Here’s a breakdown of Hair Typing (curl patterns), knowing your Hair’s Condition and the value in knowing one versus the other when it comes to our natural hair.
All of this is information I’ve found on Google combined with my personal experiences and opinions since transitioning to natural from 2013 to now. Unfortunately, there are no rigid rules to Natural Hair, but hopefully this can be a guide in the right direction for my curlfriends.
There’s so much more to know about our natural hair than categorizing it into a type…
You can determine your true hair type by washing your hair, applying no additional product (maybe some leave-in) and letting it air dry. Once it’s mostly dry, you then compare your curls to a hair type chart.
Now if you’re like me, and other curly and kinky souls who I’ve encountered, you really cannot truly identify with any particular woman on this chart, whether your hair is thicker or finer, more or less defined, or you’re a combination of two or more patterns–all of which can be normal. I mean there are even variations among the women with the “same” hair types between the two charts, so hair typing really becomes a really vague concept to follow. Personally for my curls, I see ranges from 3b to 4a once it’s dry:
Benefits of Knowing Your Curl Pattern
So now after you’ve assigned yourself to a hair type, you wonder what does that really mean? And what does that tell you about which products to use or how to develop a hair care regimen?
Well the running theme is that Type 3 hair is suppose to work better with certain products (click here for suggestions) and Type 4 hair seems to work better with others (click here for suggestions). While this is a decent starting pointing, I’m telling you now that suggested products by curl pattern is not an end-all-be-all nor always accurate guide and there’s nothing wrong with your kinks and curls if they don’t fit into them. Gels don’t define all Type 3 hair and butters don’t define all Type 4 hair–I can personally attest to this. My 4a hair in the back is much more defined using gels vs butters, contrary to what is suggested.
If selecting products based off your Hair Type has not worked for you, you have to develop an understanding of your “Hair Condition” to make better decisions with product selection and developing a regimen. For example, a 4C woman with thick and dry hair, probably won’t be using the same products as another 4C woman with thin and oily hair just because their kinks are shaped the same–one will need extra moisture and the other will need a lighter product.
So I’ve broken down Hair Condition into 3 major components (I’m sure there’s more). None of which are necessarily specific to one curl pattern and because we can have different textures, we can have multiple conditions co-existing.
There are three levels of porosity and it is important to adapt your hair routine according to your own level:
Low porosity: when the cuticle is too closed, too compact, the scales are tight and prevent moisture from entering the hair. Water has difficulty entering the fiber and once inside, it will have a lot of difficulty getting out. Hence the endless time it takes to dry your hair…
High porosity: at this level, the scales are very open. You are going to say to us that the hair is then well hydrated. Moisture penetrates very easily, but it also comes out early. Leaving your hair dry. Hair that has undergone repeated bleaching, straightening and unraveling is more likely to have a high porosity.
Medium porosity: we could then say that having medium porosity would be having “normal” hair since the opening of the scales allows enough moisture to enter and stay long enough to moisturize, but not too much.
But as we keep saying, each hair is unique and has its own characteristics. It’s up to you to explore its potential!
- Porosity with natural hair refers to how your hair absorbs and retains moisture based on your on how tight/open your cuticles are to your hair shaft. Porosity is mostly attributed to genetics but can be affected by heat, chemicals, and pH balance.
- Hair porosity is measured into Low, Medium, and High categories. Low being the level that is most resistant to moisture penetration and release of moisture because your cuticles are tight/closed (blocking and trapping moisture), high being the level that absorbs and releases moisture the quickest because your cuticles or open (allowing moisture to enter and escape quickly).
- → →While Medium is ideal, Low and High are not “bad,” it just requires a regimen to accommodate it.
- There are several ways to determine your porosity: the float test, sponge experiment, and the slip ‘n slide test.
|Protein treat but avoid applying protein-based products daily.||Protein treat and use protein-based products daily to fill in gaps.|
|Use lighter weight products.||Use oils and butters.|
|Use products with a liquid-base, humectants and rich emollients.||Use anti-humectants, sealants,|
|Use indirect heat (steamers, hood dryers) to deep condition to lift cuticles for moisture to penetrate shafts.||Apple Cider Vinegar rinse to close cuticles in order to seal in moisture.|
|May work best with LCO adaption of LOC Methodbut try both to determine whats best.||May work best with LOC methodbut try LCO adaption to determine whats best.|
How to know its porosity?
For that, there is a very simple test. Take a few strands of your hair (on your comb or brush for example) and put them in a glass of water at room temperature. Make sure your hair sample is clean, dry and free of styling products. Wait 1 to 2 minutes.
- If your hair stays on the surface: your hair has a low porosity
- If your hair flows slowly and stops in the middle of the glass: your hair has normal (or medium) porosity
- If your hair flows quickly to the bottom of the glass: your hair has a high porosity
Identifying and understanding your hair’s porosity is essential to controlling your hair’s moisture and sealing. Knowing your hair’s porosity also allows you to identify the ideal care products for your hair, those that will promote its nutrition, its hydration but also its growth.
2. Density & Strand Size
DENSITY refers to how close your strands are to one another on your head. STRAND SIZE refers to the width of each individual strand.
Knowing both help with product selection and expectation of style appearances. Density for natural hair is categorized in: Thick, Moderate, or Thin. Click here for help determining.
|Can layer products on hair for best results.||Use a variety of products from heavy to light.||Be light-handed when applying products to avoid greasy, life-less appearance.|
|May prefer bigger sections when rodding and twisting to tame hair.||May prefer smaller sections when styling for fullness.|
Strand size (i.e. width) is categorized into: Coarse, Medium, or Fine. Click here for help determining.
(Keep in mind you can have Coarse (thick) strands with a Thin density and you and you can have Fine (thin) strands with Thick density)
|Strongest, most resistant to damage.||Strong||Delicate, easiest to damage, avoid excess manipulation.|
|Use moisture, avoid daily use of protein compounded products when moisturizing.||Somewhat resistant to damage||Deep condition, use protein based products regularly.|
|Use brushes/combs designed to detangle||Easiest to handle and maintain.||Use fingers to detangle|
|Heavy products (gels, cream, butters) to coat hair.||Light weight products (mousse, leave-ins) to avoid weighed down appearance.|
- Damage of our natural hair occurs when the integrity of your kinks and curls is altered so much that it cannot return to it’s true curl pattern. CurlyNikki.com has an amazing post on assessing damage.
- Types of damage → stunted growth/balding, breakage and split ends, lack of elasticity, dry and brittleness, etc.
- Causes →includes but is not limited to: heat, chemicals, over manipulation (friction and too much tension), inadequate hair care, product-hair incompatibility, nutrient and water intake (rather there lack of), stress, genetics, etc.
- Repair → IN ORDER TO STOP DAMAGE YOU MUST ISOLATE THE SOURCE(S) AND MAKE ADJUSTMENTS. Some damage can be corrected with new routines while others must be transitioned or chopped out if no progress is made over time.
Read also: Best Women’s Shampoo For Thinning Hair
Applying this to myself…
I have 3b-4a hair with have low porosity, thick density, and medium/fine strands. The suggested products to use by my hair type are oils, butters, and heavy styling products along with the LOC method to moisturize.
But in actuality, butters and some oils (shea butter and olive oil in particular) leave my hair weighed down and lifeless. So I use the LCO method to moisturize (as suggested by my porosity), early in my transitioning phase, I used to use a lot of protein based products to correct damage and I will start back up incorporating more protein in my routine(as suggested by my strand size). I find that hair milks work best with my hair to moisturize and thin “liquidy” gels give me best definition as opposed to thicker gels and butters (as suggested by my density).
I know this was alot to read but I whole-heartedly believed this information will benefit everyone who is struggling with their hair right now!