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Curly Nikki

The Curl Whisperer on Ethnic Hair

By January 27th, 202143 Comments

The Curl Whisperer on Ethnic Hair
I get a lot of questions on whether or not I know how to handle “ethnic hair” or about the special needs of ethnic hair. And I’m here to tell you there is no such thing. Hair is hair is hair. Period.

Your hair is fine, medium or coarse. Your hair is porous, overly porous, or has low porosity. Your hair has normal elasticity or low elasticity. Your hair is thin, medium or thick. It does not matter what your ethnic background is. Fine, porous, elastic, thick hair is fine, porous, elastic, thick hair whether it is on an African-American woman, a Caucasian woman, a Native American woman, an Asian woman, a Latina woman…you get the picture.

Now, you may have a genetic predisposition to have a certain type of hair based upon your ethnic background. African-American women often have much finer hair and a much tighter wave pattern than women from other ethnic backgrounds. Asian and Native American women can be so coarse and stick-straight, cutting their hair is a huge challenge because every slice of the shears can leave a visible mark.

There is, however, no guarantee your hair will follow a certain pattern just because you belong to a particular ethnic group. I have African-American clients with loose waves and medium texture; I have white clients with coarse hair and extremely tight coils. And that’s just the way it is.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t take pride in ourselves and where we come from, or not seek advice from others who share the same culture as we do! But by realizing that “ethnic hair” truly doesn’t exist and knowing that our particular hair type is the key to taking the best care we can of our curls…we will always have red carpet ringlets, no matter what our ethnic backgrounds.

Check out the Curl Whisperer’s site, HERE.
Submit your hair questions to the Curl Whisperer, by emailing Be sure to use ‘Curl Whisperer’ as the subject line!


  • Anonymous says:

    I'm glad to hear the comments as to what ppl think. But I agree with Tiffany… hair is hair. I got my last relaxer about 2.5 years ago. I love my kinky, curly, meduim hair and I love ME.

  • Anonymous says:

    I have to agree. I am a black woman with coarse, thick hair with like, two different textures in it. I went to school with a caucasian girl of Irish ancestry with bright red hair, same texture as mine. When I learned that she had her hair relaxed, I was shocked. Hair IS hair, doesn't matter what your ethnicity is.

  • Anonymous says:

    I understand and agree with Tiffani. Hair is hair above anything else. My hair is medium, pourous, dry and very dense. And these should be the description a stylist should need and ask to know what the hair needs. My curls are about dime size, just so if you are curious about it 🙂

  • Anonymous says:

    god, that sister is pissed!

  • Princess says:

    This is a great post. I remember when I was trying to find a hair dresser, I found it easier to ask if they worked with "ethnic hair" & the majority of the very reputable hair salons that I called said "no". It's really saddening that these so-called professionals are the ones that make the rest of us have these thoughts that 'our' hair is not worth dealing with.

  • Unknown says:

    LBell I hear you! My hair is 4ab, tighly coiled and as coarse and dry as it wants to be but my husband has large curls that grow out flowy and bouncy (people just assumes that he is bi-racial which makes him furious). We are Black, representing to different ends of the hair spectrum.

    I believe one of the ways to change this whole "ethnic" labeling with the retailers is to speak out. Write corporate, talk to owners, get people behind you. There is power in numbers. It IS discriminating and I am already taking steps to fight those sterotypes in my neighborhood. Let's not be silent about it if we care about change.

  • LBell says:

    I recently met a black woman with naturally straight (type 1) hair. Would HER hair be considered "ethnic"?

    I also recently met a white man with naturally nappy hair that he wears in a big blond 'fro. I sat right up next to him: it's a very tight 4a! Would HIS hair be considered "ethnic"?

    Tiffany, I got your point. Thanks.

  • Tiffany Anderson says:

    I wish I did have pictures to post for more tightly coiled hair; however, I have yet to receive permission to post before and afters from any of my clients with that type of wave pattern. I would love to have more pictures up, but always respect (and guard) the privacy of my clients. One day, I hope!

  • b. says:

    Thanks a mil, Tiffany for clarifying your take on cutting different wave patterns. Again, thumbs up on this article.

    By the way, do you have any before/after pics of any tighter coiled hair that you've cut/styled? I've been on your site and forum and I haven't seen any. I'd love to see how a pro who knows about curls would cut hair like mine.

  • SHADOW says:

    Some one put exactly into words how I have always thought. Bang on article!

  • Anonymous says:

    I agree with the responder from 5 comments above mine. Nearly everyone missed the point of Tiffany's post. Re-read it, and realize that she said that "hair is hair". You have to understand the science about what makes it behave a certain way to be a good stylist. Tiffany clearly does.

  • Anonymous says:

    Very well said Nicole. You can't pay me to buy anything in that "ethnic" aisle. Most of that stuff is poop LOL

  • Nicole says:

    I have to say, I'm a little surprised to see enlightened naturals passionately adhering to the "ethnic" label and "Other" themselves from anyone with "normal hair" I get compliments on my natural hair from other "ethnic" women all the time, and when I tell them that they should and can go natural too, the MAIN reason they say they won't is because THEIR hair is different from mine…almost as if I have "good" natural hair and they have the real, "ethnic" nappy hair. Now if you saw me, I have a super tightly curly, gravity-defying, densely packed, 4a afro that only bobby pins and clips can style. No comb gets through these curls…If *I* can go natural, anyone can.

    So I applaud Tiffany for knocking out this myth…which is the same myth that keeps some women slathering hair grease in their tresses and proclaiming that "their" hair (usually relaxed women) doesn't like water. Hogwash!

    It's hair, darn it! I think the proponents of natural hair should be the first to embrace that it's just hair, and it is just as beautiful, manageable, and desirable as any other type of hair when it is cared for as it should be. Then maybe that "ethnic" aisle and all its myths will blend in with the rest of the just "hair" aisle.

    Just my 2 cents, though.

  • Tiffany Anderson says:

    The article is meant to point out that the composition of hair is no different from one person to the next regardless of ethnic background. There is a basic misconception within our society that different products should be used for different hair types based on ethnicity (and wave pattern), which is erroneous in my experience and education, and will only lead to frustration in the long run. Every time I see an "ethnic hair care" section in a store, I want to scream bloody murder. Instead…where is the "fine hair care" section or the "coarse hair care" section?

    Addressing how to CUT different types of wave patterns is a different animal, however, and one I will most likely address somewhere down the line. I would no more cut the hair of one of my clients with 4B hair the same way as one of my clients with 3A hair as I would try to herd pigs. But again…that is based on wave pattern, not ethnic background.

  • Anonymous says:

    Kudos to Tiffany! Some of you women should be ashamed of yourselves. ITA with ANON 809.

  • Anonymous says:

    Wow- Im a little shocked by the responses. People seem to be so adamant about holding onto social perception of our hair and seem to be missing the point totally. I dont take what Tiff said as saying we are all the same, she clearly stated that we arent. However when it comes to the science of hair we are. Why not applaud the fact that someone if finally saying we are part of the spectrum of hair, as opposed to saying we have some alien strain that is so diff its impossible to manage. Hair is hair, hair has always been hair, and despsite whatever social perception is, if a stylist can recognize fine from coarse, pourous from non pourous, dense from thin, it will make all the difference in the world in the way they care for our hair. How many of us had breakage, burns, hair loss, from our "Ethnic" stylists when we were relaxed? You can have healthy relaxed hair remember? Stylists can be ignorant and undereducated regardless of their heritage. C'mon ladies arent we beyond this. We chat everyday about the unfairness of how people percieve our hair and then Tiff says she shes it the way we do and we have a problem with that? wow

  • Anonymous says:

    Red Carpet Ringlets! Love it:-)

  • aubin says:

    I agree with Tiffany: hair is hair. I have 4a curls and coils and I have rarely visited salons because as soon as hairstylists see my hair they go into "black hair" mode, which means treating my natural hair as if it is dry, damaged and needing to be tamed. They assume that my hair is coarse and needs an abundance of moisturizer because that is how they are taught to treat "black hair". But in fact my hair is very fine and often over-moisturized. If more stylists would see that "hair is hair" they might actually take a look at my *hair* instead of my ethnicity before deciding what kind of treatment I need. Great post!

  • Anonymous says:

    I agree. Ethnic is not synonymous with tightly curled/highly textured hair. It annoys me to go into Walgreens and see the "ethnic hair care" section, because what does that even mean?! I mean I know all the products there are marketed towards black ladies but *everyone* has an ethnicity…just because a person is black or Latina or whatever doesn't make them anymore "ethnic" than a white person.

  • naturally.golden says:

    I agree with Tiffany when she argues that there is no such thing as "[ethnic hair], hair is hair. period." This is a point that needs emphasizing since so many people believe that a label such as ethnic hair really does exist.

    Tkaluv made an interesting point by saying "everyone is ethnic" as a response to Tiffany's claims. Though I concede that everyone belongs to a particular "ethnic group," I still insist that the term "ethnic" as Tiffany is addressing it is usually linked to the stereotype of African American thick, dry, kinky, hard to manage hair. That is why Tiffany's arguments are so unique. So many people (including major drugstore chains such as Wal-Mart, Walgreens, and Target) all have sections clearly marked as "ethnic hair products." In these aisles there is not a product traditionally used on white or supposedly "non-ethnic hair" to be found.

    I for one used to believe the "ethnic hair" hype and only shopped on the ethnic hair aisle, believing that the "other" aisle couldn't possibly have products that would work on my hair. Going natural has really shown me the importance of opening up my mind to new products, ways of thinking, and viewpoints. And I will always be grateful for the way Herbal Essence Conditioners condition my curls (thanks curlynikki for highlighting that product!!)

    Kudos to Tiffany for being a part of a new wave of thinking. Hair is hair. The reason so many African American women (and countless others) buy into the "ethnic hair" label is because many of us have been brainwashed by mainstream America to do so.

  • mysskay says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • Honeysmoke says:

    i agree with tiffany. hair is hair. that said, i've had enough bad haircuts to know she is the rare stylist. if you ever want to have fun, walk into one of those mall beauty salons or maybe even one of those high-end places in your town and act like you want a haircut. one of two things will happen. the beauticians will suddenly have more clients than they can handle and turn you away or you will have to wait for the one person in the salon who can cut your hair. don't think it's better to call and set up an appointment. many stylists will tell you anything on the phone. and no, i'm not saying it's like this everywhere. i've managed to find stylists of different races, men and women, to cut my hair over the years, but i can tell you it hasn't always been easy.

  • Anonymous says:

    Preach Tiffany! I couldn't agree more.

  • CURLYNIKKI says:

    oooh! I like how this very quickly turned into a Food for Thought segment! I love you ladies 😀

  • Cygnet says:

    Here is perhaps the most commonly inferred definition of ethnic: "Of, relating to, or characteristic of a sizable group of people sharing a common and distinctive racial, national, religious, linguistic, or cultural heritage."

    By this definition, given (1) that every person born shares one or more of the aforementioned commonalities with at least one other person, (2) that people groups change and have changed over the passage of much time by a variety of means, and (3) that hair characteristics have been definitively shown to cross over racial and national boundaries, I think that what Tiffany was trying to say makes good sense.

    Everyone belongs to an ethnicity. There are those things that seem to be strongly characteristic of every ethnicity. Within an ethnicity, however, there are obvious variations. The more procreation there is between ethnicities over time, the more the lines become blurred. So I think it is wrong to refer to the hair of one people group as ethnic.

    I think that practice started to be used against us as another way to euphemistically label us by those who didn't know what else to call us but who were tired of the backlash from some of us who objected to the labels for us that existed at the time. I think it went a little like this: Whether they're Greek, German, or Irish, all white people know they're white. Whether they're Hindi, Sikh, or something else, all people from India know they're Indian. It seems only to be among the African-descendant people who were born in the U.S. that there exists not only the label confusion, but the crazy range of emotions that go with every one of the labels.

    The fact still remains, however, that "ethnic" and whatever term you want to apply to African-descendant Americans are not interchangeable, but neither are hair characteristics strictly fixed within any ethnicity. That, I think, is why Tiffany says there is no such thing as ethnic hair.

    But that's just me :-).

  • b. says:

    Dang, Anon 3:37! I 100% feel you about the representation factor. If I gave my hair a type, it would def. be 4b. Itsy-tinsy coil! (A mm or so across on the *larger* ones.) So, yes…styling recommendations are often a moot point for many of us…at least until the hair is longer. As my hair has grown, I've been able to learn from some styling options of looser textured naturals and adapt them to my own hair. I just need to be realistic about what the results will be. My "wash and go" will not look like tendrils! However, some product recommendations were surprisingly helpful, even if I had a different curl pattern. That's usually b/c we had a similar hair porisity/elasticity/moisture retention level…just two different patterns. I think that's what Tiffany is getting at.

    I've seen others mention braids as transition options. Another option that may work for you is a straw set. That way you aren't pulling the hair back. (I made that ugly mistake — pulling it back — when transitioning and just cut it short after a few months. LOVED it short.) Good luck with your transition, and I'm glad to see another person willing to rep for those of us with tighter coiled hair. That's the only way we'll see more hair like "ours"…we've got to show it! 🙂

  • kenda says:

    I coudln't have said it any better than Tiffany just did. You might be predisposed to have a certain type of hair because of your ethnicity, but the term "ethnic hair" really is devoide of meaning.

    Like Stephanie said, a think a lot of people use "ethnic" and "kinky" interchangeably but that really doesn't make a lot of sense. Everyone (white, black, Latino, Asian, Native American, or some mix of all the above) has an ethnicity.

  • Anonymous says:

    this is bs there is clearly a difference between 4b and 2b hair! to me i have visited so many blogs and to me i rarly see people with "ethinic" hair. i don't see people who have the same type of hair 4a and 4b that most people in my area,the people i grew up with have.3c is the new natural sorry. you can not compare my hair,or my family,or most people i see in nyc with the hair textures i see on many blogs. i don't mean to sound ignorant but this is clearly what i see on blogs and forums,where it became so evident that a cnapp forum was created. no my hair will not load up with conditioner and divide in tendrils. i feel there is no voice for 4a and 4b hair on blogs. i see the frustration in my sister's eyes when she sees the same type of hair that does not represent her hair or her peers. iam not saying that all black hair is a type4, but i dont know anyone with hair that separates in tendrils. this reminds me of when i was completely natural in 99 as a teen and the envy of all the girls of the biracial, or "other" girl who hair was a type3. there was no representation for us 4s to properly care for our hair. even as i am transitioning now blogs recommend twists,and buns- my hair is a afro with long strands at the end- it is distraous for my hair to be pulled back into a bun, or twists without it breaking. i never see locks, microbraids,or cornrows as an option on blogs!

  • b. says:

    The texture of the hair itself and the curl pattern are two different things. Three people can have the same curl/coil pattern and if you take a hair from each person it may look different (small/larger in diameter, for instance). In that regard, I think Tiffany's point is valid concerning tailoring hair care toward the density & porisity instead of ethnicity. The view of "ethnic" hair being different than everyone else's hair is like (IMO) saying women of color only need 4 or 5 shades of "mocha" foundation. We all know that's not the case. Besides, many of us have such varying heritage(s) that pidgeon-holing our hair needs won't work. I've read blogs where white women found olive oil and co-washing to be life savers for their hair. There are differences, yes, but I don't think the differences outweigh the similarities, scientifically speaking. Now, socially speaking, that's a different story…

    I love the vid from hairrules:

    I think Kicukalah makes a great point about coilier hair shrinking when dry. However, I do wonder if Milady's book for Black cosmotology was written separately for the same reason many other things for "us" were separate.

    Even when it comes to chemical treatments, everyone's hair dries out and is prone to breakage. The hair must be "restructured" whether it's a permanent wave or relaxer.

  • Moni says:

    I hate the term "ethnic hair" with a passion. In fact, I hate whenever "ethnic" or "urban" is used to refer to minorities or black people. As tkaluv said, everyone is "ethnic". And even if "ethnic hair" only referred to "minorities", there's a world of difference between the straight, coarse stereotypically Asian hair and the tightly coiled, dry stereotypically African hair. So which one is ethnic hair?

    I do think that different types of hair need different hair care, but there's such a huge variety of hair within every ethnicity that it's silly to classify hair based solely on race. I know that my black hair is completely different from Nikki's black hair and Lauryn Hill's black hair and Tanika Ray's black hair.

  • Anonymous says:

    It's not just about a haircut though, and I think the author understands that. If you are trying to care for the health of your hair, you're gonna have better luck finding a routine appropriate for your porosity, elasticity, moisture level, courseness, etc. then you will picking a regimen based on your race. I think thats what she is tying to say.

  • Onyxcabelo says:

    Hmmm, very interesting.

  • stephanie says:

    I think the problem lies in semantics – she's saying "ethnic hair" doesn't exist, but I think most people use "ethnic" and "tightly curled/coily/kinky" synonymously. And coily/kinky hair definitely exists.

    I sort of understand where she's coming from, and I do think it's very important to remember that curl size is not the defining factor in how someone's hair behaves. I think a lot of naturals get unnecessarily caught up with curl size and ignore the other hair attributes. Porosity, texture, and hair density are all equally, if not more, important. But to completely discount curl size (straight, wavy, curly, coily, etc) just doesn't make any sense to me. Hair with a very tight wave pattern obviously is going to behave much differently than hair that's straight.

  • Veronica Marché says:

    Agreed with tkaluv.

    Hair is hair, though it has different characteristics based on what genes you get it.

    Since we're black, my sister and I could both be said to have "ethnic" hair. But what does that mean in the grand scale of things? Nothing, because from texture to porosity to coil pattern to color, our hair is completely different. "Ethnic" is relative, and simply is a term used by a majority to categorize a minority.

  • Anonymous says:

    tkaluv…THANK YOU!

    I'll say it again…EVERYONE is "ethnic"!!

  • Liz says:

    tkaluv – really? Maybe that is a poor choice of word. Maybe I mean "tightly coiled, African, nappy, kinky, etc…" I think you know what I'm getting at.

    Kicukalah – THANK YOU for breaking that down! You said "You can't cut an afro like you cut ringlets because one defies gravity and the other hangs heavier.
    On Tiffany's site she saids she cuts curly hair dry because when wet, curly hair lays flat and appears to be longer than it really is. Ringlets do that. Tightly coiled hair actually, draws up and appears shorter than it really is." Beautifully stated!

  • Carmel Stacks says:

    Liz, everyone's "ethnic"

  • Kicukalah says:

    I visited Tiffany's website today and while I found her work to be impressive I didn't see anyone of highly textured or coily hair. I honestly feel their is a difference in the maintenance of African American or African descent hair. Yes it's true that hair is hair. It is all keratin protein. But with that said, there is a big difference when it comes to styling and caring for hair that is curly and hair that is coiled (extremely tight curl)
    I am a student of cosmetology and it is true that they teach that hair is hair, but even Milady's Standard published a book specially for black hair. It's call Milady's Black Cosmetology. Now the book is fairly old, but still for sale. I have a hard time believing that the Leader in the education of cosmetology would still offer a book if it was not still relevant today. Of course I could be wrong, but not likely.
    You can't cut an afro like you cut ringlets because one defies gravity and the other hangs heavier.
    On Tiffany's site she saids she cuts curly hair dry because when wet, curly hair lays flat and appears to be longer than it really is. Ringlets do that. Tightly coiled hair actually, draws up and appears shorter than it really is.
    I'm just saying……

  • Maria says:

    Great post, Tiffany. I personally don't let anyone touch my hair unless they're Dominican (that's where I'm originally from) and I've often expressed being scared to walk into a salon that I feel is for Caucasian women because in my mind they'll either tell me they can't do my type of hair or the stylist will do something crazy to my hair LOL

  • Urban Homeschoolers Of Columbus says:

    Wow…well said. That made me think differently about hair.

  • M says:

    Interesting viewpoint… I have seriously never thought about it from this perspective… especially since I do use the term "ethnic hair." Food for thought…

  • LuvMeLuvMyFro says:

    I finally visited Tiffany's website and I was very surprised to find out that she is here in Saint Petersbug.

    I totally agree with the posting today about hair being hair. When I first enrolled in cosmetology school I would tell eveyone that and just about everyone thought I was crazy for saying it.

  • Liz says:

    I don't know, I'm not buying it. I see what you mean by saying all hair fits into certain categories, but if you put me next to the next female with straight or wavy hair, mine is clearly ethnic. There truly is a different between cutting someone's afro-type hair, and cutting ringlets. I would be very suprised if a stylist could truly handle both with excellence.

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