Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 12/31/2020
The overwhelming majority of hair care information online is targeted at women. Let’s face it, most of the hair products are targeted at women. But figuring out how best to manage your mop is far from a ladies-only situation.
Whether you have thick hair, wavy hair, curly hair, or coily and kinky hair — spending money on high quality hair products that actually improve how your hair looks and feels is the goal.
And hey, if you can reduce breakage, frizz, hydration, and all of that stuff, all the better, right?
Understanding your hair texture and type can get you started on the path towards choosing better hair care products and routines.
Ultimately, you’ll likely try some things that just don’t agree with your hair, but knowing what your hair needs can help narrow the selection.
Spoiler: Many, if not most, of the hair typing guides you find online were created to sell hair products or created by bloggers who may understand their own hair but have no formal background or expertise.
There isn’t one single (scientifically backed) method for hair typing.
We’ll provide some guidance to get you started here, but chatting with a hair stylist you trust is the best approach to determining your hair texture and type.
Hair texture is determined by the shape of your hair follicles, which is determined by what genes you have.
In short, your hair texture is genetic. If your follicles (the “pores” where your hair grows from) are perfectly round, you’ll have straight hair; if they’re oval-shaped, your hair will be curly; and if you have follicles that are somewhere in between, it will be wavy.
Your hair texture (and follicle shape) are also related to your racial background.
People of Asian descent have hair with a circular cross-section that is typically straight; whereas white people have hair with elliptical cross-sections that may be straight, wavy or curly.
And people of African descent have hair with larger diameter and a flattened elliptical cross-section, making it tightly curled.
Further, things can get even more complex depending on the external factors your hair is exposed to.
For example, humid conditions can make your hair curlier or frizzy. Weathering and certain hair treatments (like bleaching and straightening) can also change your hair texture, degrading the hair cuticle and resulting in damaged hair cuticles, split ends, and fissures, or put more simply: dry, damaged hair.
If you spend any amount of time Googling about “hair texture,” you’ll come across a typing method from Andre Walker, none other than Oprah’s hair stylist.
Walker’s system types hair based on texture and curl pattern, and recommends products from his hair care line accordingly. But the Andre Walker hair typing system has blown up.
Google “hair typing” and you’ll run into source after source talking about 4a kinks and 2c waves.
Walker’s system starts with 1a hair, the straightest of the straight, and climbs to 4b, tightly coiled “z-angled curls”.
And whether you’re looking at Walker’s original typing system or any number of the sites that use it, each hair type is matched with a laundry list of hair care best practices and products.
Knowing your curl (or lack of curl) type can be useful in product recommendations, but it isn’t the final word, and Walker’s system isn’t without criticism.
It’s been suggested use of the system favors folks with straighter (lower numbered) hair, an age-old point of contention in the Black community.
Other hair typing relies on things like density and diameter, not solely texture.
For example, how many hairs you have growing out of your head refers to your hair density (ranging from bald to very high density).
The diameter of individual hairs, however, may be measured as fine, medium or thick (or according to some sources as fine, medium and coarse).
The best way to know for certain what hair type you have is to simply ask your stylist or barber. They encounter all hair textures and types, and therefore have an idea of your relative thickness and density.
Coarse hair refers to hair that has a larger diameter -- the individual strands are thicker. Often, curly hair is coarse.
The medulla, or innermost core of your hair strands, is most pronounced in coarse hair like beard or grey hair, and is more pronounced in ethnicities with coarse hair than it is in Caucasians, according to researchers.
Coarse hair may be weaker and more prone to splitting and considered “difficult to manage” because of how stiff each strand is.
Also, because it’s more difficult for sebum (oil) to travel from the scalp throughout the hair strands, coarse hair may be dryer and benefit more from conditioners, particularly on the ends.
Having coarse (large diameter) and thick (high density) hair means you likely have a full head of hair. If it were long, your ponytail would be massive and even when short, it likely boosts your hat size.
Fine hair, on the other hand, refers to having thin individual strands or strands with small diameters. But this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s more fragile; some research indicates hair strength increases as the diameter decreases.
Sebum from your scalp travels more easily down the shaft of fine hair, which may make it less prone to dryness but more prone to clumping (being stringy) and limpness.
For this reason, lighter hair products and those without heavy oils may be more agreeable to fine hair.
There’s a good chance not every hair on your head is of the same diameter, which can make it tricky to buy the right hair products. But really, finding the right products for your hair is a matter of trial and error, no matter your hair type.
One note of importance on hair with mixed diameters: Researchers have found that diversity in hair diameter may be linked to follicle miniaturization, a sign of pending androgenic alopecia, or male pattern baldness.
Having hairs of various diameters may indicate some have begun the follicle miniaturization process, and alopecia is around the corner.
So if you’re noticing a change in your hair texture, it could be a sign that hair loss is coming next.
The first step in managing your mop may be understanding your hair texture.
Once you have a handle on your hair type, you can find styling products and hairstyles that best suit you, and stop wasting money on those that don’t.
But don’t get too wrapped up in the hair typing guidelines you find online.
Establishing a hair care routine that works for you is often an art rather than a science, and many of the most popular approaches you’ll find “in the wild” were created specifically to sell you hair care products.
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