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God, my hair is so freaking confusing. I’m sure I have about 50 different curl patterns on my head. It always looks different every day and never dries the same way twice. No hair product I buy works for me. How can I identify my hair type?
If the above is what you feel, you can relax now. I am here to help you figure out how to identify your hair type correctly.
I used to have the same questions before, you know, because I have 4C hair (obviously), but the texture is so confusing that sometimes I think it is 4B hair.
When my hair started breaking as a result of using the wrong hair products, hair issues (severe dandruff, itchy scalp, etc.) and too frequent hairstyles, I did A LOT OF RESEARCH.
After all my research I was able to finally treat and nourish my hair according to my hair type and my MAJOR curl pattern.
When you think of the different hair types that exist, the first thing you probably imagine is that hair is either straight or curly. Simple.
Actually, not so simple.
This is because hair types can generally be broken up into four main categories, and about a dozen different subcategories with distinct characteristics.
In a rush? Why don’t you pin for later? Thank you!
Why can’t I find products that work for my hair?
You have got it all wrong if you think that using generic hair products like shampoos and conditioners are enough to care for your hair. Don’t worry, I used to think like that too.
Not every product will work for every hair type. This is why it is very important to understand and know your hair type. This is the first and most important step to determining the best regimen to take care of your hair.
If you think you know your hair type, but you can’t seem to find products that work for it, then you probably don’t actually know your hair type.
Trying to identify your hair type can be really tricky because hair presents in a lot of ways.
You might have heard of the major hair categories: straight, wavy, curly and coily hair. What you may not be aware of is that there are other factors you must understand to help you correctly determine your unique hair type.
Some of these factors are density, diameter, and elasticity. They help you identify other hair characteristics you might not have paid attention to otherwise (like thinness, because who doesn’t want more hair volume?)
It might sound like a lot, but I promise it’s really not.
What’s the gag with hair types, anyway?
So, here’s the thing about hair: it is unruly sometimes. Hair almost never plays the game straight. There are actually only a few people who have strictly ONE hair type.
That’s right. About 85% of humans have at least two different curl patterns on their head.
Chances are that you are part of the majority and you have two or more curl patterns in your hair. You might have coarse wavy hair with some fine curls thrown in between, or a head full of coily hair and some thick curls in the mix. You hair can also present as bone-straight hair that frizzes and poofs up in certain conditions.
The fact that there is actually no universal hair type also implies that there are no universally right hair products, routines, or even classification systems for every hair type in the world.
However, Andre Walker, a hairstylist / hair enthusiast, managed to classify hair types over the years into four broad, general categories—the ones mentioned above. His classification has helped people with hair figure out how to properly care for and style their hair.
But the problem now is that you—yeah, you—might actually have up to three of these hair types on your head right now.
This is why curl patterns alone are not sufficient when it comes to knowing your hair type (enter the other determinants).
In this post, I will shed more light on the different hair types, and how you can correctly identify your hair type.
First, let’s look at the most popular method—curl patterns.
Curl patterns (otherwise known as ‘hair texture’)
This is the first–and most popular–method to identify your hair type.
Your curl pattern simply means the natural shape or pattern of your hair strands. I’m gonna talk about this overtly a bit before I get down to the nitty-gritty of the topic.
I’m talking about the four major hair categories—straight, wavy, curly and coily.
Here’s the basic information:
- Straight hair – Type 1
- Wavy hair – Type 2
- Curly hair – Type 3
- Coily hair – Type 4
But yeah, I think you might have already figured that out.
The simplest way to determine which category you fall into is to wash your hair and air-dry it. Do not apply any products on it at all.
If your hair dries straight—no bends, curls, or zigzags—then you fall into the Type 1 category. If it dries with slight curves or the ‘S’ shape, then you have wavy hair (Type 2). But if it dries with defined curls and loop patterns, you got Type 3 hair. And if you got tight coils, spirals, or zig-zag patterns in your hair, then you have my hair type—Type 4!
Now, let’s get into the intricacies of it all.
Type 1—straight hair
Straight hair can exhibit as sleek and thin or as dense and poofy. That’s the range, and it differs for many people.
In fact, the only thing all straight hair has in common is the beautiful shine and glossiness. This shine occurs because the oil (sebum) that is naturally produced by your scalp easily moves down the length of your hair strands, keeping them moisturized and healthy.
The most popular misconception about Type 1 hair is that there is only one way it exhibits—bone-straight. This is not true for many people.
There are actually three Type 1 hair subcategories—1A, 1B, and 1C.
This is the type that is the literal definition of ‘straight’.
Type 1A hair is the straightest, silkiest, thinnest and flattest of the straight hair types. If you have this hair type, I just know that you struggle with keep on a bobby pin or an elastic band.
Best hair product: A texturizing spray needs to be your best friend if you have Type 1A hair. A texturizing spray helps add more body and volume, while improving the shine and level of moisture in the hair. Plus your hair still remains straight. It’s a real win-win situation.
This hair type still classifies as straight, but in the midst of the straight strands are some coarser strands and a few bends. Type 1B hair also has greasy roots rather than dry ends.
Best hair product: Your go-to product for this hair type is dry shampoo.
Dry shampoo reduces dirt, oil and grease in your hair. It can be applied when the hair is dry, hence the name.
Do not overuse dry shampoo though as it can make your hair become more vulnerable to damage.
This is the thickest form/subcategory of Type 1 hair.
Because of the thickness, this hair type is prone to frizz, dryness, and poofiness. This means that sometimes, your hair goes koo-koo in the summer when the sun is hot, or winter when the sun isn’t even around.
Not everyone with the characteristics of Type 1C hair actually has Type 1C hair though. If your straight hair is damaged due to chemicals, heat and color treatments, you might identify with this hair type, too.
Best hair product: For this hair type, I advise you to get a good hair mask that should be applied once a week, at least. Or twice. Depends on the level of koo-koo your hair is on.
Type 2—wavy hair
Wavy hair can look anything from beautiful beach waves to fuzzy, undefined waves. Type 2 hair tends to have multiple, defined bends and curves from the roots of the hair to the ends.
It is also noticeably different from straight hair. Thus, it is important to know the difference.
If you have just one or two bends and weird waves in your hair, you probably have Type 1 hair rather than Type 2 hair.
Type 2 hair is easier to manipulate than Type 1 hair, by the way. The curves and bends in it gives it better grip.
Type 2A hair strands have a flat S-shape wave pattern. They are finer and flatter than 1C hair and can be blown out and straightened much more easily.
Best hair product: Your go-to product if you have this hair type is sea-salt spray. A sea-salt spray encourages the natural wave of your hair, makes them look more defined, prominent and ‘beachy’.
With sea-salt spray, your waves will look like those on the models that grace the cover of Sports Illustrated. See what I did there? Waves? Hmm?
No? Okay. Moving on.
The waves in 2B hair have a slightly more defined S-shape than the ones in 2A hair. These waves usually have fine and/or medium density.
It is a bit more prone to frizz and poofing though, especial if the hair is damaged.
Best hair product: The main product for this hair type is a wave-enhancing mousse. Mousses help define the loose patterns in your hair. Wave-enhancing mousses are a great option to revive wave definition and fight frizz on days’-old hair without adding in too much product.
In this hair type, most of the strands are mostly S-shaped waves, but there are a few loose curls and coarser-than-usual textures in the mix.
The difference textures present in this hair type causes it to frizz easily and lose definition faster than you can say ‘beepity boppity boop’. Try it.
You know what can solve that? A lightweight curl cream, that’s what! Since this is the hair type that comes right before true curly hair, you can definitely use a curl cream.
Curl creams help provide a soft hold and definition to curls. They are often more nourishing than gels and leave much less build up. They also don’t have a ‘crunch’ effect when your hair dries.
Some gels and mousses have the crunch effect—excluding the ones I recommended above—and it is not pleasant at all.
Type 3—curly hair
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard people with 2B and 2C hair claim that they have ‘curly’ hair, Bill Gates would be my butler.
Anytime I hear that, I always go—in my head, of course—‘No, hun. If you wanna be part of the curly hair gang, you’ve gotta have ACTUAL curls in your hair. I mean, most of your hair strands have to spiral around themselves, sort of like a spring. From what I see, your hair strands have a flat S-shape that just wave back and forth. That ain’t curly.’
Truth is, it is very common to have a mix of waves and curls on your head at once.
That being said, Type 3 hair is divided further into three subcategories.
Yeah, you guessed it—3A, 3B, and 3C hair.
The main difference between 2C hair and 3A hair is that 2C hair has mostly waves and a few loose curls while 3A hair has mostly loose curls and a few waves.
The curls in 3A hair are finer and easily blown out, but they are also sensitive and react to different temperatures, weathers and elements.
Best hair product: The main product for this hair type is a curl-enhancing mousse.
Mousses for curly hair increase the volume of the hair by creating space between the hair strands with their aerated foam formulas. They also enhance the shape of the curls with plumping ingredients like polymers, and provide conditioning via silicones, botanical oils and other hair boosters.
There are some curl-enhancing mousses that work well for both wavy and curly hair though. But some work better for curly hair than wavy hair, and vice versa.
3B curls are tighter and bouncier than 3A curls. 3B curls usually have the same circumference of a finger or a board marker.
They are also more prone to frizz and dryness.
This is nothing some good, good leave-in conditioner cannot fix though. You can go for store-bought products—which are great—or decide to make your own leave-in conditioner at home.
I love store-bought products—they make my life easier—but sometimes I like to play around and make my own hair products. Sometimes they work better than store-bought products. Plus I know exactly what is going in my afro.
I recommend these leave-in conditioners:
Related Read: 10 Ridiculously Easy DIY Leave-in Conditioner Recipes
The difference between 3B and 3C curls is really obvious.
3C curls are much tighter than 3B curls. Where 3B curls have the width of a finger, 3C curls have the width of a pencil or a sturdy straw. 3C curls are also thickly packed together, creating fullness in the hair.
3C hair is also the subcategory of Type 3 hair that is most prone to dryness and breakage. This is why, if you have 3C hair, you should have a protein-rich oil in hand.
These oils help provide the necessary nutrients to moisturize your locks and strengthen the roots of your hair.
Type 4-coily hair
Hello, everybody! Welcome to the most beautiful, most regal, most versatile hair type on the face of the earth.
Okay, I might be a little biased.
Don’t mind me, y’all. All hair types are absolutely beautiful and regal.
Type 4 hair is popularly referred to as coily hair because the shape of the hair strands look much tighter and coilier than curly hair strands.
But… coily hair is NOT STRICTLY COILY. Coily hair can have a mix of different textures. For example, I have 4C hair but I have tight coilys, zig-zag shaped hair strands and S-shaped waves in my hair.
Type 4 hair is also the driest and most fragile hair. Natural scalp oils have a hard time travelling down the hair strands to moisturize the hair because of all the kinks and coils and angles.
This makes Type 4 hair prone to all kinds of hair damage including chemical and heat damage. Yikes!
Related Read: How to Prevent and Treat Heat Damaged Hair
There is also one VERY ANNOYING thing that happens with Type 4 hair. That thing is called shrinkage.
Shrinkage is, simply put, the drastic reduction in hair length when hair is exposed to a high amount of moisture of humidity. Shrinkage can make waist-length hair look like neck-length hair. Ugh!
On the flip side, though, Type 4 hair is the most versatile hair type when it comes to styling. You can literally do anything with coily hair—twist-outs, braids, dreadlocks, knots, twists, ponytails, sleek-downs, everything.
For me, it’s totally worth it.
If you have 4A hair, then you have tight, small coils that are often mixed with some 3C curls.
4A coils lose moisture and definition really fast. That is why your go-to product for your wash ‘n’ go should be a curl gel which helps with finger-coiling.
4B hair strands usually don’t curl or coil around themselves. Instead, they bend in a shape zig-zag shape and have the width of the spring in a ballpoint pen.
4B coils are more prone to shrinkage than 4A coils.
This is why your fave hair product should be an elongating gel. Elongating gels help keep your hair stretched and defined.
To keep hair stretched and safe, you could also wear some protective styles like braids and twists.
Otherwise known as ‘my hair type’, 4C hair has a Z-shape pattern that is much tighter than 4B coils. 4C tresses also have fewer cuticle layers than any other hair type.
Cuticle layers are those parts of the hair that retain hydration and protect hair from damage.
Fewer cuticle layers means that 4C hair needs moisture. A lot of moisture.
This is exactly what an emollient-rich cream provides—moisture.
My recommended products below are some of the ones I have personally used for my hair and absolutely love.
Now, moving on to the other factors that influence your hair regimen.
Your hair density refers to the number of individual strands you have on your head. This is different from hair diameter (I’ll discuss that below). You can have thin hair with more density, and vice versa.
There are three levels of hair density, any of which can be identified using the mirror test.
To do the mirror test, stand in front of a mirror, grab a big section of your hair and pull it aside. The extent to which you can see your scalp determines your hair density.
- Thin density: If you can see your scalp easily, you have thin hair density. This means that your hair is scantily place.
- Medium density: If you can see your scalp partially underneath your hair, you have medium hair density.
- Thick density: If you can hardly see your scalp, you have thick hair density.
Hair diameter refers to the width or circumference of an individual hair strand. This is actually the most accurate way to identify your hair type. Do the strand test to know if your hair is fine, medium or thick.
Take a single strand of hair (maybe from your hair brush) and hold it between your thumb and index fingers.
- Thin hair: You have thin hair if you can barely feel the hair strand between your fingers. In some cases, the hair strand might be so thin that you can’t even see it.
- Medium hair: If you can slightly feel the hair strand, you have medium hair.
- Thick hair: You have thick hair you can distinctly feel the hair strand.
You can also do the thread test.
This involves comparing your hair strand to a sewing thread. Place the hair strand along the length of the thread.
If the strand is just as thick as or a bit thicker than the thread, you’ve got thick hair. If it is more or less the same thickness as the thread, you’ve got medium hair. You have thin hair if the hair strand is significantly thinner than the sewing thread.
Hair porosity simply means the hair’s ability to absorb and retain moisture. Generally, the higher the porosity, the more moisture and product it will absorb. High porosity may cause damage to hair.
When you know the level of porosity of your hair, you will be able to choose the right products for your hair. All you have to do is the ‘water test’.
Submerge a single strand of hair in a cup of water to determine the level of hair porosity.
- High porosity: If the hair strand sinks to the bottom of the cup, you have high hair porosity. Hair with high porosity is more prone to damage because it readily absorbs the chemicals from hair products. It also gets frizzy and rough easily. It dries easily, too, after you wash it.
A high number of pores in the hair cuticles is the cause of high porosity. Those pores sometimes occur due to frequent application of chemical products or treatments. When you have highly porous hair, you might find that you need to reapply products very often as your hair is never hydrated enough.
- Medium / normal porosity: You have normal porosity if you find the hair strand floating in between the water. This hair type absorbs the correct amount of moisture. It also feels wet after washing it, but not sticky. Normally porous hair does not require a lot of maintenance and can hold any hairstyle effortlessly. It is also less prone to damage.
- Low porosity: I am the president of this gang, fo’real. If you have low porosity, your hair strand will float on the surface of the water. This hair type takes a long time to dry and has few pores on its cuticles.
This minimizes your hair’s capacity to absorb water because the water tends to remain on the surface of the cuticle. Products also often get settled on top of your hair rather than sinking in.
Knowing how greasy your hair is can absolutely help you understand how frequently you need to wash it. It will also help you be able to pick out the right products for your hair, like shampoos and conditioners, because oily hair tends to build residue faster.
Oily hair gang—this is another gang I’m a president of.
To know how greasy your hair is, do the patch test on your scalp.
First, wash your hair thoroughly before hitting the bed and let it air dry. Once you wake up the next morning, press a tissue against your scalp, especially near the crown of your head and behind your ears.
Try the test on different spots with different tissues. The amount of oil deposited on the tissue will determine how oily/greasy your hair is.
- Oily hair: You have oily hair and scalp if there is a heavily greasy patch on the tissue. This means that you need to wash your hair about 4 – 5 times a week.
- Normal hair: If the amount of oil deposited on the tissue is light, you have a normal scalp. You can wash your hair 1 to 2 times a week.
- Dry hair: You have dry hair if there is no oil deposited on the tissue. This indicates a lack of moisture and hydration. Focus on using products that will add and retain moisture in your tresses.
- Combination hair: You have combination hair if oil is deposited on the tissue from only specific regions of your scalp. This is why it is important to do the patch test on different spots on your hair. Often, the hair behind your ears, your crown and over your temples secrets a high amount of oil.
Hair elasticity refers to the extent to which a single strand of hair will stretch before returning to its original state. (Cue the Physics theme song).
Hair elasticity is a strong indicator of hair health. Hair with a high level of elasticity normally has a good amount of shine and bounce and is regarded as the strongest of all the hair types.
To find out your hair’s level of elasticity, you need to do the stretch test.
This involves plucking a wet hair strand and stretching it as much as you can.
- High elasticity: If your hair strand stretches a long way without breaking immediately, then your hair has high elasticity. This means stronger hair. When wet, highly elastic hair can stretch up to 50% of its original length before it breaks. Often, coarse/thick hair is highly elastic.
- Medium elasticity: Your hair has medium elasticity if it stretches to some extent before breaking. Most women have medium hair elasticity. You can strengthen your hair using natural hair masks and hair oils.
- Low elasticity: Your hair has low elasticity if it snaps almost immediately after stretching. This hair type tends to be brittle and limp. It requires special attention when it comes to the products applied on it. Harsh chemicals can diminish hair elasticity. Therefore, it is very important to choose products that strengthen hair cuticles.
So, guys, this is it. All the ways you can identify your hair type and hair properties to help you craft the best hair routine for yourself.
Were you able to identify your hair type?
What’s your hair type and your BIGGEST hair worry? Tell me in the comments.
I respond to each one of them.