CN to ask about having some tips for folks like me. This was very helpful and I am thankful for such a forum as this to help us sisters out. Keep doing what ya doing! Much love!

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