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!