The Only Guide You'll Ever Need for Hair Typing Natural Hair

by Sabrina of

Hair typing is the easy way to determine what type of curls you have. Although it is obvious enough that natural hair varies in texture, hair typing is a system that makes it easy to point out what category your strands fall in. Hair typing is a big thing in natural hair and while the verdict is out on whether it truly figures it all out for you, many still subscribe to it in aiding in hair product purchases and how to care for one's own curls.


Understanding Your Hair Texture: Width and Pattern

by Susan Walker of Earthtones Naturals

First things First – Hair Width

Regardless of if your hair is straight, wavy, curly or kinky we all have 3 basic widths: fine, medium and thick which can also be called coarse. Width is not how the hair feels but describes the thickness of each individual strand of hair. The comparison is typically to a piece of thread. If your hair is fine, it’s thinner than the thread, medium hair is usually the same width and thick or coarse strands are thicker than the piece of thread.

Characteristics of Each Hair Width

Fine Hair

Fine hair is the most fragile texture and can be easily damaged. Contrary to popular belief, people with finer hair tend to have more hair than people with thicker hair strands. Fine hair can tend to be oilier than other hair types. For those of you with fine hair you may find difficulty holding a style; your hair is light and can fall flat against your head. Volume is often desired but not often attained. Structurally fine hair has two hair layers – a cortex and a cuticle.

Read More!!>>>

Curl Envy and Hair Texture Discrimination

by Susan Walker of

So this is going to be a bit controversial. No, a lot controversial. I don’t really want to go to where I’m taking this to be honest. However, in the upcoming weeks I’m going to be discussing a topic that can be compared to nails on a chalkboard in terms of the effect it has on some women. So I want to pave the way for it by examining where some of this outrage – from a practice that is really meant to be rather benign – is coming from.

And that topic is hair typing.

Read On!>>>

But What’s Your Curl Type, Tho?

by Erica Thurman of

So I’m in the grocery store the other day and some stranger walks up and asks me to take a paper bag test! She was like, “I need to know if you light-skinneded enough to hang out with us.” Ok, so that’s not what she really said but that is what it felt like.

Most naturals get lots of questions from other naturals and people outside of the community. The questions range from basic to bizarre.

1) How do you get your hair to grow like that? Ummm...
2) What products do you use? All of them. I’m a junkie.
3) When did you big chop? Are you asking about my first chop, my second chop or the mini chop I did due to heat damage?
4) How long have you been growing your hair? Well, technically since birth but I’ve been retaining length in my natural state for about 14 months now.
5) You’re actually going to put food in your hair? Do you know how much EVOO costs? Yes, and I will not be wasting it on food.
5) Are you light skinned or dark skinned? What’s your curl type? Enter screeching halt.

Whenever I hear that last question I feel like I should go straight School Daze on 'em. #teamJiggaboo. I jest, but curl typing does seem dangerously close another method of saying “light skinned“ and “dark skinned” or good hair” and “bad hair” Too far? Perhaps for some but the concept of curl typing, much like racial identity, is knowledge that is only useful to one person—the person rocking the curls/coils/kinks. Let me further explain what I mean by that. Some argue that knowing your curl type is beneficial with regards to your hair regimen. This may well be true. But what we also know is that no two naturals are identical. So while knowing my curl type could be helpful for my regimen, that information is not very helpful to the person asking the question. Our hair might look the same but our diets, regional climates and other lifestyle factors all play a role in natural rule #1— there is no one-size-fits-all hair care regimen. What works for me might not work for you and vice versa. Knowing my hair type doesn’t appear to be all that helpful to anyone else. It also serves to limit us in some regards. If your hair type is different, does that mean I shouldn’t try something that works for you? Does it mean I shouldn’t attempt the hairstyle you’re rocking? Does it mean I can’t rock that amazing cut? No. No. No. I’ve tried products and styles that work miracles for sistas with hair that looks exactly like mine and ended up with an epic fail (or two, or thirty). If knowing someone else’s hair type won’t help me find a regimen/hairstyle/product for me, what’s the point of pulling out the paper bag?

Curl typing might also be counterproductive in our quest to help new naturals embrace their natural beauty. Sometimes, it is easy to get so caught up in trying to achieve a desired curl pattern that you miss the amazing experience that comes with embracing your hair.

Don’t think I was crazy enough to start discussing all of this in the middle of aisle 7. Instead I responded like I always do, “I don’t know my curl type. I just listen to how my hair responds to any given product/regimen/style.” Still, I was left to wonder, “If we make distinctions similar to those of race, do we run the risk of falling into the same divisive structure?”

*Shout out to Gia for inspiring the title of this piece!

CN Says:
For the record, we dismissed curl typing in 'Better Than Good Hair' *Kanye shrug* 

Decoding Hair Texture: Hair Typing Systems 101

by Susan Walker of Earthtones Naturals

Now that hair texture and type are established, we can take a closer look at some popular hair typing systems. These are used by textured women to help identify their hair and communicate with other curlies or product choice and hair care methods. Some of these systems are simple, some more complex. In my opinion, I believe they should be used as a general guide to better understand your hair, which products will be beneficial for it, and how to take care of it.

Andre Walker’s Curl Typing System
Possibly the most popular and used by mainly curly girls is the Andre Walker system. Many systems are based on this one. In 1997 he took the standard hairdresser texture classes and expanded it into curl typing.  He classified hair into four main categories: Straight – Type 1, Wavy – Type 2, Curly – Type 3 and Kinky – Type 4. Andre created and defined subcategories - a, b, c – within the texture classes.

Type 1
Type 1 is straight hair and is further subcategorized:

•Type 1a – Straight (Fine/Thin) – Hair tends to be very soft, shiny and difficult to hold a curl. Hair also tends to be oily, and difficult to damage.
•Type 1b – Straight (Medium) – Hair has lots of volume & body.
•Type 1c – Straight (Coarse) – Hair is normally bone straight and difficult to curl. Asian women usually fall into this category.

Type 2
Type 2 is wavy and tends to be coarse, with a definite S pattern to it. There are three Type 2 subtypes defined below.

•Type 2a – Wavy (Fine/Thin) – Hair has a definite “S” pattern. Normally can accomplish various styles.
•Type 2b – Wavy (Medium) – Hair tends to be frizzy, and a little resistant to styling.
•Type 2c – Wavy (Coarse) – Hair is also resistant to styling and normally very frizzy; tends to have thicker waves.

Type 3
When this type of hair is wet, it appears to be pretty straight. As it dries, the hair goes back to its curly state. When curly hair is wet it usually straightens out. As it dries, it absorbs the water and contracts to its curliest state. Humidity tends to make this type of curly hair even curlier, or frizzier. Type 3 hair has a lot of body and is easily styled in its natural state, or it can be easily straightened with a blow-dryer into a smoother style. Healthy Type 3 hair is shiny, with soft, smooth curls and strong elasticity. The curls are well defined and springy.

Andre defines two subtypes of curly hair. First, there is type 3a and 3b. The longer the hair is the more defined the curl. Then there is type 3b hair, which has a medium amount of curl to tight corkscrews. It’s not unusual to see a mixture of these types existing on the same head. Curly hair usually consists of a combination of textures, with the crown being the curliest part. Lastly there is a type 3c. This is a hair type that is not in Andre Walker’s book. This type of hair can be described as tight curls in corkscrews. The curls can be either kinky, or very tightly curled, with a lot of strands densely packed together.

Type 3a – Curly (Loose Curls) – Hair tends to be shiny and there can be a combination of textures. It can be thick & full with lots of body, with a definite “S” pattern. It also tends to be frizzy. The longer the hair the more defined the curl becomes.
Type 3b – Curly (Tight Curls) – Also tends to have a combination texture, with a medium amount of curl.

Type 4
According to Andre Walker, if your hair falls into the Type 4 category, then it is kinky, or very tightly curled. Generally, Type 4 hair is very wiry, very tightly coiled and very fragile. Similar to Type 3 hair, Type 4 hair appears to be coarse, but it is actually quite fine, with lots and lots of these strands densely packed together. Healthy Type 4 hair typically has sheen rather than shine. It will be soft and silky to the touch and have proper elasticity.

There are two subtypes of Type 4 hair: Type 4a, tightly coiled hair that, when stretched, has an S pattern, much like curly hair; and Type 4b, which has a Z pattern, less of a defined curl pattern. The hair bends in sharp angles like the letter Z. Type 4a tends to have more moisture than Type 4b which will be wiry.

•Type 4a – Kinky (Soft) – Hair tends to be very fragile, tightly coiled, and has a more defined curly pattern.
•Type 4b – Kinky (Wiry) – Also very fragile and tightly coiled; however with a less defined curly pattern -has more of a “Z” pattern shape.

L.O.I.S. African American Natural Texture Typing System
This popular curly typing system basically deals with Straight, Wavy, Curly, Kinky and Nappy categories. Compared to the Andre Walker system, it also takes strand thickness into account and assesses how hair texture (thin/fine, medium, thick, very thick) can impact the various top categories.

This system which is very comprehensive and somewhat complex is based around the letters L. O. I. S. which stands for L = Bend, O = Curl, I = Straight and S = Wave.  In addition to Bend, Curl, Straight and Wave is the texture or strand thickness, including the categories of thin, medium and thick.

Additional detailed definitions of natural textured hair include -

Thready: low sheen, high shine, low frizz
Wiry : sparkly sheen, low shine, low frizz
Cottony: low sheen, low shine, high frizz
Spongy: high sheen, low shine, high frizz
Silky: low sheen, high shine, low frizz
Shine is defined as hair that reflects light along its surface. Sheen is a sparkle to the hair.

Textured hair is extremely difficult to classify due to the complexities of this hair type in terms of texture and curl pattern. Despite their limitations, hair typing systems do a great job at giving a general idea of categorizing hair to help guide product choice and hair care. One of the best examples of this is the Naturally Curly Hair Finder which does an excellent job of expanding on the major hair typing systems, providing images of these hair types and giving hair care tips to bring out the best in each type.

What Type are You?
Select a single strand of the most common type of hair on your head. Aim for the most common texture on your head if you have different hair textures. The hair should be freshly washed without products applied to it and rinsed in cold water. Place the hair on a piece of white paper. To determine texture, compare your hair to a piece of thread. If you hair is thinner than the thread it is fine. If it is the same thickness then you have medium hair. If your hair is thicker than the thread then you have thick hair.

Find Your Pattern
The bends, kinks and coils of your hair will resemble one of more of the letters L, O, I or S.
L – If the hair has all bends, right angles and folds with little to no curve then you are daughter L.
O – If the strand is rolled up into the shape of one or several zeros like a spiral, then you are
daughter O.
I – If the hair lies mostly flat with no distinctive curve or bend you are daughter I.
S – If the strand looks like a wavy line with hills and valleys then you are daughter S.
You may have a combination of the L,O,I,S letters, possibly with one dominant.

Determine if your hair is:
Thready – Hair has a low sheen, with high shine if the hair is held taut (as in a braid), with low frizz. Wets easily but water dries out quickly.
Wiry – Hair has a sparkly sheen, with low shine and low frizz. Water beads up or bounces off the hair strands. Hair never seems to get fully wet.
Cottony – Hair has a low sheen, a high shine if the hair is held taut and has high frizz. Absorbs water quickly but does not get thoroughly wet very fast.
Spongy – Hair has a high sheen with low shine with a compacted looking frizz. Absorbs water before it gets thoroughly wet.
Silky – Hair has low sheen, a very high shine, with a lot or low frizz. Easily wets in water.

What is your hair type and texture according to the above systems?
Are there similarities or differences among the various systems?

CN Says:

I totally understand, on some real levels, the importance of categorizing to aid in recommending appropriate styling techniques, products and things of that nature, but yeah, beyond that, I'm good. 
For me, I've found that describing the hair (s waves, cottony, high porosity, thin density, fine texture etc.) helps, so with that, I would have to say, of the two, the L O I S system makes a bit more sense, but neither are 'complete'.

Sarah's Thoughts on Hair Typing

Sarah of Wonderlust writes:

I think hair typing gets a bad rap.

When I started my natural journey, I knew very little about what it meant or what my hair would even look like. It wasn’t as though I started getting my hair straightened really young, but ponytails (two in the front, one in the back) ruled my life back then. In terms of relaxers, I was a stretcher and would notice some curls near my ear right before touch up time, but I never really knew my hair.

When I made the decision to stop straightening my hair, I adopted hair idols and perused hair mag sites for pictures, but it wasn’t until after my BC that I really started to do my research (and if I had, I never would have gotten highlights). It took about 2-3 weeks of being lost and shampooing my hair everyday until I stumbled upon Curly Nikki, Naturally Curly, and the hair typing system. I had found the Mecca. I learned about the CG/no-poo method, wash & goes vs. twist & braid outs, and that I was 3c/4a.

Even though I knew my hair was different,
Tracee Ellis Ross was my hair idol

I also learned that many naturals identified themselves as 3c/4a. But what did that really mean? And why was it that some recommendations from people with beautiful heads of hair of my same “hair type” fail horribly for me?

Enter the controversy. Attribute it to hair snobbery or insecurity, but some would have you believe that there is a world of difference between 3c and 4a and that being in the world of 3s means something totally different about yourself than being in the 4s. That 3 = beautiful, silky curls and 4 = dry, damage-prone coils. And there are other deep-seeded issues at hand. The old light-skinned with good hair debate is an old one, so I’ll leave that to Mixed Chicks to solve (side eye). But we all know this isn’t the truth, for the most beautiful head of hair I know belongs to Naptural85, who has the shiniest (4a) curls I’ve ever seen! So, there had to be more to it… even looking at my own hair, it had to be something more to my hair, or else it should have looked like every other head of hair I’ve seen.

Here is where I learned there was a difference between curl pattern and hair type. Don’t get it twisted… there is a difference! Curl pattern is only an attribute to one’s entire hair type. So, learning my curl pattern was only the first step, but I really started to make strides with my hair when I figured out its density, the strand thickness, and its porosity. It was wayyyy more important to know that my 3c/4a hair is a very dense mass of medium to thick strands with low porosity. Because, at the end of the day, thick hair is thick hair and dry hair is dry hair, whether the curl pattern is 3a or 4a.

Apparently there are some who get with the hair typing system and some who don’t. But really, no matter what you call you hair, whether it be by numberletter (slash another numberletter) or highly textured and coily, no matter what you call it, it is what it is!

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